Japan MI-Lab Artist Residency

I am following a new path in my work: woodblock printmaking using the Japanese technique known as moku hanga. My experience with Katazome — its simple materials, tools, and its familiar rhythms of preparation and repetition has naturally led me to to explore this new direction. 

Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchiko

One year ago I was in Fuji-Kawaguchiko, Japan participating in a five week long artist residency at the Mokuhanga Innovation Lab (MI-Lab). Each session invites, through a juried application process, six artists from around the world to learn Japanese woodblock printmaking from master printmakers. This was a transformative experience for me and I am so grateful to have participated!

Garden behind Itchiku Kubota Museum

Memories that linger: the beautiful and quiet town of Katsuyama near Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko; the awe-inspiring presence of the mountain (“Fuji-San”); the rhythms and tasks of the studio and daily life with this small group of diverse artists.

Lake Kawaguchiko

Our Sensei, Chihiro Taki , and two visiting Sensei (Ayao Shiokawa and Michiko Hamada) shared their expertise and demonstrated many intriguing possibilities for a contemporary approach to this ancient art form. I know that my work will continue to be transformed by this learning.

Tokyo Alley Cat

During this year I made three prints (images below), which are now available in my online shop.

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.

 

Lunar calendar print, part 2: haste makes waste!

After 2 layers of paste, and 3 layers of color, this morning I floated one of my lunar calendar prints in water to dissolve the rice paste. After swishing it a bit, I could see that the top 2 layers of color were washing away, leaving only the first blue that I applied.

soaking paste off soaking paste off

My hunch is that I washed it out too quickly, and since the first blue was applied about 3 days ago, the soy on that layer had sufficient (just barely?) time to cure. Time is a variable for katazome on fabric — you must allow the soymilk to cure/oxidize for several days at the very least, locking the colors into the fibers. I think this must be true for paper as well.

Here’s the difference between the washed print and one still curing in peace and quiet.

Tonight I will add a final “glaze” of soymilk on the remaining prints, adding a bit more Payne’s gray while I’m at it (this color looks like indigo) and then allow the prints to cure for 3 or 4 days before washing them out. I saved my gelatin plate anticipating I might need it again!