A quick thank-you to McClain’s for featuring my print “Mt. Goryu” on page 25 of their 2018 catalog.
A quick thank-you to McClain’s for featuring my print “Mt. Goryu” on page 25 of their 2018 catalog.
I’ve always wanted to to an irregular bokashi or gradation– (yes, my desires are irregular).
The classic example of such a thing is Hiroshige’s Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi. The problem with irregularity is consistency of ink application within an edition.
Last week, Shimoi-san of Ukiyo-e Reproductions showed how he recreated the dark rain clouds while he was printing “Sudden Shower”. I asked him if he used a jig and he said “no, jigs didn’t work as well” and posted a few pics showing his technique of directly inking which is probably the traditional way to do it. However, I’m not good enough to trust myself with placing the pigment, brushing, and printing consistently.
I had remembered David Bull using a jig in 2009 to create a very smooth bokashi arc for a fan print he was working on. He used a Lazy Susan to help with the brushing- I thought that was pretty ingenious.
I cannot imagine how someone in the Edo period could brush freehand that cleanly and I’m sure there was another trick at the time. Anyway, Dave’s print really looked nice and I squirreled that information away.
I am printing a third print of a series of 14 (much more on that much later) and wanted to capture a rainstorm in the mountains.
You can see the similar effect as in Sudden Shower that I am looking for: A dark, foreboding cloud just as the rain has started, but not as undulating as Hiroshige’s design.
For this print, I am using 11 blocks with 17 impressions in the shin-hanga style. The rain, incidentally, is printed with gofun, or Chinese white. Printing the rain is my first attempt of Kyoto-style printing- using opaque colors printed under very light pressure. Unlike the Tokyo ukiyo-e transparent style (like the rest of the print), you need a lot more pigment and, in this case, it’s the last thing to print.
I’m at the proofing process and wanted to get everything ‘just so’ for a much larger edition. I know how gradations tend to ‘creep’ over time- a little or too much there cumulatively can lead to a little or a lot too much there. So, to that end, any fluctuations in the bokashi would render the edition too variable and I wanted some help.
I remembered Dave’s jig and made one of my own, albeit not as clever.
Here’s a few pics:
Given using the zokin, nori, and hanga bake correctly (note in the above photo, the black dot indicating which side of the brush is loaded with sumi), the jig worked well- I had to keep the brush at a consistent angle, but overall, I’m quite pleased with the relative consistency!
Thanks to both Yuya Shimoi and David Bull.
When I traveled to the IMC2017 conference in Hawaii, I had the pleasure of talking shop with the Scottish printer Mr. Paul Binnie. If you aren’t aware of his work, please do yourself a favor and check it out. His prints had always been very inspiring to me on many levels- and even more so in person. We quickly ‘got into the weeds’ technically. He’s a great guy- very humble, warm, and helpful, and seemed to be excited to talk about my prints and the processes he uses. While going through his portfolio, I pointed out that his colors were especially vibrant and his large print registration was -dead- on.
I asked him question after question about choice of pigments, paper, etc., but one technical difference struck with me the most: Instead of keeping his printing stack damp throughout the edition, Paul would print a color, then dry the prints, then re-wet them before the next impression.
Moisture control is the name of the game IMO-especially in shin hanga which requires many overlapping impressions and large areas of printing. I also observed that Ayumi-san, at Tokyo’s Mokuhankan, would ‘start over’ her shin hanga moisture process by drying the printed sheets at some point and re-wet them within the middle of her edition (see pic #2).
My process is, up to now, to print (with each impression adding moisture to the areas printed), to stagger the prints in order to distribute the moisture within the stack- see photo#1 (this is sometimes impossible to allow the newly-printed areas from overlapping), and throwing the stack in plastic into the fridge or freezer overnight to help further distribute the moisture within the stack.
This keeping the stack damp works “OK”, but I have found that it’s difficult to truly distribute moisture overall- plus the condensation of a cold paper stack can add water to the top and bottom. I also feel that the printed pigment doesn’t get a chance to become fully absorbed into the paper. Either way, keeping that proper dampness just right is very difficult. I also feel that Paul Binnie’s vivid color is partially a product of drying and re-wetting.
I was intrigued about drying and re-wetting during an edition (I hope to print 200 soon). In order to dry the prints, I have simply been interleaving them with chipboard underneath a weight and letting them sit overnight. I found that occasionally, the prints took more than 12 hours to dry completely. This could slow down future production EEEK!
So, in an earlier entry, I described using my hand-made press to glue/laminate cherry onto birch blocks. I searched online for various ways that other printmakers dry prints and came across Crown Point Press’ forced air print dryer. It uses corrugated cardboard (I bought a stack from ULINE) that channels warmed forced air through the stack with pressure. So while designing my press, I kept this in mind as a secondary purpose for the press as a forced air print dryer. Please keep in mind the direction of the corrugation when you purchase the cardboard!
I then re-purposed a marine fan I was given by my parents and enclosed its electronics within a wood frame. It started to look a bit like a middle school science fair model of an engine block…
Initially, I was a bit concerned about how the air flowed length-wise through the 10″ x 15″ stack (under light pressure) along the corrugations and decided to direct the airflow to draw through the press rather than blowing through it. To aid in drying, I also interleaved the prints as follows: blotter paper, damp print, corrugated cardboard, blotter, print, cardboard, etc., etc. Also, I did not add the heating element as does Crown Point, but could easily add a ceramic heater on the intake side of the stack.
After loading the press, I positioned the fan snug against the cardboard stack and gave it a whirl- the airflow seemed to work well passing though the corrugations suprizingly well.
“Within an hour, I had a very flat, VERY dry stack of prints!”
I removed the prints and let the fan run for another hour to dry the blotters and cardboard. The arrangement surpassed my expectations and I believe that will greatly expedite the process. I believe that this press can dry 50 small prints at a time- 100 if doubled up each hour. Maybe by adding a heater, this can be even quicker!
