I am daydreaming about visiting Edmund De Waal to sketch his netsuke collection. I love the idea of making these unobtainable objects available as mini prints allowing the possibility of each netsuke, with its own story to tell, find its way into somebody's home. Rather than block my vision, daydreaming of meeting Edmund and his netsuke, I explore some of the netsuke collection from his website gallery and begin to sketch.
Netsuke - Fox
I am drawn to the 'Fox' and ’A Bathing Woman in her Wooden Tub’ and make a quick sketch in my notebook. Edmund has written the dimensions in the description. Netsuke are tiny. Many of the netsuke in the collection are between 3 and 4cm height. I make some drawings keeping the dimensions in mind. It feels right to try and keep these mini prints as close to the size of the original netsuke as possible.
To make these prints I'm going to carve them on some birch plywood I sourced from Robbins Timber Yard a few years ago using a cheap set of Japanese woodcutting tools from Bower Ashton Art College. I have bought some Japanese carbon ink mixed with a small bit of nori paste both from Intaglio Printmakers so I'm ready to go...
Netsuke - A Bathing Woman in her Wooden Tub
I am so excited about creating mini prints of Edmund’s netsuke and so with a cup of Jasmine tea, bag of salted popcorn and raw chocolate for fuel at the ready, I lay some tracing paper over my tiny sketch of the bathing woman and re-draw her outline. She is quite plump with rounded shoulders, her black hair wrapped up and curled into a bun on top of her head. She is squatting in the wooden washing tub with a flannel in one hand and the other hidden in the tub. Her face is long and pear shaped with wide chin. Sketching is limited from a photo and I imagine being able to turn her around and see the nape of her neck or her profile but for now I am using Edmund’s chosen snapshot.
The result of this mini print is not great. It's is such a tiny print (3.9cm width) and my amateur wood carving skills make a crude print.
These woodcuts are very small and the wood is rough so fine details are a challenge. I am not expecting or wanting the woodcuts to be perfect but I think it will be worth investing in some better quality tools so I can make that choice. My cheap wood cutting tools have been well used for previous designs on lino so they are becoming blunt. The stone in the box seems too rough and I might make the cutters worse without any sharpening stone knowledge so I ring up Intaglio Printmakers for their advice. They have a new set of Japanese woodcutting tools with three extra V & U cutters. After discussing the difference between these and my cheap wood cutters I am swayed to order these much better quality tools. I ask about the different types of wood and add a pack of magnolia side grain woodblocks. The magnolia (HŌNOKI) is a bit softer and smoother than the plywood so it will be interesting to see the results.
Magnolia Wood / Honoki
"Honoki is rather soft. Its surface with the rough fibre produces an impression not altogether pleasing. But beginners use it mainly on account of its being easy to cut. Sakura and katsura have a harder grain, but they are more satisfactory than honoki. In olden times other kinds of wood, such as keyaki (Zelkowa serrata, Mak.), were inlaid in the block in order to give the benefit of the grain in special selected parts of the print"Japanese Wood-block Printing by Hiroshi Yoshida. From David Bull's encyclopedia of woodblock printing