Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Dutch travelers, Holland Barens, and the Genius Loci

Aafke and Bastiaan
I'm enjoying the company of two young Dutch artists, Aafke Ytsma and Bastiaan Epker who are traveling from the Netherlands to Cyprus for an artists' residency but they've turned the road trip itself from Holland to the Mediterranean into a separate project and have sponsors and patrons that are supporting their journey.  Aafke and Bastiaan are producing Mokuhanga postcards, one for each stop along the way that they're cutting and printing and then sending back to their sponsors.  Aafke is a painter and Bastiaan an oil-based woodblock artist but they're now using traditional Mokuhanga techniques on these mail-art pieces.

They're now in Florence I'm sharing my studio space with them so they can work out their next prints and hopefully will have enough time to imagine, carve, and print a new image based on their visit here.
The works and trip are based on the concept of the Genius Loci--the spirit or spirits of a particular place--and they're interpreting that individually, with each of them working and producing alternate prints.

I've been communicating with Aafke for a few months after she shared with me some photos of two barens she had made using my blog posts on making twisted-cord barens as a model.

Fine and coarse barens made from twisted, wax cords on a cardboard backing

A good tie-job but they're covered with waxed paper that isn't going to last.....
Finished Barens

She was happy with how well they worked but was having trouble sourcing a material in Holland for covering them. I was so impressed by her work that I sent her a few bamboo leaves from the garden so they could be properly covered and asking that she share with me her comments on how they perform.
And when I heard she'd be passing through Florence on the way to Cyprus we agreed to meet to share some stories and that I'd be able to have them as guests in my studio so they could have a temporary work space.  Today we spent the day in the studio looking at materials and I got to see their completed blocks and a few prints and they were able to get to work on the next ones.
I hope I'll be able to post photos of the finished print/s soon.
Tomorrow, since they're working on the local spirit, I'm going to try to introduce them to the Olive Trees and see if they also like picking Tuscan olives.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sweet Tea. White-line.

 It's a rainy day today. While hurricanes are pounding my old hometown, there are storms here too with dark skies, thunder and lightning and rain. The dog is shaking under the stairs and the kids are reading or doing homework.
Rainy days are good for printing but I wasn't up for anything grandiose.  So I decided to try another quick white-line print.

 It's from a rapid doodle of a few days ago that I quickly cut yesterday afternoon.
And today I snuck back into the studio to see how it would print.
The light one is on some odd Japanese Masa to which I added a little extra size.
The dark one, which sadly got an ink blotch when I wasn't paying attention, is on Italian etching paper.
In honor of my southern upbringing, and the end of the hot days of summer,  I offer this quirky pitcher of Sweet Tea. Anyone from the American South will know what this is. You can never guess how sweet it is by just looking but it's almost always too sweet.

This is on etching paper and is a little too dark and has a yellow splotch.
Both were printed on damp paper, with tube watercolors and with a baren.

Friday, September 8, 2017


 This is my second attempt at a white-line or Provincetown print.  You can just make out the thin white halo around the color areas that are the hallmark of the American variant of tradional moku hanga.

A simple drawing of commas and apostrophes, black shapes on white paper, caught my eye and I played with it, changing the composition.
I liked it enough to draw it a few more times.
Then enough to trace one of those drawings onto a piece of shina, and cut out, with a V-gouge, the outline of my fat apostrophes, heavy and irregularly drawn.

Today I went to the studio and made a couple of color proofs.
Pink, Blue, Violet, Black, Mica, Sumi.

I'm not sure which I like best. The original idea was to make the forms black, on a white chalk ground on tan paper but I didn't print any like that.  But I also thought about the colors of traditional printed text: blue, black, red, blue-black and ended up working with that palette.

You may not notice but the apostrophes get a little bigger as they move to the bottom row and you definitely can't see the effect of the mica powder on the background, which makes the lighter center section slightly opaque and iridescent.


Monday, September 4, 2017

Another smile.

