Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Let's play Hanafuda!

In the months leading up to the end of 2014 I discovered that Nintendo (yes, of Super Mario fame) used to manufacture playing cards known as Hanafuda at the end of the 19th century in Japan. Until then I had never even heard of Hanafuda cards and as it turns out, no one that I'd spoken to about it had ever come across it either...

In attempt to amend this I feel compelled to write a post about this very visually beautiful and well constructed game so that hopefully it will attract the worthy attention it deserves and be enjoyed by those yet to discover it!
Maple (October), Pine (January), Plum blossom (February)

For Christmas I was fortunate to be given a deck of the cards themselves and have since learnt that the game and deck for Hanafuda is one of Japan's oldest card games, originating in the ninth century and translates into English, as 'flower cards' (I am genuinely surprised that a game that has been around for so long remains so unheard of). The deck consisting of 48 individually illustrated cards is divided into 12 suits of 4 cards representing each month of the year and depict various flowers and animals. It is similar to the Portuguese Hombre deck which also consists of 48 individual cards. In the sixteenth century 'prior to the arrival of the first European traders, the Japanese used playing cards almost exclusively for recreation, but the gambling card games preferred by the Portuguese visitors quickly gained popularity among the natives' and saw the cards eventually banned for a time due to an increase in public gambling.  

Hanafuda card box

 Once you've learnt the deck (which believe me takes some getting used to) Hanafuda is also fun to play and can take between two and seven players depending on the variant of the game played. In Hawaii the game is incredibly popular and known more widely as 'Koi Koi'. 

"The object of virtually all Hanafuda games is to get more points than the other players. To do this players must capture and accumulate cards of the same suit or of a special combination by matching them based on their flower, or month."  

There are two basic games; 'Matching Flower' which is the easier of the two and 'Koi Koi' gambling aspect comes into play if players get a 'Yaku' (set of matching or point scoring cards) at which point they can choose to cash in the points total of their cards or they can declare 'Koi Koi' and continue playing for more points at the gamble of potentially allowing the other player to also gain a 'Yaku' and win the game.

The 48 cards of the Hanafuda deck. What cannot be seen in these photos is that the size and thickness of the cards are much smaller and thicker than our familiar deck of Westernised playing cards.

 And, yes of course to those who know me, I'll happily teach you!

For full rules and more detailed info on the game visit: http://www.hanafuda.com/

And if you fancy playing it yourself then click on the link at the top of that page to play online against the computer (although please note unless you read the rules it is a little hard to follow what is going on)

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Unimportant somethings - A Drawing a Day 2014-2015

