Natasha Norman Visual Artist

A quiet goodbye

Time has finally caught up with me as I write this last blog post about the MI-Lab residency in real time. It has been a gentle day of packing and gathering together for departure tomorrow. Various members are peeling away in taxis as their flights demand.

Charles and I had a final walk to the Forest Mall with a sparkling Fuji as our guide. We indulged in a doughnut seated on the DIY display outdoor furniture admiring the Fuji view.

The whole valley has been bathed in magical light today and I caught the last of it on my last run around the lake as the dust turned the valley pink and then blue. I followed the local Fish Eagle for a while and saw a Grey Headed Heron. Before heading home, I rang the memorial bell twice for a wish and listened to it echo my hopes across the silvery water.

What a magical moment this has been.

Residency portrait

Thank you to Hayato Fujioka for his photographic skills.

Washi paper light

This morning the sunlight making the washi paper screens glow in my room was of the South African kind. I almost thought I caught a scent of the coffee percolating on the stovetop and imagined that my housemate, Martin, was making scones today. The only thing missing was the sound of Steve whistling guinea fowl chants at the front door to announce his arrival with madeleines.

It was still a good day. I was welcomed by one of Charles’ sayings in the kitchen, “Ah, it is a good morning now that you’re here!” A shameless flirt but very endearing.

I spent the day finishing off some prints and then slowly wound up my workspace: packaging prints, sharpening and oiling my carving tools for storage, cleaning brushes and sweeping away stray wood chips as the warm afternoon light started to fall on the tatami mats. That amazing Japanese pace: a whole day for cleaning studio today and tomorrow a day for packing.

We all enjoyed a last meal together at the local restaurant, nicknamed The Village. Now I am wondering how I will fit everything into my bag tomorrow!

Breath Communication Etiquette

But is it toothpaste?

It’s peculiar to get used to the feeling of not understanding, of not knowing and having to explore, imagine or investigate. I think the basic curiosity of an artist is to look at the world as a place of fascination. I found this image on my phone while I was uploading pics and had a good laugh.

Keiko finished off the workshop today with some instruction on tool maintenance and information on kozo paper suppliers based both in Japan and America or Britain. It was a very useful last word. Some of the artists have started packing up their spaces. I so enjoy printing I’m going to indulge one last morning in studio tomorrow before clearing.

Some prints

A few examples of the prints I’ve pulled…

Zazen (Wave Function)
Zazen (Wave Function)

I have a deep love for the surface of a body of water. Based on some images of Lake Kawaguchiko, this block was a great place of learning for me.

Zazen (Wave Function)
Zazen (Wave Function)

I like the variations one can achieve in printing.

Lake Kawaguchiko Mist
Lake Kawaguchiko Mist

This was a very difficult print to get right and I’m still not satisfied with the final result, but I was trying a gomi effect in the foreground and softer tones in the background. A big learning curve.

Lake Kawaguchiko
Lake Kawaguchiko

This is the first version of this block. The colours are a bit clumbsy and I didn’t get the soft bokashi in the background.


I started to like the silkscreen-like quality of this print and tried to push that.


I like the brush-like marks in this print. It feels quite bold for a Mokuhanga work.

Ofuro progression
Ofuro progression


A bit of fun. Quickly carved and printed experimentally, I literally painted the block as I printed.


A selection of softer hues.

Tsuki Koi
Tsuki Koi

This is my final image and I had much more control over the medium.

Tsuki Koi
Tsuki Koi

Difficult to capture all the subtle tones in a photograph.


My first block

Printing Process

A few pictures of the printing process… this is a three block but five colour print.

Pulling the first colours: yellow and a hint of orange off one block
The worktop

Inks on the left, nori above block centre, baren for pressure

Second block is inked with two colours: blue and burnt umber
Final prints


At 5:30am the room shook. It carried on shaking in the way a wooden house would shake if the person in the room next door started doing starjumps. It was surprisingly unalarming for a level 6 earthquake, epicentre Tokyo. I confess I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Mount Ashiwada

The weather today was spectacularly summery and I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to be outdoors so I hiked up to Mount Ashiwada to get a view of the forests around the base of Mount Fuji and one of the other of the 5 lakes in the distance. It was a very pleasant hike under the shade of the newly green trees. The path follows the spine of the hill rising up to the peak such that one has excellent views of both sides through the trees.

It is the second of 3 national holidays in Japan so the lakes are filled with slalom skiers and jet skies. Families and friends played in the open parks and there was a distinct smell of braai on my decent from the mountain that made me homesick. The roar of motorbikes pervaded late into the afternoon. Engines are evidently a big hobby here too.

  • View of Mount Fuji from the top of Ashiwada peak
    View of Mount Fuji from the top of Ashiwada peak
  • Fuji view from Ashiwada hiking trail
    Fuji view from Ashiwada hiking trail
  • View of Kawaguchiko lake from top of Ashiwada peak
    View of Kawaguchiko lake from top of Ashiwada peak
  • Top of Ashiwada peak
    Top of Ashiwada peak
  • Ashiwada hike
    Ashiwada hike
  • Kawaguchiko village
    Kawaguchiko village
  • A curious woodcutter's cottage
    A curious woodcutter's cottage

    Note the large keyhole in the bottom half of the door.


The comes a time when the balance of becoming familiar with a place shifts to starting to say goodbye. It’s a bit like the number ‘12’ on a clock face: the chosen point from which it is either a quarter past or quarter to the hour. Well, returning from our visit to Tokyo felt like passing the 12 on that clock face. We are no longer a quarter past arriving but are approaching a quarter to leaving the MI-Lab experience.

Sitting on the verandah this morning, eating breakfast, Sari (from Finland) remarked how we’ve almost experienced an entire season’s change here in Kawaguchiko. The snow is thawing on the lower slopes of Fuji, the blossoms are finishing and filling up the lakes and rivers with their confetti while bright green and red leaves replace them on the maple trees.

We have 7 days left of studio time so despite it being a Saturday, most of us spent the day in studio finishing up our last blocks. It’s great to see how much we have learnt and how much that was strange is now familiar to us. I couldn’t help noticing on my evening walk down to the lake that the neighbour’s dog no longer threatens to break his chain, barking at me. I still get a suspicious look but I am now, evidently, a more familiar thing these days.

Magic Lantern along Lake Kawaguchiko
Magic Lantern along Lake Kawaguchiko

Sunset over Lake Kawaguchiko
Sunset over Lake Kawaguchiko


View of Fuji from my grocery store

Ocean greeting

It was the superstitious link to a Patagonia surf sticker (given to me by Paul Edmunds upon his return from Japan) that got me to this very experience. So it felt like good research to explore some of the surf culture in Shonan Bay. And it’s amazing how similar a particular sub-culture can be the world over.

Kugenuma Kaigan beach has large open spaces, which I presume are built to accommodate crowds in Summer, and ample Tsunami warning signage. It also boasts a peculiar black volcanic sand. Most surfers cycle across the broad concrete walkways with their boards housed in a special carrier fixed to the bike’s frame. Despite the howling onshore wind there were a number of people in the water so I hazarded a rental and caught a few rides. Hello ocean! I have missed you!

  • Shonan Kaigan
    Shonan Kaigan
  • surfer girl
    surfer girl
  • Kuganuma beach front
    Kuganuma beach front
  • Volley ball and surfers
    Volley ball and surfers
  • Kuganuma Kaigan
    Kuganuma Kaigan
  • Bicycle on beach
    Bicycle on beach
  • Tree in carpark
    Tree in carpark
  • Surf and Sun
    Surf and Sun