My First Ukiyo-e: Uzukurotero– The Vortex Black Terror (and my first Sumi-e)

Uzukurotero– The Vortex Black Terror Version 1

Uzukurotero– The Vortex Black Terror Version 2

Thus Protests the Underworld

For my second major Core Studio and Core Seminar project, I was tasked by my professors to create an Ukiyo-e drawing that could depict either portraiture, an epic battle between mythical creatures, or a sense of progression of time (a sequential drawing, if you will). Unsurprisingly, I decided to make my Ukiyo-e about an epic confrontation between monsters and terrifying beasts, and based off my initial inspiration for the project on the mythical creature known as the Umibozu from Japanese folklore– a black, humanoid yokai (a spirit or specter) that rises out of the ocean and wrecks ships, leaving sailors to die under the wrath of the sea. My actual Ukiyo-e takes the concept of the Umibozu, and elevates it from a sea monster to a space monster that emerges from black holes as opposed to the depths of the ocean– which is interesting in hindsight considering conditions in space and conditions underwater are actually quite similar to one another.

In the triptych, the leftmost and rightmost panel depict spaceships with designs that take inspiration from the architecture of Japanese temples, the shape of Japanese lanterns, fans, bamboo hats, shurikens, and other artifacts from the Edo period of Japan and others. Most of the starships have sails that directly reference the boats and warships used by medieval Japanese soldiers and military personnel during times of war, and all of the vessels feature the Rising Sun white and red striped flag pattern common in use by warlords in Imperial Japan during the Edo period. These aspects of my project drive home the Japanese-esque theme of the ukiyo-e, while also mixing it with some science fiction elements. The center panel depicts the terrifying sight of Uzukurotero (the Umibozu inspired monster) emerging from a gigantic black hole in the vicinity. The name “Uzukurotero” is a made-up title that is a compound word made up of three smaller Japanese words that translate into another word in English.

Uzu is a Japanese word that literally translates to “vortex” or “cyclone”. Kuro is a Japanese word that translates to “black” in English. Finally, Tero translates to “terror” in English, meaning that the name Uzukurotero literally translates to “Vortex Black Terror” in English– a fitting appellation for a monster that has the capacity to destroy entire worlds.

Design and story-wise, Uzukurotero, although inspired from the Japanese Umibozu, borrows its actual grotesque, tentacled appearance from the monsters featured in the works of H.P Lovecraft: Cthulhu and Azathoth among others being especially formless and terrifying. This choice of design for Uzukurotero accentuates its alien appearance, and its status as an almost invincible cosmic being, who in the Ukiyo-e, is shown emerging from its black hole towards the viewer and destroying entire fleets around it, with its only desire and purpose being to consume planets to fill its endless stomach out of its infinite hunger. It is, indeed, beyond human notions of good and evil, and only seeks to fulfill its primal desires (despite being a horrible god), with only the tiny fleets (by comparison) of a hypothetical galactic Imperial Japanese Empire standing in the way of its feast. Shockingly enough, Uzukurotero, in this universe, could be an explanation for the Fermi Paradox or the presence of voids and super voids across intergalactic distances– places were there are few if any stars floating in the endless depths of space (the Bootes void is a prime example). Uzukurotero might have just eaten all those stars and planets (and any and all civilizations who might have lived and advanced there), and he is coming back for more. 

The original version of this Ukiyo-e was done on 10 in x 14 in pressed watercolor block paper, even though my professors told me to enlarge the drawing. So, what I did on the weekend was scan the original drawing into Photoshop, and experiment around with the size as well as the hue, saturation, and inverted color schemes of the triptych out of curiosity. Needless to say, I was satisfied with the results of my experimentation and I believe I actually made Uzukurotero look scarier as my Studio professor wanted. In between scans, I tweaked some of the line work in the triptych, and added more tentacles to the beast in the center to give it greater three-dimensionality. Above are two versions of my Ukiyo-e. The first version has had its colors inverted after black and white, with a red and black color scheme in the center panel (where Uzukurotero is) in order to mimic Japanese cherry blossom paintings done in only red, black and white. The second version of the Ukiyo-e has had a faint yellow filter placed over it as if it were done on papyrus.

BONUS: In my Core Studio class, I recently painted by very first Sumi-e with sumi ink and special paper. The triptych uses only black ink and is monochrome, and depicts Death on the left panel commenting about the undead and ghostly protestors in the center panel who hate their own misery in the afterlife, holding up “DOWN WITH DEATH” signs. On the right panel, snake police try to quell the chaotic mob of protestors but are beaten back by ghosts and undead radicals in a demonstration of chthonic social commentary. The Sumi-e is placed below my two Ukiyo-e triptychs.



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