A big thanks to standing on the shoulders of Mr. Paul Binnie, David Bull, Ayumi Miyashita, and Crown Point Press!
I earlier went over the process of sanding and finishing blocks in “ONE BLOCK AT A TIME”.
I have since both built a press which I am also using as a forced-air print dryer (more details at a later date). In addition to making drying more efficient, I am looking at making the process of making cherry blocks more efficiently- both in material, time, and money. As I’ve mentioned on Facebook, I order 1/4″ thick, 6″ x 24″ black cherry thin stock from Green Valley Wood Products. Some cherry plywood blocks available online have only 1/8″ thick cherry veneer- too thin for my tastes…
In order to become more efficient, I have looked at material dimensions of the wood and paper first, then designed my prints accordingly.
As you probably know, the kento registration system is great, but there is wasted wood around the margins and it’s very difficult for me to clear the margins in order to create a clean area around the carving. You can see a keyblock separation and the finished block from one of my latest prints in production below.
Instead of using a printing jig, I have been laminating separate pieces of cherry for the printed area and where the kentos will be carved. It takes some precision, but as you can see on the keyblock, I allow for a large margin of error by cutting the cherry oversized by around 1/2″ in case things are off a bit.
I start by cutting the thin stock cherry. You can see me using a “stop” on the radial arm saw. I also cut 1.5″ x 1.25″ little cherry blocks for the kentos– 2 for each block.
Once again, here are the directions for the later finishing steps and how I used to assemble them. I hope this saves you money- it has for me- these end up costing me (sans labor) around US $5 per single-sided block!
If you’re into moku-hanga and have a few minutes to burn, check out Tanuki Print’s Pinterest page- over 400 exciting images relating to woodblock printmaking..
I have very limited space to print as you can see. It’s doubles as my office at the university and is a mess most of the time. I hope that someday soon, I can locate to a studio where I am not falling over stuff- or stuff falling on top of me.
As you can see, I have pretty much all I need except space and time… I am presently building a forced-air print drying press (from a conversation I had in Hawaii with the gracious Paul Binnie)- details to come on that [UPDATE: here is the print dryer post]…
Like most printers, I generally use a mortar and pestle for a far too short of a time in order to grind pigments into a paste [for beginning printers, this resulting color paste is then later added by the printer to the block with varying degrees of water and nori (starch) paste while printing]. For the record, I’m pretty slack and sometimes just mix the pigment out of the bag with water (sometimes w /alcohol to break the surface tension) using only a brush/tokibo or hakobi. I am learning that mixing the colors thoroughly helps create much smoother colors and avoids a print being spoiled because of stain blotches which sometimes show up during printing from not mixing the pigments well enough.
“Warning: It takes a long time.”
This process of grinding on a board takes a long time but, unlike using a deep mortar, you can much more easily see the texture of the pigment on the flat surface.
List of colors:
Prep: Of the 5 colors, only bengara had pure ethyl (grain) alcohol added, mixed in the night before, and was allowed to sit open for the alcohol to evaporate. Also, pigments like bengara require more time to grind because the particles are coarser. You will need a wooden board, wooden pestle, a scraper (my credit card seemed to work well since it was not hard enough to damage the wood), water, jars.
(1) Wearing a mask, add a small amount of clear (preferably distilled) water to the dry pigments in a jar and stir.
(2) Approx. one tablespoon of damp pigment is then placed onto the top of the block.
(3) The wooden pestle is held at a slight angle away from the pigment to be ground and pushed with moderate pressure back and forth.
4) The processed portion naturally accumulates and builds up on the pestle which is then scraped off.
(5) Water is occasionally added, but Suga-san explained that too much water doesn’t allow the particles to grind against each other.
(6) After each pass, the color is then pushed back and the process is started over.
(7) The idea is to grind 4>6 times into a paste (refer to chart above it took on the average 45min. to process a tablespoon of dampened pigment). Suga-san said that the final surface should appear creamy-smooth.
(8) At the end of the grinding process, water is spread around and the residual pigment is gathered up.
(9) After grinding, enough water is added to the paste to be pushed through a fine sieve into jars.
(10) Water is then very carefully added to the top. Over time, the water and heavier pigment naturally separate.and stored out of the light in a cool area of the studio.
(11) Each morning, the water is drained carefully off the top. New water is then carefully added again to the top of the drained paste after it’s used and returned to a cool, dark area. This process or replacing the water reportedly keeps spoilage down (presumably, by limiting exposure to air) as opposed to adding preservatives. The key is or course, not to shake or stir the jars.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
Mokuhankan is planning to compare this traditional method of grinding pigments with using a western-style glass muller/ glass slab combination. I suspect that this will result in less hard-won pigment being lost and may go a bit faster.
As of several days later, both the Ultramarine and the Indigo did not separate to clear water. I was a little suprised at the Ultramarine since it is a mineral pigment.
I’m also not quite sure that the step of pushing the pigment through the sieve is necessary since the ground particles are much finer than the screen.
After printing, mixing bowls are left to dry around the printing desks and are reconstituted (unless starch paste had been added) by simply adding a little water and stirring with the tokibo without apparent problems. I’ve noticed that this reconstituting doesn’t work as well with commercial tube watercolors since there is gum added and it results in a grainy texture.
When I worked at Mokuhankan in Asakusa in May, I had the honor of trading one of my prints for a painstaking re-make of Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760 – 1849) 「富嶽三十六景 神奈川沖浪裏」 “Great Wave off Kanagawa” subtitled: “Beneath the Wave”. The print was originally designed by Hokusai c.1829 and was re-carved by Dave Bull and printed by Numabe-san. See Mokuhankan’s Great Wave Project
Hokusai’s ~9-color ōban print was part of his series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji”. Kanagawa is near Tokyo’s port town Yokohama- you can see Fuji-san in the background looking WNW.
