This next image from my Artist’s Journal is a collage piece that I did when I was in full Maison Celeste mode. It is a maneki neko, or lucky cat – the kind you see in all sorts of sushi and other Japanese restaurants. The cat looks like it’s waving, but the Japanese hand gesture to beckon someone is the opposite of the Western one.
There is a story or legend behind the cat – the most common was about a poor monk in the Edo period. His cat attracts a warlord to get out of the rain in the temple rather than under a tree. Then the tree is struck by lightning. The warlord showers the monk with money and gets people to go to his temple, so he is no longer poor. When the cat died, he was buried in a special cemetery, and a little statue of a cat with his paw raised was put on his grave.
When I started this journal, I painted a couple of pages first. I started this page out by using my favorite paint color of all time – Color & Co(mpany)’s cerise. It is the most intense fuschia pink you will ever find. It’s kind of a shame that it’s a tempera paint, because it might run if I tried to shellac over it, but I love it anyway. I painted the center, then I blended it in with orange and then yellow, filling the whole page.
Before I put the cat on the page, I did some freehand drawings of flowers, leaves, and vines with two different sized Sharpie markers. It’s the first time I’ve tried that and I think it came out great. I think it stayed that way for a little while as I tried to think of what to put in the middle of the page.
I found this coloring page and printed it out. I could have taken the trouble to draw it freehand or trace it, but it is a collage piece, so I just left it like it was. I thought that I would go ahead and color it using oil pastels. I chose pink to go with the background, shading the outside of the figure in orange. The ears, claws, and nose are yellow. Like most maneki neko statues, this one has a collar, bib and bell. This article says that cats were rare, hence the collar and bell to find them if they were lost. This website says that the bib and bell stand for wealthiness and material abundance.
I glued him down over my background, accepting that she was going to cover some of the flowers. Then, I went for total over-the-top glitter, accenting cat and koban (the oval coin that she is holding) with glitter glue. It buckled a bit, but has flattened out over time. As a side note, maneki neko can hold other things beside a big gold coin. This website by Sushi Cat has a great illustration of the lexicon.
It wasn’t until after I colored him pink that I decided to do a little bit of research on the symbolism behind the statue. Honestly, I didn’t even think that there were pink cats around. I found out that there are meanings associated with the color of the cat and also the beckoning paw. A left-handed cat (southpaw, like me) is supposed to attract customers and the pink cat brings fortune and love. Perfect!
After I scanned the picture into Photoshop, I played around with some effects. I may put one of them up in my CafePress.com shop.
Of course, because I have been reading so many picture books with great art, I thought briefly that the story of the Maneki Neko would make a great children’s book. Of course, there are no new ideas, it seems. I found four of them:
Maneki Neko, The Tale of the Beckoning Cat by Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi – This is the most recent (out last month) and stays faithful to the tale of the monk and his cat.
The Beckoning Cat: Based on a Japanese Folktale by Koko Nishizuka, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger – This book tells a different story – about a poor fisher boy and his cat who attracts customers.
Tama the Cat: The Story of the Maneki Neko, the Beckoning Cat by Robert Ogden, illustrated by Julia Preston – not available on Amazon.com, but you can order it from the U.K., along with prints from the book.
The Tale of the Lucky Cat by Sunny Seki – in this story, a toymaker is saved by a cat – beautiful illustrations, with text in Japanese and English.
So, if I want to do a children’s book, there are two possible legends to milk (from Wikipedia):
The Courtesan: A courtesan named Usugumo, living in Yoshiwara, in eastern Tokyo, kept a cat, much beloved by her. One night, the cat began tugging at her kimono. No matter what she did, the cat persisted. The owner of the brothel saw this, and believing the cat bewitched, cut its head off. The cat’s head then flew to the ceiling where it killed a snake, ready at any moment to strike. Usugumo was devastated by the death of her companion. To cheer her up, one of her customers made her a wooden likeness of her cat as a gift. This cat image then became popular as the Maneki Neko.
(doesn’t that one sound heart-warming and child-friendly?)
The Old Woman: An old woman living in Imado (eastern Tokyo) was forced to sell her cat due to extreme poverty. Soon afterwards the cat appeared to her in a dream. The cat told her to make its image in clay. She did as instructed, and soon afterward sold the statue. She then made more, and people bought them as well. They were so popular she soon became prosperous and wealthy.
Some fun links:
Canon Paper Craft Website – so awesome, and what a great idea! 17 pages of high output ink that you cut apart and put together. Instructions on assemblage are on a separate PDF. There is a black maneki neko, a white maneki neko, and a calico maneki neko to print out.
ActionCat.com – there are lucky cat e-cards, plus you can design your own cat to print out or for screen capture.
Maneki Neko by Sushi Cat – great site with all sorts of information, also maneki grams, puzzles and games – children will love it!
Lucky Cat Museum – online collection of lucky cats.
There is also Lucky Cat Fabric – I did not post a link, but there are a couple of Etsy.com shops that sell fabric. Those links become obsolete when they get sold, but just do a search for all sorts of products. Try quilting fabric sites for other options.