Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Carving Japanese Crests on Old Cigar Boxes

In my search for interesting symbols to carve on recycled wooden cigar boxes, I discovered Japanese crests. These crests, also called mon, or in the case of family crests, kamon, have been an important element in Japanese design for centuries. Their history and usage throughout the ages is an interesting subject. I will not go into the history in this posting, but you can do your own research on the internet. The crest symbols were originally used by the samurai and powerful warlord families. Today they are used primarily as decorative symbols for fabrics, tattoos, and corporate logos. The three diamond Mitsubishi logo for example, seen on all their vehicles, is actually the family crest. It symbolically represents three water chestnuts.

I started by getting a good reference book which shows hundreds of Japanese crest patterns and variations. Certain designs are perfect for carving; others are not. Some crests, even though very beautiful, are just too detailed and intricate to carve in wood. Some crests are very dramatic and impressive; others are rather mundane.

Most representations of the mon symbols are seen as two dimensional impressions on paper, fabric or skin. Carving them into wood presented some problems with proportions and spacing because of the depth dimension and sloped edges. Also, in the two dimensional representations, there is almost always an important contrast of positive and negative spaces…usually dark printing on a light background. Showing this contrast in uniformly colored wood required some added steps. I wound up using dark background stains and pyrography.

Despite these challenges, I was able to find a few crest designs that seemed to lend themselves to carving on the top of a wooden box. Three are shown in the photo above. Have you ever used Japanese crests in your work?