“The Wave”, of course, is an iconic image– likely the most recognized woodblock print in history. I am always amazed when students have never seen it. Students who recognize it think that Hokusai carved and printed it also- I sometimes clue them in to the division of labor, sometimes not.
Hokusai’s use of the golden section based on natural observation has often been noted by academics.
I’ve also read that the Great Wave’s foam forms “claw-like” leading crests very similar to the way dragon claws are depicted see: Hokusai’s “Dragon Ascending Mt. Fuji” from ‘One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji’ (Fugaku hyakkei) 1835. The effect depicts an active nature’s power in the face of puny fishermen who prostrate themselves in fear.
It is also interesting (at least to me) to note that Hokusai made a series of ‘proto-waves’. Shown above left is one entitled “Oshiokuri Hato Tsūsen no Zu,” or “Fast Cargo Boat Battling The Waves” c. 1805. The style looks to me a bit like work from a later artist, Rockwell Kent.
• Although his studio and much of his work was destroyed in a fire in 1839, the artist is thought to have produced 30,000 works over the course of his lifetime
• Hokusai lived in more than 90 dwellings during the course of his life.
“When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs, but all I have done before the age of 70 is not worth bothering with. At 75, I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80, you will see real progress. At 90, I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100 I shall be a marvellous artist. At 110, everything I create — a dot, a line — will jump to life as never before.” He died at age 88 hoping for ten more years in order to become a “real painter”.
– Katsushika Hokusai
The baren (馬連 or バレン) is the most important tool (other than hands) for a mokuhanga printmaker. As it’s well-documented, hon barens have three parts: the (1) shin, or coil that is twisted shirodake bamboo and sewn into a disc; the (2) ategawa, the disc composed of ~40 sheets of washi paper glued together with persimmon juice sealed with water-proof urushi lacquer; and the (3) takenokawa, a timber bamboo leaf covering. Barens are, as you can imagine, quite expensive as it takes upwards of 6 months for a craftsman to make and cost anywhere from US$800>$1400. The number of strands, the width of strips, and how they are braided dictate the coarseness, power, and/or finesse of the baren depending on the intended printing effect. An article from woodblock.com about hon barens and baren-making can be seen here.
I have used a number of low and medium-quality barens (murasaki, etc.) over the years, but I always felt that my equipment lacked hon (or “authentic“) barens. I experienced the advantage of using the real thing while printing at Mokuhankan in Tokyo where Dave Bull was generous enough to allow me to try many of them from his baren ‘strongbox’. Incidentally, there was fine 8-strand baren which we all politely fought over for detail work. Anyway, I found that the hon baren’s washi ategawa allows for the printer to pull on the baren sides in order to concentrate the power in several directions plus the bamboo coil really makes a perfect combination of power and finesse. I would also recommend using the standard 13 cm-size baren as it works as an ‘outrigger’ to keep it flat on the block while printing.
“After a while, I really felt as if the natural combination of a hon baren’s coil, disc, and covering was simply an extension of my arm and fingers.”
UPDATE: So I am always “trolling” Japanese auctions (Jauce.com, Yahoo.jp, etc.) for printmaking tools. I occasionally come up with jewels- last year, I purchased 32 Kintaro-brand maru bake (printing brushes). Anyway, after about 2 years of diligently looking for barens, I hit what I consider the ‘motherload’ of barens a few weeks ago- maybe a printer died 😦 Although not cheap (especially with all of the fee$), I was able to purchase 7 hon barens! I wonder where they came from- most are very lightly used if all and one seems very old. I believe that there are (2) 16-strand, (2) 12-strand, and (2) 8-strands along with (1)a very old-looking 6-strand(?). I am patiently waiting for Hidehiko Gotou, who is purportedly the last maker of traditional hon barens, to help me identify them.
Gotou-san said that the baren coils can last a professional printer for up to 3 generations, the ategawa for up to a decade, and as you probably know, the a takenokawa covering lasts for a print or two depending.
This fall, I had the pleasure of meeting Gotou-san at the IMC 2017 conference in Manoa, Hawaii. Earlier in the year, I had ordered two kiurushi barens (here’s the link to an earlier entry) from Gotou-san and I was quite happy with them. I found Gotou-san to be a delightful person (taller than the typical Japanese) and loves printmaking as well as baren-making. He’s now 65 (doesn’t look it) and announced while in Hawaii that he now has secured an apprentice to possibly ‘pass the baton’ for future generations of printmakers. People seemed very relieved at the news.
You can see in my Youtube video below how Gotou-san twists a 4-strand (ko) which can be then formed into any number of braiding combinations. The plant-end of the shirotake (white bamboo) leaf is cut into strips, the cuticle is stripped off (see pic above) and the strips are spliced while twisted and braided at the same time.
Some barens take around 12 meters (~36 ft.) of braid to make a single baren coil, As you can see, he is blazing-fast (no, this is not sped-up!) and amazingly consistent.
Afterwards, the 4 strands are doubled (8 ko), tripled (12 ko), or quadrupled (16 ko), and sewn together to form the flat coil. It’s then fitted to the ategawa and a softer rope is laid outside the coil to minimize ‘bumping marks’ from the sides. Gotou-san is, of course, also a master at wrapping the takenokawa around the whole enchilada. The presentation of a new baren is very clean using white bamboo to wrap (which is weak, but pretty), and a photo of the coil is included with the new baren. I have heard that it takes some time to break in a new baren. An article from woodblock.com goes into some detail- see: here
I also did a re-wrap of all of my 22? barens (hoarder?) which was good practice. Plus, I uncoiled and sewed together the old hon baren (seen in the bottom right of above picture. Pro tip: to sew a baren you have to use silk thread and tie an overhand knot in each pass through the coil by tying, winding the coil a quarter turn, tying, etc. and introducing ‘eighth pie sections’ 2/3 of the way through for stability. Very little tension is what you want in order to keep the coil really flat- which is VERY important. IMO, my final product doesn’t look that bad for a gaijin– and thus, I give myself a ‘gentleman’s “B” ‘.
