Friday, April 24, 2015

Moku Hanga a Roma! 22-24 May. Workshop in Japanese woodblock at Betterpress labs in Rome.

It looks like it's official.  Friday May 22nd through Sunday May 24th.
I've been invited to teach a three-day intensive course in woodblock printmaking in Rome.
Betterpress lab ( ) is an letterpress and printing/bookbinding artist cooperative and studio in Rome run by Giulia Nicolai and Francesca Colonia with whom I had the pleasure to meet and work with earlier this year.

They have a small, charming studio near Trastevere that is slowly filling with type cabinets and presses but there's enough room to host 5 students and in 3 long days I hope to be able to teach a basic, traditional Japanese woodblock technique: A two block, 3-4 plate print using a keyblock and 2-3 colors.
Day 1: An introduction to the history of Japanese woodblock prints. The rise and culmination of the art in the works of Ukiyo-e, a more focused nod to contemporary international artists working today in moku hanga and then a jump in to the techniques themselves.
Materials needed and image manipulation and transferring images to the block(s) for carving. I hope to get everyone's drawing transferred and start (and hopefully finish) the keyblock on the first day.
Day 2:
Registration with the the Kento registration method. Floating and fixed kentos.
Preparation of woodblocks and paper.
Papers for traditional printing (Western, Washi, and other).
Printing with simple and advanced techniques with a demonstration of bokashi printing.
We'll carve the 2 color blocks.....and take test prints to check for registration and cleanliness.
Day 3: Printing!
Pigments, rice paste, gomazuri and Barens.
Demonstrations of Bokashi printing, blind embossing, back printing, using a carry sheet.
Traditional, alternative, and home-made barens
We'll share Ball-bearing, Murasaki, and my twisted cord barens while trying to print on different papers. Each student should be able to finish a small run of a multi-block print as well as experiment a bit with color variations.
Hopefully there will be time to make a baren and demonstrate how to fix mistakes and sharpen tools.
Class will be in Italian (or something resembling Italian) and English.
Class size is limited to 5 participants: (It's a cozy space).

For Information and cost or to reserve a space:
Ass. Culturale Betterpress
Via Eugenio Barsanti 14 Roma
06 83082495

 (I had the opportunity to take a brief introduction to letterpress printing with them last year (I was wondering if I could incorporate letterpress into my woodblock prints rather than just carving text into my own blocks......This would allow me to change texts from one language to another without having to carve separate blocks).
I hope to collaborate soon on a woodblock print with me providing an image printed using moku hanga techniques onto which they will contribute text and layout.  Until then, I'll start preparing for the class since it's just one month away.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cut and Paste

While I was proofing my Leafhopper blocks I was also testing the last batch of sized paper.
As I predicted, the thinner papers didn't take the size too well--the size sat on the surface and dried very slowly--(they acted as if they were already sized). So they printed a bit unevenly and then dried  buckled and crinkled so I decided to back the better ones with wheat paste and washi..this will flatten them out but also, backed with white paper, will make them much more luminous.

Here I'm applying wheat starch glue with a brush across the back of the print and it will have a larger cut piece of Japanese paper glued on top and then pasted to a glass panel and door for drying.  Once dry I'll cut the print off the glass door leaving the backed print dry and flat.
I'll really need to find a better recipe for the the thinner papers, although the 100 % Kozo and the mixed but heavier papers both absorbed the size well and printed nicely.

I'll try to scan in one of the better ones when they're dry.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Treehopper: (If you give a printmaker a cookie.....).

After I finished printing my Cypress trees print of a few weeks ago I was eager to jump into a new project.
But in my life, the path between "A" and "B" is never linear.
Besides having a few acres of olive trees to prune, I wanted to try sizing some paper that wasn't printing well.   I have a few papers that are either too soft--difficult to handle and the paper pills while printing and others that hold up well enough but that print really flat and light-size formula of a few months ago helped but not enough to be called really successful so I decided to increase both the alum and glue and try sizing them to try out on my next print.
So I sized one each of Gampi, Mitsumata, a few varied 100% Kozo papers and a few mixed fiber/handmade papers. The weights varied from about 29g/m2 to about 50g/m2.

Now,  I needed just a little print to test out the newly-sized paper.....but I didn't really just want to print color swatches..nor did I feel like revisiting any of my old, already carved I ended up doodling, and sketching, and looking through my sketchbooks and idea folders for simple ideas that I hoped I could do quickly.  And I came across a few sketches I'd done of this insect, a thorn bug or treehopper that I've wanted to do in a print for a long time. 
Newly redrawn--quickly and very loosely and with only a passing nod to scientific accuracy-- I was ready to go.

Rainy weather this week meant I could take a break from olive pruning so, yesterday, I transferred my sketch using a piece of tracing and carbon paper and then carved and printed the keyblock.  The 6 copies I made were then pasted them down onto six,  4" x 6" Shina blocks and set aside to dry.

Today I managed to carve the color blocks and dashed off a few color proofs.

These are mostly proofs to check for alignment and registration and to look for areas that need clearing or recutting. This proof is still missing two of the blocks/impressions. Nevertheless, I think that probably NONE of the colors will stay the same in the final print and looking at these I'm thinking of carving one more block.........

So, I wanted to size some paper, that now I need to test, so I carved a little block, but now I need color blocks, and now maybe one more block, so I can proof again, then I can print an edition.....
but wait, I didn't size enough paper for a whole edition.
But first, I'll need to size some more paper.

(A nod to Laura Numeroff's book, "If you give a mouse a cookie"). 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Primroses/Primule-March Etagami.

"Spring primroses say, "Hello, Hello".
A little over a year ago we went to the mountains in the Appenines near Genoa.
It was late spring and very damp and there were wild strawberries in bloom (but no fruit) and lots of low yellow primroses flowering.

