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Cherry blossoms

I recently wrote about a trip to the Japanese gallery at the British Museum. Besides seeing some lovely prints, I was also inspired by a beautiful wedding sash with weeping cherry blossom design. I had been thinking of creating a cherry blossom print, but something was missing from my early versions. I love the way the blossoms pour down from the top of the sash, and the metallic thread elevates the natural designs to a level of elegance befitting a wedding. My photos didn't turn out very well, but luckily, this blog post has good quality photos, as well as some musings on Japanese design.

Cherry blossoms are a symbol of Japan and the blooming of cherry blossoms across the country is an important event each spring. People have been enjoying cherry blossom viewing parties for centuries, and today, the Japan Weather Association puts out a forecast for when the trees will be in full bloom in each major city. This year, the blooms are expected to be full in Tokyo in the first week of April.

Part of the appeal of cherry blossoms are their delicate and fleeting nature, echoing the Buddhist focus on the transience of life. Although flowers are also often used as a memento mori in Western art, I feel that the cherry blossom is a much more meaningful symbol. Western art tends to focus on wilting flowers and the message is about how, despite humankind's struggle against death, it is inevitable. I prefer the symbolism of the cherry blossom, which shows that all stages of life are beautiful (as when the blossoms disperse into petals covering the ground), and life only has meaning because of its impermanence.

I originally experimented with printing on blue-grey paper, but when I was picking out other pastel paper colours, I came across a gorgeous deep pink paper (it was referred to as plum, although that name would suggest a deep purple). I was pleasantly surprised by the way the white ink came out crisply on the edges of the blossoms, and fades in the middle, creating a kind of unintentional gradient from white to pink on each flower. The choice to use gold ink for the branches and leaves was inspired by the sash at the British Museum, and I think the gold makes the potentially girlish colour combination of white and pink into something more sophisticated.

Cherry blossom print detail

My original intention was to print the leaves and branches rather than hand-drawing them, but I liked the idea of each print being a unique piece of work. Each print was built up organically, with each blossom printed individually and the gold branches and leaves drawn in to join them. My process usually involves a lot of preparation and sketching before creating a finished work, so this kind of 'improvisational' working is quite different from what I'm used to. Like East Asian painting and calligraphy, creating the finished product becomes a lot more like a performance, and the result is meant to portray the essence of the subject rather than simply an accurate depiction of how it looks.

I think one of the personality traits that I have always put into my artwork is a sense of perfectionism and control. However, working in printmaking is really about the 'imperfections'. If I wanted a perfectly flat colour and even line, then I could digitally print my designs. I like how print-making has forced me to surrender my need for perfection and control, and just enjoy the unexpected results of the process.

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