If you’d like to check out Gotou’s baren webpage, here is the link. He speaks a whole lot better English than I do Japanese, but there is always Google translate. He can make a baren to order (takes some months to make and receive)- and he does now have a PayPal account- I think that I made him join! 🙂
A video I took in Hawaii showing Gotou-san twisting shirodake (special white bamboo) strips into a 4-strand (ko). Amazing!
Another baren-making site that you might be interested in is by Aiyumi Ohashi, who I had the pleasure to work with in Asakusa. She was a student of Gotou-san and has a brief how-to page of her own here.
I certainly am looking forward to seeing my woodblock friends at this year’s International Mokuhanga Conference starting tomorrow!
I give a presentation on Friday morning concerning the application of apprenticeship-based learning in higher education. I think that I’m prepared… I’ll take many pics and post them asap. I just wish that I could spend the rest of the week and see the whole shebang.
This process animation is from publisher Shōzaburō Watanabe “The Process of Color-Block Printing”, printed in 1935 from an Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) design “Hamamatsu”, no. 30 from the series Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido, 1850.
I’ve always loved senjafuda. Senjafuda (in Japanese- literally “thousand shrine cards”) are taken by travelers and pilgrims where they are pasted on rafters and posts. They don’t look as junky as you might expect- much better than graffiti IMO.
Making and collecting senjafuda (some are quite spectacular) is very popular thing to do in Japan. As an artist, they’re very convenient to make- you have some left-over wood? Perfect. Some extra paper scraps? A piece here a piece there, and voilà!
I plan to use this as a demonstration and simple print for my printmaking students to start mokuhanga. The idea is to print around 200 (this test batch is only 14) to bring and give away at my IMC2017 Mokuhanga Conference talk at the University of Hawaii in late Sept. Shhh! it’s a secret surprise…
Technically, it’s obviously a 3-color print- actually 5 impressions as the red and black are over-printed. I took a hint from Mokuhankan’s print parties in Asakusa and printed the black keyblock last- that keeps the lighters colors clean! Normally, the black keyblock is printed first, but sometimes the black bleeds into the later lighter colored blocks resulting in a dingy mess.
As Thomas Edison said: “There are no rules here- we’re trying to get things done”.
Incidentally, I’m using ‘black hole’ sumi or sumi no kaori (literally “scent of carbon”?)- anyway it’s velvety-smooth-nano-vanta-fiber-crow-in-a-coalmine-event-horizon bahahalackkkk! If you’re interested in buying this glorious stuff, the only place I could find is a calligraphy shop in France of all places. See: Comptoir de Secritures
Hiroshi Yoshida is My Hero.
Ever since I picked up the book The Complete Woodblock Prints of Hiroshi Yoshida, in 1991, I have been haunted, nay gobsmacked, by his designs. In fact, I wouldn’t have quit my illustration business, gone to grad school, and taught higher education if it were not for his work. If you’re not familiar with Hiroshi Yoshida (1876-1950), check it out on Google.
Yoshida’s prints fall within the genre of shin hanga (or “new” prints)- a 20th-century movement started well after uniyo-e’s demise and provided a Renaissance of mokuhanga that lasted from roughly from the mid 1910s until the 50s. This movement was started by Yoshijirô Urushibara (1888–1953) through his collaborations with western artists such as Frank Brangwyn. Other notable artists include Charles Bartlett, Elizabeth Keith, Tsuchiya Kōitsu, and many others. The idea of shin-hanga was to use traditional mokuhanga printing techniques in a watercolor effect- lessening the importance of line while layering color over color in a realistic, western manner often creating atmospheric depth.
In the 1920s, two primary shin-hanga artists arose: Hiroshi Yoshida and Kawase Hasui. Even though Hasui seems to get the most credit through his influence on anime, I’d put Hiroshi over Kawase Hasui any day.
True, old man Yoshida couldn’t draw people worth a nickel, claimed prints to be “self-printed”, and used zinc plates, but- Oh!, his Values, his Colors, his Lines!…
As one of the shin hanga heavies, I believe one reason Yoshida’s prints were so consistently superior was that he published his own work early on. Unlike the Hasui/Watanabe Shōzaburō team, I don’t see lulls in quality over his career.
I’ve had Blakeney’s book Yoshida Hiroshi: Print-maker since the 1990s and it’s very informative. It describes his background, travels, and a catalogue raisonné.
Plus, it has a posthumously printed woodblock fronticepiece “Court of Lions, Alhambra 1928” (I have a soft spot for the subject matter since I really liked visiting the Alhambra).
As usual, the Court of Lions is beautifully rendered and printed. The woodblock is similar to the color prints found within Yoshida’s Japanese Woodblock Printing from 1929, the classic how-to guide that I also treasure. The hand-printed examples in both books are really inspiring- especially considering the thousands of copies that must have been produced.
I’ll be in awe of this man the rest of my life.
Well, after 200 hours of work, I seem to have finished this print before it finished me! I really don’t know the number of impressions at this point- but it’s at least 30. I have a total of 50 decent prints that I will post for sale soon. I ended up using 7 blocks- click on the image and you can see the hi-res version. Enjoy!
Last May, I had a great time
exploring the Japanese Alps from Hakuba (the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics). On my first day, just before the sun went down, there was a nice scene featuring alpenglow where the tops of the mountains (in this case, Mt. Goryu) caught the last of the sun’s red glow. Here’s the photo- obviously, I did a good bit of editing of the colors and scene.
I tried to capture this using shin hanga techniques.
I’m using 7 blocks- not sure of the number of impressions, but here’s an estimate:
(1) beta ban- light yellow overall (2) mountain keyblock (3) tree/frame keyblock (4) pink cloud bokashi (5) blue/neutral clouds (6) yellow bokashi in sky (7) yellow/neutral mountains (8) light gray mountain detail (9) light blue at base of far mountain (10) orange bokashi mountain detail (11) red bokashi on peak of mountain (12) mid mountain med. blue (13) mid mountain detail (14) near mountain green (15) near mountain overprint (16) near mountain detail green (17) side trees dark green (18) overprint side trees (19) middle tree warmer dark green (20) overprint middle tree warmer dark green
I plan to make 50 copies in the next few weeks. I look forward to seeing them all laid out.
