28 April 2011

Hanga Workshop May 7-8

In honor of the 5th annual International Print Day, I'll be teaching a weekend moku hanga workshop at Zea Mays Printmaking in western Massachusetts May 7-8, 2011. You can sign up here: www.zeamaysprintmaking.org.

I'll be bringing the "bottle prints" I made with my three simple blocks (see previous two blog posts) as examples of simplicity in carving, since participants will only have one day to carve. I did another round of little bottle prints this afternoon, in fact. Here's a photo:


What will you be doing on May 7, International Print Day?

26 April 2011

More Little Bottles

Still just messing around with three simple blocks.

I started by making a yellow stripe on the plain block.

Added a blue background (I do like blue).

Then started to build up some other colors.

I bought this metal printing plate at a Tibetan store a couple of years ago and hadn't tried printing it yet, so now seemed like a good time.

I thought I would have to use western-style intaglio ink, but I tried sumi ink first and it worked!

I love this little rubber-stamp alphabet set. I was in a Buddha state of mind, so I decided to typeset one of my favorite Buddha sayings.


I'm not sure if I'm going to do yet another group of studies or not. Of course, I'll let you know.

21 April 2011

Little Studies


A lot of my work in the past couple of years has been very carving-driven, and thus very time-consuming. Sometimes I just want to do something simple and fast and loose, so last week I cut some simple little blocks with the idea that I would just play around with them and see what happens. I didn't have any small blocks, though, so I used a larger piece of shina that I had left over from another project and blocked out four 5" x 7"image areas. I transferred a simple sketch of a bottle onto two of the images and cut one negative and one positive. Then I cut a 5" x 7" area with no carving at all.

Yesterday I did the first group of experiments. I ended up using just two of the blocks, the plain one and the positive version of the bottle (the 2 on the left in the photo above. Here's what happened.

Two Blocks
This is a photo after the first two impressions. First I inked the plain block with blue, using a good deal of paste, and I used a cloth to wipe away ink to make the "clouds." Then I used a pale wash of sumi ink to begin to define the bottle shape.

Here are two of the prints with another couple of layers added. I did another layer of ink on top of the gray of the bottle, this time with a pale yellow-brown. Then I added some red ink. I varied the application of the red on each print, just to explore what kinds of effects were possible.

I tried the technique of "transfer drawing" too. Also called trace monotype, this is a direct-drawing printmaking technique where the paper is placed on an inked plate and an image is drawn on the back of the paper, picking up the ink on the other side. It seemed to work with the Guerra pigments I use.

In all, I made 12 of these small studies.

Tomorrow I plan to start all over with the same blocks and do something entirely different. It feels good to play loose like this.

18 April 2011

Photos From 2011 KIWA Exhibition

My friend Jamie Hubbard, Professor of Buddhist Studies at Smith College, has spent the past few months studying in Kyoto and this weekend he emailed me some photos from the 6th KIWA Exhibition which just took place there. Here are Jamie's photos.

Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art

Installation view

Installation view

KIWA Director and woodblock artist, Richard Steiner

Richard Steiner with my "Lumbini" print.

I'm looking forward to meeting Richard at the 1st International Mokuhanga Conference in June. To see more photos of the works in the show, check out KIWA's Flickr page.

15 April 2011

My First Baren Wrap

OK. You can't be a self-respecting moku hanga printmaker and not know how to wrap a baren in the pretty bamboo skins (leaves "bark") that make a Japanese baren a baren. But here I am, coming up on my 6 year anniversary of working with moku hanga and I have never wrapped my own baren. I used it oh so carefully for the first couple of years and the skin didn't split until year 2 1/2. Then I got Matt Brown to wrap it for me at a workshop (thank you Matt). And then I took to using a ball-bearing baren for large prints, so I eked out another couple of years on the bamboo skin Matt had installed. But it's time to face the music...

Last month I ordered a new skin (takenogawa) from McClain's and set about re-covering my very fine Murasaki baren. Oops. I split the skin before I could even get half the baren wrapped. And I only had one skin! So there's lesson #1. If you've never done it before, buy more than one skin.

I found out that my friend Rick Finn was trying to learn to wrap a baren at the same time I was, so I checked out his new blog to see how it was going for him. He was smart enough to buy three skins to begin with, but even then he wasn't able to successfully wrap his baren. I felt better about myself (sorry Rick) after reading his account. Rick, by the way, makes beautiful grayscale reduction print portraits of petty criminals from old mug shots -- check them out. Anyhow, Rick finally got his baren covered and, this morning, so did I. It was nice to have online company getting through this first hurdle. So lesson #2 is, get as much help and moral support as you can.

