Japanese Woodblock Printing with Laura Boswell

A question I keep hearing recently is ‘Does this add value to my life?' It’s a question The Minimalists ask themselves throughout their daily lives. I recently saw their wonderful film Minimalism about how having less is definitely more.

What adds value to your life?

It’s a useful question and one that I’m beginning to look into a little deeper. For a few years now I’ve been exploring a few different printing methods. From rubber stamp printing to linocutting, to letterpress and more recently woodblock printing. Through the process of exploration I’ve come to find that the process of woodblock printing resonates with me the most. I am drawn to the process from beginning to end, from sketching an image, transferring the image onto the woodblock, then carving the image into the wood, dampening the paper and finally making a print with the baren. I love the materials used in the process and the way it helps me to slow down, focus and be more present. This process definitely adds value to my life. So I wonder why then I seem to be spending the least amount of time actually woodblock printing? 

Laura creating Kento registration marks

Laura creating Kento registration marks

Woodblock BLOCK!

One reason might be my slight phobia of multi-colour printing. I have continued to tell myself that I have woodblock BLOCK and a fear of creating a multi-colour print. It’s not as though I haven’t made a multi-colour print. I’ve been on a couple of group courses where I came away very happy with my colourful prints. But I also came away with that overwhelming feeling that the registration process was still somehow out of my reach. I had not asked enough questions. There was not always time or space in a group setting. When I had tried to make a multi-colour print back at my studio, each time the blocks wouldn’t line up but I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. It was as if I had been transported back to the school maths class but this time the tutor had vanished. The 'how to' books and online videos were not helping. So it remained a complicated puzzle that I just could not unravel and so I put all the mistakes back in the drawer and froze. 

What I really needed was a one-to-one session with a printmaker with a hefty plunger who could help remove this gigantic blockage. Someone at my side to show me the process, who I could directly ask questions at any point in the day without interruption and be able to extinguish those burning questions in a moment. That someone was indeed the wonderful printmaker extraordinaire, Laura Boswell.

Printing my woodblocks 

Printing my woodblocks 

Thank you Laura Boswell

Laura simplified the registration process for me, she made the whole woodblock printing process very accessible. She took measurements off the map, put my fears to rest and renewed my faith in my own ability to go forward with the process. Her down to earth approachable manner made the whole day a complete joy. 

So thank you Laura for helping to unblock the woodblock BLOCK and restoring my confidence. Your woodblock printing course has definitely added value to my life! 

Awagami International Miniature Print Exhibition 2017

Year of the Cockerel 酉

In May I applied to the Awagami International Miniature Print Exhibition 2017. I submitted two prints. 'Monkey Wearing Short Gown' celebrating the year of the Monkey, 2016. To celebrate the year 2017, I carved a cockerel of a netsuke from The British Museum. I usually make a visit to a museum or gallery to make a sketch of the original netsuke but as I was eager to get the prints to Awagami Factory. I searched The British Museum’s online collection and found a photograph of a netsuke cockerel carved by Yoshinaga around the late 18th C. The original netsuke is made from wood with eyes inlaid in dark horn. 

Carving the block and printing the cockerel

酉 とり  tori

とり

 tori

I carved the cockerel from Japanese magnolia wood to print an edition of 75. Both prints, the cockerel and the monkey, were posted to Awagami Factory. The prints were received and will be on display at the Awagami’s Hall of Awa Japanese Handmade Paper Museum for their 2017 exhibition - October 7th - 29th October. 

"The exhibition will feature a total of 1,347 miniprints submitted from 1,010 artists hailing from 54 countries.” A.I.M.P.E

"In Japan, since the Edo Period, the Tori no ichi, a market fair  has been held on the Days of the Rooster in November (to welcome the New Year) at various Otori-jinja shrines found in all parts of Japan. This fair is sometimes called by the familiar name of Otori-sama. The patron deity of good fortune and successful business is enshrined at Otori-jinja shrines. Open-air stalls are set up selling among other things, kumade rakes (symbolic of the rooster’s feet)  for ‘raking in wealth and good fortune.’This good-luck rake is made of bamboo and is decorated with masks and koban (old gold coins)."

Find out more about cockerel / rooster symbolism at: Japanese Mythology and Folklore

Paper Gifts - Awagami Washi

Last month I registered and posted my mini woodblock prints to Awagami International Miniature Print Exhibition in Japan. This morning I receive an email from AIMPE to let me know they have arrived safely. 

