In A Nutshell – Netsuke Exhibition at the Japanese Embassy London

In A Nutshell - Netsuke Exhibition leaflet and exhibit list
In A Nutshell – Netsuke Exhibition leaflet and exhibit list

I was in London for a few hours the other day and took the opportunity to pop into the ‘In A Nutshell’ Exhibition at the Japanese Embassy. I say ‘pop in’ but unless you work round there and can do several short visits it really is worth giving it an hour at least to have a really good look as there are 218 catalogued exhibits to look at.

I had heard about the exhibition from the International Netsuke Society website and forum, it has been organised to coincide with their convention in London (10th – 14th May).

To be honest I have walked past the Japanese Embassy on Piccadilly many times without even realising it was there (its near Green Park Tube station) so it was really nice to have an excuse to go in.

Being an Embassy you need photo ID to gain access to the building and you also have to pass through security scans, though the exhibition is free to visit.  There are restrictions in that you are not allowed to take photos (hence the photo with this post being of the flyer and exhibit list!) but this is a minor inconvenience. There are even comfy sofas so that you can sit and mull over what you’ve seen and watch the film on the TV screen.

The exhibition space is lovely and bright and the pieces are arranged so that the majority of them you can see all the way around which is really refreshing as you can fully appreciate all the work that has gone into them. Obviously you can’t see the bases as they are standing on them. I was really impressed by the quality of the work on display.

It is always odd seeing work ‘in the flesh’ when previously you have only seen it in a book or on the internet. I am mostly surprised by the size difference, although the sizes are stated with the photographs I never seem to quite take it in. The photographs are usually close ups which make the work seem huge and can also make larger work and smaller work seem like they are a similar size. For example the first case on the right contains mainly figures and to me they look massive, I sometimes forget that Netsuke come in varying sizes just as do the humans who wear/wore them.

There were several Netsuke that I would have loved to have taken home, had I had the chance to and the money to afford them! Not that these are for sale but the ‘would you take it home’ feeling is one I often use when deciding whether I like something or not. My absolute favourite is number 82 a Kudan carved in wood by Masayoshi, early – mid 19th century, I was just fascinated by the extra eyes on both the head and the body and the fine carving of the hair although I had no idea of what a Kudan is or should look like. I’ve just looked it up and it is a humanoid monster in the legends and folklore of Japan, more research is necessary here I think.

A couple of Tigers caught my eye, number 136 a Tiger carved in wood by Tomokazu, early 19th century, looked really strokeable, you know that you’d be able to feel the fur when you held it in your hand. Also number 139 a Tiger carved in Ivory by Sekiran nanjuroku (sai) (Sekiran at the age of 76), mid 19th century, I really loved his eyes and the, I can only call it a cat like grin on his face. If you see it you’ll know what I mean.

I was immensely pleased to see a piece by British Carver Michael Webb displayed (203 Frog on Lily Pads carved in wood, 1982) as I am a fan of his work and have been lucky enough to hold a couple of his pieces. His work is very intricate and you can really see the time that has gone into the creation.

The run of 9 snail Netsuke in a row was a lovely display choice, it looked almost like they were all sleeping on a wall in the garden.

If you have read the book ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’ by Edmund de Waal, that hare is on display in this exhibition. Although I must say, not sure how controversial I am being here, that I actually prefer the photos of it to the actual piece. If you go and have a look at the exhibition do let me know what you think. It is in the display case directly opposite the poster featuring the hare.

Through visiting this exhibition I have confirmed to myself that I prefer the animal subjects to the humans and also have discovered that I am really drawn to the more highly carved pieces.

Would I recommend that you go see the exhibition? Yes I do, it is a really nice exhibition showing a wide variety of subjects and one of the few places where you can see all the way around the majority of the pieces. Whether you have seen Netsuke before or not if you are anywhere near the Embassy go and have a look.

The exhibition is open Mon – Fri (not bank holidays) 9.30 – 17.30 at the Japanese Embassy, Piccadilly, London. For further details visit the Japanese Embassy website.

If you do go, do come back and tell me what you thought of it. I’d love to hear about it…..








Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .

Horse Netsuke – is finished and I have fabulous news

Finished Horse Netsuke in pear wood
Finished Horse Netsuke in pear wood

I am really pleased to say that not only is the Horse Netsuke now finished, but she, yes she, has a name. She is called ‘Trouble’, I have no idea where that name came from but as soon as the thought arrived it seemed right and so has stuck.

Getting this Netsuke finished was a lot more stressful than I hoped it would be, not because of the piece itself but rather external circumstances that had nothing to do with it. Also I had a deadline to work to which I have been working towards for a few months now, more on that later.

The main thing that needed to be done following on from where I left off in the last Horse Netsuke post was the sanding and finishing as all the shapes and places of things were locked in already. The mane and tail needed a little work too just to finish them off.

Working on such a small scale the finish (the look of the surface) is incredibly important, each piece gets minutely scrutanised by the people who look at it and the person who, hopefully, buys it. That person will spend a long, long time looking at it and admiring it.

I always forget how long the sanding takes as there are not only quite a few grades of sandpaper to work through to get a lovely sheen, but also technical difficulties in getting the sandpaper into the places you need it to go!

Actually I find it a very calming thing to do, it is so nice to handle the piece as it gets smoother and smoother.

Once I am happy with it one of the last things to do is to apply some Danish oil, to give it a protective coating but also to bring out all the sheen you have been working towards with the sanding.

It wasn’t until I was taking some final photos of the horse that I realised I had forgotten to sign it! That was soon rectified as you can see.

Horse Netsuke offside showing my signature
Horse Netsuke offside showing my signature

My signature has changed a little since I started carving Netsuke, at first I tried to include curves but I soon realised that it was too difficult so I’ve now got a trimmed down all straight line version.

