Learning Japanese Woodblock Printmaking

Two weeks ago I attended a Japanese Woodblock intensive at Highpoint Center for Printmaking in Minneapolis taught by master printer Keiji Shinohara. The week-long intensive was so satisfying–taught by a wonderful artist and encouraging instructor, with just enough time enough to design, carve and print an image.

Some of the unique features of this method of printmaking as compared with Western techniques is that it uses water-based pigments rather than oil-based, a baren (flat, hand-held disc) rather than a press, and that each block of a multiple color print contains the registration marks within it. In developing ideas for a pictorial work, for example, using katazome, it can be frustrating to design and make a layered image, that is, one with more than one stencil. You don’t know are getting you have until you wash the paste off. This is fine when a design for an image or a repeated pattern requires only one stencil, but frustrating for me when I want to layer images and align or register components on top of one another, and then create multiple instances of the image, like prints.

Here are a few sketches of my subject (my old cat, Lester) and two versions of the print I made in class. Lester is a sweet animal companion; a joy, a constant source of entertainment.


Cardinal in August

Cardinal in August

Above a rhythmic cadence of crickets
the young cardinal tries his song
one note at a time,
an adolescent, tentative disruption
of the peaceful pulse.

As darkness yields slowly
to pre-dawn light,
the crickets fade.

The cardinal, more confident,
repeats two
then three,
now four
notes of his song.

This space
and gentle quiet
opens to a voice
remarkably coming from him.

In this way
he reveals and repeats
the notes that unfold sleep,
memory, and longing in me.

Detail, Spring with Cardinal  (natural pigments on silk) 

© Kit Eastman

Garden at Dusk

Here is my new piece, Garden at Dusk. I chose two dark values of blue/green and indigo for the final colors. I brushed these on in four layers on the open areas of the cloth (i.e. not covered with rice paste resist), drying between each layer. I then added a few accents/shadows using a very dark value of indigo and black pigments.

After about 5 days, the paste was soaked off in water. I wanted to keep this piece simple and high contrast because I think the design works pretty well with just two values–dark and light. The paste crackled a bit and so you can see lines across the surface of the background where the color got through. The pattern you can see around the edges is the pattern woven into the linen (damask).

Back to my original inspiration – The Robins, so inspiring to me this spring, left this nest under our back porch roof after only one bird fledged from their second brood. Three perfectly formed beautiful blue eggs in a home of mud, twigs, grass, and other dried plant material from the garden.