Urushi is an art form with history. Its literal meaning "lacquer picture" is an art form dating to the Joman period over 9,000 years ago. The specific process that created this colorful straight Billiard, however, has been practiced for over 10 centuries. Modern connotations of the term can either refer to the incredibly durable lacquer created from the sap of the Asian sumac or to the totality of the completed art/product itself.
To create an Urushi piece, various sources of pigment are mixed with translucent lacquer and then applied to a porous surface (like briar). At that point, the surface has to be allowed to cure. (It's worth noting that during this time it cannot be touched. Doing so can result in blisters from the highly caustic uncured sap). After anywhere from a day, to a week depending on the product and the humidity, the process can be repeated until the end result is achieved. It's a delicate art form that can take months to even years to complete.
Once completed, designs can then be applied to the Urushi through an equally meticulous process placing it in the "maki-e" subcategory of Urushi creation. To do so, renderings are created on ultra-thin paper, and then an outline is traced in Urushi on the reverse side. This "wet" side is applied to the dry Urushi surface, and adhesion forms the outline in relief on the surface. Color can be added by mixing the filtered lacquer with various pigments not used in the Urushi base - such as benigara (ferrous oxide), shu (vermillion), and gold among others.
Once an outline has been rendered in relief, an extremely talented artist can finish the art and bring it to life with a keen eye, steady hand, and tiny brush. The result is what you see before you: a beautiful example of traditional Japanese artistry.
- Andrew Wike