Tanuki Prints has Moved Underground~

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My old and cramped printmaking hovel/office

I apologize for a lack of posts lately- we took a 3-week family camping trip to Canada which was wonderful BTW. I also found out that I had become a full professor- yea!

Since then, I’ve been working on moving my printing operation from my university office (see right) to my basement (below) before the semester starts. I had outgrown the aburdly-small office space long ago and I physically found it hard to safely navigate around all of the heaps of stuff- especially the accumulating 90+ woodblocks (soon to be 150+) for my Appalachian Trail Series.

Maybe I delayed the move to make a point to administration that we, as faculty, need some support to create art- something that is a large part of our job description. Anyway, in reality, I think that the only impression that was communicated was “What the hell is this mess”?  or “Why doesn’t this guy simply have a computer and a clean desk like everyone else”?

On the other hand, I did enjoy the occasions when a curious student would stick his or her head in and ask what I was doing. Either way, the situation was completely unsustainable and I’ve given up dealing with these limitations.

Fast forward 3 weeks: This is what my new space looks like! It’s in my basement but I think I’ll be both safer and happier using my own resources- however troglodyte-like it is.

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Printmaking bench, shelves, work table, etc. The rugs really tie the room together.

Here’s another view of the printing desk area. You will notice a foot-high printing platform with a foot well. This was inspired by what I printed on for a month at Mokuhankan- thanks to Lee-san and Dave-san for the idea. I also want to thank my wife, Margaret and son, Robert for helping with both support and muscle.

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Mixed pigments, barens, maru bake, hanga bake, printing desk on platform, sharkskin, etc. More to come!
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Here’s an overview of the printing desk with stool.

In another adjacent room, I have built a pigment/paste mixing brush washing, sharpening area.

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Pigments, containers, and sink. I rather suspect that things will get messy here…

Now, on to the garage for establishing a carving area next! Many trips to the dump in my future. I fully expect these areas to fill up- but until then, I’m lovin’ the space in the meantime!

Waddya think? I think that it’s time to start making prints again…

Yoshida’s “Kagurazaka Dori” Process Print Set: Take One

Flower Street After a Night Rain
Hiroshi Yoshida’s “Kagurazaka Dori”,  or “Flower Street After a Night Rain” 1929

Sometimes, unexpected things are nearer than I think. Florida State University’s Art Museum houses a 67-impression series from Hiroshi Yoshida’s (1876-1950) oban-size Kagurazaka Dori” ( the English title is “Flower Street After a Night Rain”) from 1929.

Since I am a printmaking professor, I asked the Associate Director of Collections if there were any archived images available as an academic resource. To my delight, she was very kind to send all 67 files (33 cumulative and 33 individual impressions plus a chop mark impression) to me!

I have no idea where (or when) FSU got these, but they are very, very rare. It is my understanding that this is the only set of it’s kind outside of Yoshida Studios in Toyko where Tsukasa Yoshida stores such things along with the blocks of his grandfather.

Yoshida-Kagurazaka-Dori-Process-Small
Cumulative impression animation compiled from images. Courtesy of Florida State University

From what I am told, Hiroshi Yoshida’s prints are rarely re-printed (if ever). Since the hand-written notes are in English (apparently in Hiroshi’s hand), I’ll bet that this was a keepsake gift (probably for a US army officer family during the occupation) rather than the normal instructions for printers to follow.

Despite that this is not exactly my favorite print of Hiroshi’s, I am so obsessively-interested in producing shin hanga-style prints- specifically in the Yoshida-style, that this is a real find for a geek like me.

I’ve actually seen the set once before- as a grad student, I went down to Tallahasee in 2002 and attempted to record the set by using slide film- which turned out terribly because of the low lighting. The idea was to take them to Japan where Dave Bull and I were mapping out another shin hanga-style night scene of my design, “Milton”, as part of his Surimono series. At the time, I wasn’t very ‘deep’ in such printing techniques and now I feel that I can see and glean the information much more.

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John Amoss, “Milton”, 2002 from Dave Bull’s Surimono Series. Photo courtesy of Mokuhankan.

I know that while looking at the animation that it’s difficult to get all of the subtleties of each cumulative layer. After looking though all of them, there are several things that quickly struck me- particularly the use of fukitori or (“wiping off”) technique. Since you can’t skip to frames in this animation, I wanted to point out the 1st image of the keyblock where the brown ink in the street lamp’s lighted areas were wiped off. In the 2nd image, the keyblock was re-printed in red (to indicate the lamps and wet street’s glare) in conjunction of where the 1st impression areas were wiped off. It’s pretty obvious that the printer (Komatsu-san?) used a stencil overlaid onto an inked block. Design-wise, using the isolated red instead of the darker brown creates an environmental effect that is… well, very effective.

As I said, there are also the other 34 individual impressions that I hope to add with notes soon.

Sets like this are like preliminary drawings for paintings- they provides a lot of insight that tends to get buried in the final product.

Side note: It’s well known that most of the Yoshida’s keyblocks were made of zinc and glycerin was mixed with pigment to adhere to the metal.

There are many more 89 year-old mysteries yet to be unfolded.

Click here to see the next entry featuring and in-depth analysis of the individual impressions

IMC2017- University of Hawaii/Manoa

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.

Tanuki Senjafudas!


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

Mt. Goryu Final

mt goryu final

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!

 

Split Keyblock (a good thing)

Qufu 6″x8″ proof on nishinouchi proofing paper

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.