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Tarashikomi Technique

Japanese paintings in the past had usually been done on paper (or silk) with water colors. The paintings in the Tomb of Kyushu are some of the earliest Japanese art, done on the tomb’s walls (5th and 7th century). Silk and paper came from China and in the 7th century, it was needed and used primarily for writing; however, it began to be used more for art in the 8th century. Silk was most common for paintings done on hanging scrolls, while paper was used for calligraphy on hand scrolls. Nikawa (animal glue) was used for the paint mediums and it was made from cowhide, or other animal skins.[1]

Hon'ami Koetsu (1558-1637) was inspired by the ancient art of the Japanese Heian age, which was a model of art of the distant past. These artworks were actually very popular with the Samurai, who were trying to re- embrace old past times but also not lose the beauty of the Heinen period. Masters of different arts and different schools often inspired other artists, who then went on to create their own styles of art or schools. Hon'ami Koetsu inspired a man named Tawaraya Sotatsu, who is noted for his tarashikomi technique, who then inspired Ogata Korin, which is were the Rinpa art style gets its name. The tarashikomi technique is actually a part of the Rinpa style, which is a decorative art, which tarashikomi is able to contribute to. Tawaraya Sotatsu and Hon'ami Koetsu both created a new decorative painting school, which Ogata Korin would learn from later on. Tawaraya Sotatsu got money by selling his decorated scrolls, screens, and fans by owning a picture shop (eya).[2] Tawaraya Sotatsu is known for his paintings on fans and screens, and for using the tarshikomi technique. The tarshikomi technique is an art form were, while the colored paint is still wet, one drops more ink onto the painting, making several layers, usually in a dripping form for fine details such as ripples in water or flower petals on a tree. Tawaraya Sotatsu's style, the depth of it, is something one might expect to see from a Chinese painter; however, the freedom of his paintings was something that Chinese painters would not have attempted at this time in history.[3]

Tawaraya Sotatsu’s new style of painting could be seen mainly in his paintings on screens. Tawaraya Sotatsu’s works Flowers and Grasses of the Four Seasons and Lotus and Waterfowl both show the tarishikmoi techniques. In addition, another hand scroll entitled Kitano Tenjin engi is famous for the clouds, and the puffs surrounding them, being done in the tarishikomi technique.[4]

The school of Tawraya Sotatsu (1624-1644) used to paint a lot of folded screens. They were not only beautiful works of art; they were very convenient. The screens could be set up easily but also folded and put away just as easily. This allowed people to admire screens seasonally and separately. One might even bring out a screen to admire for a special occasion. Themes were common, often inspired by tales or poems of other artists. They were to be admired and to add to a room; though they were not meant to remain in a corner forever, much like wall art is used in many modern western houses. Sometimes a single object was repeated over and over on the screen, and yet it was not a tiring sight, for the images seemed to move across the screens. The screens were arranged so that they folded in on each other, this motion of folding played with the movement of the panels. This movement allowed for an extra sense of beauty as each panel was drawn so that it flowed, and enhanced the picture, often giving images more dimension.

The tarashikomi technique was furthered by Ogata Korin (1658-1716). Actually, Ogata Korin’s real name was Ichinojo Koretomi, but he changed his name because he got into a lot of debt. He had four children, all by different lovers and he was known for being very frivolous. Nonetheless, he would go on to become one of Japan’s master Rinpa painters. Some of his first works were paintings on fans which he made for the dowager empress. It was not until after 1709 that he started to work more on founding the style of Rinpa. He made a lot of screen paintings, such as Irises, which is from Tales of Ise. The screen is based on the part of the tale when a traveler makes a poem based on seeing a pond with beautiful irises. Although Otaga Korin leaves out the poet, bridge, and pond from the tale, he does keep the irises. The same flowers are used for the entire six screens.

There are many other examples of the tarashikomi technique in several other of Ogata Korin’s screens such as Hakurakuten, in which he actually barrows a lot of other mater painters techniques, such as Sotatsu Tawaraya’s tarashikomi technique, which Ogata Korin uses for the bridge. The pool of water in which the bridge sits is colored by using a second pigment of color that was added while the first coating of paint while it was still wet.

