Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Tokyo Diary: Flowering plums

I have just returned from a one-month artist residency in Tokyo, Japan. Along with fellow mokuhanga artists Mara Cozzolino, Laura Boswell and Paul Furneaux, we were group participants in ArtsChiyoda3331's joint residency, sharing an apartment and a large studio space in the antique books section of Tokyo--- Jimbocho. It was a paradise for mokuhanga artists; there were antique Ukiyo-e prints in the book shops, Ukiyo-e prints in the museums, and we had contacts and lists of artists, material suppliers and shops, and craftsmen making tools, paper, blocks, sharpening stones and more.  I wasn't sure what I was going to work on-but I wanted it to have a subject that would tie in with my presence in Japan, but still reflect my artistic interests of etegami and woodblock prints.

While all Tokyo and much of Japan was eagerly awaiting the Sakura blossoms--the cherry blooms. I was carrying a drawing I did this time LAST year, of an old, stunted plum tree, in bud and starting to flower.

That drawing was an etegami--a loose sumi ink brush drawing to which watercolors were added and then text.
And since along with the Japanese Quince, the plums are among the first of the blooms to open, they were blooming when I left Florence, and I found them blooming--in lots of places in Japan too.

On my first morning in Tokyo, I found them on the way to Ueno park in a streetside garden,  I found them again, on a scroll in a shop selling calligraphy supplies, and I found them again inside the museum, depicted over and over again.

So I was happy to throw myself into this long and noble tradition.   This is the original drawing/etegami from which I created the resulting print.

I added the background and there is some variation in color and gradation intensity across the 30 print edition. 
"What if I'm not ready?"

Japanese woodblock print: Edition Varie of 30. Printed from 8 Shina blocks,
12 layers of color with watercolor, sumi ink and rice paste on mixed Japanese papers.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Year(s) of the Boar--an Old boar for a New Year.

S's original 2007 drawing/prototype.
February 5th marks this year's Chinese New Year.
According to the Asian Zodiac, 2019 is the year of the Boar, the last Pig year being 12 years ago in 2007, and THIS year, I've decided to reproduce a drawing done 12 years ago by my younger son, S.
It's a story that many know already.
In 2007, I had just started making woodblock prints and I had intended to join that year's Baren Forum Zodiac Exchange (the sign-up closed before I could join so my print wasn't included).
As is my usual working method, I made thumbnail sketches, redrew and redrew while looking at multiple images from the internet. The prep stages took a couple of weeks before I decided on an image that was then carved and printed for the Year of the Boar, 2007.  But S wasn't really interested in signing a family card and said he would make one of his own. So he disappeared for about 25 minutes and came back with the image you see above. We were thrilled with his drawing and photocopied it to include inside the envelope with my card. But he was clearly unhappy and he became more and more disturbed until he finally burst into tears, distraught and inconsolable over the idea that he couldn't draw as well as I did.
I made it worse by laughing at the obvious--and I tried to convince him what I knew to be the truth, that his drawing was original, and funny, and wonderfully creative and perfect and much, much, much better than mine. (He didn't believe me).  I promised then that the next year (Year of the Rat) he would design the family card (and he did).

Now it's 2019 and S. is now 18. He doesn't draw as much as I'd like, and he's into Manga, so much of what he does draw looks a little too much like rather anonymous Japanese or Korean manga. But he's also learning Japanese and hopes to visit Japan next year after he finishes high school. And 12 years later I still think his boar is fantastic and he accepted my proposal to use it for this year's greeting card.  He made a couple of adjustments, adding the Kanji symbol for "Boar" and the "new" year-- 2019.  And I removed the text at the bottom to make it easier to print and carve.
The new key block, from tracing the old and carving it from a linoleum block.

Two of the color blocks printed.

2019 Year of the Boar (Proof)

 I tried to keep it as close as possible to the original sketch. There is a linoleum key block and 3 additional wood blocks for the color plates. (Yellow(background), Brown (Boar body/head), and a mixed block to print the pink snout, the tan trotters and the bokashi-stained tusks of our spirited boar. All were printed with watercolors, sumi ink, and rice paste using a baren. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

I may never finish my novel....

The blue-gray of the ferrule isn't showing up in the scan.
  This print began as an etegami--another of the small Japanese mail-art cards I make.  It was done during my first Etegami workshop, where I used a small pencil stub to make 3 different simple sumi ink and watercolor drawings, with added text.  I knew right away one would become a print.
I also have a novel and probably a few short stories in me--although I doubt any will ever get written.

