Netsuke Deer - Delicate and Far

'We are not transparent to ourselves.  We have intuitions, suspicions, hunches, vague musings and strangely mixed emotions…Then, from time to time, we encounter works of art that seem to latch on to something we have felt but never recognized clearly before…when we feel a kinship with an object, it is because the values we sense that it carries are clearer in it than they usually are in our minds.' Alain de BottonJohn Armstrong - Art As Therapy

In the basement of Bristol Museum there are drawers of miniature objects in the shape of a buddha, a demon, a god and goddess, a mother with her child, a farmer, a monk, fishermen, buffalo, frogs, horses, rats, fish, monkeys, snails and worms and many more. They lie sleeping in these drawers. These objects are antique Japanese netsuke.  

I make visits to Bristol Museum with my sketchbook and pencil to draw these unusual and beautifully carved objects. When I arrive I’m taken to the basement. The drawers are gently pulled open and the netsuke are woken up. There are at least a two hundred netsuke here. I choose a few netsuke and spend a couple of hours drawing. Then back in my studio I transfer the drawing onto a woodblock, carve the block and then make a print. On my most recent visit I’m drawn to a frog, an ox and a deer. The netsuke animals hold a particular magic for me. 

‘We don’t just like art objects.  We are also, in the case of certain prized examples, a bit like them.  They are the media through which we come to know ourselves, and let others know more of what we are really about.’ Alain de BottonJohn Armstrong - Art As Therapy
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Deer 

SHY in their herding dwell the fallow deer.

They are spirits of wild sense. Nobody near

Comes upon their pastures. There a life they live,

Of sufficient beauty, phantom, fugitive,

Treading as in jungles free leopards do,

Printless as evelight, instant as dew.

The great kine are patient, and home-coming sheep

Know our bidding. The fallow deer keep

Delicate and far their counsels wild,

Never to be folded reconciled

To the spoiling hand as the poor flocks are;

Lightfoot, and swift, and unfamiliar,

These you may not hinder, unconfined

Beautiful flocks of the mind.

 

Poem by John Drinkwater

Deer Netsuke - Miniature Woodblock Print

 Original antique netsuke sketched at Bristol Museum.

Original antique netsuke sketched at Bristol Museum.

"Deer are considered messengers to the gods in Shinto, especially Kasuga Shrine in Nara Prefecture where a white deer had arrived from Kashima Shrine as its divine messenger. It has become a symbol of the city of Nara. Deer in Itsukushima Shrine, located in Miyajima, Hiroshima, are also sacred as divine messengers. In various parts of Northeast Japan, a deer dance called "Shishi-odori" has been traditionally performed as an annual shinto ritual." Wikipedia

Netsuke Frog - Breaking The Silence

 Mini woodblock print from my sketch of an antique Japanese netsuke frog (unsgd) at Bristol Museum.

Mini woodblock print from my sketch of an antique Japanese netsuke frog (unsgd) at Bristol Museum.

“Breaking the silence 
Of an ancient pond,
A frog jumped into water - 
A deep resonance.
This poem was written by our master on a spring day. He was sitting in his riverside house in Edo, bending his ears to the soft cooing of a pigeon in the quiet rain. There was a mild wind in the air, and one or two petals of cherry blossom were falling gently to the ground. It was the kind of day you often have in late March - so perfect that you want it to last for ever. Now and then in the garden was heard the sound of frogs jumping into the water.”

From Matsuo Bashō - The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches. Translated from the Japanese by Nobuyuki Yuasa.

It has been a little quiet over here at Into The Wood so it’s lovely to be woken by the sound of Bashō’s frog and see this beautiful blossom on my journey home. 

 Close to home and heart. Cherry plum blossoming in late March. 

Close to home and heart. Cherry plum blossoming in late March. 

A Miniature Woodblock Print from Mokuhankan

 Mokuhankan Patreon - Miniature woodblock print from the Mokuhankan studio - design by John Amoss. 

Mokuhankan Patreon - Miniature woodblock print from the Mokuhankan studio - design by John Amoss. 

Woodblock Printmaker David Bull

I’ve been following David Bull’s woodblock printing website for a few years now and what I love about David is his absolute passion and dedication to woodblock printing and generosity of sharing his process. He has built an online extensive encylopedia dedicated to woodblock printing. This wealth of information includes advice on tools for carving, sharpening stones, tools for printing, wood for carving, printmaking papers, sizing recipes, pigment and paste recipes. Whatever you’re looking for this is definitely a fantastic place to explore.  

http://www.woodblock.com/encyclopedia/index.html

Mokuhankan

David is based in Tokyo at his studio Mokuhankan where he has a number of carvers and printers working with him in the studio to create exquisite original woodblock prints and reproductions of some well known prints including those of Hiroshige and Hokusai.

David also produces videos which give a real insight into his world of woodblock printing. (Almost 100 videos to choose from on Youtube!) He has created a series of Ukiyo-e Heroes with illustrator Jed Henry, a Hiroshige reproduction of ‘Heron and Irises’ - edition printed by Ayumi Ohashi, a reproduction of Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’. His latest video shows the whole process, in real time, from start to finish, carving and printing the well known Japanese woodblock print ’Female Nude Seated in Water’. Original design by Ichijô Narumi (1877~1910).

I recommend anyone with an interest in woodblock printing to check out David’s amazing world of woodblock printing at woodblock.commokuhankan.com and his YouTube Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/seseragistudio/videos

 Mokuhankan Patreon - To our fans and supporters - a miniature woodblock print - design by John Amoss.

Mokuhankan Patreon - To our fans and supporters - a miniature woodblock print - design by John Amoss.

Patreon

By becoming a patron ‘Patreon Chibi’ I am now a patron of David’s work and just before the New Year I received my first miniature woodblock print from the Mokuhankan studio - design by John Amoss. 

Beautiful Japanese postage stamps too : ))

"Mokuhankan is my attempt to see if traditional woodblock printmaking can perhaps find a place in contemporary society. I am going to publish some prints - on a very small scale at first - and see if I can find the combination of image, quality, price, and presentation, that will achieve that goal." David Bull

Thank you David and John and all the production crew at Mokuhankan. I think traditional woodblock printmaking certainly can find a place in contemporary society. Your print is a joy to behold. 

 

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