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.

 

Lunar calendar print part 3: still playing

I decided to add one more layer, a burnt sienna, over the rabbit portion of the calendar image. To do this, I placed my rabbit stencil under the glass and cut away the gelatin plate. I inked the remaining part, and lined up the print with a couple of strategically placed pieces of masking tape. No need for super-accurate registration — this is a very soft-edged process.

gelplate

I still wonder if the paint will wash off the paper along with the rice paste resist. After curing it for several days, a bit of blue rubbed off on my damp finger, so I decided to mist it with soy milk, let it dry, then mist it again.  I will wait three days and wash it out on Wednesday Feb. 9.

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!