A few months ago I visited Bristol Museum to draw netsuke. One of the netsuke I chose was Monkey Wearing Short Gown. I am carving and printing this netsuke to reflect the forthcoming Chinese New Year (Year of the Monkey) and Japanese Buddhist and Shintō Lore.
Dampening Hosho paper
I have seen a few different methods for dampening hosho paper and I notice I do it differently each time. I still haven’t worked out which is the best method but today I lay a sheet of dampened newsprint on the top front of the hosho paper. Then a sheet of dry newsprint on top of the damp newsprint. Then the hosho, then the dampened newsprint, the dry newsprint and so on. The recommended time to leave the paper in the newsprint is 2 hours minimum. Today I leave mine for only an hour before printing but after making a test print I am happy with the results. I’m aware the temperature of the room can affect the dampness of the paper too and it is warm in my studio but it’s working so far so I’m going with my own intuition today rather than follow the technical gurus.
As I carve Monkey I am thinking about a quote from a book I am currently reading which resonates with my desire to keep these prints as simple as possible.
Carved Block Washed and Ready to Ink
I wash the block, removing the gampi paper and ink from the printer, leaving just the bare wood ready to ink up. I make a test print and soon realise the uncarved surface surrounding the carved monkey is obstructing the baren from producing an even pressure on the monkey. Once the rest of the wood is removed my fingers are numb from the intense gouging. This tool is only 6mm wide. It is time to invest in the right tool for the job!
Another test print and the outline of the monkey is ragged. I clean up the edges with a combination of the 3mm and 6mm gouge tool and make another test print. I haven’t made registration marks for any of the blocks so far as the blocks are so small. All my printing is done by eye which is fine for now as I want to keep these as single colour prints. To print using more colours I will need work on bigger blocks to allow space for the registration marks without obstructing the baren.
Carved Block Inked and Ready to Print
I dampen the block and add a little nori paste to the Japanese carbon ink. As I brush the ink across the wood the ‘black glistening floor’ from Alex Kerr’s house in ‘Lost Japan’ stretches before me. This 'Monkey Wearing Short Gown’ appears to be quietly sitting still in the centre of this woodblock but its spirit is leaping onto the black glistening stage.