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.


Playing with natural dye extracts

Several months ago I put a call out to the diverse community of local textile and fiber enthusiasts asking if there was interest in starting a local natural dye study group affiliated with the Textile Center of Minnesota. At least 15 people responded, and now we have a fledgling natural dye group in the Twin Cities! We met first in March, and will meet again this Wednesday in the Textile Center dye lab. This group is about exploration, experimentation and sharing – i.e. more play than structured learning. At the first meeting, participants shared their lovely naturally dyed samples. (I wish I had taken photos of them). This week we are going to play with Earthues Natural Dye extracts, both immersion and direct application methods. (Earthues has a new blog and hopefully will have an online shop soon.)

In preparation for leading the meeting, I did some playing on my own. Here’s a peek at my wool scrap, followed by some notes describing what I did with it.

I mixed up several colors (cutch, logwood purple, pomegranate and madder), along with iron water and cream of tartar water, and gum tragacanth thickener. I pasted several of my stencils on two large scraps of wool and silk which had been soy sized and mordanted (painted with alum). I added thickener to the natural dye extracts and painted it on. I also painted on iron water and cream of tartar to see what would happen to the colors. My guide for these experiments is the Natural Dye Instruction Booklet by Michele Wipplinger of Earthues, which you can find here. The book covers several methods of applying these natural dyes to cloth.

I used the extracts full strength along with the thickener. I also used the iron water at full strength. Next time I’ll dilute these considerably. When I painted on iron water and cream of tartar water, I could see the color changes instantly. There is a bit of magic to this! I’m excited to learn more about these dyes!

The dirt …

Last weekend I participated in a natural pigments class given through Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin, taught by painter Gloria Adrian. The Phipps hosts an ongoing conversation on sustainability and the arts, called What We Need is Here, (after the Wendell Berry poem).
Gloria brought many samples of colored clays and dirt from the region, and some coal in the form  of “coke.” She taught us how to make egg tempera, and then we played with the pigments for a few hours, painting samples on gessoed board. I brought some washi pasted with a couple of my patterns, and some soy milk. These samples don’t look like much yet because I need to build up more layers of pigment and let the paint cure before washing the paste out. Generally, the pigments we tried had more sediment than the ones I use (from my teacher, John Marshall-on this page he describes the sources of the pigments he sells). The local dirt and clay colors are beautiful and muted. I look forward to trying them on fabric! Gloria also shared another great resource for artist materials including natural pigments, Kremer Pigments. They are based in Germany but also have an outlet in NYC.

The brilliant rust and ultramarine are pigments out of a jar, very similar to what I use, but from Kremer. The ultramarine contains some proportion of lapiz lazuli. I think the egg tempera adds a yellow cast to the pigments.

The samples in the jars below are all from local dirt, clay, and rock.