Here are some great resources for help in re-covering your baren:
+ David Bull's online step-by-step
+ David Bull's e-book "Your First Print"
+ Ryusei Okamoto's step-by-step photo tutorial

All three are excellent. Dave Bull's e-book is especially great because it has a video of the entire process (plus there are chapters on every aspect of the craft). And the very awesome thing about Ryusei Okamoto's photos is that at the end he has a very clear demonstration of how to tie the finishing knot. Only after seeing his photos could I could figure that out.

However. What I'm about to show you is a very poor imitation of a proper baren re-covering project. I know that you might tease me, but I show you these photos in the spirit of showing my whole process, warts and all.

The lovely baren wrap by Matt Brown.

The ugly baren wrap by the blog author.

You can see here that in addition to having extra material along the baren edges, I also have fewer tight little tucks AND I obviously neglected to fold the raw edges under as I tucked. These edges will no doubt be annoying as I use the baren. The other glaring error is that I twisted one side of the "handle" clockwise and the opposite side counterclockwise. This means the two sides of the handle are fighting each other and so they don't sit up straight

However, I can say four positive things about the job I did.
1. I did it.
2. I learned what it feels like, what's hard, what's easy.
3. I'll never again have to do it for the first time.
4. Because my new cover is too loose and too uneven, I'll have the opportunity to try it again very soon!

Anyway, I show you the following photo in the spirit of cheering myself up:

Forced forsythia in my living room.

08 April 2011

The Space Between

Six of One Opening

I don't often write on my blog when I'm in "the space between," which is what I call the time between finishing one print and starting the next. Truth is, I always have a backlog of ideas for work, but choosing which idea is next or allowing a brand new fresh idea to push in front of the others is never easy for me. These woodblock prints take so long to do that I feel like I have to choose carefully. Do I have enough enthusiasm and curiosity about the idea to get me through the long process? Am I emotionally connected to the idea? Does the time feel right, or is the idea still half-baked? All these questions arise during the space between.

And as you can see in the way I phrased those questions, my prints germinate in the form of ideas, not images. Often there are images in my mind along with the ideas, but my work is heavily idea-driven.

The group show I'm in right now at August Savage Gallery, University of Massachusetts in Amherst, touches on this topic. Called "Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other," the show explores the serial nature of printmaking through the work of 12 printmakers. Although not about technique, the show includes some drawings and plates as well as series or groupings of prints that illuminate how printmakers develop ideas and images. Because I don't often repeat imagery or re-work plates, I was at a loss at first about what prints to submit. But then I realized that there are a number of Pilgrim prints that include an image of the Mayflower, so I submitted those prints plus the Mayflower blocks I worked with as well as a few test proofs. I was happy with the story that those prints and plates told.

The opening was this past Tuesday and I really enjoyed being inspired by other work as I dwell in my "space between." Here are some photos from the opening. (Apologies for the unprofessional photos -- the lighting was not great and I was using a cell phone camera.) The show is up through April 26.

Julie Lapping Rivera
Woodcuts by Julie Lapping Rivera

Joyce Silverstone
Monoprints by Joyce Silverstone

Anita Hunt
Etchings by Anita Hunt

Neil Brigham
Linocuts by Neil Brigham

03 April 2011

This Land Is Your Land


Japanese woodblock (moku hanga) and calligraphy
Image size: 18.5" x 25" (47 x 63.5 cm)
1 shina plywood block
6 hand-rubbed color layers
Paper: Etchu Pure Kozo
Edition: 7

Even when indigenous languages are considered "extinct," meaning there are no living speakers, many Native peoples feel that the language is still alive within the landscape and tribal imagination, but dormant like a winter seed.
           Philip M. Klasky, the Cultural Conservancy

All over the United States, wherever you go, you will find Native American place names. The nation is rife with towns, rivers, lakes, mountains, regions, and even states that sport Indian names borrowed by, and often mispronounced by, European colonial settlers as they moved west. Massachusetts, Manhattan, Spokane, Tallahassee, Alabama, Wichita, Tulsa — the litany is long. Hand written on this print are over 200 U.S. state, city and town names that have their origins in Native American languages. I made sure to included several from every state. I pored over an atlas, looked for names that I thought were probably Native American, and then double-checked those names in a book called Native American Place Names by William Bright.

If you're curious about what some of these names mean, National Geographic has an interactive online map with some of those names and their meanings.

Here's a closeup of the title. I included some hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades in the lettering.