This tiger by Okatori has big heavy eye lids and a swirling tail curled up on his back. His markings are carved slithers of wispy leaf like patterns. He crouches with his hind leg reaching up to his mouth, licking his paw - a yoga pose definitely to aspire to!
I sketch what I can from my dark grainy photograph and scan the sketch, print on tracing paper, rub the image onto the block, carve the tiger and ink up.
Two bottles of ink sit on my studio table like two characters, a bright green squat rounded shape with a black cap and a tall black cuboid with a red cap. I have been using the little green bottle of Japanese Carbon ink which smells of cool mint. Today I am going to try the tall bottle of Chinese sumi ink. The smell is pungent almost like stale blood. I recently read 'Colour' by Victoria Finlay. Each chapter is titled by a colour. In 'Black' she explains the origins of producing ink from soot and sometimes from dead bodies and I wonder what concoction this bottle is holding as I find it hard to get used to the overpowering smell.
Before inking up the wood I look at the carved image. I can't make out the shape at all. First I see a dog, then a monkey and then finally my eyes adjust to the lines and a tiger emerges from the grain. I am still printing on dry paper as I just want to get a quick idea of the kind of print this wood will make. If it's a bad print at least I won't have wasted time dampening Hosho paper. Fortunately the first print on Japon Simile does reveal a tiger and not one to be messed with. His eyes are staring wildly, much more than the one behind the glass at the V&A. It's the biggest print of the mini prints so far (9cm x 7cm) which shows that tigers really do need their space.
"Although the tiger is not native to Japan, it has been widely used as a motif in Japanese art because it is one of the 12 animals of the East Asian zodiac which derives from Chinese cosmology. The 12 animals, one for each year, were used in a fixed order that was repeated every 12 years. The traditional order is rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog and boar. The rat, monkey and tiger were among the most popular of the zodiac animals. A tiger netsuke might be used over the new-year festivities for the year of the tiger, as well as at any time throughout that year." V&A online collections
Japanese Woodblock Printing Courses
I have so many questions I want to ask about this process and a few months ago I had booked a one to one day course with printmaker Laura Boswell. Laura had kindly offered to come and teach at my studio in Bristol but unfortunately due to unforeseen family matters we had to cancel the date. I hope to try and book in with Laura again some point in the future. For now I look forward to her exhibition at R K Burt Gallery in London with Ian Phillips from 12th - 22nd May.
In the mean time I have been looking at alternative Japanese Woodblock Printing courses. I had decided it was too far to travel to Edinburgh Printmakers a few months ago when I was researching courses but today I'm feeling adventurous. Paul Furneaux will be teaching the course at Edinburgh Printmakers. I came across Paul Furneaux a few months ago and really like his work. His approach is very free, direct and expressive. Here's a video showing the process of dampening paper for printing.
I ring the college to find out more. There is one space available...I click the book online now button.