Part of my time in Japan was spent producing my “Moon Rabbit” print 13.5″ x 9.5″. I’ll admit the image is creepy, but intentionally so as I like the “beauty in ugliness” so-to-speak of things. Although I do love the idyllic scenes often associated with Japanese woodblock, I feel as if I have to “cleanse my pallette” occasionally and push what I think can be done- similar to some yokai, or ghost/demon print themes. What better cutesy animal to flay than a rabbit?
This connection of the moon and the rabbit goes way back in oriental culture- we in the West see a man in the moon- others in China, Japan, Kora, Vietnam, native americans, etc., see a rabbit- resting under a tree or pounding a pestle.
The print itself consists of 6 blocks on shina plywood: (1)dark keyblock (2) red, (3) yellow, (4) slate blue, (5) background, and (6) moon details.
The color impressions are as follows: (1) dark keyblock, (2) yellow, (3) red body, (4) blue body, (5) moon details bokashi, (6) green background, (7) green background overprint, (8) bokashi top, (9) bokashi bottom, (10) red cartouche, (11) bokashi on cartouche.
Warning: This chapter contains a lot of geeky, technical information often going beyond the basics of Japanese-style printmaking. To add context, please refer to Woodblock.com’s extensive Encyclopedia entries.
I apologize in advance if you already know these things… That said, Dave Bull would regularly remind me [paraphrased]: “There are often more ways than one to do these things- you should look, listen, and try one way and then another, and then compare the results. One advantage is to think outside the box”. And he is right as evidenced by his, and others’ work and innovations. So to that end, here are a few things to consider…
Printing brushes (maru and hanga bake) have stiff hairs for a reason- you need the firmness to move pigment and paste around the blocks. On the other hand, a firm, stiff hair leaves a streak. Usually, mokuhanga requires smooth pigment application, so to get the best of both worlds, the tips need to be softened by a mechanical process of rubbing along a rough surface (sharkskin, ‘dragonskin’, coarse sandpaper, etc.). I was able to compare the “pre-conditioned” brushes from Matsumura and the ones at the print studio and the latter were noticeably softer. Here, I am conditioning a maru bake.
After you get a new brush, the next step is to form it (see brush profile pic above). The traditional way is to melt the hairs using a hotplate. I made my own setup to fit on top of an electric element. It’s a pretty stinky and hot process. Some folks simply trim with scissors although I find that the melting technique is a bit quicker and easier to be consistent.
Shark skins have unique properties and are valued by craftspeople for a number of purposes. This angel shark skin features thousands of serrated tooth-like dermal denticles [see images]. 90-grit sandpaper can also work if you don’t have access- large sanding belts provide a longer surface to use. I’ve seen folks use powered machinery, but this really isn’t that much work to me.
The technique that works best for me is to:
When I was shown the process by experience printers in Japan, I aped what I saw. I wasn’t able to get anywhere for many hours. I did successfully rip the tip of my finger open which got me a little mad, [see pic of my finger] but this also got me thinking: I needed to rip the hairs just as I did my finger.
After doing the ~30 initial strokes to roughen up, I finally was able to feel the hairs ‘grip’ the sharkskin- really grip them.
To consider when to stop, look for a light brown color developing on the face of the brush- an almost velvety look indicative of a well-conditioned brush. I also diagnosed the softness of the tips by rubbing it against my cheek.
Problems: The middle of the brush had a slight dip. We concluded that that area had the most contact with the sharkskin.
I asked Kubota-san why the ‘dip’ in the middle and he explained to me that I should rub the brush 50 times FLAT. He said that I should rub each brush in the following directions: North, South, East, West, 45°, 135°, 225°, 315°, the on the ‘CORNERS’ of the brush in all NSEW directions top and bottom. I’m not good at math, but this is 16 angles x 50= 800 strokes. Maybe I’m lazy, but I found that the brushes didn’t need that much attention.
Here’s a short video to get a feel of it:
So, what are we looking for microscopically? There was a bit of deliberation on the question: Are the tips of the brush tapered or ‘frizzed’? Suga-san (who worked at the Adachi Institute for 5 years) and Mr. Kenichi Kubota, master printer at Adachi discussed this. I personally was at a loss with my lack of language skills to comprehend the vast majority of what was said, but I think that ‘tapered’ won out (see diagram).
Like I said earlier, I use my thumbs to keep the hairs from bending too much while rubbing against the skin (once again, this is a bit tricky to avoid fingers being ground). If you are sharpening a hanga bake (the more ‘paintbrush’ like tool), it’s advised to wrap the brush with a jig and twine so that only the tips are being ground. The printers wrapped them tightly using wooden strips with holes on both sides to keep things stable. If someone knows how to make a jig for maru bakes, please tell me.
I stumbled across a brush maker on Moto Asakusa near Ueno Park. I watched Mrs. Miyagawa work and the process looked relatively simple- I’m sure it’s a lot harder than it looks. Hanks of horse hair are cut and gathered, loop light wire through holes in the wooden brush base. The hairs are threaded into the wire loop half way and the hairs are pulled into the holes. I purchased a couple of smaller maru bake brushes and she gave me a small hanga bake. Nice lady! A more in-depth report on the shop can be found here.
This is a continuation of my time spent in May and June, 2017. See earlier part 1- Printing in Japan: 日本での印刷
I personally feel very fortunate in many ways: I have have a functional, supportive family and as a university professor, I am paid to learn, along with my teaching responsibilities. I have tried to not separate learning and teaching as much as possible.
