25 January 2013

For My Students - Image Prep for Mokuhanga

I’m putting this post together for my upcoming Woodblock Class at Zea Mays Printmaking (Feb. 23-24, 2013) but by all means read it if it interests you. In the post I’ll be showing a few possible ways to compose and prepare an image for woodblock with an emphasis on preparing simple images that can realistically be finished in two very short days using mokuhanga techniques.

1. The Traditional Keyblock Method (not good for a short workshop)
The traditional method used by the ukiyo-e artists was to make a drawing for a keyblock, which would be carved, printed in black, and then used to develop color blocks. This method is sort of like coloring in a coloring book.

I started with a black & white sketch which I pasted onto a block and carved. This is the finished carving.

Next I printed several copies of the carved keyblock with black ink and pasted these copies onto fresh blocks.

Carving right through the thin paper, I cut blocks for each color. This is how the blocks appear after they've been used for printing, which I think makes it easier for you to see how color was broken down. Notice that it's possible to use one block for multiple colors as long as there's enough space between the colors to ink without accidentally getting ink into areas where you don't want it.
Here is the image with all the colors printed, just waiting for the addition of the black keyblock.

The final print with the keyblock added.

This method is the most traditional, and it’s also much too complex and time consuming to attempt during a two-day workshop. Although, having said that, artist Franklin Einspruch made a simple but striking keyblock-style print during a two-day workshop which you can see by clicking here. If you really want to use the keyblock method, keep your line drawing very simple and don't expect to be able to carve thin lines unless you’ve done it before.

2. Color Fields; tracing paper transfer
By eliminating the keyblock and thinking of your image as fields of color that might or might not overlap, you can make a strong picture using just two or three colors. Because the waterborne pigments are transparent, you can make green by overprinting/overlapping yellow with blue, make violet by overprinting red with blue, etc.

You can work from a photo, as I did for this simple print of the face of the Kamakura Buddha.

I used a piece of tracing paper to mark out three values. I wanted the areas marked by an X to be white (the color of the paper) in a field of pale green, the red areas a middle value green, and the darkened areas a deep blue-green.
I flipped over my tracing paper sketch so that the image would be reversed, and used carbon paper under the sketch to transfer the image to three different blocks, one for each of my three planned colors. (Pardon the strange colors on the blocks - I reprinted these at one point with golds and browns.)
Here is a breakdown of the three different blocks printed separately (column on the left) and as a composite (on the right). You can see how much information can be carried with three simple blocks.

3. Color Fields; laser print transfer

This is an image with more complex carving, but created using just two blocks. This image also shows how overlapping colors can be used. I made this image for a portfolio exchange which required us to use red and a very turquoise blue. I didn't like the blue, so I decided to overprint the two to make the blue more black. Again I worked from a photo, this time a photo of the Lincoln Memorial statue’s face. You can use this method if you think you would feel comfortable doing some loose carving from a photo or drawing or even a painting you've previously done.

In this case, rather than making a sketch from the photo, I printed out two copies of the photo on a laser printer and pasted these laser copies face down onto the blocks using wheat paste. Because the photocopy paper is so thick, it has to be made translucent for carving. After the paste has dried, you can re-wet the paper and carefully rub it until the paper begins to delaminate. Then you can peel away much of the paper, leaving just a thin layer of paper that still holds the image. (I'll demonstrate this at the workshop.)

Even after delaminating the paper it can still be hard to see the image clearly. A thin application of mineral oil makes the image perfectly visible.

On one block I carved away everything that would remain white (the paper color). You can see my chisel marks, which I tried to make a bit more loose and expressive than the Buddha in the example above.
Here's the block above printed in red.

On the second block, I carved away everything except the areas which I wanted to be dark. This block I would print blue.

Here's the composite, blue overprinting red.
Ultimately, after feedback from the portfolio group, I ended up printing the two Lincoln blocks with tones of blue and adding a third block -- red stripes whose formation are the I Ching symbol for "union." You can see the color effects of the red overprinting the two tones of blue.

So these are the two basic methods of image transfer we'll be using -- 1. pasting down a printout / photocopy or 2. Using carbon paper to transfer a design/drawing. If you're a person who likes to work spontaneously, you can come without a sketch and just bring a sharpie to draw right on the block. Or you can "draw" with a chisel, making marks in the moment.

To get a better idea of what is possible to accomplish in a two-day workshop, click here and here to see some student work from other workshops. And please refer to your participant letter for details on how to size your sketch before you arrive.

I'm looking forward to seeing you!


Kujaku said...

Wow! I love the colours! Really gives an American patriotic feel to it! Great work with the other prints too^^

Kit said...

Annie, I really get a lot out of following these posts about process. I have just signed up for a 3-day Japanese Woodblock workshop w/Matt Brown at Snowfarm (heard about this via your blog). I think my 3-tone cat might be a good subject for a 1st print if I keep it simple - mostly white with big spots of black/brown stripes. I've always wanted to try and now this April I am finally making the trek out from St. Paul to Mass.! Have a great workshop - your prints are really great.

Annie B said...

Kit, you can't come all this way and not meet up with me! I live literally 9 miles from Snow Farm. Let's get in touch via email and see what's possible. ~ab

Kit said...

Absolutely!! I didn't realize you lived so close... will definitely be in touch! - K