Wednesday 26 July 2017

Japanese Woodblock Printing Week: Printing

 Very pleased with the results of the printing of my woodblock cut during the week after  Day 1's  introduction to Japanese woodblock printing. at Morley College. And it is achievable at home and adds a different element to my watercolour painting.
In the  notes that Carol provided was a diagram of the layout  showing how woodblocks are traditionally printed . If only my efforts were quite so tidy and organised , I got carried away with the excitement ! 
 The morning was devoted to preparation:
- clearing the gutters  around the print areas and smoothing edges using the 'hira-toh' with it's bevel edge at 45 degree angle.
- making registration grooves ( 'Kagi'  and ' Hititske' )with ' Kentoh ' chisel if hadn't already done so
- soaking the block , wrapping it in a damp tea-towel and plastic
- making a 'damp pack' with newsprint  book ( 3 sheets  folded in half then half again and cut along the top) using a 'mizu bake' ( goats hair waterbrush) , dampening every 3rd sheet. This was then wrapped in plastic sheeting with the wrapped block on top to  flatten it.
- cutting paper to size ( 14.5 x 19 cm) . This took some time and some sums to work out how to get the most out of the sheet of Awagami Hosho.   These were then placed in the  damp pack  over lunch .
We were told several times that accuracy and  the right  kind of dampness ( not too wet) are key to the process!

 After lunch we prepared our 'Nori '  starch, squeezing out an inch into a plastic cup then gradually adding drops of water while mixing with a chopstick to get rid of lumps until the consistency was right(just dropping off the end of the stick) .
Then Carol demonstrated  the process.
The watercolour/gouache was mixed with water in a palette( roughly same amount of water to paint, a thicker consistency than I would use for painting)   and the damp block removed from the towel/plastic  and placed on non-slip mat.
The nori was dotted on the block with a chopstick  and then brushed in well  with a 'maru -bake' or'burashi' ( very dense hairs)
Starting with the lightest colours, paint was dotted on  and then rubbed in  with a smaller 'hanga -bake' (bunched bristles tied together and held between 2 halves of a wooden handle). This was repeated  3 time in total.  
The paper  was removed from the damp pack using a scissor action and slotted first in the kagi corner registration, held in position with the thumb then laying paper along the hikitsuke registration.
Then with a sheet of baking parchment over the top of the paper to prevent damage,holding the baren  in a 'live long and prosper' Star Trek grip ( Margaret has a better photo in her blog post ) , rub down with the baren using a circular motion,  matching the grain of the baren  with the grain of the wood, softly at first then with increasing pressure.
Once printed with the first colour, the paper goes back into the damp pack.
Then it  was our turn to set up the working space and start to print!

 It took  4  different blocks and colours to build up this print, starting with the yellow ochre sand, then the  cerulean sea, burnt sienna groynes  and finally crimson Alizarin beach huts
Too much going on in such a small print and I wasn't happy with the registration and the accidental background marks  where I hadn't  cleared enough . 

So I explored whether I could get  the 'bokashi' (gradation printing) effect with my sea and sand blocks. It's subtle but it is there along with some embossing where I applied pressure with the baren. Magic!

Finally  we had a demonstration ( with one of my completed prints) on how to stretch prints by drying then putting back briefly in the damp pack before taping with sellotape onto an acrylic sheet, going round the edge of the tape with the flat end of a brush before allowing to dry.   

 Following Margaret's example, I too  stocked up with specialist supplies and paper at the wonderful Intaglio Printmaker  to add to the tools I'd already bought. I think I'll start off with making more  prints from the block I've made ( maybe cutting into it more)  but look forward to experimenting more with this technique.

Drawing Tuesday: Museum of London

 A successful day out  along the Northern Line: dropping off my Fine Art Quilt Masters entry to Upper Street Events ( Angel) then onto Museum of London ( Moorgate) for 'Drawing Tuesday' then finishing up at Intaglio Printmaker ( Borough) before heading back to St Pancras.   

  I very  rarely make it past the Neolithic section, I just the love the marks, the evidence of the hand of the maker, in the pots and vessels  and knapped flints and tools.  This time was no different and with lots of sketching stools available  found a well lit  display case  with both.  What made it even more special was that they were collected  from the Thames close to where I used to live.

