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.

Rice Paste on Washi Process Notes

Here are most of the steps involved in creating these small stencil prints/paintings. (See my post Katazome on Kozo.)

  1. Prepare the stencil. This is a fairly long process in itself. Again, I learned it from John Marshall, whose website includes complete instructions. I created two stencils for these experiments. Here they are in finished form.
    Water Stencil Grass Stencil
  2. Prepare the paper. I used handmade Kozo (mulberry), experimenting with 3 weights — light, medium and semi-heavy. I treated large sheets with Konnyaku starch, to make the paper stronger and more water resistant. I am not sure this was necessary, but I wasn’t confident that the paper would withstand the process without it. Part of this involves crumpling up the paper while it is wet with Konnyaku, which gives the final treated paper a wrinkled visual texture, even after ironing it, which I truly enjoy. I then tore the paper into various sizes, avoiding waste.
  3. Before printing the Kozo with rice paste resist, I painted the Kozo with light washes of color. I wanted to preserve some of the beautiful white color of the paper, but also wanted the visual texture/variation of a light wash of color in the background. I experimented with watercolors, gouache, and Jacquard Dyna-flo Silk Paint. Instead of using water to dilute the colors, I used homemade soy milk.
  4. I placed these pictures in a single layer on top of newsprint to dry. Then, I ironed the paper from the back, because it crumples up as it dries, and you need a flat surface for pasting.
  5. Make rice paste. Soak the stencils in water for about an hour in preparation for pasting. Right before pasting, blot them between layers of newsprint. Prepare a flat surface for pasting. I covered a smooth, flat wooden board with several pieces of plain newsprint. I placed a single piece of Kozo on top of the newsprint. I worked with various sizes of paper, some of which were smaller than my stencil designs. I varied the placement of the stencil from print to print.
  6. Place the stencil over the Kozo and apply the rice paste. The paste goes through the open areas of the stencil and is left on the paper. Remove the “print” and lay it flat to dry. Sometimes the paste went beyond the edges of the stencil onto the newsprint below it – I expected this. If necessary, remove and replace the top sheet of newsprint so you have a clean surface for the next print. You don’t want the paste to stick to the back of the next print or to the back of the stencil itself. I printed each sheet with either the grass or the water stencil. The paste is meant to resist the next layer of paint/dye. This was not altogether successful in these experiments, but I think I know what to do to improve this. Check my next post for insights and learning.
  7. After all prints were dry, I ironed them on the back again.
  8. I applied a 2nd layer of color to each picture, this time covering the entire sheet of kozo. Next time I will use a dryer brush. I also experimented a little with painting on a plexi surface and pressing the paper face-down onto the plexi plate (monoprint). This method has some nice effects and highlights the textured surface of the paper.
  9. Let these pictures dry face up, then iron on the back to prepare for 2nd layer of paste.
  10. I added another layer of rice paste to most, choosing either the grass or the water stencil. Let these dry and iron on the back again.
  11. I painted the final layer of color (again, soymilk is mixed with the paint for each of the 3 paint layers). Let these pictures dry face up. No need to iron until after step 12.
  12. I soaked the prints face-down in cold water in my bathtub, 8 prints at a time, for 30 minutes. Then, one by one, I gently removed a print, and placed it face up on the angled end of the bathtub, being careful to lay it flat. Using a soft, inexpensive Chinese paintbrush (you can get these at any art supply store), I gently brushed from the center of the print to the edges to remove any remaining rice paste resist. I gently sprayed the surface with a bit of water from a sprayer also.
  13. Blot the prints carefully between newspaper and plain newsprint. Remove them from the paper and dry flat in one layer. When completely dry, I ironed these on the back.

Katazome on Kozo

These small works range from approx. 6″x 9″ to 10″ x 12.” I am experimenting with Japanese Katazome techniques on washi (handmade kozo). I first learned these techniques on fabric from John Marshall. My goal with this work is to achieve differentiation between the various stenciled and painted layers, hopefully giving the work depth and surface interest. The results you see here are inconsistent, and I think I understand which variables to change next time. I am excited about the possibilities of this technique and intend to explore it further!