Linda: White space appears to have been a part of haiga aesthetics early in the form’s history. How did the practice of leaving a large part of a haiga painting blank start and why does this continue today in Japanese as well in Western haiga?

Jeanne: Over the centuries in both Japan and China, leaving a portion of a work unpainted or perhaps lightly toned was part of an aesthetic of abbreviation and simplification. By reducing a visual image to a few descriptive lines, the artist was able to quickly characterize the subject, often with a degree of humor. The white space also left room for any calligraphy that accompanied the visual image and could be either prose or poetry. By the time haiku came into being in the seventeenth century, poet-painters started to give the verse more space, and the calligraphy itself, both its rendering and placement, became more than ever a creative and much admired element in the painting. We see this in the "Portrait of Bashō" (1799), the legendary haiku master, painted by Suzuki Nanrei (1775-1844) with a humorous inscription by Kameda Bōsai ((1752-1826). The calligraphy is given just as much space as the painted figure, and the curling lines in the verse’s calligraphy have counterparts in the lines of the seated figure.

Notice, by the way, the affectionate parody of Bashō’s famous verse (Old pond--/ a frog jumps/ the sound of water):

Furu ike ya
sono go tobikomu
kawazu nashi

Old pond—
after jumping
no frog

Today, the practice of leaving a lot of white space continues among practitioners of the traditional style in both Japan and the West. In Japan, contemporary masters of the form are known for their traditional haiga and there is the Japan Sekiho Haiga Association ( which promotes the haiga aesthetic as it has been understood throughout the past three hundred centuries. Now, there also is considerable experimentation with contemporary styles and media, the products of which may or may not incorporate white space as a creative element, according to what aesthetic choices the poet-painters make. Kuniharu Shimizu, a highly prolific graphic designer in Japan, has produced over 1000 computer-rendered haiga. In the West, poet-painters are working in such varied media as pencil, pen, pastels, watercolors, photographs, and collage and other mixed media—again, with or without white space integrated into the works.