I attempted the vessels first, the very aspect that I like in their irregularities and roughness making them very difficult to draw properly - still not right  despite several goes.  I kept getting distracted by the different marks in the flint dagger so moved on to trying to capture those in different hardnesses of graphite ( and use of my  Tombow eraser , one of my favourite tools).  It was fascinating to really  look through drawing,  I must get back to recording my 'small treasures'  ( I've added rather more to my collection...)

After lunch with the usual wide-ranging discussions and  seeing what other people  had drawn I headed off to Intaglio Printmaker in Southwark ( a week later than the others!)  to stock up on Japanese woodblock printing items . The most expensive item apart from tools I'd already bought for course was the sharpening stone. Though the watercolour paints I've collected over the years must run into £££.

Thursday 20 July 2017

Japanese Woodblock Printing Week : Hokusai at the British Museum

 The day after the first session of Japanese Woodblock  course at Morley College,  by happy coincidence I'd already arranged to revisit the Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum  with friend Hazel. Being a member  meant that  we had guaranteed entry ( I'd booked for 1pm)  so we could have a leisurely lunch in the Members Room first , so civilised!
Having an insight from having a go myself I was even more in awe of the skill involved and having received a copy of the   exhibition book over the weekend ( with excellent  images) I concentrated on looking at the details and making  notes in my sketchbook. I couldn't resist buying  a wooden postcard of Mt Fuji tho'! Things I noticed:

 Masterly  compositions
 Miniscule pattern making, embossing and use of metallic pigments
 Mark-making in print
 Characterful ink drawings
 Use of brushmarks in drawing( particularly like the reeds)
 Contrast of patterns - a grid for saltpans , loose ink sketch for mountains
Textures: mark, line, embossing, metallic pigments
Using woodgrain of block as part of design

 Having seen Carol's book from 1830's, I had a new appreciation of their structure. This version of the 'Great Wave'  with  foam seeming to turn into birds ( like Escher) and it's quiet palette speaks to me.

Japanese Woodblock Printing Week: Designing, drawing and cutting

 Day one (Monday)  of Japanese Woodblock ( Mokuhanga) print course at Morley College  with Carol Wilhide-Justin  started with an introduction to it's history and a fascinating account of her  scholarship residency  at MI-Lab in Japan.

 She had  bought an original book from 1830's and it was wonderful to gently handle it,  admiring the  qualities of  the papers and the printing .

Working on a 30 x 22.5cm piece of  Shina Plywood  with an image size of 15 x 10.5 cm ( which allowed 2 separations on each side) , she shared some ideas from her own work  showing how to break down an image into  separate layers ( by colour or to make a pattern simpler to cut) . I liked the idea of combining different shapes and colours ( above and the results below)
But I'd already put quite a lot of work into  developing ideas continuing with my breakwaters theme so despite working on a much smaller scale than  I'd imagined , I decided to combine different elements from  these 2 photos
Having made an accurately sized drawing , this was traced and different colours used for what would be different blocks/ colour separations.

Then  reversing it, these 4 different element were  traced onto the  plywood using carbon paper, paying attention to the direction of the grain. 

The plywood had already been accurately marked out with the area for the image, surrounded on 2 sides with a 1cm gutter and 1cm registration for the paper ( the paper will overhang the edge when printing, a cunning way of getting the most out of the block)  

Then cutting! We used a non-slip mat rather than a bench-hook, much more maneuverable , especially as we had to continually move the block around to ensure cutting away from you. I was first to have a go with the Ken-toh chisel to make registration marks on the corner and along the longest side, watched by the class demonstrating  how not to do it!  My 4th one wasn't too bad.

A set of tools were issued once we'd demonstrated that we could use them. And then the lesson was over and our homework  is to do all the cutting on our blocks for printing on Friday ( this is usually a 8 week rather than 2 day course! )  

On Tuesday , appropriately enough, I went back to the Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum  so I didn't get a chance to do any cutting until Wednesday and Thursday. My orders of 'Powergrip' tools and   Japanese Woodblock  book had arrived in the post , it was good to have  photos and instructions on the very particular ways the different tools are used , a reminder of what Carol had demonstrated.

 So here are my finished blocks ready for printing tomorrow .  I love the nuanced effects of the watercolour used  and that it can be done at home  without a press, something I've struggled with when lino printing.

I think my dad would have been proud of me -  he was very keen on working with wood  coming from a long line of wood carvers from coopers in the 1700's to my grandfather who was a  pattern maker on the Glasgow shipyards before becoming a gardener.
30 years of wielding a scalpel probably helped too!  

UPDATE - see  what my  friend Margaret did on the same course - a different approach to design  but very effective.