Atelier Manda




Techniques • Haiga (the illustrated haiku)

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Haiga is a graphic art where, in a spirit of balance and harmony, a naive painting cohabit with a calligraphed 17-syllable Japanese poem, a haiku, which subject remains unpretentious.

The calligraphed haiku

In his book Everyday's poems, Ōka Makoto, poet and well known contemporary book reviewer, wrote that Japanese poetry is "the perpetual celebration of birds and flowers poetry".

In fact, Japanese poetry is mainly a perception of an omnipresent nature, and has always been. Whether you refer to the Manyuôshu, a collection of compiled poems in the 8th century, to the Heian era tanka, or to haiku.

The direct of allusive reference (kigo) to the season is one of the caracteristics of haiku.

Back in the 17th century, Matsuo Bashō gave haiku its respectability back, and specified the main charactristics codes of the genre :

  • Love for simple things,
  • Suggestion, allusion,
    In time or space, the spoken is as important as the unspoken : for the intertext, the reader will have to refer to their own culture
  • Flight of time and conscience that things don't last,
    The feeling of the erotion of time makes us grasp the depth of live, what Motoori Norinaga calls "the poignant melancholy of things". The Japanese love for nature is intimately bound to the deep sensation of season changes.

With calligraphy, poetry, ie. haiku, enters the realm of graphic arts and focuses on the undeniable power of an expressive vertical writing, a casual elegance. The calligraphic style and choice of characters (kanji and kana) will contribute to the interpretation of the haiku. The kana, phonetic characters, flow like raindrops on branches of a willow.

Calligraphy in haiga is not only ought to be read, but also to be perceived.

The painting

As well as haiku, it is a small part of reality and nature.

The painting is naive: a few strokes, little colour, uncough brush strokes. It gathers elements, seemingly foreign to one another, when only the imagination of the viewer brings back coherence and meaning.

The Japanese visual world awakes impressions, atmospheres. It turns the readers or the viewers into creators who complete, according to their knowledge, the fragment of reality in front of their eyes.

The white, Yohaku

The white of the page, the surface which is not painted, holds the main role in the composition of the haiga.

Calligraphy, with black, grey or evanescent inking, on the verge of vanishing in the "shown-hidden" style, their layout, lined up or scattered, as well as seldom brush strokes underline the blank space. Subject to the viewers' imagination, the blank space lets them to switch to an unknown background, undefined but available to be filled with their imagination.


In haiga, the calligraphy of the poem, as well as the style of painting laid beside, can only be read by the heart. Graphically speaking, the haiga is an entity in itself. The illustration is not just a picture next to the text, nor is the calligraphy of the haiku a caption, a redundant comment. Its visual effects interrogate the space in the page, confering on the illustration and the haiku a new interpretation. Isn't Japanese calligraphy architecture and music of the verb at the same time? Lines and strokes create intervals of stillness, silences. These silences, these blank spaces are mandatory for the paradoxical balance between presence and absence, on which lies the whole Japanese art.

The principle of haiga, founded on complementarity lies also on constrast. The contrast between a polychromic illustration and a black text, between figurative and abstract, between the representation of nature and speech about it. But the true novelty in Japanese painting wouldn't just lie in the very coexistence of constrasts endlessly confronting one another?

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