A few opportunities came up for me via woodblock printmaking to consider my role: One was casual conversations with David Bull of Mokuhankan concerning the apprenticeship model and the other is an invitation to speak at IMC2017: the International Mokuhanga Conference in Honolulu, HI this late Sept. The subject that I chose for the conference relates to Environment and Social considerations of woodblock printmaking- certainly a broad subject with a lot of latitude. I would like to concentrate on active learning within work environments and how to incorporate elements of active learning within academia. There will be a diverse crowd: artists, craftsmen, academics, professionals, and amateurs. As a teacher and commercial artist with a diverse background, I feel that I am able to compare ways of learning which I have personally felt were the most valuable to me and my students.
A little printmaking background: Since the mid-90s, I have struggled (mainly on my own) to understand what variables equate making a strong and well-made print, both in design and execution.
If you have tried mokuhanga, you know what I mean: (1) everything seems prohibitively expensive, (2) a lot of things are hard or impossible to come by, and (3) you’re not sure of what’s right/wrong since there are very few reliable sources of direct information. Some, if not most of these challenges can’t be addressed by studying books or taking classes. I have learned enough of the art that I needed to go back to Japan to feel, smell, look, hear, and absorb the process and to work alongside others who have a more developed and varied experience. I really wasn’t conscience of what I needed, it just seemed like the natural progression of things. And I got a chance to do just that this summer. Beyond the technical issues, I also was able to rediscover and consider that…
“I find that, although I have learned a great deal as a student, I have valued work and outside of academia experiences every bit as much, if not more.”
As I stated earlier, I worked for nearly 10 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution starting in 1987 and later as owner of Amoss Illustration, Inc. working with many national clients.
During that period, I learned:
Later, I took a week-long course in Japanese woodworking, which, to some degree exposed me to a taste of what it was like to work under a master, Toshio Odate.
And to compare, I considered my experience this spring at Mokuhankan, print studio in Tokyo.
I learned that:
This begs the question:
As an educator in a public university, the question that I am posing is: How can I/we incorporate these “apprenticeship-like” modes of “deep learning” into practice?
Not to be a “downer” here, but there are many things in academia (non-technical schools) that seem to ‘conspire’ against doing so IMO:
Of all the issues above, #4 seems to be the biggest deal for me. The problem of an “info dump” is that it’s artificial, consumer-based, and not very useful for anyone. I hate to say it, but the student must first find the problem in order to appreciate the answers. Art is, in my opinion, a REALLY good place to apply an active learning process based on information given within the context of need, rather than simply laying out information.
To use an analogy: As a musician, I’ve seen many a beginner buy a very expensive instruments from square-one [I liken this to having access to all of the answers aka “info-dumping”]. Although you can say that “you can’t blame the instrument anymore and it’s now up to hard work”, so many times, the ease of getting a thing overshadows creating a thing which requires a shift of thinking from a consumer to a maker. The same can be true of information- knowing is an abstraction and by “info-dump”, it doesn’t equate understanding and I think a large part of understanding comes from the physical activity of receiving the information when you can value/need it/understand the context. I’m sure I have succumbed to these strong temptations in my life many times- maybe I’m doing it right now…
However, I feel confident in this recipe for succeeding in anything:
“Do a lot of work consistently with persistence, awareness, curiosity, and purpose.” Or, in distilled terminology:
Enough of my soapbox…
On apprenticeships: “In the old days that sometimes meant just hanging around sweeping the floor or helping stack wood, being a ready eager extra hand. When the carpenter was satisfied with the young students’ commitment, then he would begin to give some unimportant tasks to accomplish. Rudimentary tools and basic instruction of their use would be provided. As experience and familiarity with the tools was gained, he was allowed to approach more involved work. Generally the methods of teaching are not overt. It is said that the student must “steal” information. That is, when he has tried and failed at something, then truly ready and eager to learn, the teacher will allow an opportunity for the student to see how it should be done. But nothing is said and the student can’t just stand and watch. He must sneak a look while still busy with his designated task of the moment. Little or no pay was received until the apprentice could produce useful work.” –Takumi Carpentry
Based on what I’ve experienced- and the system that was developed over centuries, what I would add as a teacher to my academic courses are:
NEXT: Over the next chapters I’ll discuss what I learned while in Japan about the preparation of some materials.
It has been nearly a month since I was in Japan for 30 days from May 9> June 10, 2017. After allowing myself to ‘digest’ everything, I have concluded that it was, simply, the ideal adventure in terms of learning through experiencing and doing. I did allow some time for frivolities, but for the most part, it was self-imposed work: printing, prepping tools and material, teaching a little, and further unfolding the ‘onion’ that is Japanese mokuhanga. Here’s a bit of what I’d like to share.
A Note of Appreciation: I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mokuhankan, the University of North Georgia’s Department of Art and College of Arts and Letters, and my wife, Margaret, for sponsoring my trip.
My 44-hour flight with Turkish Airlines had a 10-hour layover at Attatürk Airport which allowed me to get into the old town of Istanbul.
One of my ‘bucket-list’ items since the early 80s was to see the Hagia Sophia– a center of Roman Byzantium built in 522CE under the emperor Justinian and converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in the mid-1400s. It felt relatively airy, yet chunky as one would imagine with construction of the time. Representational mosaics of Jesus and Mary, along with seraphim were left. Another surprise was that cats were allowed to roam free inside.
I found it pretty easy to get around Istanbul and would recommend that, despite media paranoia, get on a train, tram, or bus and enjoy the friendly folks and fascinating history.
On the second leg of my trip, I arrived at Narita airport and made my way to the apartment in Taito (in the s.w. corner of the once-famous Yoshiwara red-light district).
I really enjoyed waking up to the daily life of the neighborhood where grannies swept storefronts, people stepping around pet turtles, and very young kids walking or riding their bikes on sidewalks by themselves without any apparent worries (or negative consequences).
