Traditional brushes get a makeover

Kyodo

Makeup artist Tamami Mihara is a hit with Hollywood actors, including Al Pacino and Jennifer Lopez, for her gentle and subtle work using traditional brushes produced by a local manufacturer.

Using different makeup brushes, Mihara creates more than three colored layers, both light and dark, for beautiful gradations and a lustrous finish.

Gradation is produced by subtle differences in hair ends along the rounded tips.

The powder diminishes toward the handle. When a face is brushed, a gradation of natural light and shade can be produced, says the 40-year-old Mihara.

The brushes are produced by Hakuhodo Co. in Kumano, Hiroshima Prefecture, where more than 130 brush producers are concentrated. Hakuhodo turns out some 60 percent of makeup brushes sold by large firms.

“There are companies that are trying to produce the same shape of brush to make ‘upside-down and round-top mountains,’ but there is no other brush produced with easy makeup application in mind,” says Hakuhodo President Kazuo Takamoto, 63.

The brush hair is imported chiefly from China. Shape and hardness differ depending on the animal and the season in which it is collected. Squirrel hair is conical, and that of a weasel gradually swells from end to root.

Brush-making in Kumano began about 170 years ago as a side business for farmers. Products have since expanded to include paintbrushes and brushes for ceramics.

The town now produces 80 percent of the brushes and 60 percent of the painting and cosmetics brushes sold domestically.

From the Meiji Period up to World War II, the production of brushes for school calligraphy was brisk, but demand then dwindled because of changes in education policy.

Takamoto established his own company to produce traditional brushes with hair ends. He wanted small wooden frames used for manufacturing paint brushes, and changed the electric cutters to hollow out wood fixed on a lathe from steel ones to handmade ones.

However, the test cosmetics brushes turned out to be unpopular among Japanese cosmetics manufacturers because of their high price.

About 10 years ago, he happened to learn about a Japanese makeup artist in a magazine and went to New York to see her.

With her introduction, he visited a cosmetics company in Canada and succeeded in receiving orders.

“We would like to produce cosmetics brushes, not an extended version of paintbrushes. We are producing such brushes now, but they are a secret until complete,” he says.