magnolia wood

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.



"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.


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.

A Collection of Netsuke

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.


Woodcutting Tools

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


Robbins Timber Yard

Bower Ashton Art College

Intaglio Printmakers

David Bull's encyclopedia of woodblock printing