Netsuke – soapstone carving small scale with Paula Haughney

Ref: S4D32949

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About this course

Netsuke are exquisite miniture carvings and have been created by Japanese artists for more than three hundred years. Look at the history, myths and legends and how netsuke were made, and be inspired to design and carve a small s culpture in soapstone.

Course Description

Netsuke is a Japanese word made up of ne, meaning root, and tsuke, meaning attach. These tiny carvings were traditionally used to prevent the cord attached to a gentleman’s medicine box or tobacco pouch from slipping through the belt of his kimono. Carved from wood or ivory, they depict the natural world or characters from Japanese folklore. They are beautiful miniature sculptures that have fascinated both wearer and collector since their invention.

The course will be a combination of looking at the Japanese culture of netsuke and creating your own small netsuke inspired sculpture in soapstone.

The first evening will focus on the history of netsuke, their origin and development, the stories behind them and how they were made.

In the workshop, there will be books and images displayed for study and ideas, and also examples of the tutor’s small sculptures in soapstone.

Netsuke are usually no larger than 2-6 cm high and 2-3 cm in width, so we will be thinking small enough to be enclosed in the palm of the hand. To start this process, the first project will be to carve a white bar of soap into a bird or rabbit (or other designs). Examples will be shown. This will introduce reduction and three-dimensions whilst using a soft cheap material. You can even make a hole and put a cord through.

One or more pieces will be made during the course although little doesn’t always equate to quick; it depends on the complexity of the shape and the hardness of the stone. A clay model of a drawn design will be formed as a guide to carving.

The wood or ivory used in netsuke were often stained to add colour and enhance the form. Soapstone has its own beautiful colours and can be textured and polished to give different shades. It is a metamorphic rock and various colours and hardnesses will be available.

Instruction will be given to the group and individually on carving and holding the small sculptures in place whilst working. Some carving will be done holding by hand. The Japanese chisels are very sharp, so bring some well-fitting gloves.

By the end of the course, you will have gained a greater knowledge of netsuke, learnt new carving techniques and have your own small sculpture to take home.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • 1 kg of soapstone and a box of Japanese woodcarving chisels

What students need to bring

  • Any source material for inspiration
  • Drawing materials
  • Sketch pad
  • Camera or phone for recording
  • Close fitting work gloves
  • A magnifying device (optional)
  • Apron or overalls, hat
  • Sun cream if working outside or umbrella if forecast shows rain

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • A good variety of art and craft materials including drawing materials and sketch pads.

Additional information

Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no open toes or sandals). Safety boots if possible. Stone carving is a dusty activity, safety equipment (safety glasses and ear defenders) can be borrowed, masks are provided but you might like to bring fitting gloves to work in. Eye protection and face masks are supplied by the College and are essential. Full health and safety instructions will be given. Stone carving is a physical activity, and it is most effective when standing up but can be achieved sitting down. Bring close fitting work gloves. It is small close up work so a magnifying device to work through may be beneficial.


Paula Haughney portrait

Paula Haughney

Paula Haughney,sculptor, stone-carver, maker and teacher studied at Portsmouth Polytechnic and Eastern Illinois university obtaining a BA and MA in Fine Art Sculpture. Stone carving came later, once found, she realised this was her chosen medium. Now having over 30 years experience and many monumental sculptures completed she has taught at all levels, exhibits regularly and is included in public collections worldwide.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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