The Art of Japanese Maki-e for Middle School
For thousands of years, the process of converting tree resin into lacquer to add beauty and longevity to everyday objects has been practiced and perfected by Asian craftsmen.
However, the techniques developed in ancient Japan are the most highly regarded as fine art:
- “Raden” lacquerware is designed with intricate details of mother-of-pearl, inlaid wood and precious metals.
- “Maki-e,” which translates as “sprinkle pictures” and is perhaps the most beautiful lacquerware ever produced.
An Example of Raden lacquerware
What Is Maki-e?
The term Maki-e literally means sprinkled picture, and is Japanese lacquer sprinkled with gold or silver powder as a decoration using a makizutsu or a kebo brush. The technique was developed mainly in the Heian Period (794–1185) and blossomed in the Edo Period (1603–1868).
Maki-e objects were initially designed as household items for court nobles, but they soon gained more popularity and were adopted by royal families and military leaders as a symbol of power.
To create different colors and textures, maki-e artists use a variety of metal powders:
- Metal alloys
Bamboo tubes and soft brushes of various sizes are used for laying powders and drawing fine lines.
More Student Work
As it requires highly skilled craftsmanship to produce a maki-e painting, young artists usually go through many years of training to develop the skills and to ultimately become maki-e masters.
Kōami Dōchō (1410–1478) was the first lacquer master linked to specific works. His maki-e works used designs from various Japanese contemporary painters.
Kōami and another maki-e master, Igarashi Shinsai, were originators of the two major schools of lacquer-making in the history of Japan.
Objective of This Lesson
I have always been fascinated with the Japanese culture. Each year there is at least one assignment that is completed based on the Japanese culture or history.
This year I decided to focus on Japanese maki-e technique and to use that skill to teach my students a little about the history of Japan.
Another reason I always do a Japanese-based work is to have it included in the Japanese Day event that I did each year with my students. In this event, the classroom is transformed into a Japanese-style tea room and many artifacts from my collection, as well as the collection of others, are brought in and the day is spent heavily engaged in the Japanese culture. One year we were lucky enough to have a Sushi chef present who made sushi on the spot.
The main objectives of this lesson is:
- To introduce students to the Japanese culture
- To introduce students to the history of Japanese lacquer techniques, namely maki-e
- To show students how to make an easy, contemporary version of this art-form, by creating the illusion of inlaid metal or pearl with acrylic-painted paper applied to a board.
Materials You'll Need
- All-Purpose Chipboard 5" x 7"
- Matte Acrylic black
- Premium Construction Paper in:
- Glue Sticks
- Glue bottles
- Jacquard® Pearl-Ex Pigment in:
- Aztec Gold
- Polymer Gloss Medium
- Graphite Pencils
- Prepare powerpoint presentation of Japanese art form.
- Have students view examples of lacquerware and other Japanese art forms, such as painting, silk painting, woodcuts, etc.
- Have various resource books handy for students to research.
- Plan a trip to the library for research.
- Coat one side and the edges of the board with black acrylic paint and allow to dry.
- Paint reverse side as well.
- Make preliminary sketches in your sketch book.
- Explain the concept of mosaic and that the simple technique will be utilized in this assignment. This piece will be assembled like a mosaic, with individual pieces placed so that they form a whole picture.
- Once the designs have been made in the sketch book, students can then use that design template to cut the pieces out of the color/metallic papers.
- Remember that the complete design has to fit onto the 5" x 7" board.
- Distribute one piece of each color of painted paper to each student.
- Cut shapes out of the painted pieces of paper, based on the sketches.
- Secure the shapes to the board using a glue stick or liquid glue. We found that liquid glue works best although it will take some time to dry. TIP: Use the glue stick to gently keep in place, just in case you need to reposition.
- Reposition if needed and remove any excess glue with a paper towel or tissue.
- Once the entire design is assembled on the board, and glued down, brush a generous coat of Acrylic Gloss Medium over the entire surface of the piece.
- Allow it to dry and apply a second coat.
- While second coat is still wet, gently sprinkle Pearl-Ex powdered pigment into the surface for the look of “Maki-e” lacquerware. A light application is best.
- Once the gloss medium is dry, remove any excess powder by gently blowing on it.
- Display by gluing the finished work onto a white background.
- Students can sign their name in Japanese, for added authenticity.