Archive for the ‘Negative Space’ Category

Cut-Art By J. A. Christensen

I am currently teaching a class on Kiri-e (Japanese paper cutting) at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.  It is such a pleasure to slow down to the pace of paper, cutting one shape at a time.  In its purest form, Kiri-e allows us to literally hold the tension between the dark and light aspects of our lives while focusing on the simple art of cutting paper.

In Kiri-e, it is essential to have both dark and light in order to create a work of art.  Without contrast, it is impossible to see anything.  For example, try to imagine a picture of a black bear in a cave at night or a white polar bear in a dazzling blizzard and you get the idea.  Without contrast, an image is impossible to see, leaving us with just an intellectual concept rather than a work of art.

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In the same way that contrast is essential to all of the arts, contrast is also the key to living authentically in this world.  Experiencing fully the darks and lights of our lives can be a tremendous gift, allowing us to know what is really important.  Contrast brings the essence of our lives to the foreground.  When we embody both, rather than focusing only on the light or dark sides of life, we find a new kind of balance which is fully alive and healing for ourselves and those around us.  The root of the word “to heal” means to become whole.  By consciously embracing both the dark and light aspects of life, we become whole.

Another lesson Kiri-e teaches is how to slow down and really pay attention.  Because we are constantly moving between dark and light shapes while making Kiri-e, it is very easy to get confused and lose the way if we try to move ahead too quickly.  In order to create Kiri-e, it is essential to take things one step at a time.  Through the practice of cutting one shape at at time, we learn through our senses of touch, sight and sound, as well as through our posture and body position how to slow down and be fully present.  It also becomes clear very quickly that pushing through when we are tired or when we lose our focus can ruin an entire piece of work in an instant.  These lessons are learned non-verbally, through the body.  Later, if we stop to think about it, we may realize that through the act of cutting paper, one step at a time, we have come a little closer to who we really are in the process.  As is said in Zen, “train the body and the mind will follow”.

Like many of the Japanese arts, Kiri-e, when practiced mindfully, can become a very satisfying means of growth and transformation.  It’s also a really fun way to create satisfying works of art.  I am delighted to have the opportunity to share this humble art form with my students at MCBA.  I look forward to introducing more of the Japanese paper based arts into my classes in the future.


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By Janine Irisarri

In my Wednesday drawing class, we have just begun working with scratchboard.  This illustration is a typical example of my students work.

Scratchboard is an excellent medium for learning how to see shapes.  The high contrast between black and white, together with the compelling positive and negative shapes one can easily create with scratchboard is incredibly stimulating to both the eyes and brain.

Because one is removing black ink to reveal the white clay surface underneath in scratchboard,  it very easy to become confused, mixing up the figure in the foreground with the background.  Within this confusion lies one of the major keys to seeing like an artist.

The confusion one experiences while looking at these two illustrations on the left is referred to as a “figure-ground” reversal in visual perception.  Notice what happens when you stare at these two illustrations.  What do you see first?  After a few moments, does your attention shift to see something else?  Can you see both a face and a vase at the same time?  For most people, seeing both at the same time is impossible, hence the sensation of bouncing that occurs.

That sensation of movement back and forth is actually happening within your brain.  Notice how what happens internally affects your perception of the outer world.  This is a true in drawing as it is when we visit other cultures and “see” from from a perspective which we are convinced is objective and correct.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  How we “see” the world around us us is always affected by the images that dwell within us.  This is true not only for artists, but also for anyone whether we are aware of it or not.

Visual processing is almost completely unconscious, except for those rare moments when we stop and try to really see.  Drawing is a wonderful way to become more aware of the wonder and beauty of the world around and within ourselves.

One the the secrets of drawing well is learning how to see both the positive and negative shapes, in other words the relationship between the figure and the ground.  If they are both interesting shapes, the entire drawing will be interesting.

Imagine what the world would be like if we were all able to become a little bit more aware of what we are seeing in the world, in each other and within ourselves.

Check back soon for more examples of scratchboard from class.

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