woodblock print

Bridport Old Books

A wonderful find in Bridport Old Books, Dorset. Japanese prints by Hiroshige from The Happer Collection and a beautiful little book of Thomas Bewick wood engravings.

A wonderful find in Bridport Old Books, Dorset. Japanese prints by Hiroshige from The Happer Collection and a beautiful little book of Thomas Bewick wood engravings.

Thomas Bewick - Wood Engravings

As we step through the entrance of this lovely old second hand bookshop we are told they are just about to close. On the table in the middle of bookshop I notice a small thin Penguin hardback of Thomas Bewick wood engravings by John Rayner. I turn the cover to reveal a large cut of a curly-maned lion taking his space on the end papers in front of a hilly landscape of palm trees. I turn to the back to find the end papers filled with a large engraving of an elephant with its curling trunk. Inside the book are engravings from The Quadrupeds, for which he is most well known. The book also includes his engravings for the History of British Birds and other nature inspired prints.

Well I do remember mounting the style which gave the first peep of the curling or rapid stream, over the intervening, dewy, or daisy-covered holme-bounded by the early sloe, and the hawthorn-blosssomed hedge, and hung in succession with festoons of the wild rose, the tangling woodbine, and the bramble, with their bewitching foliage; and the fairy ground, and the enchanting music of the lark, the blackbird, the throstle, and the blackcap, rendered soothing and plaintive by the comings of the ringdove.
— A Memoir of Thomas Bewick

I pick up the book and hurry over to the Asian Art section.

Hiroshige Woodblock prints - The Happer Collection

Tucked between two thick books is a thin hardback which turns out to be a catalogue presenting a list of Japanese colour prints to be sold for auction at Sotheby - Wilkinson & Hodge on the 14th June 1909. The first plate shows a memorial portrait of Hiroshige drawn by Toyokuni. Part of the inscription on the portrait reads: 

"He left behind a farewell sonnet : - "Dropping my brush at Azuma (Eastern capital) I go the long journey to the Western country (Buddhist Heaven is West) to view the wonderful sceneries there."

Over Toyokuni are the words:

"While thinking of him we shed tears."

The seal following Toyokuni reads:

"Ki en Ikku, a Buddhist phrase meaning Life is a mere puff of smoke, so short."


The rest of the catalogue contains the full list with descriptions of each original colour print. All the plates in the book are black and white so I have to imagine, for now, how they would look in full colour. The book is tatty and pages are crumpled but I take it home to enjoy Hiroshige's beautiful scenes of mountains and moons, towns and temples, boats and seas, wind and rain, snow and sunsets, birds and blossom.


Thank you Bridport Old Books for waiting a few more minutes.

The Practice of Contemporary Printmaking

Over the weekend while I was researching the woodcuts of Antonio Frasconi, I stumbled across this film (54mins) by Reelife Productions discussing contemporary approaches to printmaking at University Museum of Contemporary Art, MA. I love what each of these artists are doing independently and wanted to share their thoughts on the practice of contemporary printmaking.

Many artists use a variety of techniques to make their mark - from the hand printed woodblock to the mechanical mark of the digital printer. As part of my own process I use a digital printer to scan and transfer my sketches to the woodblock. I then carve and print the woodblock by hand. It's the physicality of the hand-made process that I really love but I also really appreciate the wonders of digital technology for it too has its purpose in the process.

Lyell Castonguay

Lyell Castonguay is a large scale printer and director of the print collective BIG INK. BIG INK make large scale woodcuts for exhibitions. They also work with artists and community organisations for educational purposes, providing materials in a supportive environment.

You can print something off on an inkjet printer, then expose it to that plate, you’re taking a digital process but then you’re kind of shaping it to that traditional media, that traditional method and making it work within those boundaries.
— Lyell Castonguay

Liz Chalfin

Liz Chalfin is director and resident artist at Zea Mays Printmaking Studio. Liz explores non-toxic, greener alternatives to the traditional toxic printing processes encouraging a healthier safer working environment for printmakers. From soya sauce as a de-greaser, powdered sugar into aqua tint option and instant coffee as a painterly etching technique.

When it becomes another tool in the artist’s toolbox I think then it’s really interesting. When it’s just a re-productive process to produce someone’s painting - that’s when I find it really frustrating because its muddying people’s understanding of what an original print is and what an edition print is, and I think that’s really a disservice to the art world and to printmakers especially. But when the whole digital aspect becomes another tool, then it’s really exciting.
— Liz Chalfin

Liz worked with Scott Prior, a Realist painter who wanted to find a way to make prints that kept the light and colour and realism that are in his paintings. They explored multiple etchings and photo polymer plates. Nothing worked until they combined the digital layer with a handprinted layer which really captured that light in his paintings.

Mikael Petraccia

Mikael Petraccia teaches digital intaglio, digital print processes and media, silkscreen and master printer as part of a multi-disciplinary print class at the art department UMass Amherst.

Falling in Love with Printing

It’s a new mark - and it has its place depending on the work. It’s very mechanical - you have to work with the machine and work with the mark that it makes. I think that’s where it’s successful. With lithography the ink sits on the surface and there is a presence that you do not find in digital printing - and that physicality is different. The emotion that you have with this is very different - and that’s still present - when you introduce people to it they fall in love with it.
— Lyell Castonguay

I appreciate the digital world has a wonderful part to play in contemporary art and it is through this digital space that I stumble upon amazing artists such as Lyell Castonguay. With his wild winged larger than life prints, I know I am absolutely in love with the physicality of the hand carved woodblock print.

A Short Film Part 2

Heron Shade Woodblock Print

In January 2015 I began a journey into woodblock printing, focusing on Japanese netsuke. In February 2015, alongside the netsuke animal print explorations, I made a woodblock print of a heron. See my Into The Wood project for more about this process. At the time I had no purpose for the heron, only to explore the woodblock process. It sat on the shelf for quite a few months until November 2015 when I decided to make my EP Heron Shade. It was the perfect image for the cover and so I decided to hand-print each EP with the heron woodblock. Here's a short film (1m 57s) showing snippets of the process and materials used to print the woodblock.

The song 'Orange' from Christina Rossetti's original poem 'Color' is the soundtrack for the film and also features on the EP.

A Short Film - Printing Heron Shade EP - woodblock & letterpress

Heron Shade EP - Limited Edition

The heron print on the front cover and disc label was hand-printed with Japanese carbon ink from a hand carved woodblock.

The back cover was typeset with 24pt Univers metal type printed with gold letterpress ink on the Adana 8 X 5 platen press.

Heron Shade title on the front cover was printed using blind deboss on the Adana 8 x 5.

I have made a limited edition of 100 EPs. Each cd is packaged in a 100% recycled card sleeve with a digitally printed insert on recycled paper.