Not long after receiving the email from Awagami, the postman knocks on the door and presents a beautiful envelope made from Awagami’s washi paper. Inside is a pack of Awagami Editioning Papers - a gift from Awagami paper factory as one of first 500 hundred artists to register to AIMPE. These gorgeous washi papers include a selection of Kitakata, Hosho, Bamboo, Kozo, Shiramine, Okawara, Hakuho and Bunkoshi. 

"Awagami Editioning Papers are crafted at our mill with the artistry and knowledge of 300 years of wash paper-making. The papers are made using traditional Japanese fibers such as kozo and gampi as well as other non-tree fibers; bamboo and cotton. Fibers are often skillfully combined yielding washi with highly unique textures amd expressive characteristics.” Awagami Factory

Call for Entries - AIMPE 2017

Two years ago when I was searching barens at Intaglio Printmakers in London, I stumbled across a leaflet with a call out for entries for Awagami International Miniature Print Exhibition held in Japan. I was in the early stages of my woodblock project focusing on mini woodblock prints of Japanese netsuke. AIMPE sounded like the perfect place to submit my prints but I wasn’t ready. And the following year I still wasn't ready.

This year I'm ready! : ))

In the last few weeks I have been working on ideas for a new woodblock print for the exhibition. Last week I submitted my application and this morning I posted two mini woodblock prints to Japan! 

The mini prints will be revealed once the exhibition launches in October. 

"Awagami Factory is a brand of Japanese washi papers produced solely in Tokushima, Japan. Awagami operates on 8 generations of family knowledge and skill focusing on quality and refinement within this world-heritage craft.” Awagami

An Artist’s Date with Adela Breton

Celebrating Easter Sunday with a walk around Bristol in the sunshine. I usually travel everywhere by bike so today I decided to slow down and just walk. I stopped and looked at things a little more closely than usual. The bees in the flowers. The ripples on the water from boats passing. Signs on buildings I’ve never seen before. Dogs walking their people! It was a quiet Sunday but I still managed to bump into a familiar face and we walked together. We walked and talked along the docks and parted as we reached the centre of town. I made my way to Bristol Museum to see their latest exhibition.

Adela Breton: Ancient Mexico in Colour

In the late 1800’s, archeological artist and adventurer, Adela Breton, travelled around Mexico with her guide Pablo Solorio making copies of the wall paintings in temples in Chichén Itzá, Teotihuacan and Acancéh. She painted the copies with watercolours which still hold their vibrancy today as the original wall paintings begin to fade over time. 

"Adela Breton always carried a sketchbook with her, giving a 'diary' of her travels. This one has sketches of landscapes, flowers and ruins of Mexico and Canada. It includes sketches made on her climb up the volcano of Iztaccihuatl, in snow and across glaciers, up to 15,000 feet above sea level - Adela Breton also carried a notebook at all times, and made notes of lectures, objects she saw in museums, and books she read." Bristol Museum

I was especially drawn to Adela’s sketchbooks of the places she visited on her travels. I have kept sketchbooks for many years and am mostly inspired to draw when I’m travelling and sitting in cafes. In the last couple of years I've been sketching antique netsuke from museums to make a collection of mini woodblock prints. Today after walking in the sunshine and looking through the sketchbooks of Adela Breton, I was eager to sit down, open my own sketchbook and take in my surroundings. The cafe where I was having lunch was the perfect spot. 

When I finished my lunch and my sketch, I walked home remembering the paragraph from Julia Cameron’s book Walking in this World.

“Walking and talking humanize my life, draw it to an ancient and comforting scale. We live as we move, a step at a time, and there is something in gentle walking that reminds me of how I must live if I am to savour this life that I have been given.” Julia Cameron
Clockwise from top left: Landscape from Adela Breton's sketchbook. Landscape from Adela Breton's sketchbook. Adela Breton's notebook of the Maya calendar. All three from Bristol Museum. A sketch I made today at Pinkman's Bakery, Bristol. 

Clockwise from top left: Landscape from Adela Breton's sketchbook. Landscape from Adela Breton's sketchbook. Adela Breton's notebook of the Maya calendar. All three from Bristol Museum. A sketch I made today at Pinkman's Bakery, Bristol. 

To the moon and back and second hand books

Bloom and Curll bookshop, Bristol

Bloom and Curll bookshop, Bristol

Thank you Lilla Duignan at seeingthings for your inspiring blog post last week including a link to Nina Katchadourian's Sorted Books project via Brain Pickings. Over the weekend I made a trip to a few second hand bookshops in Bristol. The last shop I popped into was Bloom and Curll who's shelves were filled with delightful books beautifully arranged in colourful patterns. Jason had just received a huge pile of books about Japan, particularly Kyoto and quite a few children's stories written in Japanese and English. So here's my contribution to a kind of - sort of- sorted books!

