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An illustration of a tidal wave and two boats being consumed by it

Drawing Lessons With One of History’s Greatest Artists: Hokusai


Always wanted to learn to draw or to refine your technique? How about a class with one of graphic art’s great masters?

Katsushika Hokusai’s name is well-known today, and some of his works have become part of the collective imagination like the Mona Lisa or Boticelli’s Birth of Venus. Hokusai’s hallmark in the common memory is The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. It’s a print in the ukiyo-e style that many will immediately identify and even fall completely with the artist’s seduction: an unexpected balance of form, a balance between perfection and grandiosity once thought impossible, and a potentially destructive natural form captured within an admirable artistic expression. That was the graphic genius of Hokusai.

But if this praise is not enough, Hokusai stands out for something else: his generosity. His career was always open and connected to his immediate environment (the artistic, but also to other fields). In reviewing his biography, we find that he remained active and committed through every period of his life. His generosity, though he may naturally have sought a retreat, allowed him to expand, to find common ground with others, and perhaps, to show that the essence of creative discipline is nothing other than dialogue and an approach to the world from which it has emerged, and which allows one to return and transform that same world.

In just such a spirit, Hokusai arrived at a moment when he was given the task of writing art manuals (known as etehon). The artist, then 51 years old, dedicated himself from 1811 to 1820 to the creation of books in which he taught drawing.

Illustration of birds, some are flying, some are pecking, some are standing

One stands out: Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing, an 1812 manual written with a certain practical sense for gaining a little more fame and for students who wanted to learn graphic art. The lessons are divided into three volumes. The first teaches how to deconstruct an object into geometric shapes, a fundamental step toward perceiving reality with an elementary gaze. A second volume shows how forms are delineated with greater detail and care. Finally, a third volume allows Hokusai to show some of his drawings in the manner of a scheme, pointing out how each of the lines was drawn and the order in which they were made.

In short, it’s a true drawing course by an artist whose work impressed later painters including Gauguin, Van Gogh and Claude Monet, among many others. In us too, it’s a great source of inspiration.

Check here for Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing.

Also in Faena Aleph: Five Masters of Ukiyo-e


Images: 1) Public Domain 2) Public Domain

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