What attracts me to Japanese art is getting a bird's-eye-view of everyday life in a foreign time and place. I enjoy scenes showing royal courts, artisan workshops, marketplaces, and travelers. Often there are distinctive pets, birds, trees, and mountains in the background. As I scan the scenes to see what each figure is doing, I often want to enter the picture myself. I find the same joy in The Old Man Mad About Drawing: A Tale of Hokusai by Francois Place.
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is one of the best remembered artists and print makers of the Edo Period of Japaneses art. I recognize several of the illustrations that are inserted among beautiful original drawings by William Rodarmor. Most famous is The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, one of Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Francois Place portrays Hokusai as an easily irritated old artist in The Old Man Mad About Drawing. Only a young and curious rice cake vendor named Tojiro is able to crack the old man's hard shell. Hokusai adopts Tojiro as an apprentice and shows him the ways of a master painter.
Every page of this book is nicely illustrated. It is good reading for young and old.
Place, Francois. The Old Man Mad About Drawing: A Tale of Hokusai. David R. Godine, 2004. ISBN 1567922600