Japan Fans & BudoGirl – Creative with Black Ink

Japan Fans & BudoGirl – Creative with Black Ink


A blog about the origin stories of Japan Fans & BudoGirl, for the website “Creative with Black Ink.”

As a child, I had a love-hate relationship with ink. Or rather, not with ink itself, but with the unspoken expectations that surrounded working with it.

We were given fountain pens at school and I found them fascinating. And I could not understand why the teacher and the other children were less enthusiastic about my experiments. In my world, it was magical to click a refill into your pen – making a hole – and then pull it out again and let the beautiful full drops land on the paper.

I loved the smell, the deep shades of black (and blue and purple), the slowness and thickness of the ink that slowly soaked into the paper (and the paper underneath). If you were quick, you could just make a swipe with your finger before the ink saturated the paper. It made me happy, but other people angry. That was not the only thing that bothered them. I preferred to write with my left hand, which made my notebooks stained and smudged. I didn’t think that was such a problem, it looked nice, as if the letters were running. Nevertheless, I was always scolded and the other children teased me about the stains on my hand. Soon, I was the only one in the class who was not allowed to write with a fountain pen. But blood is thicker than water – and so is black ink, apparently…

Tanto Geisha - BudoGirl - Japanese Art & Culture Centre Utrecht - Japan Fans
From the Tanto Geisha series, with ink stains.

New beginnings

Fast forward to 2020. As a birthday present, sempai Daan gave me a sumi-e set. With some help from my friend Jolijn and a YouTube playlist, I ventured into bamboo, ensō circles and a lot of cats. And then came the first lockdown. Inspired by my budo – the Japanese martial arts that I suddenly could no longer practise – I started drawing my weapons and the kata (forms) I was working on. Because of my autism, I’m very detail-oriented and can concentrate well, so soon I had created a whole series of Budo Drawings. These drawings were widely shared on social media and published in Zanshin magazine.

Iaido drawings - Japanese Art & Culture Centre Utrecht - Japan Fans
Greeting the Sword – from the series of Iaido Study Drawings.

All those experiences came in handy when I started at an apprenticeship for graphic design. With the sumi-e set came a small book with sudoku-like boxed paper. The first exercises were to draw an open ensō and that circle would later become my logo. For me, this open circle not only stands for mushin, the clearing of your head, and wabi sabi, the beauty of imperfection, but also for spontaneity and – because the circle is open – space to invite others to join in.

In addition to the circles, I also started to calligraph Western letters in the boxes. This lead to the two ‘Japanese’ fonts that I designed at my apprenticeship – and from these fonts also came the current logo of the Japan Fans (my “fan club” for Japan) and BudoGirl (my product line). It’s great to see people using the fonts and copying the individual letters for their own projects, like menus for sushi workshops and more.

Logo - Japanese Art & Culture Centre Utrecht - Japan Fans
One of the two “Japanese” fonts I designed.

BudoGirl (the brand)

At the end of 2020, I started with the Domestika course “Creating an Illustrated Brand: From the Idea to Merchandising” by illustrator Vania Bachur. I immediately knew that I wanted to do “something” with budo, but it took some time to think about what exactly. Because I wanted to make something cheerful besides the tanto geisha and kata studies, I started drawing myself “chibi”, with a wink to the anime/manga style of the same name.

It took some searching and puzzling, but in the end I ended up with six different versions of the doll. My sempai Ivo helped me a lot to get all the details right, and now this avatar, together with matching calligraphy, can be found on all kinds of products.

The line is called BudoGirl – after the nickname my sempai Piotr gave me – and soon after the first “style guide” I could officially release all kinds of products. In addition, all sorts of dojo and other organisations asked me for custom designs, for example for their Christmas cards. I also designed a hanko – the “eye of the dragon” as I learned it from Creative with Black Ink – and am currently working on all kinds of Japonaiserie for the second style guide.

BudoGirl - Japanese Art & Culture Centre Utrecht - Japan Fans
A shirt and a sweater with KendoGirl

The circle is complete…

So now I am doing what made me so happy as a child. My little experiments with black ink eventually led to Japan Fans and BudoGirl. But like the ensō circle itself, that influence is not a one-way street. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus 540 BC – 480 BC said: ‘On the circumference of a circle, beginning and end coincide’.

I’m getting better at calligraphy by practising a lot for my BudoGirl designs and sharing my experiments in the Facebook groups of Creative with Black Ink and Japan Fans, where I often get very instructive feedback. And together with my friend Jolijn, I could give a performance that combines sumi-e with Japanese flute musics at CAMERA JAPAN, a large festival in the Netherlands.

Moreover, thanks to Japan Fans, I come into contact with all sorts of interesting and inspiring people, such as calligraphy artist LANKA and literary translator Maarten Liebregts. The latter was so expressive about his translation “Voordat de koffie koud wordt” (Before the coffee gets cold), that I made a stage design for that book as an illustration for the site… in – how could it be otherwise – black ink.

voordat de koffie koud wordt - scenografische schets - Japan Fans - Japanese Art & Culture Centre Utrecht
A scenographic sketch “Before the coffee gets cold” (2021)

The above is an updated version of my guest blog for the website Creative with Black Ink, to accompany this page-in-the-making, with Japanese calligraphy.

My name is Martine and I am writing my PhD about the Cyborg Mermaid. On this website, you’ll find blogs about autism, cyborgs, fan fiction, King Alfred of Wessex, mermaids, music & musicology, martial arts, (neuro)psychology, video games, and random nerdiness.

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