Hi Vanilla, this open forum is the first I’ve ever visited let alone the first I’ve ever posted to. I am quite a bit older than your typical Japanese student and am not ‘hip’ to new-fangled things like open forums. Anyway there are lots of questions about this process that I would like to address but I will try to limit myself to only one response per day. If that is considered too much for this type of forum, please let me know.
I am purposefully trying to avoid making my illustrations look too much like the kanji they’re associated with. Illustrations that somewhat look like the kanji they represent are called ‘pict.o.graphixs.’ The problem is not only does the student have to be somewhat artistic to redraw them but there are so many complicated kanjis (like the ones you listed above) where pict.o.graphixs are plain impossible to make. I can recognize a Van Gogh out of any museum but I surely can’t replicate it—and I’m a decent enough artist. This learning process, which I call Hyakkan’e, focuses on listing the parts (radicals) of the kanji in the storyline rather than dropping their image in the illustration. Hyakkan’e is a psychological approach (pareidoliac) to learning, not an artistic one. Let me explain.
When I see the first card in the Rorschach collection I instantly, without thought or hesitation, see two baby piglets climbing up opposite sides of a bird feeder to talk to the two little birdies swimming in the water.
The point of this is how fast we can produce elaborate storylines just by looking at a vague, random ink smudge on a piece of paper. The Rorschach blots are a study of ‘pareidolia,’ the perception of random objects and shapes as meaningful things to the observer.
We all see shapes in the clouds and in the tile of our bathrooms. I am often visited by Abraham Lincoln
sporting a man bun when I shower. I don’t see all of him, just his deep-set eyes and regal nose, and of course, a bushy squirrel tail sticking out the back of his head. But that’s enough. With just seeing a ‘few things’ every impression I have of Abe is available to me—his beard, his height, his hat, his history, his accomplishments, his need for a good barber and his storyline as I know it. These are all there instantly for the taking.
I’ve asked others what they see in that same inkblot. One said, ‘a mean, ugly coyote getting ready to gobble me up.’ Another said, ‘two hummingbirds gathering nectar from the same large flower.’ Of course, there are no right or wrong answers. There are innumerable impressions that can be gleaned from the same ink smudge. That’s what Hyakkan’e means, ‘a picture of many impressions.’
Though my natural pareidolia response contained pigs, it was not difficult at all for me to see my friends’ coyote and hummingbirds. Those two images and their associated storylines have become my ‘derived’ pareidolia responses. Now, they are just as quick-to-retrieve and spontaneous to me as my own piggies impression.
Until you learn them, kanji and radicals are just random, squiggly line without objective meaning, much like the Rorschach inkblots. So, if we can make meaning out of a meaningless ink smudge, we should definitely try to see if it can be done with squiggly kanji lines.
Hyakkan’e provides a ‘derived pareidolia’ illustration and storyline for each kanji and radical. With that you get the big-three: 1) its meaning, 2) its primary sound and 3) all the radical hints needed for drawing it. Hyakkan’e is an easy-to-retrieve mnemonic bonanza. It’s real value is in its picture-to-picture (kanji-to-illustration) quality. Things stay on the same side of the brain which facilitates much quicker recall. It might take a few lengthy looks at the kanji and illustrations before the pareidolia becomes ‘derived’ for you but eventually you’ll be able to see kanji/illustration and recall the mnemonic-based storyline in mere seconds. You’ll be able to flip through a hundred+ kanjis in four or five minutes for review. That can’t be done if you have to read paragraphs of words. The review process before ‘testing’ is lightning fast.
So when you say, ‘they don’t look anything like what they describe,’ to me that’s more than okay, it’s good. I’m trying to teach radicals, not drawing.
Thanks for your honest response. I hope my response was also clear.