I eagerly walked the 8 blocks south to Asakusa via the Sensō-ji temple complex, to Mokuhankan– a print studio run by long-time printer, David Bull who has been living in the Tokyo area for over 30 years. He was just as friendly and energetic as I remembered and I felt as if the 15 years since I had worked with him at his home in Ome was a week ago. FYI, from 1996, Dave became the largest conduit of information for westerners trying to learn Japanese-style woodblock printmaking and was responsible for me to turn from being a commercial illustrator to going to grad school and devoting my career to teaching and practicing printmaking.
Since last time we met, he has been quite busy building upon his vision of being a major woodblock publisher- and by all accounts- he’s succeeded with Mokuhankan!
My head swum while he gave me a tour of the compact, but well-run facilities. I was introduced to the staff- here’s a picture of the print showroom with Mr. Toshikazu Doi who is a major shin-hanga print collector who also works part-time during retirement from Asahi Beer Co.
As you can see in the picture to the right, the studio’s street-front entrance leads upstairs to the print showroom on the second floor where “print parties” (hands-on educational introductions to the printing process) are held for a small fee.
The third floor is set up for production and, as promised, was one out of four printing benches that had been reserved for me for the month (note: the picture below was taken after I had a chance to mess things up or to “customize” my workspace).
Initially, it felt a bit weird to ‘fill’ a space, but as each printer came and introduced themselves and started working, I felt a little bit like a part of a print factory. I had brought enough printing equipment and pre-carved blocks to start which worked quite well in retrospect.
As you might expect, the regular staff was also a bit apprehensive (who is this new guy?, what does he want?, etc.), but, after a while, we found creative ways to goof off, we transcended language barriers with humor, and let ourselves get to know each other.
I am ‘OK’ as a printer, but I do know my place. Everyone showed me a lot of respect through helping me see the subtleties of printing. Along with previous experiences, I did also gain a bit of understanding how people learn. In late Sept., I have been asked to present a talk at the International Mokuhanga Conference in Honolulu concerning Environmental and Social issues and I plan to talk about the introduction of the apprenticeship model in higher education later…
Anyway, everyone associated with the print studio (staff, academic visitors, public) was exceedingly nice and personable and I do miss being a part of the scene. I also certainly received a lot from everyone there and I do hope that I added to Mokuhankan in some measure.
I am going to be showing my work at the SGCI Conference in Atlanta this Saturday (3/18) in the Ellington Ballroom in the Loews Hotel during the third open portfolio sessions. Frankly, it’s my favorite part of the conference.
I hope to see you there. I will be selling my prints- either way, say you saw this entry and get your free Tanuki sticker! Session 1.
Since I live about 1.5 hours outside of Atlanta, I had no excuse to not attend the Southern Graphics International Printmaking Conference from 3/15>3/18. I have two etching pieces in the Terminus UGA show and will participate in the open portfolio in the Loew’s Hotel on Saturday (come by if you’re there).
The UGA show is particularly strange to me personally since it’s now called “Gallery 72” which is the same Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s newsroom building that I worked in as an illustrator for nearly 10 years from 1987>1996. The same layout, a bit changed. Weird, but glad it’s been re-purposed.
Anyway, this exhibit’s reception is Friday, March 17 from 6-9pm.
My Qufu print is finished! Ater proofing, I printed an edition of about 40 on Iwano washi- I will cull the odd “less than perfect” mistakes (I say that with some sorrow, but I’ve committed to offering only the best of the batch and cull even small blemishes, etc.).
In total, the print required eleven blocks and about 14 impressions. I will post a detail after they’re finished drying. Using the overlapping shin-hanga printing style was a challenge. It was interesting to print complementary colors (on opposite sides of the color wheel) to create neutrals such as shadows. This experience will certainly help me to plan the next prints.
I plan to have both the Django and Qufu prints (along with some etchings) at the SGCI conference in Atlanta.
I received something wonderfully unexpected- apparently, our intrepid mascot is a world traveller. A past art student of mine, Caroline Welsch carried a Tanuki Prints sticker to Paris on her trip and was nice enough to position him, well, you know where this is.
Tanuki is good luck, that is, if you have a drink with him, Caroline!
FYI, for every print purchased, you’ll receive a Tanuki Prints sticker- I’d love to see him travel from each and every corner of the globe!
I know he’ll be in Japan come May.
For more interesting facts about the actual and mythical Tanuki, or the Japanese racoon-dog, click here
So, after 10 carved blocks, and several more color impressions, here is a proof of the Qufu block. I am pleased with it, the colors are more vibrant than you see here. The first two impressions were the color gradation in the house exterior printed twice, then a shadow, the interior shadow, then the pavement, then the yellow sunshine, then another shadow block, the interior green, interior yellow, interior red, then the interior shadow bokashi. I hope to start the actual printing on Iwano washi soon- maybe next week!
I started proofing my next print- “Qufu” (see right). I split the key block (outlines) into two blocks- one black sumi the other background key block is a gradation from dark blue upward to dark brown. With these proof prints, I will then use inks and brush to simulate and anticipate the additional colors. I plan to use my earlier impression tests to -try- to be as efficient as I can with the coloring while keeping in mind that the more colors, the more blocks.
It’s a real puzzle to consider the resulting combinations of overlapping colors- plus, I know that I’ll use at least 2 gray shadow blocks (nezumi-ban) in addition to the color ones. I’m trying to follow my observations from shin-hanga prints in the fact that the blacks in the key block won’t show as much contrast since it will be surrounded by dark greens, reds, yellows. The background key block will be a shift from warm to cool color blocks, so I am hoping that things will work together. One thing that I have learned is that you can’t proof too much- well, for me right now. Today’s term: “nishiki-e” meaning multi-color prints.
