February 26, 2018 7:03 PM   Subscribe

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is most famous for his iconic Great Wave off Kanagawa. But he produced a huge body of work, including a little-known how-to book: 略画早指南, or Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawings, a manual in three parts. Volume I breaks every drawing down into simple geometric shapes; volume II decomposes them into fragmentary contours; and volume III neatly diagrams each stroke and the order in which they were drawn.

Other pedagogical works include his Drawing Methods, Quick Pictorial Dictionary, Dance Instruction Manual, and the lovely, three-color Pictures Drawn in One Stroke.
posted by theodolite (28 comments total) 149 users marked this as a favorite
This is really cool, thanks!
posted by curious nu at 7:13 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]

Last year on ebay I came across a Japanese international seller offering two page sets from a water-damaged copy of one of Hokusai's instructional works for $10 plus shipping. I'm not 100% sure how I feel about not picking up some of the material.
posted by mwhybark at 7:16 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]

Wow! The Quick Lessons are great. I’m going to show them to my son, who’s just getting interested in drawing. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 7:35 PM on February 26

Wow I love this! I'm in the process of making my wife an anniversary card themed on Great Wave and this is perfect.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:40 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]

Several years ago, the Sackler Gallery had a fairly comprehensive Hokusai exhibit that basically went through his whole career. I don't know how much it was actually true, but the narrative of the exhibit was that as much as he was a successful commercial artist during his time, he never felt like he was a serious "important" artist.

And at the end of it, I just kind of had to sit for a while and think about that he didn't think he was important. I mean, The Great Wave off Kanagawa is one of the most iconic images ever for the most part now. But he didn't think he mattered. There was just something so sad and beautiful about that.

(And well, he didn't quite invent manga but may have invented -- or at least popularized -- tentacle porn.)

He was such a wonderful and prolific artist. He was also incredibly playful. I think he'd be happy that a lot of people are still talking about his art.
posted by darksong at 7:48 PM on February 26 [8 favorites]

If you are a truly great artist, the powers that name things, will name a giant rayed, crater on Mercury after you. The crater is about 100 kilometers in diameter, but some of the rays extend for thousands of meters. I love his work.
posted by Oyéah at 7:49 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]

This is neat and super interesting - thanks for posting!
posted by carter at 7:49 PM on February 26

Fun film fact: the wallpaper in Elisa's apartment in The Shape of Water is based directly on The Great Wave off Kanagawa. They just added layers of material to obscure it so that it wasn't obvious on screen. Scroll down to the very end of this Vanity Fair article to read about it.
posted by Mothlight at 7:54 PM on February 26 [3 favorites]

For anyone in Japan or coming here for visit, Mefi's own Woodblock100 is an artist producing ukiyoe prints from his studio in Asakusa. He does woodblock printmaking tutorials as well, and if you're in the area, they're a lot of fun.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:57 PM on February 26 [8 favorites]

Oh my god. Quick Pictorial Dictionary was reissued and I own it! And didn't even know what it was. I steal drawing solutions from it constantly. I knew it was a reference manual of sorts for imagery but had no idea of the source since all the text is in Japanese. Amazing. The links above are great resources. Thanks.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 8:21 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]

Wow, so simple and elegant, and says in a few shapes what it takes other entire books or courses to explain in a way I can understand. This is like what IKEA would be if it were an instructional guide to drawing instead of a furniture store.
posted by not_on_display at 8:22 PM on February 26

So, pencil, compass and straight edge for composition, then ink it up.

Time to stop at the arts store.
posted by ocschwar at 8:51 PM on February 26

Really beautiful! I especially like the "one stroke drawings" book.

Re volume II: those are not all contours— they're often characters. E.g. on page 4, there are drawings based on の no, and the cranes start with ふ fu. On page 9, the drawing of the man on the right is elaborated from み mi. The hill on page 12 comes from 山 san 'mountain'. The rocks on page 19 are from 石 ishi 'stone'. And many more, but you get the idea.
posted by zompist at 8:55 PM on February 26 [4 favorites]

recommended listening: The BBC's In Our Time episode on Hokusai
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:56 PM on February 26 [2 favorites]

Hokusai's mastery of linear contour, of line dynamics, is unparalelled. zompist highlights a book in which he unambiguously relates that to Japanese calligraphy. I will never tire of looking at Hokusai's drawings. It seems perfectly unlikely that either Hokusai ever had the opportunity to see Dürer's work, but so many things in their linear sensibilities appear similar.
posted by mwhybark at 10:27 PM on February 26

Oh, this is FANTASTIC. Thank you so much, theodolite!

(And zompist, thanks for pointing out the characters in volume 2!)
posted by kristi at 10:37 PM on February 26

Yay wonderful!!!
posted by odinsdream at 10:50 PM on February 26

For even more great info on The Great Wave check out this series of videos from Canadian born, Tokyo based (and Metafilter's own) David Bull as he chronicles his own recreation of the print.
posted by PenDevil at 12:25 AM on February 27 [3 favorites]

have any of these been reprinted as books that one could find somewhere?
posted by kokaku at 2:25 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]

So cool! I love Volume III so much, the disassembled drawings with each individual stroke laid out and labeled like a collection of clock parts. It's wonderful to see the mechanics behind the magic in any art form.
posted by xylothek at 3:20 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]

I do not want to steal the thunder from Katsushika Hokusai's contributions to art, but I feel it is worth mentioning the anime film adaptation of the manga Miss Hokusai [YouTube][Trailer].
“As all of Edo flocks to see the work of the revered painter Hokusai, his daughter O-Ei toils diligently inside his studio. Her masterful portraits, dragons and erotic sketches – sold under the name of her father – are coveted by upper crust Lords and journeyman print makers alike. Shy and reserved in public, in the studio O-Ei is as brash and uninhibited as her father, smoking a pipe while sketching drawings that would make contemporary Japanese ladies blush. But despite this fiercely independent spirit, O-Ei struggles under the domineering influence of her father and is ridiculed for lacking the life experience that she is attempting to portray in her art. Miss Hokusai‘s bustling Edo (present day Tokyo) is filled with yokai spirits, dragons, and conniving tradesmen, while O-Ei’s relationships with her demanding father and blind younger sister provide a powerful emotional underpinning to this sumptuously-animated coming-of-age tale.”
posted by Fizz at 6:02 AM on February 27 [5 favorites]

These are all so great, but I just love the Dance Instruction Manual so much. How fun.
posted by DynamiteToast at 7:17 AM on February 27

Were all these books made with woodcuts too?
posted by dreamling at 2:48 PM on February 27

So, are these available in print anywhere? I've got a kid on the spectrum who is way into anime and loves these but wants them as print books. Translated into English would be great, but I think she likes the actual drawing and design information the most. I looked for them in print and couldn't find them. What a terrible mistake if these aren't in print.
posted by Stanczyk at 3:44 PM on February 27

This is an excellent and interesting question. As the books themselves appear to have aged out of any conceivable copyright it strikes me as both odd and interesting that the site maintainer hasn't programmatically linked the image galleries to a print-on-demand service.
posted by mwhybark at 4:55 PM on February 27

Here is a book reprinting and presumably contextualizing a selection of Hokusai's books, er, Manga.
posted by mwhybark at 4:59 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]

“How Did Hokusai Create The Great Wave?”—Christie's, 12 April 2017
posted by ob1quixote at 9:56 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

In November of last year I visited the wonderful Hokusai Museum in the Sumida district of Tokyo. It's a small, but excellent museum
posted by thaths at 11:42 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]

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