This is a simple image, but getting it carved and printed has posed a few hurdles.
I enlarged the size of the work from postcard-size (3"x5") to an easier to carve 8" x 10" to make it less likely that I'd have too much trouble cutting the text but I still had the top half of one of the "e"s pop off;  I had to re-glue and re-cut a repair 3 times due to glue failure the first time, wrong glue (too elastic) the second time, and (fingers crossed) the last repair seems to be holding.  Mostly I've had a hard time getting into the studio with enough protected time to just get it done.

The above copy/proof is on Fabriano Artistico--a thick, Italian watercolor paper but there are still a few things to work out:
   The original drawing was done on a postcard--so it had a natural boundary (the paper edges) and the drawing "happened" with that scale in mind, but printed on a bigger sheet, it now has a much larger outer border of white paper--and I can either leave it like that  or print a very faint rectangle of very pale color (it's called a Beta-ban block)--that would recreate the original horizontal, small format on the bigger sheet.  This variant still needs to be finished as well as a few more that have a different block order to see if it changes the final look.

Here's the original etegami watercolor and sumi ink postcard.

This print, is pretty close to recreating the original--I did tweak the pencil in a few places, lessening the slightly phallic droop of the point. I also pushed the text over a little bit, and reversed the chop (white letter on red field).

Tomorrow, I'll finish printing the rest of the proofs. That will allow me to see what they look like with the background block before I cut down the rest of the paper and print the final version or full edition.

This set on Japanese paper is almost done. They lack just the two yellow layers of the pencil wood and the sumi ink "keyblock" and text.  I'll post a finished version of these too as soon as they're done.

You can't see the beautiful gray-blue of the metal ferrule--it won't pick up with the scanner but it really goes well with the orange-y pencil and pink eraser.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

October News-Tattoos, Mokuhanga and Etegami

October is just around the corner and I'm busy preparing for some new experiences.

DEMO: Next weekend, as a guest of the Lacrimanera Tattoo Studio, I will be demonstrating Japanese woodblock printing at the Florence Tattoo Convention.
This year the 11th edition of the Florence Tattoo Convention is partially dedicated to the history of Japanese tattoos (and their inherent relationship to modern tattoo's ever increasing interest in the works of the Ukiyo-e as subject matter.  Thanks to Ivan Pengo and Milan's Stamperia 74b and Florence's Lacrimenera Tattoo Studio, there will be an exhibit of the wonderful Adachi Institute woodblocks reproducing well-known masterpieces of the Ukiyo-e by Utamara, Kunioshi, and Hokusai and as part of that show, I've been asked to demonstrate Japanese woodblock printing during the Convention.  I'll be present all day Friday (3p-2a) and Sunday (noon-2am) and I'll have a dedicated table where I'll have blocks, prints, paper and other materials and hope to be carving and printing and working on a new print during the convention.  If I'm not too exhausted, I'll try to be there also on Saturday, and I'll be working on a new print with both carving and printing demos during the day.
So If you fascinated by tattoos, or fascinated by mokuhanga, there will be both at the Fortezza da Basso in Firenze next weekend.  I'll be at Stand 4, just inside the main entrance.

WORKSHOP Later in the month, if you are tired of just watching, you can learn how to make your own woodblock prints at my next mokuhanga course. For the weekend of  October 19-21, I'll be in Ravenna, Italy for my next 3-day, beginner's Mokuhanga Workshop. I'm hosted by Enrico Rambaldi and Ink33 and there are still places in this usually sold-out workshop in a wonderful city famous for it's phenomenal Byzantine mosaics. For information:

ETEGAMI And on Sunday afternoon, October 28th from 2pm-6pm I'll be giving an Etegami workshop at L'Appartamento, Via dei Geraldi,  in downtown Florence.   Well use sumi ink, watercolor and Japanese paper postcards to marry art and text with a lighthearted technique perfect for writers who want to illustrate their writings or artists who want to try adding text to spontaneous sketches drawn/painted on absorbent paper postcards.  Save the date and I'll post more information soon.....

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Color Test Strips

I've been meaning to do this for almost as long as I've been making woodblock prints.
Mokuhanga prints usually are made with transparent colors and the nature of printing from an imperfect surface (wood grain) onto another imperfect surface (paper fibers) with a handheld device (a baren) that allows a great deal of variability in the pressure obtained means that the final result is often not fully predictable.