    I'm happy that this little thing found a new home today. 
I have this and the four blocks that I used to print it in the studio window that faces the street and it's designed to catch the eye of people walking by to draw attention to our studio and my work. It's also one of the prints that is priced really's an open edition and I wanted something bright and cheerful that would allow almost anyone, despite their budget, to be able to collect a piece of original art, made with care. It's a simple thing, lighthearted and fun and it's one of the prints I use sometimes when I want to demonstrate Japanese printmaking. 
   Today a Flemish couple stopped by my studio and spent a fair amount of time looking at my work and the work of my studio mates. They asked questions and looked at prints and blocks, my tools and studio setup.   Despite some language issues I was able to show them how the prints are made and how they're different from rubber stamps and letterpress or wood engravings or etchings. I got to meet two lovely people and they left with a small print and one of my business cards. I can't say that they'll ever be back or that I made any real money off this particular sale, but we were all smiling when we parted and I'm glad this is off to a new home and that they'll remember my little studio in Florence, and maybe me too, when they look at it again, another day, in another city, far away.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Walla Walla?

Why I am going to Walla Walla, you ask?
Well, this is the second year that Whitman College is offering a moku hanga program and they have invited Kitamura Shōichi, one of the best contemporary Japanese woodblock carvers to Walla Walla who will be in residence during our work-study period. I got wind of this from April Vollmer a few months ago and jumped at the chance to be able to improve (I hope) my carving by observing the proper technique of a skilled carver.   We'll be working alongside but separately--sort of in the Japanese tradition of watching and learning through observation, but we'll also be allowed to ask questions and have him available for an hour or so a day to assist us and I'm hoping to have him show us the proper way to sharpen the hangi-toh and my larger nomi that I haven't really been able to keep sharp enough. Meanwhile, we'll be working on individual projects, and I've ordered some blocks and paper from McClains to be shipped directly to the center and that are waiting for me to get cracking.

The only current snag is that I've been thinking about this for a few weeks now and I still haven't really an idea of what I'm going to work on.  Maybe one of my etagami that I thought would make a nice print, or an idea I've been saving, or a loose abstract work from one of my sketchbooks or try to tackle one of my line-drawing nudes from my still ill-defined shunga series?

At the very least, I may have to find a glask flask and tie a noose and try out this ancient method of achieving the diffuse light that I hear is ideal for carving.

I get in later tonight and tomorrow, I should get to see the facility and meet the organizers, Akira (Ron) Takemoto and Keiko Hara, and my fellow participants. And I'll have 5 uninterrupted days to come up with SOMETHING.  Now that's something to be excited about.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Tying the baren cover-takenogawa.

I tied a new baren cover recently on one of my home-made barens during a visit from fellow artist Monique Wales, who also filmed most of it. You can see me pleating the leaf edges along the curved rim of the baren and then twisting and holding down the surplus ends that will become the cords to tie the part that will become the handle.  She recently shared the video so I add it here. These are bamboo leaf culms from our garden and are big enough (some of them) to cover a 12cm baren.
I don't think my fingers are quite this pudgy in real life. I think it has  to do with the focal length of the lens or the dpi or something. Someday, I'll add the how to prepare the bamboo leaf for tying to this video so you can have the whole process to watch before trying to tie your own.
This is a finished baren with a fresh new cord and cover:

Friday, June 30, 2017


Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Read more at:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Read more at:
 "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."--Wm. Morris.
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Read more at:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Read more at:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Read more at:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Read more at:

I work in the San Frediano neighborhood of Florence and it's still known as a center for the small workshops and studios of the craftsmen and women that once applied to most of city. I regularly stop in on the local carpenters, antique restorers, jewelers and luthiers, metalsmiths and bookstores. Around the corner and two blocks away on Via Borgo San Frediano is the AtelierGK run by the young and talented couple Lapo Giannini and Michiko Kuwata. He's a 6th-generation bookbinder and she's a Tokyo-born conservator and restorer of books and paper and they've done some work for me restoring some old illustrations and ephemera. Their small shop and workshop is full of handmade books and boxes, colorful hand-marbled papers and printed endpapers, shoes and jewelry boxes and the odd and curious tools of the bookbinder and their neat and orderly shop is a measure of their attention to detail and aesthetic of doing things as they should be done. On days that they're working, I like to pop in to watch what they're doing and other times just to see what they're up to or to discuss Japanese paper, books, boxes, or future projects. It's not unusual that the conversation turns to the importance of trying to reawaken in the public an appreciation for craftmanship and quality and hand-made things in a world of mass production and consumption.
A few days ago, however, they surprised me by asking if they could come by my little studio.  I'm tucked away on a little-traveled side street so I don't get many visitors.  They didn't know it's almost my birthday, but still, they left a remarkable gift.   

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Read more at:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Read more at:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Read more at:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Read more at:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Read more at:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. William Morris
Read more at:

Sunday, June 25, 2017

More Sizing experiments: "Flash" sizing with a summer recipe of nikawa and alum.

I did manage to sneak into the studio long enough to set up and size a dozen sheets of paper.  Now they're hung out to dry and will need to "settle" for a week or two before I can test the paper to see if this ratio was suitable for these papers, in this weather.  It wasn't perfect. The big brush works, but it tends to dump a lot of size at the beginning of the stroke across the paper, and much less at the end, and getting that right takes practice and changes with the papers. Since I was trialing a few sheets of several different papers, when I sort of got the hang of it for one paper, I had to switch to a new paper. In a couple, I had to go back over the sheet a second time--where the brush had skipped or left a puddle and on the heavy cellulose paper--I got some wrinkles that will be permanent (and those sheets will have to be cut down to smaller sizes to get rid of the damaged parts).  After a couple of weeks, I'll have a trial printing of a simple image on small pieces of each paper to see how much the absorb or resist the color.  The fish-poacher and small hot-plate worked well for warming the size, I'm still not sure if I did a better job with the bigger brush.  As I mentioned above, ideally, each paper will have a "best" recipe for size for moku hanga, and this ratio of glue and alum will change with the season (more glue in the summer/less in the winter) and the less alum added the better. I tried this recipe a few years ago (a total disaster) as it was on cheap, locally available, mostly pulp papers with just a small amount of kozo fiber and I ended up just gluing all the sheets together.  With nearly the same recipe, on good almost 100% kozo papers, the size goes on smoothly (mostly) and I could see it got absorbed into the paper almost immediately. I'm curious to see how much my inept handling of the brush will affect the final paper, and try to tease out how much is my glue/alum ration and how much is just my inexperience with the sizing brush (dosa bake).
All hung up to dry: Torinoko  Kozo, Kozo thick natural, Hosho Professional, Kochi white.

Here's a buckle/kink that won't go away.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Painting (sizing) with a Broad Brush

Sometimes, even without overly generalizing, you really do need a broader brush; especially if you want to size Japanese washi.

Those who have followed my occasional posts about my attempts to home-size Japanese paper to make it suitable for printing know that the biggest problem up to now has been finding suitable papers but that's slowly working itself out now that better papers are getting easier (a little) to find either outside Japan, or within it thanks to e-commerce or reliable paper sellers of quality papers in the US, Canada, and abroad (Hiromi Paper, The Japanese Paper Place, The Paper Connection, McClain's (although they sell high quality pre-sized papers for moku hanga), Intaglio Printmakers (UK) and Les Papiers de Lucas (France),  and probably others I haven't found yet. 
But the biggest practical problem remains actually sizing the paper; figuring out suitable glue and alum ratios and recipes for my climate and the paper I'm trying to treat. (Size, or dosa in Japanese, is the mixture of alum and animal glue that is added to the paper to make it less absorbant).
In Japan, the paper was traditionally sized on one or both sides of the paper and IDEALLY, the warm glue was applied with one quick pass over the sheet of the paper with a fully loaded brush. With a small brush it's hard to cover the entire surface without overlapping the edges from the previous pass and where the brush passes twice (or misses entirely) will leave paper unevenly sized that will show up when the paper is printed.  Getting the mixture onto the paper evenly without buckling or crinkling the paper or leaving gobs of size that will act as a resist isn't that simple a task but it's made easier by a bigger brush that holds enough glue to make it across the entire sheet in one go.
The only brushes I've been able to find actually made for applying size are pretty small at 2 to 4 inches across, water brushes for dampening paper are a little easier to find and I purchased a couple of 6" brushes a few years ago with the intent to try to put them together with a jig to allow me to create economically a brush sizing brush. These are two "economical" Chinese sheep wool "water" brushes (mizu bake) that I'm going to be using for adding  the glue and alum (dosa) to unsized paper to render it a little bit resistant to absorption and hence suitable for moku hanga, watercolor woodblock printing.
A real Dosa Bake or sizing brush--of this width, even if they were available-- would cost a few hundred dollars. This will end up costing about $50; since I got the two 6" brushes on sale from McClains Printmaking Supplies some time ago.

David Bull posted photos of an Artist (in France?) who had actually already done so and the photo was just like what I had imagined trying to do--and he was home-sizing his paper with a large brush with two smaller ones glued onto it and with good results.  David also confirmed that he too has made several and that they work well enough if one shaves back the wood to allow the brush parts to line up closely--so I decided to go ahead and try to put one together from the brushes I'd previously purchased.

These two brushes are the same size and from the same manufacturer but they're not identical so I had to adjust them a bit so the brush ends would line up and remain flush. The two edges of the wooden handles were shaved down with a sharp chisel so the brush portions pushed against each other and with care to make sure the sheep's wool lined up as well as was possible they were glued and clamped one at a time with water-resistent PVA glue.  

I'll let this thing dry for a bit and have a go at sizing some 100% Kozo paper that I bought earlier this year. My new brush is 14" across, so I can size in one pass a sheet of about 15" X 30".  A trip to the basement revealed an old aluminum fish poacher and armed with my food warming, hot plate (1970's), Aluminum Poacher (60s?), and "new" 14" dosa bake I'm ready to try another round of sizing Japanese paper for moku hanga printing.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Various water and sizing brushes that I've accumulated over time.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

More Whales/Ancora le Balene.

I printed a small run of the 3-block whale prints on good paper but I can't say I'm thrilled.
I didn't keep to my test prints and the colors wandered way too far afield (offshore?) towards the turquoise and teals and there's too much variability within the small number of prints I made.
I never did get to use Block #4--I had hoped to print a white spray with gofun; white crushed powder ground from seashells to mimic the foam and spray of the whale's breath but even on the beige and off-white papers, the dark sea and sky makes the paper already seem "white".
Tomorrow after they're dry I'll cull the rejects of weak or too strong colored ones and see what I'm left with.
In addition to this batch, there's another 20 copies of the simpler one block/2-color version I may try to have another go at the color version to get closer to my original vision.
These were all small samples of the Okoume' plywood I got recently and cut down to use as a grain-printing block for my workshops. This print was a "test" to make sure these blocks were easy to carve and print from.

Block 4 that didn't get used.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

La Bottega del Cigno//workshop photos

Here are some of the sample works from this weekend's Mokuhanga workshop near Padua:
Giuseppe's Typewriter keys

Pietro's Volcano (waiting for a photo of finished work).

Sofia's waves/leaves/undulations

Sylvia's Wolf "Haku" (proof stage) The final had two gradation printings/bokashis.

Paola's Daisies

Rosita's Gladiolas

Anna's Rabbit in Snow

I just finished putting away the materials from my weekend class just outside Padua, in Noventa Padovana.  I was a guest instructor at the Bottega del Cigno ("the Swan Studio"), a artistic and cultural association that has an illustration school and art programs for children and adults. Run by the able and seemingly indefatigable, Daniela Veronese, the space houses two huge rooms with large tables, great lighting--both natural and color-corrected fluorescent--air conditioning and lots of supplies suitable to a functioning art education facility.

We had a small group of just 7 participants although one was the son of one of the students from my last Florence class--and father and son worked together on one set of blocks.

As always, to try to cover enough in just 2 days the history, technique, challenges, tricks, and try to get across both the possibilities and nuances inherent in this fascinating process is a challenge and while I think I touched on most of the bases, I know that there are things that got left out or not emphasized enough.....

Here are some photos of the group hard at work.

+As usual, I brought too much stuff--but I always think that having actual prints--Ukiyo-e and contemporary--as well as things to look at makes for an interesting class.  And we had lots of barens, brushes, catalogs and art books, papers, sample prints and a few gems from my collection of prints.

My next class in in Florence, July 1,2 at Il Bisonte, now just 1 month away.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A simple approach-FIN/BALENA

I'm trying to encourage the students and artists that take my 2-day class to keep things really simple.
This year I'll also be bringing a couple of simple prints for those that didn't bring drawings or who want to focus on the cutting and printing rather than creating (during the class) a personal image.

I usually recommend that they avoid line drawings--except sparingly or with particularly thick lines--to avoid having critical parts of a drawing fall off or to watch them spend too much time carving too few blocks and losing out on exploring the printing aspect of Japanese woodblock when having a guide is very useful.

I've been doodling these Fin Whales for a good bit.  I hope to try a fairly big, semi-abstract version based on simple shapes and blocks of color--and for this small test print I took the same approach--working from a simple cut-out paper collage to decide on the shapes and placement.

This is the hasty proof I took today.
One block of Okoume plywood selectively inked to allow two colors.
I'll carve another 2 blocks to make this a simple, 3 block print to use as a demo for my next workshop. While simple in concept, there's a lot of room for experimentation.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Class Preparation for Moku Hanga; a Non-Linear approach.

I'm getting ready for my upcoming Moku Hanga workshops and there's LOTS to do: 
  -Sharpen 8 sets of Powergrip tools.
  -Make another 4 floating Kentos to replace those that "vanished" after my last class. 
  -Cut proofing and Japanese paper into 5"x8" sheets.
  -Rewrite my handouts (again) in English and Italian versions.
  -Make a trip to the copy store to print a few more flyers for my next classes. 
  -Organize the contemporary and antique prints, catalogs and books I bring as reference works.

  -MAKE another simple demo print for the next class (An excuse to make a new woodblock print rather than do the other things on the list.....). 
Guess which of these tasks I'll start first thing tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

MOKU HANGA IN ITALY: Upcoming Workshops of Japanese woodblock--Padua/Florence/Ravenna2017

I have a few workshops scheduled and in the works for Spring and Fall of 2017.
May 27-28 Noventa Padovana (PADUA); First up is my workshop just outside of Padua, in Noventa Padovana with La Bottega del Cigno and Daniela Veronese--this ex-primary school is now home to a thriving artist cultural association catering to illustrators and painters and other arts and will be hosting a 2-day introductory workshop of Japanese woodblock. Class size is limited to 8 students and there are still places available. (Italian and English)
Contact information is here: or email:

OCTOBER 20-22, Ravenna: I will also be returning to INK33; Enrico Rambaldi's ambitious series of workshops on the various techniques of printmaking in the historic center of Ravenna. I'll be offering a 2 and 1/2 day introductory workshop in Japanese woodblock (In Italian and English). For information: o Phone: 3336907459

NEWS: Florence JUNE 2017; After the success of my January workshop and fielding many requests to offer an additional course, I'm thrilled to report that the historic print studio and workshop, IL BISONTE, has invited me to teach at their beautiful and spacious print studios. I'll have dates finalized this week but it will be a 2-day introductory class and limited to 8 students. 

I Prossimi Corsi/Workshop di Stampa Giapponese; Noventa Padovana (Padova), Ravenna, e Firenze.

Noventa Padovana (Padova) il 27/28 MAGGIO:
Sono poco piu' di 4 settimane prima del mio prossimo corso introdottivo di moku hanga/la stampa giapponese presso La Bottega del Cigno a Noventa Padovana. Sara' la prima volta che insegno a Padova e sono contento che sono stato invitato di portare la tecnica della stampa giapponese agli artisti e illustratori che frequentono lo spazio.  Limitato ad 8 studenti ma ci sono ancora posti disponibile.
per info: o  Email: 

Ravenna: 20-22 Oct; Torno a Ravenna e ad INK33, Lo studio di Enrico Rambaldi nel centro storico di Ravenna. Venerdi/Sabato/Domenica--Un po' tempo in piu' per permettere qualche technica extra e' piu' prove di stampa in questo corso base.
per info: o telefonare al 3336907459

NOTIZIE: Firenze--GIUGNO--c'e ancora di definire le date ma sono stato invitato di offrire un corso presso il storico Studio di Incisione il Bisonte e dove posso accommodare chi mi ha chiesto di offrire un altro corso a Firenze dopo il successo del mio workshop di Gennaio----info e dettagli nei prossimi giorni per questo workshop base di 2 giorni....