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Maki-e

March 18, 2021 6 min read

Maki-e Urshi Japanese pens

Lacquer is a natural enamel discovered approximately 5,000 years ago in ancient Asia. They realized that the sap of the tree called Rhus Vernicflua, commonly known as the lacquer tree, possesses qualities of adhesion and resistance that no other glaze or paint can surpass. This tree, a relative of poison ivy, can today only be found in southern China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan (where the name for the substance and the tree are the same: Urushi).

The extraction of the sap is mostly done in summer, as it sprouts between April and May, flowering between May and June. This last month is primordial, since it is when the tree begins to bleed and obtains its sap. The sap is collected the following month, only from trees that have reached a minimum thickness of ten centimeters and are more than ten years old. Once the sap has been extracted, it is subjected to a purification process, adding dehydrating products and dyes. When the process is finished, the urushi lacquer is usually mixed with red or black pigments, because the urushi color is usually clear and transparent.

The special characteristics of this lacquer are very different from those that can be obtained in other ways. The oils that compose it, in contact with humidity and ambient temperature, allow it to solidify without altering its composition, giving the sensation that it always remains moist, which gives the pieces treated with urushi a unique shine. For dozens of centuries, this method was used to treat all kinds of objects, from wood to armor, strengthening them and turning them into authentic works of art. The lacquer acted by protecting the objects from most of the external agents that could damage them.

Once the lacquer is dry, it is an almost impenetrable element, extremely resistant to heat and water, which cannot be altered by salt or chemical products. But above all, what makes it most special is the beauty of its finish. Only natural lacquer is capable of producing such a deep black and exquisite shades.

Lacquer techniques vary from country to country, depending on the quality of the lacquer and the use of the objects on which it is applied. The three most representative categories of lacquer arts are carving, inlaying and, of course, maki-e.

During the Nara Period (between 710 and 794) in Japan, the artistic technique of maki-e was initiated, consisting of drawing, through the sprinkling of gold or silver powder on wet urushi, various decorative figures. This technique, enormously complex in technique and learning, became popular over the centuries until it became a very popular decorative method in the middle of the Edo Period (approx. 17th century). His works became popular among Japanese royalty, and the title of Maki-e Master was established for artists who excelled especially in this technique.

Maki-e (which literally means "splashed image") is a specific Japanese way of working with lacquer. The possibilities of maki-e are practically endless, and it is a great example of the fusion between technical mastery and aesthetic sophistication. Moreover, this discipline makes it possible to decorate all kinds of objects beyond artistic pieces, and the precision and perfection of the technique has led to its use being concentrated mainly on small objects: fountain pens, lecterns, tea boxes, inkwells, card holders...

Each piece made using this technique is unique. A craftsman is in charge of varnishing the piece, transferring the drawing on the urushi, tracing each line, gently sprinkling the gold dust on it. All the steps are manual, unique and unrepeatable. For the most complex pieces it can take more than one hundred and thirty steps and three months of work to completely finish a piece.

Today, there are several writing brands that perpetuate this artistic tradition and present a collection of fountain pens decorated according to the Maki-e technique: NamikiPlatinum and Taccia.

 

The application of maki-e in the world of writing came from Ryosuke Namiki, founder ofNamiki. Although the company began by focusing on the manufacture of gold nibs, Namiki and his collaborator Masao Wada soon began to produce their own fountain pens. The pens of the time, made of ebonite, needed a protective coating to insulate them from agents that could damage the delicate material, including the ink itself. Namiki decided to use urushi on ebonite and, in a quest to enhance its beauty, to use maki-e techniques to draw different designs that would give his pens a unique style.

The designs made by Namiki masters are not mere imagination, as they all have a meaning and tell stories or refer to Japanese traditions or legends. Today, the process of making a Namiki fountain pen remains the same as it was when the company began. The fountain pen is made in resin, and then the urushi lacquer is applied to it. The lacquer has to be wet and, with a brush, layer after layer is applied. The more layers of urushi lacquer the fountain pen has, the more expensive it will be. For example, a high-end fountain pen has up to 25-30 layers of urushi lacquer.