Happy 2015! You didn't think that I wouldn't complete my 'drawing a day' challenge for 2014 did you? I have to admit the challenge of working bigger and in colour for what was going to be my second year of completing 365 drawings, left me unsure if I was going to actually find enough time and have the discipline that was needed to complete such a task. What was I going to draw for each of those days?!
From whatever depths of madness, obsession and passion for drawing that drove me I managed to complete the year. Self congratulations aside it is useful for me to take this opportunity to reflect and evaluate on the experience. Similar to the year before I formed a love but also hesitant relationship with the daily commitment to drawing. Unlike no other medium I've found in art, I actually feel the 'need' to draw and if I haven't drawn something for a number of days I start to feel like something's amiss. Like an itch that needs scratching, perhaps it is the closest thing to some mild form of addiction. Yet despite this, I found it interesting how making time to do a drawing everyday; on your good days, bad days, holidays, when you're feeling unwell, days when you're just so busy; really offers a rare moments pause and reflection where the only thing that matters is your attention to the thing you're looking at/'what's on the page'. Days when you really feel too tired, stressed or just too busy to draw are the most challenging yet once you lose yourself into the process of looking I felt reminded of why I enjoy the concentration, focus and escapism it offers. In part a lot of this has something to do with the 'type' of drawing I do everyday which borders on something closer to illustration than the eye-opening skill-set of drawing/looking I explored during Fine Art. To confess I think I have always wandered the periphery of being more representational dare I say 'a closet illustrator' a 'repressed doodler or cartoonist'. This 'tight' way of drawing often, arguably not leaving much to the imagination; other than appearing as a purely self indulgent exercise has, I think testament in the choice of 'what' is drawn and intensity placed upon 'how' it is drawn. In this way, conceptually at least, it shares some threads within Fine Art practice. The purpose and where this project 'sits' within my practice bothers me slightly as it is less defined and I am less clear in its motives other than it 'was something I wanted and felt a compulsive need to do'. It is a question I will have to consider later in more detail. 
The drawings themselves should reflect some of these observations more accurately. It is an honest account of my drawing ability, some of which has improved  whilst other aspects, as you will see, still remain a challenge (wheels for example!).There are many bad drawings as there are many successful ones (and that's not necessarily about being subjective, some drawings are just bad drawings!), but all of them of course a learning experience. Some days are quite lazy others clearly have had more effort put into them, it would have been impossible to be in the same state of concentration everyday for a year. Life, events and your emotions won't allow for consistency. And that's not to say the days with a bad drawing were a 'bad' day and vice versa, I think it's probably a lot more subconscious than that and never at the front of my mind when I draw. I just draw. What I will say is that they definitely improve throughout the year as my confidence with using colour and experimenting with pencil instead of pen begin to creep in. I acknowledge that, but it isn't always evident just how much attention I pay in learning from my mistakes along the way as drawing everyday doesn't allow much time for reflection. However through the persistence of drawing you can't help but naturally improve slightly as you go. Albeit slowly, I did come to the conclusion that whether I work in black and white or colour is really dependant on 'what' I draw rather than pre-determining it from the offset. For future reference the qualities of the thing I'm drawing should determine the medium.
In terms of what I draw and why, that will probably remain a mystery without going into a running commentary on each drawing as ideas from one often lead to ideas for the other. At times it is possibly a little more disturbing than last year, I didn't hold back but in doing so found the times when I was drawing from a real object (as opposed to an imaginary thing) the finished drawing had a lot more integrity, intensity and were on-the-whole more enjoyable to do. If it was my intention to reveal something of 'myself' in the work then the drawings which have these qualities and are based-on real objects with real histories or connections stand out as, in my opinion as the more successful drawings. I prefer working this way and it is something I will certainly consider for future drawing projects.
A lot of the time what I draw each day works on an association basis, for example, you can be painting the smooth metallic sheen/surface/rendering on a wind-up bird toy and it can remind you of something similar you've seen and then you choose to draw that the next day, or the shape of it reminds you of something or the thing itself recalls a conversation you've had, a place you've been or purely something straight from your imagination or something ready-to-hand at home. To anyone else looking, it certainly will appear at most times incredibly random.  A lot of the images this year are also from pop culture, music/cd album covers, films, video games, other art works from Rembrandt to Grey's anatomy. Other things are unusual curios that my family have bought or collected. There are plenty of animals which have been useful in helping me to 'soften' my quality of line and explore more organic/subtle forms, but if hand-on-heart I still prefer drawing objects and yes, tools! If you ask me, I'd probably have a story to tell about most of the images. 
The completed stack of six A6 sketchbooks for the year 2014-2015.
As per last year's 'drawing a day' project it was never my intention that whilst drawing something each day, that I may actually end up completing the year and secondly that I might not choose to show it online a second time. I'm still not quite sure about putting it in the public domain, but feel that a certain degree of closure or an end to this project needs to be told and for that reason,
 I am pleased to show here, the completed 'Drawing a Day' project 2014-2015!
(Note - you can either watch the flickr slideshow here or if it doesn't work on your phone/tablet then please click on the link below)

Watch the slideshow and/or click on the link here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/113459200@N03/sets/72157649815526320/

Created with flickr slideshow.

Thank you for reading and taking the time to look. Please do leave a comment below and/or email me at natalieparsley@yahoo.co.uk 
Where does that leave me now?...
Do you really need to ask? I do still have an A5 sketchbook waiting to be filled... so  of course I am going to do something similar again!!
Only this time I'm going to do one drawing a week, 52 in total and make them bigger more considered and worked. Allow myself more time to think and revise what I'm doing. I can't promise it will be any looser, experimental, safer, riskier, weirder or more wonderful than the last, but we'll just have to wait and see.


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Coming soon...

Two years ago I embarked on a 'drawing a day' challenge. I completed one year and for reasons probably against my better judgement decided to do the same thing again for 2014, only bigger, in colour and hopefully 'better' than the previous...
 For a reminder of how things were progressing at the half way point in 2014 and for more details on the project as a whole then please read my previous blog post,
Did I finish it this year?
Watch this space. Visit Spanner in the Workz this Sunday 11th January to find out!
Click on the following link to view last year's 'Drawing a Day'

Friday, 2 January 2015

Radical! -Egon Schiele at the Courtauld

Given the influence his work has had on drawing and the depiction of the human form it is hard to imagine the Austrian artist, Egon Schiele [1890-1918] was only twenty-eight when he died of Spanish flu. Seeing the first museum exhibition of his work shown in the UK for twenty years at the Courtauld in London you get a seldom seen sense of just how prolific Schiele was (there are 38 works in total), an insight into why his work was so significantly controversial for its time and why it is still relevant and influential today.

