Maki-e – Gold sprinkled on lacquer

Shokan Matsuda maki-e bowl

Shokan Matsuda, master of maki-e (decorated lacquerware, made by sprinkling wet lacquer with metallic powder, usually gold or silver), and his pupils have to come to the UK, with an exhibition of their work at Chelsea College of Art and Design and a series of workshops where you can learn to make maki-e too. I’ve been to the exhibition and also visited one of their first workshops, at the V&A, so I can tell you just what to expect if you sign up.

Shokan Matsuda is from Fukui, which is famous for its traditional crafts. Matsuda learnt maki-e techniques from his father and then became an apprentice in the studio of the maki-e Master, Jotaro Goto. He has won many awards for his work and is currently a guest lecturer at Waseda University and has a studio in Aoyama in central Tokyo. Here’s an example of his work in the traditional style – an inkstone case decorated with a Japanese landscape.

Shokan Matsuda maki-e box

Traditionally, maki-e lacquerwork is applied to wooden objects, but Matsuda has begun using it on glass and metal as well. The exhibition includes some of his work on glass, like the wonderful bowl shown at the top of this post and this glass vase decorated with a phoenix.

Shokan Matsuda maki-e vase

Some of his pupils have also applied the technique to unexpected objects – like this set of plastic computer mice by Mikimoto Hirobe.

Mikimoto Hirobe maki-e mice

And this metal business card case by Tetsushi Hirobe.

Tetsushi Hirobe maki-e card case

More traditional is this wooden box decorated with a snow crystal by Takako Mizutani.

Takako Mizutani maki-e box

And this pendant by Gia Liang.

Gia Liang maki-e jewellery

Or this square wooden plate decorated with a tiger by Susumu Nagashima.

Susumu Nagashima maki-e plate

I went to a drop-in workshop at the V&A where Matsuda demonstrated maki-e techniques, including takamaki-e (raised pictures), where the design is built up so that it stands out from the surface, using charcoal before applying the gold – building up the thickness with layers of gold would be far too expensive.

Shokan Matsuda maki-e workshop

At the other end of the room Matsuda’s pupils were teaching visitors the hira-e (flat pictures) technique.

Shokan Matsuda maki-e workshop

Participants drew their designs with a brush  on a lacquered wooden spoon, using a thin layer of lacquer which acts as a glue, and then dabbed on the powdered metal with soft cotton wool. Besides silver and gold, maki-e uses bronze, powdered eggshell or mother-of-pearl.

Shokan Matsuda maki-e workshop

The finished spoons were carefully packed for their makers to take home. They needed to dry out, preferably in humid conditions, for a minimum of four hours. The finished product should end up looking something like this:

Shokan Matsuda maki-e workshop

If you’re thinking of going to the exhibition, it’s free and runs until 20th July in the Old Library at Chelsea College of Art  and Design (right next door to Tate Britain.) Ask for directions to the library at the gatehouse as you go in.

You can still sign up for maki-e workshops although places are filling up fast. For a full list of locations and prices, and for details of opening times of the exhibition see the Shokan website.

14 thoughts on “Maki-e – Gold sprinkled on lacquer

  1. Fascinating. I love the thought that computer mice may be coming to the fore to take over from traditional items such as netsuke (although I don’t know whether netsuke are still being produced in quantity, or whether this technique was applied to them?)


  2. Pingback: Kintsugi lacquer repair – when broken is better than new | Sequins and Cherry Blossom

  3. Pingback: Takumi Japan – skill, craft and the pursuit of perfection | Sequins and Cherry Blossom

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