I dug up a few of each and potted them when I got home.
It's now a year later and the primroses, despite almost complete neglect, are in full bloom.
They are a pale yellow and almost glow in the dark in the early morning and late evening when everything else is dull gray and brown.
Since they are such a local symbol of early spring and seem to me so cheerful and optimistic.
So I chose my vase of transplanted mountain yellow primroses as the subject for my March etagami.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

2014: Looking back

I decided to look back at my output for the last year. Artistically, it was a mixed bag. While I produced a few interesting pieces, my general productivity was very low--I produced just a handful of prints in 2014.
Horse/White Knight, my 9 block year of the horse print.
Steel Metaphor (arrow road sign) For the Sketchbook project exchange.
Right of Way (driving school)-- a larger print.
Cardinal Creeper; my first-ever wood engraving on boxwood.
November Cypresses, a long-format landscape...carved and proofed in 2014 but I still need to print the edition.
 I also continued in my exploration of sizing Japanese papers and printing with the technique of moku hanga on western cotton papers and in preparation for teaching,  I made three new barens with the twisted-cord base trying out different kinds of twine and cord to see what might approximate a functional baren for students.

I also painted about a dozen quick etagami sketches--as part of the Florence/Japan Etagami exchange. My small drawings were sent along with those of the other Italian participants to our respective penpals in Japan.

And I entered the world of Art Education;
I demonstrated at the local Japanese Cultural Fair for 3 days in November 2014 and I taught a three day class teaching moku hanga printing to artists.

I also cleaned out a garage and house; supervised the new roof and painting of our Santa Cruz house and found a wonderful new family to stay in our home while we're in Italy. This took the better part of the Summer--the time I would have spent printing had I been more energetic/efficient with my time.

So goodbye 2014. We're well into 2015 and I'm going to try to get through my backlog of "prints waiting to be made" while jumping into a few exciting new projects that will move me in some new directions. Which way? Follow the arrows.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Narcissus, 7.5"x10" moku hanga--woodblock print. 2015

When I was in college, I shared an apartment for some time with a young woman who was working to help pay for her education. She worked in the local florists after school and she would bring home some days bunches and bunches of flowers that were a little too old to sell.  It was a good time in my life and the flowers of New England sat on the windowed kitchen in a Main street walk up.
The shelves would fill with Mason Jars and water glasses full of iris and daisies, tuberose and narcissus and we would enjoy the waning color and scent as the flowers slowly faded from a little tired to past withered.  We were bright and full of promise and so it wasn't very long before we had to leave that place and moment for other places and other things.

Thirty years later, I plant bulbs in patio pots and outside under the trees.  In the fields around us are nearly-wild double daffodils, tulips and nodding onions, narcissus, jonquils and hyacinth that will usually start to bloom in late winter or early spring.  And when they bloom, flags of color against the cold-tired fields of grass and mud, I am reminded of the waning flowers, and the kitchen, books and tea, and the woman I knew, and the distant promises we made, and sometimes kept, when we were flowers too.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Home made Barens revisited (and now on sale on Etsy)

Baren#3; Hemp cord and matte medium. Now on my etsy site.

I've been using my home made barens for a little over a year now and I've had a chance to make some changes and tweaks. Mostly I've found a way to stiffen the cords--white glue and/or matte medium seems to work well.  I've also added paper and glue to the backing disk--this makes it stiffer and just looks cooler.
I just finished Baren #4--a heavy-weight baren made from a marine nylon cord that was hard to twist (I needed 3 tries and 2 helpers).
Baren #4 Nylon cord and Glue 12cm
I have also taken apart the hemp-twine baren that had softened over time (Baren #3) and refurbished it by adding a few paper discs (japanese washi and glue) to stiffen the back and then treated the cord with an white glue and matte medium to fill in the gaps and waterproof and stiffen it.
Now with a new takenokawa (leaf cover) and yellow varnish it's like new and ready for printing.

Hemp twine and matte medium. Baren #3- 11.5cm size
Again my goal is to figure out a way to make decent, inexpensive barens for student and new moku hanga printers...and since many of these are still working with western papers to economize I want to see how they'll print in those situations.
It turns out that these are pretty good as barens go. They are not as strong as my Murasaki professional or a ball-bearing baren.  I need to break both of them in a little bit as the knots are still a little too prominent--I'll be printing later this week and a few impressions of solid color areas will do the trick.  I specifically want to try out the heavy one on a beefy 100+ g/m2 Japanese paper as well as a smooth Italian etching I can try them side by side with my Murasaki. I'm still looking for the perfect cord....I hope to try waxed cotton twine (macrame cord) next.
New leaf cover.

 Pastry cardboard with glue and washi added to try to stiffen it.
I gave an earlier baren, covered with a shelf paper takenokawa, to a colleague in Milan--and she's been using it in her classes and it's holding up well--and since I've gotten several queries from her students about whether I would make these available, I've put one up on Etsy to see if there is indeed, any interest. now has Baren #3 freshly listed.

Cost: 35 Euro plus shipping-New backing paper (a couple of layers of paper and acrylic matte medium), waterproofing and strengthening of the cord with glue.  Freshly wrapped with a zero-km bamboo leaf cover (takenokawa) from my Italian garden--and that's not all; for new printers, I'll also guarantee the cover--I'll replace it for up to 6 months if it tears from normal wear or printing---(since that's a task that new printers seem to universally fear when they start moku hanga printing.  You have to get it to me but I'll rewrap it with a new leaf for free).

I think this is a great deal: it has several hours of labor, has been tested, you can return if it isn't what you want AND if it's still too expensive--you can make your own following the steps I outlined in an earlier post.  Check back as I'll be making a couple of these next month and posting them to Etsy too. And I'll be posting the results of my printing tests next week.