I do know that whenever to color layers are printed--either the same or different colors, the result is almost always both denser and richer than that you can obtain by just increasing the pigment or mixing the colors in just one pass or impression.

Here are a few test strips made with a fairly simple model.
There's a single block with 5 squares and the block is printed with a color mixture made up of 50% pigment (from tube watercolors) and 50% rice paste. The entire block is printed once, and then with each following impression one less square is printed.
The end result is 5 separate squares each printed with the same color mixture but with a varying number of impressions. The first block was printed only once, the second twice, the third three times, etc.
The results show the buildup of pigment and overall tonal strength obtained by multiple impressions.
I could have gotten a much lighter 1st square by using even more dilute pigment and I could have gotten a much darker final square by adding additional pigment each time to increase the pigment load above 50%.

The next step is to do a color grid, showing the effects of overlapping the primary colors to obtain secondary and tertiary colors.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

MokuHanga a Firenze--June 9-10: Upcoming workshops.

My next small-group beginners' workshop for Japanese woodblock will be next month in Florence.
June 9-10, from 9:30am-6pm.  This class is targeted to Italian speakers but I'll be hosting another class later this summer specifically for English speakers if there is enough interest.

And remember, private classes for 1-2 people in English or Italian are possible and can be tailored to fit students goals and schedules and are suited to beginners who want to get a jump on the technique through one-on-one instruction as well as for advanced students (linoleum or oil-based) who want to to learn the Japanese method of printing but already have a good sense of carving techniques.
I'll post additional dates and venues as they become available.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A White-Line, Pink Lily

I wanted to have another go at a white line or Provincetown print. (I've done a couple already--my "Tree Farm at Night" from 2016, last year's Baren exchange print, "Apostrophetic",  and my afternoon experiment from last summer, "Sweet Tea".  I was very happy with how "Apostrophetic turned out, but wanted to try a simpler print to see if I can work on a version of this method that works for me.

It's an odd technique--using just one block and allows for lots of freedom for color application but as one print is produced at a time, it's more suitable for unique prints or very short runs.
Here is the one block after I transferred the image but before it was cut. 

This was a simple image, close-cropped to both allow the shapes to be bigger and easier to brush in with pigment and to allow for a little drama.

While a traditional white line is made by tacking the paper to the block, folding it back, and applying the color with a brush to a small area, flipping back the paper and printing that section and repeating this for each area and multiple times to build up stronger and more uniform color.

I've approached it more as a variant of traditional mokuhanga using dampened Japanese paper and a kento system of registration to set the paper down each time in the right spot.

Here's the first 4 prints I made from this block.
Number 1/8 on Okawara handmade-- a paper that I got originally from Hiromi paper in LA--but I've added additional dosa (sizing) to make it work for water based prints.  This is a Thai kozo-blend paper that is a little off white in color.  Encouraged I tried 3 more copies on different kinds of paper. These 3 all look different but this is due more to the different papers than changes in colors as these were each printed using the same pigments and similar color applications. The differing weights and fibers made for very different prints.

These three copies were all built up or printed semi-simultaneously. A few color layers on one, then I'd switch to a new sheet and built up the colors by adding pigment multiple times to each area.  There are at least 15 color applications to each of these prints.

#2/8 is on a very heavy, uneven-surface Fabriano watercolor paper. It was fairly heavily sized and was very difficult to print with a baren and only a little easier with a small doorknob. The "moth eaten" appearance is due to the uneven surface and lack of adequate pressure.

 No. 3/8 is on Gampi Torinoko, a beautiful handmade gampi paper no longer made but once available from McClains. This paper also has added size/dosa.

Detail of the copy on Gampi Torinoko, #3/8.

 It's a natural color paper and really lovely. It accentuated the embossing of the white lines and has a softer feel to the colors.

4/8, above, is on Hosho Professional, another paper from Awagami--(100% cellulose but with added sizing).
This one was done more loosely and with wetter pigment to better approximate a watercolor painting.
Unfortunately, the paper slipped during one color application (See the dark background parts for double printing) and there was a section that got muddied up by too many color layers so this is probably a reject.

I'll have another try before I retire this block. I want to try printing on DRY paper--using the traditional method--and also on unsized paper. Arches cover is supposed to be good, but I'll use one of my unsized or weakly sized Japanese papers to see how they print with this method.