Today, for the first time, I went to a Japanese tool supply shop with an extensive selection of woodcarving tools. Although it was partially to fulfill the requirements for a UX exercise, and took about 10 minutes (not counting commute), I was excited to be able to go in there. I have known about this place since high school, and apparently know the owners (somehow), but today was my first chance to look at their wares.
Another chance to use my Japanese skills.
Or, it would have been, had I enough kanji and word recognition to be able to actually piece together meaning, here. Basically, the clerk’s first language was not English, there were a number of people seated in the back eating and speaking in Japanese, and just about everything in there was in packaging (mostly cardboard boxes) which were labeled in Japanese. Helpfully, price stickers were language-neutral, though!
It was fairly dim, which is something I’ve learned to expect from…somewhere. I think I remember it being part of a Japanese cultural aesthetic, to have the insides of rooms be enclosed; close, dim; womb-like. But I can’t remember exactly where I read that, now. I just know it’s a specific aesthetic which I’ve seen applied mostly in restaurant environments.
What I was after was a slip stone (sharpening stone), particularly the kind used to sharpen gouges with water-only as a lubricant. While I do have Western-type gouges myself (I got them before woodblock printing was ever on my mind, easily before 2010), I’m not familiar with sharpening techniques using oil (which seems to be the predominant method in the U.S., but I can’t be sure). It’s important to keep these sharp, because a dull tool can easily slip, which can easily lead to a fairly nasty stab wound, in turn.
I had found something like what I was looking for, online — however, this was from a large corporation which does not specialize in Asian tools (I was getting the slip stone to hone tools for woodblock printing — which I wouldn’t even be interested in if it weren’t for the Japanese history and tradition and aesthetic of these: that is, I’m interested in mokuhanga, specifically).
Also, it seemed that I would then be using materials I was unfamiliar with (said setup included a bar of polishing compound, whereas I’m more familiar with blocks which are made of things like ceramic or aluminum oxide, themselves. I have used polishing compound before, but that was in relation to jewelry production, and that in relation to compound-impregnated cloths, and rotary tools).
I’m not even sure if what I was looking at online was a slipstone or some kind of leather tool, or made out of wood, or what. Nor was I certain whether or not it was a Web-only product (I’ve run across trying to buy these in-store, before).
And anyway, I’ve wanted to go to this shop for a while, so while I was out, I dropped by. The clerk wasn’t too friendly (possibly because the first thing I did after walking in was ask if it was OK to bring in my gouges from home — I needed to make sure they would fit over the slip stone), but he did help me. (I’ve had my share of being interrupted by people who have just walked in the door and the first thing they do is talk to me, so I can sympathize.)
After returning home, D found my old aluminum-oxide waterstone, which I had purchased to sharpen a high-carbon steel vegetable knife that my grandmother bought me sometime earlier this century, or late last.
High-carbon steel is supposed to keep a sharper cutting edge than stainless steel. Its brittleness, however, combined with its lack of rust resistance, means that it needs more upkeep (particularly, drying, oiling, and honing), which (except for honing) is not an issue with the more popular stainless-steel knives. And none of that would be an issue with a knife I prized and wanted to baby.
However, I realized that this knife’s blade was chipping (metal fragments in the food?!), which caused me to stop using it, lacking confidence that the place we bought it from sold quality goods (this was a large Asian supermarket). If I had bought it from Soko Hardware, or Hida Tools, or something, it would be different. But I bought this from 99 Ranch Market.
And I don’t even know where my waterstone came from, but it’s really pretty coarse. I didn’t know just how coarse it was until I unwrapped my 1000-grit slip stone and felt it in comparison to this other waterstone. The other stone really feels like coarse (maybe 350 grit) and medium sandpaper, which is fine if you’re working chips out of a blade, but — as I found online, today — if you want a fine edge, it isn’t what you need. In addition, this was a Chinese waterstone, with labeling in English, and no grit number marked anywhere. Not…really confidence inspiring…
On the other hand, the 1000-grit stone feels really smooth, in comparison (and that is not even the finest manufactured by the company NANIWA, in this form). I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever felt 1000-grit carborundum paper; I’m not sure I have…and I’m not entirely sure exactly where my sandpaper is, now, for that matter.
Publishing less, doing more
I have been writing, only part of that is simply having broken back into fiction writing. The other part of that is having to write for school, which isn’t really…fun? But it’s time that I have to spend at the computer; and I seem to be beginning to ration computer time, in order to save my neck and back.
