21 July 2017

Japanese woodblock printing, part 1

A two-day course at Morley College. Monday to learn how to cut the woodblocks, Friday to learn how to print them. In between we take wood and cutting tools home and finish the cutting. 

My first thoughts were to do "something based on Munakata" but looking at the books of traditional woodcuts as we waited for class to start both confused and excited me.
Two days, for beginners, obviously wasn't going to produce something resembling a Hokusai or Hiroshige - and besides, those prints were produced by a team of publisher, artist, carver, printer. (If you'd like to see how The Great Wave can be produced by one person, have a look at David Bull's series of videos, which has illuminating comparisons of the print in different museums, shows processes and technicalities - and his new workbench - and also the area around his shop in Tokyo.)

Our tutor, Carol, had had a residency learning traditional techniques in the shadow of Mount Fuji. Here are some prints made with watercolour inks built up from blocks of quite simple shapes -

 The blocks can look quite beautiful in themselves -
 I looked in my drawing-tuesday sketchbook and found some simple shapes which, rotated slightly and overlapped, filled the area
 Others had more pictorial, more traditional ideas -
 Carol demonstrated the tools, starting with kentoh, the chisel that makes the registration marks
 Other tools are hangi-toh, a knife with a bevel edge; maru-toh, a rounded gouge used to clear areas; hira-toh, a flat knife used to smooth ridges.

Coloured up, the design could be traced (with carbon paper) onto three sections of the wood, two on each side (finished size 15x10.5cm, with 1cm gutter and 1cm more for registration marks -
 The dispersal of the shapes meant that some "islands" could be added between them that wouldn't need cutting and would support the paper -
 We took our blocks (and the non-slip mats) home to finish the cutting before Friday's class.

As it happened, Drawing Tuesday was near Intaglio Printmakers, off Southwark Bridge Street, so some of us went to investigate
 I took rubbings to check what the block might look like. Seeing the lines in the background made me think about those big empty areas, especially centre bottom ... perhaps some sort of background pattern ...?
 I did some trial cutting on a scrap, then frottage, and couldn't decide which to use. The shapes are traced onto a bit of acetate (I like the results) -
 Yet more cutting and frottage - this could have other possibilities -
 To try to get a "real picture" of what might happen, I traced the darned thing again and yet again, and then went at it with a scalpel, opening windows of various sizes where the shapes overlapped, and then cutting out the background so it could be placed over various types of frottage to see what background design to cut in the fourth block, which would be printed first, and the others on top (well that's the plan) -

At the point of tracing the bottom image that I realised I'd made the classic beginner's mistake - forgetting to reverse the design before tracing it onto the block. Duh. Well, we'll see what it looks like, wrong way round...

More pressing was the choice of background - calming lines, or lively (and quicker to cut!) randomness? I decided to sleep on it, and get up early ... it's hard to imagine the result if you've not done the process yet! But by 9am Friday, that fourth block had to be cut...

Stay tuned for Part 2.


jac said...

Wow I think I need to see the prints to get my head round this Looking forward to part 2

Sandy said...

How cool! I do love the lines in the background.
Anxious breaths.