Modern Japanese Painting Techniques: A Review

Art has a unique ability to captivate and inspire, and for enthusiasts and aspiring artists alike, the quest for novel techniques and styles is an ongoing journey. In the realm of Japanese painting, illustrator Shinichi Fukui’s book, “Modern Japanese Painting Techniques,” promises to unlock the secrets of creating beautiful Japanese-style paintings with acrylics. However, as we delve into the pages of this book, we find a mix of allure and complexity that may leave beginners yearning for more comprehensive guidance.

Exploring the Essence of Japanese Style

The pivotal question that arises from the outset is, “What defines these paintings as ‘Japanese-style’?” Fukui’s portraits, characterized by simplified forms and flat compositions, at first glance, appear reminiscent of American pop art. However, Fukui sheds light on the tradition of Nihonga, a genre of painting characterized by specific traits such as no emphasis on realism, no shading, light color tones, use of outlines, and simple expression. Despite using modern acrylics and a brighter palette, Fukui acknowledges the divergence from traditional Japanese painting, stating, “I am not overly concerned about keeping with tradition.”

Artist Shinichi Fukui teaches the methods of Japanese-styleAn Inside Look at Fukui’s Approach

Before delving into painting techniques, Fukui provides insights into photography, sketching compositions, and gathering materials—a process that might overwhelm novice artists with its array of paints, inks, mediums, masking fluid, and more. A captivating chapter introduces seven professional illustrators, showcasing the diverse expressions within modern Japanese painting.

The core of the book unfolds with an exploration of Fukui’s method, primarily focused on the bijin-ga, or pretty woman genre. As the reader navigates through portraits of demure figures in elegant kimono to modern fashion plates, the book offers a behind-the-scenes journey with numerous photographs detailing key steps in production. However, only the first two paintings receive detailed step-by-step instructions, while the rest are summarized, creating a potential challenge for those seeking comprehensive guidance.

Unusual Techniques: The Role of Masking Film

Fukui’s method introduces an unusual feature—the extensive use of masking film. Transparent adhesive sheets are employed to create clean, sharp divisions of color. The process involves applying the film, painting the surrounding color, and cutting away sections with a craft knife. While Fukui praises the efficiency of this technique, beginners might find it laborious and tiresome.

A Challenge for Beginners

The brevity of some instructions and occasional omissions pose challenges for beginners. Fukui assumes a fundamental artistic proficiency in his readers and leaves certain steps open to interpretation. For instance, neglecting to instruct readers to mask off surrounding areas before painting background windows could lead to confusion. Fukui’s reliance on the reader’s ability to fill in the gaps might leave aspiring artists feeling somewhat lost.

A Consideration for Prospective Readers

While the book’s subtitle, “A Step-by-Step Beginner’s Guide,” may raise expectations, it’s crucial to note that this was absent from the original Japanese release. Fukui’s assumption of the readers’ proficiency is evident, offering valuable insights for seasoned artists but potentially leaving beginners searching for more comprehensive guidance. “Modern Japanese Painting Techniques” opens a window into the methods of a successful professional, but budding creatives should weigh the book’s suitability based on their skill level and appetite for self-guided exploration.