Get Free Drawing Lessons from Katsushika Hokusai, Who Famously Painted The Great Wave of Kanagawa: Read His How-To Book, Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawings

Even if you don’t know eigh­teenth and nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Japan­ese art, you def­i­nite­ly know the work of eigh­teenth and nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Japan­ese artist Kat­sushi­ka Hoku­sai — specif­i­cal­ly his Great Wave off Kana­gawa. (And if you’d like to know a lit­tle more about it, have a look at this short video from PBS’ The Art Assign­ment.) But if that so often repro­duced, imi­tat­ed, and par­o­died 1830s wood­block print stands for Hoku­sai’s oeu­vre, it also obscures it, for in his long life he cre­at­ed not just many oth­er works of art but works that helped, and con­tin­ue to help, oth­ers cre­ate art as well.

Hoku­sai’s bib­li­og­ra­phy, writes a Metafil­ter user by the name of Theodo­lite, includes “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.”

Fol­low those links and you can read each of the books page-by-page, and not to wor­ry if you don’t read Japan­ese; the artist ren­ders his exam­ples so clear­ly that the astute stu­dent can eas­i­ly fol­low them.

Not that an under­stand­ing of Japan­ese would­n’t enrich the read­ing expe­ri­ence: “Those are not all con­tours — they’re often char­ac­ters,” notes anoth­er Mefite in the com­ments. “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.’ ” These pages thus pro­vide the espe­cial­ly astute stu­dent a way to learn Hoku­sai’s style of draw­ing and the ele­ments of the writ­ten Japan­ese lan­guage at once.

In addi­tion to the Quick Lessons books, adds Theodo­lite, Hoku­sai’s “oth­er ped­a­gog­i­cal works include his Draw­ing Meth­ods, Quick Pic­to­r­i­al Dic­tio­naryDance Instruc­tion Man­u­al, and the love­ly, three-col­or Pic­tures Drawn in One Stroke.” Con­sid­er­ing the immense respect accord­ed to Hoku­sai today from all cor­ners of the world — up to and includ­ing sub­tle trib­utes paid in major motion pic­tures — it sur­pris­es some to learn that he con­sid­ered him­self a “mere” com­mer­cial artist. But per­haps that very atti­tude endowed him with a rel­a­tive­ly com­mon touch, of the kind that enabled him to share his tech­niques with the read­ing pub­lic so open­ly, and so ele­gant­ly.

(via Metafil­ter)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Enter a Dig­i­tal Archive of 213,000+ Beau­ti­ful Japan­ese Wood­block Prints

Down­load 2,500 Beau­ti­ful Wood­block Prints and Draw­ings by Japan­ese Mas­ters (1600–1915)

Down­load Hun­dreds of 19th-Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Wood­block Prints by Mas­ters of the Tra­di­tion

1,000+ His­toric Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed Books Dig­i­tized & Put Online by the Smith­son­ian: From the Edo & Meji Eras (1600–1912)

How to Draw in the Style of Japan­ese Man­ga: A Series of Free & Wild­ly Pop­u­lar Video Tuto­ri­als from Artist Mark Cril­ley

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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