Ogata Korin’s best known screen was Red and White Plum Blossoms. This art work was a pair of screens with two trees, which when apart were stunning enough, but only when unified can their true and full beauty be seen. The silver water swirls in a river between the two trees on the golden background. Ogata Korin painted Red and White Plum Blossoms between 1712-1713. Ogata Korin used the gold leaf screen among large dark shadowed plum trees. There screens certainly when put together are completely awe- inspiring. Brilliant points of red and white color gives highlights and embellishment to the leafs and fruit on the plum trees. It breaks up color, by allowing colors to bleed while partially wet. The twigs, the stalks, the trunks of the trees are very detailed, made so by the tarashikomi technique. The imagery looks random but if one were to take out something in any place then the whole painting would fall apart. You can not take away or add anything; this was one of the goals of the Rinpa School. Any artwork was complete and could not be reduced or added to. As a side note, another famous Rinpa master who used the tarashikomi technique was Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828). His scroll Night View of the Arched Bridge at the Sumiyoshi Shrine uses the style to blur the effects of his painting.[5]

Tawaraya Sotatsu’s paintings were also sometimes referred to as the Tawaraya painting style. Several of his paintings, which were labeled as Tawaraya style paintings, can be seen on many fans, and scrolls, the most famous being several images in the Tale of Genji. Ogata Korin’s paintings used a lot of this style of painting, but are known as being simpler than Tawaraya Sotatsu’s specific style. Not to mention, even though Tawaraya Sotatsu came before Ogata Korin, Ogata Korin’s new style was what would come to bear the name of Rinpa (the Rin coming from the last letters of his last name of Ogata and the Japanese word for school, pa). Of course, there were some differences between Tawaraya Sotatsu’s works and Ogata Korin’s style. The main differences were that the new Rinpa style used a lot sharper contours and lines, and also greatly increased the amount of color used in paintings, especially on screens.[6]

Rinpa was a style of painting which was for decorations. It was common to add silver or gold leaf to paintings, which added an extra enticing effect. The metallic look gave the background a shiny look, which gave the painted objects on top a more outstanding quality. In addition, this gave the paintings a more solid support so that screens would be less penetrable. Unlike Western painters, Japanese artists painting on screens without using ground layers; instead, they used paint components of different layers. Furthermore, silk was usually used to paint on, and by using an open weave, a painter could paint on both sides of the screen, which helped make the screen even more durable. This durability is what made tarshikomi styles of painting possible. The tarashikomi style means dripping in, which is basically how the paint is applied. This painting gives screens and other artwork a very detailed look, and added decorative to the art work. The tarashikomi technique could add details, such as leaves or flowers on a tree, which made them stand out vitality against the background, and made them stand out vibrantly. The dripped paint layers made such things like buds on a tree shine across the room, and moss on a tree glow against the dark shadowed bark of a tree. These added touched gave the images an extra illuminating mark which added dazzling color to the screen. The paint is dripped onto already laid payers of paint while the coat of paint is still a bit wet. Layer after layer of dripping really adds to the strength of the screen but also the depth of the image.

Buddhist painters are best known for these techniques. The Floating World pictures (ukiyoe) are a perfect example.[7] These pictures were popular in Edo Japan among the middle class. The city of Edo was built on a swamp and completely built from scratch, so that is could be mobile. This allowed the city constructors to also arrange the city as they wished.

But outside the city limits, the Floating World became a popular place of escape and pleasure from the very strict Shogan rule. While the waters were high, the Floating World existed on raised wooden planks, and when the waters receded, the people were able to gather on the banks. Almost every kind of lewd, lustful, and carefree activity could be found here, providing a lot of interesting material for artists. Working people could get away and break off, for a time, with the real world. With no family or obligations in this world a person could enjoy and relax; brothels were the main destination of such escape.[8]

The evolution of artistic styles has been passed down for many generations, each producing their own masters of their times. These styles were then passed on and their students would create other styles, which have evolved into what is used today. Although, Ogata Korin gets the credit for creating Rinpa, Tawaraya Sotatsu gets credit for the tarashikomi technique, without which the Rinpa style would greatly be missing a beautiful addition to its décor.


  1. Winter, John. “Japan, VI, 1: Painting materials and techniques.” Grove Oxford Art Online, 2009
  2. Wilson, Richard. “Tawaraya Sotatsu.” Grove Oxford Art Online, 2009
  3. Yuzo, Yamane. “Sotatsu.” Monumenta Nipponica Vol. 20. Sophia University, 1965
  4. Wilson, Richard. “Tawaraya Sotatsu.” Grove Oxford Art Online, 2009
  5. Ohki, Sadako. “Sakai Hoitsu [Sakai Tadanao; Ukean].” Grove Oxford Art Online, 2009
  6. Ogata: (1) Ogata Korin. Grove Oxford Art Online, 2009
  7. Winter John. “Japan, VI, 1: Painting materials and techniques.” Grove Oxford Art Online, 2009
  8. Peterson, Dr. “Art of China and Japan.” (information presented in classroom presentation at Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois, United States, Spring 2009)[verification needed]
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