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You’re welcome!


Do we use the word “japanning” in the States? See, I’ve always been a Winsor & Newton kind of gal, and they’re a British company that sells japanned watercolor boxes, so I’m unsure of the origins. Well, anyhoo, it’s a durable, waterproof, shiny black coating on (usually) metal. Early car parts were sometimes japanned, for example.

It’s called ‘japanning’, by the way, because it was in imitation of Japanese black lacquerware. Proper lacquer is done with sap from the lacquer tree, duh. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it: “The sap of the lacquer tree, today bearing the technical description of “urushiol-based lacquer,” has traditionally been used in Japan. As the substance is poisonous to the touch until it dries, the creation of lacquerware has long been practiced only by skilled dedicated artisans.”

My new watercolor box is japanned (Brit style), and before it came, I had no idea how damaged it might be, so I set out to see if I could learn the secrets of re-japanning.

Viola! I give you A Handbook On Japanning, 1913 edition. It turns out, it’s just shellac and pigment baked in a 300° oven. No, I haven’t tried it yet. My box doesn’t need it. But I’m itching to japan something.

I’m a huge fan of shellac. Big, big fan. Shellac is not as common here, go figure, but I do have sources. It has a bad reputation among artists because it’s yellow, but I have samples that are upwards of 35 years old and, yes, they’re yellow…but no yellower than the day I first applied it. Same is certainly not true of linseed oil or damar varnish.

Anybody want to japan a thing and get back to me?

September 6, 2017 — 9:52 pm
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