Artisan 05


Embedding gold leaf into engraved patterns

Another popular technique is chinkin (gold-leaf embedment), in which the artisan first engraves a pattern onto a plain lacquered surface, then embeds gold leaf or dust in the engraved grooves to set the pattern in relief. As this step takes place at the very end—that is, after the final application of the outer urushi layer—failure is not an option, and even veteran artisans say that concentration is of the utmost importance. After the excess gold is wiped off, the mystic beauty of the delicate pattern is revealed, twinkling as it comes into sight. Kawatsura chinkin is so sophisticated that some artisans have even been bestowed national decorations by the Emperor for it. The multiple expressions afforded thereby include a variety of engraved depths and thicknesses, with the fine grooved lines repeating and intersecting. The patterns captivate people, as the three-dimensional effects are seemingly unrealisable by a single color (gold), and the rich expressions change depending on the angle from which the piece is viewed.


Production Steps


Transferring the pattern

The artisan applies pigments to the back side of a pattern sheet, tracing a draft sketch that has already been drawn on the front side. The sheet is then pressed onto the lacquerware, with the pigments transferred by the artisan, who rubs brush bristles over the pattern. Simpler patterns may eliminate the stage of the intermediate draft sketch, with the artisan instead carving the pattern directly onto the lacquerware from scratch, without the use of a pattern sheet.

The draft pattern is first drawn onto paper using charcoal.


Carving the pattern

First, the artisan carves the general outline of the pattern onto the wood, after which the finer lines and patterns are engraved. To engrave the patterns, the artisans skillfully use various carving instruments that they have designed themselves, each featuring a unique thickness, depending on whether they are used for drawing lines or lettering, for example, or used on flat surfaces.

Even narrow grooves in the wood are briskly and deftly carved by the artisan, without any hint of hesitation.

Each artisan designs and makes his/her own tools, which differ in terms of depth and shape.



Embedding the gold leaf

Urushi is embedded as an adhesive within the grooves engraved onto the piece, into which gold leaf is firmly set. The gold leaf is embedded and filled in by the pressing of a cotton ball. Besides gold leaf, gold dust can be used to produce a matte sheen, as well as pigments, such as white or red, for added accent.

Gold leaf is liberally applied during the process of chinkin.

The gold leaf is firmly embedded and affixed into the carved areas.




Once the urushi has dried and the gold leaf or dust has been properly set, traditional Japanese washi paper is used to wipe off any excess gold, after which the product is completed.

The excess gold leaf is robustly wiped off, then the dish is dried.

The small dish, with its gorgeous design, is complete.

The carving techniques and the layers of gold together produce a three-dimensional effect.

Several Kawatsura artisans, who are generally renowned for their superior techniques, have been awarded special national honors by the Emperor.