Enzan no metsuke – a secret of the masters

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 point or 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 four 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 you are working on. Adjust the mirror so the angle of view changes. I learned this from my 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.
  4. ) The best method is the last. Just take a break. Go away, have some coffee or tea, have lunch. Break your focus on the project, and come back in an hour to two. It’s amazing what time away will do for your perception of the project.

These methods work by altering the way we view the work, shifting our viewpoint.

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