And the fabulous news? If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed that I was in London at the National Gallery the other Sunday. The National Gallery wasn’t the reason for my trip, it was an added bonus, I was there to submit the Horse Netsuke for possible selection for the Royal Society of Miniatures Annual Exhibition. That was also the deadline I was working towards.

I didn’t find out until last Friday but I am so pleased to say that she has been accepted for the exhibition (yes there was dancing and much happiness when I found out the news!).

The exhibition is being held at The Mall Galleries, The Mall, London and believe it or not it opens tomorrow 16th October (2pm – 8pm), I know its short notice! The official opening is at 3pm on 17th and it carries on until 28th October 2012 10am – 5pm each day though on the last day it closes at 1pm.

I must say that I am really pleased with this Netsuke and I have learned a lot through making her, actually it was quite hard to leave her at the selection committee when she was so newly finished. I hope she enjoys her time being admired at the exhibition.

If you’re in London and like miniature work go have a look, if you do have a look let me know what you think.







Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .

Horse Netsuke – How Big? or rather how small?

Horse Netsuke with a fifty pence piece to show its size
Horse Netsuke with a fifty pence piece to show its size

I’ve just realised that in my posts on the Horse Netsuke up till now I haven’t even mentioned its size. From the photographs I have shown it could in all honesty be any size whatsoever as there are no external size references.

It was someone asking me how big it was having seen a photograph that prompted me to take the image shown here to show the size. I have since measured it as well and it measures approx 62mm high x 37mm across x 12mm deep.

When you compare this image to the last one of the Horse Netsuke in the post before the changes in the Netsuke are starting to become more subtle.

The mane and forelock are much closer to the head and neck and more deeply carved, I think they are starting to flow a little more. The ears are now properly in place and carved in, they are still in line with the mane at the tips (though it doesn’t look like that in this image). I hope that this will give the tips the protection they need.

I have taken the muscles around the face a bit deeper and the nostrils are better carved and stand out more along with the mouth.

The body and legs are looking a lot smoother as I have started to sand them to get them ready for the final finish. Sanding is good thinking time, when I’m not quite sure how to proceed with something I can spend a bit of time sanding.

You would think that I would only need to carve the Netsuke and leave it at that, but there is an awful lot of sanding that happens after the carving has finished working through the grades of paper to make it beautifully smooth.

You may be wondering why I have posted so many posts about this Horse Netsuke one after the other, I haven’t worked on it this quickly (it has taken several months to make it). Rather there is something coming up soon and in order to be able to tell you about that I have to show you the finished Horse Netsuke.

I think its nicer to see the progress of the Netsuke rather than just the finished article, especially as I remembered to take photos all the way through! Subscribers to my newsletter will be hearing the news and seeing the finished Horse Netsuke first…….







Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .

Horse Netsuke – progress report

The mane is starting to appear on the horse Netsuke
The mane is starting to appear on the horse Netsuke

In the last post on the Horse Netsuke I had more or less finalised the overall shape of the horse and decided finally where the legs would end up. They are still attached to each other at some point so as to give them a little more strength. The surface of the horse was left quite rough, smooth enough so that I could see the shape but not smooth enough to be a final finish. I also had not quite decided whether the tail would stay attached to the back legs.

From there I smoothed off the body and worked to refine the legs, putting in the height of the hooves and the final placing of the fetlocks and other joints.

The face was next, deciding where to put the cheek and the jawline, pulling it away from the body more and starting to see where I think the eyes and nostrils would go. Its all still quite roughly set in at the moment leaving room for me to change my mind a little should I want to, that is happening a lot with this Netsuke.

By working the mane and forelock more I could see where the ears would go, so I put those in roughly before I removed too much of the wood. I made the decision to keep the mane in quite large tumbling blocks for now, that way I would have room to make alterations further down the line if I wanted to. I still want to keep the ears within the height of the mane/forelock to protect them.

Up until this time I had left the bottom of the tail attached to the hooves of the hind legs as I couldn’t decide what to do with it. When you look at most rearing horse sculptures there is only usually the hind feet on the ground and the tail is set out backwards from the body in order to balance the sculpture as it stands creating a stable tripod effect. I was also trying to work out how a tail would fall naturally if a real horse were to be in this pose.

It is quite difficult to figure out what you can remove from the base of a Netsuke so that it looks right but still stands, one thing a Netsuke must be able to do is stand upright by itself on a flat surface. If you take too much away it won’t stand by itself any more. I tried balancing the Netsuke on its three hooves on a smaller surface to test whether it would take removing the tail from touching the floor.

To my surprise it worked, I realised then that I could carved the tail away from the hooves without affecting the balance. The only thing I’d need to watch is that I didn’t leave a ‘pointy’ bit at the bottom of the tail, something that could snag on fabric or break off. So I started by just separating it from the hooves and leaving it at that, by moving onto working on another part of the piece I gave myself time to think about it. Its a technique that I use quite a lot.

The detail being put onto the head of the Horse Netsuke
More detail appearing on the head of the Horse Netsuke

I eventually decided where the eyes and nostrils and mouth should go and put them in, as you can see in the photo above. I am quite pleased with the eyes and put a little of the basic musculature around them. The horse is starting to come alive a lot more.

I carved a little more into the mane, working out where the topline of the neck would sit under all that hair, but am leaving the ears alone for now while I think about what to do.

From here I need to make a decision about the tail, how close or far it should sit from the hooves and how much should be left between the hind legs. Its a case of what looks right against what gives enough support. The mane, forelock and ears need more work as I think there is too much height in there. I may also play a little more with the head. Then I start work on the final finishing, sanding, of the whole piece.

I think its progressing well so far, what do you think?






Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .