Sunday, March 29, 2020

Year of the RAT

NOTE: I started working on this little print in November 2019 and finished mailing them out in late February....just as the COVID-19 was just beginning to migrate out of China and into Italy.  I certainly didn't expect that the epidemic that started in Wuhan would spread so far and so fast, and my folded-paper, mouse/rat was supposed to be an innocent and gentle reminder of the fragility and transient nature of all things....

 The Rat is the first of the 12 animals that make up the 12-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac and as this year also marks the beginning a new decade, it was supposed to be a year of good and auspicious beginnings.  I began working on this print in November--as I used it as a class project for my beginners' woodblock class in Florence's art and culture center,  L'Appartamento.  Using the traditional method of working in which the carvers and printers would have worked from a simple sketch--I provided the students with my drawing of an origami rat (mouse) and the students became first the carvers and then the printers of the blocks that were needed to print the color print version. Along the way I got to show them the hanshita method of image transfer that allows a reliable way to ensure that the multiple color blocks will register to the black and white keyblock, much as they would have done in the Ukiyo-e workshops of Japan 150 years ago.

 I was able to combine my student-cut color plates and with my key block (with the addition of another color block to allow some bokashi gradation printing) using the combination of plates to print this year's "YEAR of the RAT" greeting card.

Shina plywood key block (before removing the corner marks).

An early proof in B&W and gray

I also printed them on a mix of papers, although the majority were printed on Western papers--Magnani incisioni, Fabriano Artistico and Arches 180lb cotton etching papers instead of Japanese washi.   That let me have cards that had a thick, postcard-like heft but also gave them the slightly grainy, textured look that mokuhanga prints get when they're printed on Western papers.

Of the 125 copies I printed, about 40 went to the Baren Zodiac exchange, another 40 to colleagues and collectors, and about another 40 to family and friends.

As I wrote above, my little zodiac print was supposed to represent a good-luck, origami mouse--but this was not the kind of luck or 2020 I was expecting.  I hope the current international health and social disaster ends soon and that the toll on human life and suffering of all things in the natural world are not greater than we can bear and that we remember to help each other through the difficult times ahead--the more fortunate assisting those in need. 

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