Japanese books from Bloom and Curll

Japanese books from Bloom and Curll

Perfect timing to stumble upon these books as I have been slowly learning Kanji for a few months now and have predicted, from how long it has taken me so far, it will be at least 6 or 7 years to complete the online course! And that's just Kanji with a bit of vocabulary. (It's supposed to take about 1 or 2 years.) These books might help to speed things up as I've imagined half way through the course I will have forgotten everything from the beginning so it could well be another 6 or 7 years to refresh my memory and then I may have forgotten the second half once I've remembered the first half so another 6 or 7 years on top of that! So in about 20 years (possible light years) I may have grasped a small bit of Kanji and tiny bit of Japanese vocabulary and even made a trip to the moon!

Luke Jerram's Moon at Bristol University

Luke Jerram's Moon at Bristol University

Okimono - Dog on the Roof

A couple months before New Year my sister brought Bella into her home. A new member of the family. Part bat, part monkey, part gremlin, part human. A magical creature from Planet Pug. She instantly reminded me of a drawing of a similar creature I sketched at Bristol Museum back in November 2015. I had thought it was a Japanese netsuke but found out later it is an okimono (置物), an ornament purely for decoration. The absolute joy of meeting Bella, gave me the inspiration to make a woodblock print from this little dog snuggled up on broken roof-tiles.

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"Okimono - dog nestling down on 2 broken roof-tiles - signed Gyokuyosa"

Not long after making the decision to print this little dog, I overhear a conversation about wood in MAKERS shop and gallery while working upstairs in my studio. It's Alan from Alan Hosegood Restorations whose workshop is just around the corner from my studio. I lean over the bannister and introduce myself. I'm interested to find out if he has any off-cuts of wood to test out on this little dog. Although I enjoy working on the magnolia, I fancy exploring some different woods for carving. I also remember master carver, Motoharu Asaka, at Spike Print's Japanese Woodblock Printing Demo Workshop, who mostly uses mountain cherry wood as it is much better for carving due to its fine grain and sticky consistency. Alan is very happy to have a look for some off-cuts so I pop over a bit later and he kindly gives me some lemon, lime and cherry wood.

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Test Carvings on Cherry and Lime wood

I carve the lemon wood but don't get on with it at all so give up and concentrate on the cherry wood. It a hard wood, quite nice to carve and and the print shows up a nice grain. The lime wood is extremely soft almost like carving a rubber stamp. I wish it had made a good print but it's rough, lacking definition. I make quite a few prints just incase I have over inked the block but it doesn’t matter how many times I print the image, it’s never as good as the block from the cherry wood. I re-carve the image on the other side of the block and try printing again.

Dog on the Roof - Final Print

After not much success with the lime wood and three and a half attempts later I try out my trusty magnolia woodblock. It all feels so familiar and I feel more at ease carving the image. This time the magnolia produces the best print. I find the perfect frame for this little print and write in capital letters "FOR BELLA" to my new pal, part bat, part monkey, part gremlin, part human, part okimono.

Netsuke - A Quail Tale

QuailStyle.jpg

Quail's Nest

Poem by John Clare (1793 – 1864)

I wandered out one rainy day
And heard a bird with merry joys
Cry 'wet my foot' for half the way;
I stood and wondered at the noise, 

When from my foot a bird did flee--
The rain flew bouncing from her breast
I wondered what the bird could be,
And almost trampled on her nest. 

The nest was full of eggs and round--
I met a shepherd in the vales,
And stood to tell him what I found.
He knew and said it was a quail's, 

For he himself the nest had found,
Among the wheat and on the green,
When going on his daily round,
With eggs as many as fifteen. 

Among the stranger birds they feed,
Their summer flight is short and low;
There's very few know where they breed,
And scarcely any where they go. 

Quail Carving

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Quail Print

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Original Netsuke 'Quail (鶉)Crouching over 2 Ears of Millet' from Bristol Museum. Signed Okatomo - Japan.

BBC Tweet of the Day (2mins)

"The Sōken Kishō - (Strange and Wonderful Sword Fittings by Inaba Tsūryū) - published 1781 - of the seven volumes that make up this work, the last comprises a supplement on netsuke, with additional sections on inrō and ojime. The information It contained in the Sōken Kishō formed the backbone of netsuke studies and the West until the twentieth century. Okatomo (active 1781) - mentioned in the Sōken Kishō is widely associated with with netsuke of bird subject, especially quail and millet." Japanese Netsuke (Far Eastern Series / Victoria and Albert Museum)