I’ve run across a good number of cases of people with disabling injuries lately, which I would suspect are Repetitive Stress Injuries. I haven’t verified it with everyone, though. In any case, I’ve been trying to use my tablet more, though that thing is really cheap…I didn’t realize the impact that its weight would have on me, long-term. (And I know it isn’t going to help if I keep using it in bed — scrunching my shoulders up is the main thing that bit me last time. [Speaking of which…*relaxes shoulders*])
Then again; it was my first tablet computer, other than my e-Reader. I’ve been thinking of trying to find something better, but haven’t been certain which company to go with. I suppose I should read some reviews.
And also: I’m pretty much over the “convenience” (novelty) of a touch-screen computer. It’s just way too easy to touch something that you didn’t want to, and every time that happens, there’s a risk of getting infected with something. It works with an e-Reader…but really, something to read from is a much different tool than something to write with.
It also (somewhat) works with Mobile — but that’s because the screen is so small that a keyboard is not feasible. In addition, smartphones and e-Readers can be easily reformatted and repopulated with essential apps, as there isn’t a lot of irretrievable information stored on them. Something you’re using to write with (outside of cloud storage), though…? That’s an entirely different thing.
It’s an entirely different thing which may be better handled in hard copy, as well. But I’ll have to wait before forming a definite opinion, on that one…
Anyhow, I have begun to write again, and am having to resist the urge to publish my rough drafts. Intending to share is the major drive to write any of this story down, at all, but there’s also the secondary benefit of having it in some concrete form where I can play with it and edit it and work out story continuity, etc.
When I was a kid, I was adamant that no one read my writing. Now, I’m reaching the point of realizing that the main reason to put the story into language is to share it. Otherwise, it’s just a living part of me…which, like so much else of my experience, most people don’t see, or even suspect exists. If I didn’t want to share it, that is, then there is no reason to write it.
But that is getting into philosophy.
Speaking of which…
If art isn’t meant to be seen…is there reason in making it?
I went against my normal tendencies today and did try carving a basswood slat to see what the experience (of working up to woodblock printing) was like. Ironically, I think I should have done this before I went to the Japanese tool store. I knew that I would not be able to carve with dull tools, but I hadn’t given thought as to whether I would even like carving into wood.
Quite plainly, I don’t know what I’m doing, yet. 😛 Particularly, I’m unsure how to get tiny bits of wood out of the matrix without lifting splinters…I’m used to wedging things out, which may have worked with plaster and linoleum, but it really doesn’t work with basswood. I’m going to have to figure out how to do this, if I want to print with my gouache (which has been the main goal of all of this, secret [or unstated] as that may have been).
And it’s very, very much more apparent to me, now, that the level of skill which I’ve seen examples of in my books is basically master-craftsperson stuff.
I did try some more freehand cuts, as versus slicing into the wood and then carving around the line — what I can see is that anything remaining flat will print. This kind of goes against my aesthetics (oboy! flat!), but…I didn’t have a design or drawing worked out ahead of time, but I do now have kozo paper, nori glue, and sumi ink — and a baren — so I can…if I want to…actually try working at this for real.
I’m thinking of doing something with koi. I’ve been playing with sinuous lines which remind me of fish.
Also, registering (aligning) the prints is something which I think I will have to work at via trial-and-error. It’s certainly out of my comfort zone as things stand, but then, it should be: I’m a total beginner.
And I hope you all will forgive me if I write less, here, and work on gaining more quality experience — and generating more quality content — to bring back to you.
Japanese language study
This has basically stalled. I’m fairly sure that it has to do with trying to relearn katakana. The rows read, moving from left to right and top to bottom (it just seemed easier to format it this way because of the directionality of the text on this blog):
I’ve stalled at NA. It’s just frustrating to have to relearn this stuff over and over again. This will be at least the fourth time I’ve tried to memorize this. (Once in Middle School, once in Beginning Japanese at University, once when I first tried to relearn Japanese outside of University, and then, now.)
And a lot of it is memorization — which is hard for me to wrap my head around as something which will assist me (of course it will assist me! I can’t read if I can’t recognize the characters!). But I have also found my “Kana Workbook” for the Japanese for Busy People set, so maybe I should look back at that, if I’m just burning out on copying katakana.
In other words, I’m just frustrated at not knowing as much as I want to, and it’s putting me off. Maybe I should just move forward with the Kluemper text, even though I haven’t yet memorized all the katakana (I can still read most of it — katakana are not frequently used, and as in English, there are certain kana which are rarely used, meaning that less-used syllables [lookin’ at you, “NU”] will be harder to remember).
And I’m going to choose not to write too much about school or work, right now. But I have taken on extra hours…and school is doable, even if unpleasant. It’s just what I’ve got to go through if I want to have a chance to work in an American library…or so, I’ve been led to believe. Hawaii doesn’t even require an MLIS degree to work in the public sector. Then again, the cost of living is high, there…and if it’s anything like the San Francisco Bay Area…well, I don’t have a husband or children to support, that much I can say…
At least I have a full life…who knew that would happen, eh?