Box Swap 2023. The mysterious Geisha

This is my entry for the 2023 Box Swap.  A Japanese Incense Kodansu.  Kodansu - translates as: a box in a box.  The basic design is copied from a Japanese antique from the Edo period, 1650s-1850s.  The Edo area of Japan is now known as Tokyo.  The footing is my own addition to the original,  mirroring the curve of the top; and all interior components are of my design.
I adapted the design to store both incense sticks and incense cones, the sticks lay in the top tray, and the four small boxes in the lower tray are for storing the cones.
The "artwork" is a collection from numerous sources of Japanese and Chinese origin, like embroidery, antique boxes, Sumi-E paintings, Washi-paper screens, and such.  Our Mysterious Geisha is a well known figure attributed to a Japanese artist of some antiquity, and she has many interpretations set in different environments.  I cannot describe in words how difficult it was to paint her hair with marine varnish, and she remained headless for some days as I was dreading making the attempt.  Her head is about 1cm in diameter.  To describe just a part of the process - for her dress - I transferred the pattern much like one would for a tattoo, then went over the outline with gold/black tinted lacquer.  Next, I filled in the white areas four times to get a solid result, as the tinted varnish is somewhat translucent.  Next, I added some slight grey in places to accent the folds of her kimono.  Then, I went over the outline again to make the lines crisp.  The boats were also rather difficult to "paint" well, the perspective and sizing took me a few attempts at a result I was satisfied with.  Then, two tiny little marks, and that is supposed to be a human figure.
I will mention the small handles for the top pull-out tray.  These saddle the center divider, and are tapered at three different angles so they lean inward so as to allow fingers to grasp them without too much fuss - for slender fingers!.  I used Gabon Ebony for those, as Basswood, which makes up the rest of the box, is too soft and would have gotten torn to shreds from the shaping that gives these handles a delicate curvature.
The incense burner is made from genuine Indian Rosewood that gives off that wonderful rosy smell when cut.  The bottom has a sculpted curvature so if pressing down on one end, the other end pops up for easy removal.  I added a small section of brass tubing on one end where the incense sticks are held upright, so as to prevent the wood from getting burned.  There is an additional spiky metal ring to sit the cones on when burned.   I was going to inlay that ring, and then didnt.
I used half-lap joints for the sides of the pull-out trays as I already had the saw set up for this to do the divider in the lower tray.  I thought this was a good idea, or was just lazy, hmmm?  And then, I didnt think it a good idea after glue-up because this joint maybe wasnt strong enough.  Turns out, this is somewhat common joint used in Japanese box-making.
I made the assumption that my recipient, Jeff Wildwood, wasnt the type of guy who burns incense to cover up the smell of you-know-what, so I included some velvet lined bottoms to slip into the four small boxes, if he wished, and these boxes could then be used to store jewelry or other precious items.
Box dimensions, I think, are harmonious, at 24cm wide X 12cm deep X 12 cm high.  All stock is 5mm, except the pull-out trays, which are 3mm.  The bottoms of these are rabbeted.
Due to time constraints, I did cut some corners.  There are brush marks evident - which is bad, very very bad.  And some other issues I am not pleased with.  I do believe that if I were to present this work to a Japanese Master - he would inspect it closely, then throw it in the garbage, and say - come back in ten years and we will see, Grasshopper.

I am glad I participated in the Swap. The bantor in those threads is always fun.  And I have to say that everyone really turned it out for this one.

If anyone has specific questions, I will be happy to address them.
Thanks for viewing; and have a great day!

No Bees. No Honey. Bees Lives Matter


Grasshopper San,

This work is very impressive.  



Beautiful Brian, amazing artwork throughout. It looks very well crafted, (I do not see anything wrong with it, we are our worst critics). I like that the artwork goes through each level of the box. The curve top is a wonderful illusion of making it look like an open book. Very Well Done my friend.

Thank you for participating in the Swap.

Main Street to the Mountains

Outstanding, wonderful artwork.    Just a great piece of work.   


It really is all that and a bag of chips. And then you gave it away? Brian, you are the man.
I see something else every time I look, just amazing!

You don't always get what you go after,but you do get what you wouldn't have got if you didn't go after what you didn't get. Blaze Foley

I'm the lucky guy who received this beautiful box. It really is a masterpiece. Every time I look at it I see something I missed. Thanks Brian for such a beautiful box.
i will tell you Brian i have to keep looking at this box cause everytime i see something i have missed last time i looked 


wow just wow brian. i cant believe you were able to do this in the time we had. what i want to know is how you do the painting on the bottom of the boxes ? thats gotta be tricky with the intricate designs and fine lines. just over the top.

working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

Really great work, Brian! Your patience for the little details really shows.

May you have the day you deserve!

Artwork and craftsmanship aside (but certainly not unnoticed) what impresses me most is the thought you put into each small part and the care that you take with your creation.
Your passion is showing. 😉👌👍

The early bird gets the worm but its the second mouse that gets the cheese.

Great work Brian. The box is awesome and your skill to draw is always amazing.

No name noobie here

Really well done Grass hopper You really have got to grips with your own unique 'lacquering' technique. The depth of colour, and fine painted detail is looking excellent.  I particularly like the internals - the trays, small boxes and the detail on all of them is exceptional.  Most of us spend the majority of the time on a box doing the joinery and sanding, before applying a 'simple' finish.  I'm guessing you now spend way more time on the finishing/painting than the making!  Two different Japanese masters would usually do what you have done with this box.  Love it!
You guilded the lily Brian, so many details to ponder over. Makes me feel like a rube for breaking out the spray gun and calling the finished item "lacquered" 🥸
Outstanding box(es) Brian, I don't want to even think about how many hours went into it.
This box swap turned out amazing with so many outstanding pieces. 

Your skill is top shelf Brian and gets better with every build. 

Sorry I couldn’t read all of the story because when I blink I lose my place because of the lack of paragraphs. I did read the two at the bottom. 

I’ll try to read it on my larger laptop. 

James McIntyre

Thank you to everyone for the gracious comments.

Hairy - yes, my Wife said - are you seriously going to just give that away!

Paul - My Passion is showing?  Omg.  Blush.  I swear, I am wearing pants.

Pottz - Tricky, yes.  Takes a steady hand.  Do you know where I can find one?

Martin - Building boxes is easy.  The rest, not so much.  I am at the point now where I think 1000grit sandpaper is rough.  And paper towels soaked with MS is very good at erasing mistakes.

No Bees. No Honey. Bees Lives Matter

Pottz - Tricky, yes.  Takes a steady hand.  Do you know where I can find one? 
that leaves me out from trying it-lol.

working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

Hey, I think it loots amazing, and besides, we always see our own flaws.  I see nothing but lots of experience and patience.  Great work!

~ Mystery by Design ~

Thanks, Kel.  The Japanese have a tradition of celebrating the imperfections of Life.  I am going with that.  It is also helpful to take off the 3X glasses I wear when working, then the imperfect things no longer appear so distinctly.

No Bees. No Honey. Bees Lives Matter

I had imperfections in that Tea Box. I like that Japanese tradition of celebrating.

Main Street to the Mountains

Yes, I noticed.

No Bees. No Honey. Bees Lives Matter