In 2006 I saw an exhibition of paintings by Katsushika Hokusai at the Freer/Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C. I was very impressed with Hokusai’s paintings and bought the catalogue. One of my favorites is a “Daoist Immortal Liezi in the Wind” – Ink and color on silk from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts collection. I was so impressed by Hokusai’s expression of the feeling of being carried by the wind, that I knew soon after seeing this painting that I wanted to carve a version. I prefered to carve it in wood, as I thought that, if I found the right piece of wood, the grain could convey the atmospheric quality of the painting, and lend it a softer quality. Also I have wanted for some time to carve a wood picture using the technique of katakiri-bori style with flat inlays, an approach used by some metal artists. I thought this could translate well into the wood medium, given a suitable design.


The base wood is American Persimmon (diospyros virginiana). I thought this piece was perfectly suited to the work, having a flat-sawn grain figure that can be seen as swirling wind. It also has wonderful color, suited to the painting, and carves very cleanly. The face and feet are inlayed and carved mammoth ivory and the hat is Ebony.

To transfer the design, I made a photocopy of the painting at 95% of the book size. This, I decided was the size that I prefered for the wood. It was different proportionally to the painting canvas, but I only had wood of  the size I used.






The photo below shows the face inlay from Mammoth ivory and the hat inlay from Ebony. I taped cut-out paper patterns on to the inlays to very accurately establish the outlines. The pieces were initially sawn with a jeweler's saw and the edges finished with needle files. The Ebony piece shows a "handle" left, until the last shaping, that makes it easier to hold. The ivory also had a handle which has been sawn off. Its "ghost" can be seen in the sawn hole in the host material.



The two photos below show the shaped inlays with their paper patterns, the overall paper pattern to scale and a mylar pattern to scale. I actually did not use the mylar pattern, as the paper one was all I needed.





The photo below shows the positioning of the inlays in their exact location on the wood in the context of the rest of the figure.


The photo below shows the face inlay and the channel being carved for it. There is a scribed outline made with a needle.

A high-speed burr was used for some removal. Not shown is a skew chisel used to cut straight down. The inlays are very slightly tapered, being a tiny bit smaller at the base.


The photo below shows further refinement of the channel with the scraper shown above. The tapered edge of the inlay allows for tightening of the fit as the inlay settles down into the channel. I try to establish one side very accurately and then move to the other edge. The inlay itself can also be adjusted very slightly, as well as the channel.


The photo below shows the face epoxied into the channel, left high, with epoxy residue around the edge. The Ebony hat is nearly ready to  glue.


The photo below shows filing the inlays level with masking tape protection. The tape also serves as a guide. Easy does it.


Almost level. When very nearly level, it is very carefully sanded and polished to the same level as the surrounding wood.


The details of the face were drawn with a water-color pencil as seen below and then scraped into the ivory. The scraped incisions were filled with a light gray water-color as seen in the finished photo above. Below also shows the initial design of  carved shoulder details drawn with a Stabilo pencil, a kind of waxy pencil that can draw on polished surfaces.


The feet were inlayed in the same manner. Once the inlays were levelled, the remaining design is very carefully drawn, constantly checking it against key elements such as the head, feet and furthermost drapery.  Much drawing and re-drawing. When I was happy with the design, it was then carved, constantly double-checking it against the paper pattern.