To start the process of creating new prints, I make my own cherry plywood. The process starts with selecting wood that has little figuration and no ‘sap-wood’ and gluing the two 1/4″ thin cut cherry around a birch core with waterproof (Titebond III) glue. After letting the glue dry for 24 hrs. under clamp pressure, I wet-sand with #400 and #800-grit sandpaper and let them dry. This raises the grain just like when they get during printing. After dry, I sand again, trim the sides, and buff to a very smooth and shiny surface with a wool bonnet and polishing rouge. The result is a very shiny block that prints smoothly. Only 10 more blocks to prep before things really get started…
I taught in China almost 3 years ago and had the pleasure
of visiting the Kong (Confucius) family compound in Qufu that originally dates from 500BC (I’m not sure how old this structure is- nowhere near that, I’m sure).
I’ve always been a sucker for doorways and framing, so I thought I’d try my hand at a shin hanga-style small print. The image on the left is a photo after waiting for the tourists to pass- I was attracted to the worn smooth paving stones and rough weathered wood. The image on the right is an ink drawing on vellum. Not sure what to call this print yet, but I’m sure it will reveal itself to me. In terms of printing, I hope to utilize some goma-zuri (pigment without paste) to allow for a mottled look in the stones. I’m also thinking about splitting this keyblock into two: one dark foreground, one light background. I don’t know- like a good novel, I plan to keep “reading” to find out how this ends…
Enter a caption Enter a captionI know the title sounds bad and I should have more respect for my heroes . However, this is an animation assembled from a hand-printed progression in Hiroshi Yoshida’s “Japanese Wood-block Printing” from 1939. I’m fortunate to have a copy of this along with his son’s two manuals. Hiroshi Yoshida was a pioneer of the shin-hanga movement and I find his examples very instructive as far as layering transparent colors. The man especially loved grays and browns which is a bit surprising for me. Each of these four progressive plates have an average of 3-4 colors per page for a total of 15 impressions:
Black outline; outline block (I).
Blue sky; sky block (VI).
Brown sail and boat; sail block (II)
Yellow on water; water block (VII).
Indigo reflection on yellow; reflection block (IV).
Subdued purple gradation for the sky from bottom upward. The sky block (VI) repeated.
Carmine to heighten the light; the red block (VIII).
Indigo gradation from top downward on the reflection. The reflection block repeated.
Indigo gradation on water from either side; the water block (VII) repeated to kill the red where unnecessary.
Brown gradation on sails from top downward; the sail block (II) repeated.
Brown over the boat; the boat block (III).
Indigo for water to heighten the light in the upper part, and also perforated in the lower part; the indigo block (IX).
Plate IV (Finished)
Indigo gradation from the top of the sky. The sky block (VI) repeated.
Grey-block (V) to darken the masts and give a shade to the boats.
Indigo gradation from the bottom upward on the water. The water block (VII) repeated for this purpose. A baren of sixteen-strand cord was used to produce the horizontal marks on the water.
At the end of the progression, he also includes a night version (left).
Don’t take this the wrong way- I think this guy’s junk looks fanfrickentastiqué!
If you are interested in buying a recently printed copy from Mokuhankan, click here.
For Christmas, I shamelessly ordered for myself two hand-made barens from Mr. Hidehiko Gotou (below), from Kanagawa, Japan. Barens are the traditional “hand
printing pads” that a printers use, along with elbow grease, instead of a mechanical press. Mr. Gotou is the only craftsman in the world who still produces real hand-made barens. The one I am holding in my right hand (to your left) with a white dot is a 8-strand coil baren, and the other is a 16-strand bamboo coil baren. I’m already using the heck out of them. The coils are hand-braided out of bamboo strips- very time consuming work. I ordered them from Mr. Gotou and after 2 months of labor,
he sent them to me before receiving payment. I was impressed by his craftsmanship and his trusting nature.
Below is a detail of the inner coil which is usually not visible without its outer bamboo leaf covering (takenokawa) that holds the coil (shin- see below) along with the black back pad (ategawa). Gotou-san has a website (in Japanese) if you want your own- just tell him that I sent you!
No, this is not ‘art’ per se. In woodblock there are so many, many variables- really too many to list here! So I have decided to winnow my pigment choices to 3 and traditional sumi. Also, in order to establish a library of resources for coming prints, I created this first of several color swatch charts based on 7 colors using 3 primary watercolor tubes: Windsor Yellow, Windsor Blue, and Permanent Rose from which I mixed 3 secondary colors: green, orange, purple, and 1 neutral gray. The right side and bottom are pure single impressions. The lighter horizontals were printed first, then the darker verticals. I hope to do others: dark on light, dark on dark. I am hoping that these will be a good source of matching colors to order! Either way, it was good printing practice.
I owe a lot to the Yoshida family, particularly Hiroshi Yoshida 1876-1950 who’s powerful color and design choices got me interested in woodblock in the early 90’s after I was struck by his work featured in The Complete Woodblock Prints of Hiroshi Yoshida. As one of the major shin-hanga artists, like Kawase Hasui 1883-1957, Hiroshi was able to take the layering of his watercolor paintings and transpose the process into woodblocks that are some of the most beautiful prints I’ve ever seen.
Below is an animated .gif I put together in Photoshop from images of a simple woodblock, Castle of Himeji, by Hiroshi’s son, Toshi Yoshida 1911-1995. From what I can tell, the impressions are as follows: (1) black keyblock, (2) light yellow sky (3) dark yellow foreground (4) med. gray architecture (5) blue/green sky, foliage (6) light gray details in sky, shadows (7) med warm green> dark cool green bokashi for trees. Note the small details, like the blue on roofs, subtle gray shadows on houses and trees. I hope to be able to print as cleanly and be as efficient in the color use someday.
This is the first of my Musician Series and is hand-printed using traditional moku-hanga techniques on mulberry paper made by Ichibei Iwano- Japan’s papermaking Living Treasure. This 6″ x 8″ print of the famous Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhart (the name “Django” is written in the hiragana cartouche in the upper right) was printed from 8 cherry blocks requiring 11 impressions. Domestic shipping is $2 and is packed in a hard protective sleeve along with a free Tanuki Prints sticker. Stay tuned for more fabulous musicians in the set!