09 March 2022

First Print of 2022


Watercolor woodblock print (moku hanga)
20 x 14 inches (43 x 28 cm) image
Made from 3 blocks, approximately 30 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 4 on 26 x 19 Kitaro Kozoshi paper

I'm returning to my series of prints called I Was a 20th Century Lesbian, this time with a group of prints I'm calling "The Mysteries." This new group of prints appropriates religious language to sacralize lesbian/female eroticism/sexuality. 

As a 20th century lesbian I lived through many decades of having my sexuality demonized, in both political and personal spheres, and I’m seeking in this work to invoke the opposite, to claim my right as a human being to relate to the divine in my own way, and to proclaim the sacredness of the body. All bodies.

I carved the highlights in the "flower" shape because I wanted the two sides to be symmetrical and I didn't trust that I could do that with freehand brush-created bokashi (color blends), but it was very tricky to go from carved blends to brush blends. These curves were very difficult to create in the hard-edged medium of relief printing. You can see below my first attempt, which failed in a big way.

Here you can see the carved highlights, printed reduction style, and the sheen of the gold ink I used.
Still doesn't look too bad, but it turns out I had already gone astray by keeping the back portion of the "flower" too solid. I should have started the shading much earlier in the process.

I panicked as I kept going and saw that it wasn't working out, which caused me to overcompensate and add too much pigment too fast. I finally abandoned the image and started over.

The second try was much closer to what I had imagined.

08 February 2022

All About Konnyaku

Many many thanks to "Carpet Bomberz Inc." who left a comment on my last post with a link to an incredible video about konnyaku from NHK World. Check it (available until Jan 2, 2023).


02 February 2022

Momigami Tests

Unprinted washi after treatment
Printed washi after treatment

Momigami (揉紙) literally means "rubbed paper" and is a process by which a thick high-quality kozo paper is repeatedly crumpled until it softens and takes on a textile-like quality. Often the paper is treated with some kind of additive, usually konnyaku starch. Paper treated this way was historically used in Japan to make clothing, called kamiko. The konnyaku adds strength to the paper, especially wet strength.

I'm entertaining an idea for using self-printed momigami, so I've been researching it a bit. I seem to have exhausted most of my research resources, so yesterday I decided that the best way for me to figure out how to do it was to take the small amount of info I dug up and just do it. So I just did it. I tried to do it in a quasi-scientific way in order to "measure" my results.

I got some konnyaku powder and tried one of the several recipes I found online. I chose the recipe that called for 1 teaspoon of powder in 1 cup of water, and I'm here to tell you it was too thick. I'll use half that amount of powder next time. I used a 2-inch wide brush to apply the starch to both sides of the paper. 

In my research I found two different ways of doing the konnyaku and crumpling: one was to apply the konnyaku, crush the paper into a loose ball and then crumple it more before letting it dry. The other method was to coat the paper with the konnyaku, let it dry, and then crumple it. I tried both methods to see if there would be a difference.

Treated paper hung to dry. In the shower, of course.

The other thing I was anxious to see was whether the watercolor of mokuhanga-style printing would bleed when soaked with konnyaku and crumpled. I did one sheet of unprinted paper but the rest were rejected mokuhanga prints on several different types of washi.

Here's a report on my results.

• Western cotton rag paper comes out incredibly soft, but it tears easily.
• The thinner the paper the less starch it needs
• Some pigments bleed and offset when wet, especially if crumpled while wet. It seems to be the mineral pigments that bleed. The problem is lessened by doing the crumpling after the konnyaku has dried
• I was surprised to discover that the papers I dried and then crumpled came out softer than the identical papers that I crumpled while wet. My guess is that crumpling while wet drives the starch deeper into the fibers, making them stronger but also "crisper." It turns out that I like my momigami soft.

I still need to do further tests before I settle on what type of paper I'll use for my project.

Yukimi. Top was crumpled while wet and you can see that some pigment bled into the white border. I think it was burnt sienna. The red/yellow interface stayed surprisingly crisp, though.
Shioji. Again, the top was crumpled while wet and the ultramarine blue bled.

Echizen Kozo. The red bled when I did the wet crumpling but held up under dry crumpling. This paper, soft by nature, makes a very soft momigami.

31 January 2022

The (Confusing) World of Japanese Washi Paper

Happy new year, dear readers. I haven't been posting much these days, as blogging seems a bit old fashioned in 2022. Yet, I still think blogging is valuable. It's slower than Instagram and other scrolling-based social media, it's more personal, and it makes me pause long enough to clearly articulate my thoughts and feelings.

As you may know, I've spent the past two years creating and distributing a tarot deck, called Woodblock Dreams Tarot. It's a standard deck, composed of 78 cards — 21 (the major arcana) were done as full woodblock prints and 57 (the 4 suits) were printed in parts and collaged/composed digitally. It has its own web site if you want to check it out: WoodblockDreamsTarot.com. Anyway, it's taken me longer than I imagined to bounce back from that project into making some new work. I have some ideas brewing and not many supplies left in my studio, including paper, so I've lately been researching Japanese paper trying to figure out what kind of paper I need for my new (still imaginary) work and… just wow. There's so much to figure out!

In the past I've kept my paper supplies pretty limited, purchasing familiar papers from familiar suppliers so that I could focus on the other myriad variables in the mokuhanga process rather than also constantly adjusting to new kinds of paper, but I've managed to work with quite a few papers nevertheless, and now that I'm looking for some new paper I want to do a quick run-down of what I've used. 

From McClain's Printmaking (Group A):
• Echizen Kozo — one of my all-time favorites. Thick and kind of fluffy, this paper holds up very well to multiple overlays of color, keeps its shape, and colors stay bright when dry.
• Nishinouchi — I chose this for its darker tone when I was doing a series based on colonial American history. The surface is fairly hard, a little bit difficult to work with, but definitely the right look for that historical series — a bit somber and earnest, and colors not as vibrant when dry. 

From Woodlike Matsumura in Japan
Shioji — used for the halftone dot prints I made in the Relics series. Shioji has the feel of a cotton rag paper, and some of the tendency to stretch that a rag will give you. It worked OK for that series,which only required two impressions of color, but I'm not sure how well it would perform with multiple overprints.
Yukimi — I took a big chance on this paper, choosing it for my Fire Series mostly because of its name, which means "snow viewing." I just thought it would be helpful to print Fire images on Snow paper. It's a nice paper, whiter than many handmade Japanese papers, and it behaved very well under repeated strong applications of color and big baren pressure.
Gekko — This is a very thick 100% kozo paper that I chose for making prints with full size sheets. It's a workout with the baren because it's so thick, but it prints beautifully and I really enjoy how the prints hang.
Mawata — I used this paper for white line prints, which means that I printed dry with it, but it was fabulous for that and held up really well to strong rubbing with a spoon. I haven't used it for straight up mokuhanga, but I have no reason to think it wouldn't do very well dampened and under a baren. It's a soft-ish paper with a pleasing creamy tone, embosses well, and holds color beautifully.

My next project, should I choose to accept it :), will have different requirements so that's why I'm doing paper research. Here are a couple of things that have helped me with my research:

1. This awesome interview with Nancy Jacobi, founder of Japanese Paper Place, on the Unfinished Print podcast. Nancy reveals many of the secrets of washi from her 40+ years of working with Japanese papers. And if you haven't discovered The Unfinished Print, run on over! It's a podcast devoted to all things mokuhanga and host Andre Zadorozny has interviewed some mokuhanga luminaries.

2. This out-of-print book about washi, that I scored at my local used book store, seems to have everything you could ever want to know about washi.