A clear example of this is the new Namiki Yukari Royale Peony & Butterfly, where we can see beautiful drawings of the peony flower carefully made by master craftsman Misa. The peony has been used in Asia since ancient times for its medicinal virtues, and unmistakable beauty and sweet aroma that make this flower is represented in the art world to announce the beginning of spring. In this select piece you can see three beautiful peonies with butterflies around them. The pink peony represents love, the white peony represents modesty and the mauve peony celebrates friendship.

Namiki Yukari Royale peonny & Butterfly

Fountain pen Namiki Yukari Royale Peonny & Butterfly

Another great example where we can observe the effort and the great work done by Japanese Maki-e craftsmen, are the Mount Fuji fountain pens. This sacred volcano of Japan has become a symbol of Japanese culture and its omnipresence in this culture is not due to chance, since its religious scope is very important. Within this series of fountain pens we can find several designs with different themes and stories: Namiki Nippon Art: Mount Fuji and Wave, Namiki Mount Fuji and Ship Nippon Art, Namiki tradition Mount Fuji and Dragon.

Namiki Yukari

From left to right : Namiki Mount Fuji and Ship, Namiki Mount Fuji and Wave and Namiki Mount Fuji and Dragon.

Lacquering. Drawing. Dusting. Polishing. These four processes are repeated continuously to obtain a beautiful Namiki Maki-e piece, regardless of the collection to which they belong. Attentive to the needs of collectors, Namiki has created collections that adapt in theme and price to the whims of those who crave them: from the more affordable Nippon Art, to the select Togadashi-maki-e and Taka-mahi-e present in the Yukari Royale collection.

Namiki

In the picture, Namiki Yukari Apricot Tree and Warbler, Namiki Nippon art Maki-e Dragon & Cumulus and Namiki Yukari Royale Lioness and cubs.

Namiki currently has a total of 19 Maki-e artisans manufacturing parts throughout Japan.

Japanese artists

 

Platinum is one of the most popular brands in Japan, and the Platinum Modern Maki-e collection is an excellent value for money. The pieces in this collection feature an 18K gold nib for a much smoother and more fluid writing experience. If you are looking to get started in the world of writing with a Japanese piece of unparalleled beauty, you will certainly be satisfied.

Platinum Modern Maki-e

In black, Platinum Kanazawa Maki-e Swirling Petals Cheery Blossoms and in gold Platinum Kanazawa Maki-e Ascending Dragon.

From the hand of fashion designer Shun-jen Lin, we find the Japanese brand Taccia. The pillar on which this brand is based is the firm conviction that writing instruments should be affordable, elegant and created with high quality materials. Within this brand we can find a collection with limited edition maki-e pieces: Taccia Miyabi Maki-e LE.

Made from pure natural ebonite, each piece in the Miyabi Maki-e collection is made with the maki-e craft technique and sealed with urushi to conjure images of nature. All of their pieces are fitted with a hermetically sealed cap that softens the inflow and feature an 18-karat two-tone gold nib, and each design is limited to 30 pieces worldwide.

Taccia Miyabi

Taccia Miyabi Maki-e Milky Way


If you would like to know more about this Maki-e technique,you require more information or wish to place your order, please do not hesitate to contact us. You can write us an email, or visit our store in Madrid, in Núñez de Balboa 90. We will be glad to help you.

 

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Parker 51

He writes excellently, another important piece in my collection. the services provided by Iguana Sell are excellent as usual.

Like strawberry milk:)

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Gorgeous pen, wonderful service!

A beautiful pen that writes amazingly and feels gorgeous to write with, quick delivery too made it a wonderful experience!

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Genuine watch, brand new and delivered fast. So everything i worried about was good. Genuine here now on first order discount too. I would use them again.