Ironically, myself also soon approaching the ripe old age of twenty-eight (and sincerely hoping not to be struck down with a case of Spanish flu!) it seemed like the opportune time to be inspired by some Schiele in person.

'Crouching woman with green headscarf' (1914) Gouache and pencil, 47 x 31cm.

Schiele’s drawings are punchy, nude full body portraits of women, himself and his lovers, family, cohorts are often depicted in uncomfortable awkward poses, limbs/hands often exaggerated or contorted at unusual angles, the backgrounds bare so as to make sure the subject receives full attention. They are explicit ‘everything’ is literally on show and in some cases, pornographic or as one commentator explained, “Erotic representations without erotic content.” (if you can comprehend such a thing, then this is actually quite an accurate way of putting it, I think!) Conversely, perhaps, in the expressive way in which they are drawn they also hold at times a tender anxiety that wavers between being confrontational, sensual and vulnerable all at the same time. Their daring controversy was not lost at the time they were produced with Schiele actually being imprisoned on ‘public morality grounds’. He was radically ahead of his time and there is a lot that we could discuss and in fact most of what is written about Schiele deals with this debate of the eroticism and perceived opinions of explicitness and censorship in art and modern visual history...blah, blah, blah...

'Sneering Woman (Gertrude Schiele)' (1910) Gouache, watercolour and charcoal with white highlighting, 45 x 31.4cm.

BUT we're not interested in any of that are we? For the purposes of this blog post I'm personally focusing on the 'drawing' and not the subject matter of Schiele’s work really in any way. In truth I went to the Schiele exhibition because I was fascinated to see how they ‘worked’, how they looked as drawings. If I need continue in my own art, I do my utmost to avoid people directly all together! I just don’t find people that interesting (in the art sense). If there are ‘people’ or traces of them in my work they are present more metaphorically with tools or mark making or other referential symbolism. In essence it may be difficult to separate the drawing from the thing it is depicting or derived from as in the case of representational drawing like Schiele’s but just how much do the two influence each if at all is something I am curious to find out.

'Nude self portrait in grey with open mouth' (1910) Gouache and black chalk, 43.8 x 30cm.

What I did find is that Schiele’s figures and representation of the human form are very ‘sculptural’; his self portraits are very angular, his nude female forms very heavily outlined, very ‘solid’ looking. Again, I think this is why I admired them as drawings because they were delivered very confidently, there are no rubbed out lines, all the workings are on show, layered and add to the sense of personality/character in the drawings (particularly in his self portraits). Although they never have the impression of being overworked and there is an immediate confidence and ferventness to capturing these people, these characters, these forms down on paper.  Perhaps like handwriting even whilst the artist himself isn’t ‘present’ within the work, in the sense of being depicted you are always aware of his presence as the hand/the eyes the thinking person looking behind the work. In a slightly feminist way,ahead of its time these drawings have been analysed now as not having the gaze of the male voyeur but of, and I quote, ‘a man who genuinely loves women’. Make of this what you will but for those sorts of reasons they do feel refreshingly honest, real, raw (delete as appropriate) as they are quite unflattering really, a lot of them but inadvertently become quite 'beautiful' in their honesty because of their unabashed, fleshy, bony, hairy, patchy coloured, blemished human openness. A quality in part echoed by the artists choice of using a brown paper surface to draw on the material a more disposable, immediate and everyday one than the preciousness of white paper or canvas surface.

'Fighter' (1913) Gouache and pencil, 48.8 x 32.2cm.

With Schiele’s nudes there is a sense sometimes that the figures are merely a container, an outline in which to house and hang his mark making, stains, colour within (see above). An observation that recalls a similarity with the work of Jim Dine who would almost be a complete abstract expressionist for it not his use of motifs such as hearts, tools, plants or birds that aside from their symbolic qualities he sees them acting as formalistic devices in his words, ‘something to hang the paint on’. I don’t pay this connection of Dine to Schiele too much heed but other than the fact that it helps draw attention to just how diverse the variety of mark making approaches Schiele used in his drawings that perhaps are more easily overlooked in favour of the subject matter.

Needless to say it was an exciting exhibition. Schiele's drawings are as radical today as they were then, just in a different sense of the word that highlights them not for their difference, for their 'controversy' as they did then but for their ability to still hold your attention and be intently surprising. It was an intense, thoughtful and crucially for me, unsettling enough exhibition to make me think about my own drawing habits/techniques so as not to become lazy. 

 In a Spanish flu free scenario it would be intriguing to know what Schiele may have carried on to create next.... though one thing is for certain, his work assures he will never be forgotten.

What are you waiting for?!
Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude is still on at the Courtauld until January 18th!
Images plundered from: