Enzan no metsuke is roughly translated as “gazing at the mountains”. In the martial art, I practice ( Iaido) it refers to a technique of gazing at a wide field of vision, rather than focusing upon a single opponent. For ancient Samurai, it was a valuable survival tool. Staring too intently at the enemy you expect, leaves you vulnerable to the enemy you don’t detect due to your extreme focus.
Enzan no metsuke is an essential tool for the artist, as well. Who has not become so focused on the specific that a defect in the work at hand remains undetected until correcting it becomes a substantial or even impossible job? Here are three easy, cheap ways of upping your game in the shop using a variation on enzan no metsuke; without the zen.
1.) Get an inexpensive hand mirror for the shop and use it to look at the piece on which you are working. Adjust the mirror, so the angle of view changes. This tip was learned from my good friend ( and fantastic painter) Kim Mellema. I assure you that it works as well in woodcarving as it does in painting.
2.) Turn your work upside down. If there is an alignment issue, this will expose it. We become habituated to looking at a piece from a single angle. Turning it upside down forces our eyes to reevaluate things.
3.) Take it outside. If you work in a shop with artificial light, it’s always a struggle to light adequately and with the correct shadows. My friend Bill Bromell suggested taking it outside and looking at the work in natural daylight.
All of these methods work by altering the way we view the work; making us shift our viewpoint.