Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Back to Woodblocks

My package from McClain's Printmaking Supplies arrived last Thursday! -- a Namisei Six Tool Set, a grab bag of small Shina plywood blocks, the "Moku Hanga Primer: Making Woodblock Prints" by Robert McClain (founder of McClain's), and a leather honing block to keep my tools sharp. Here are my new tools. Aren't they pretty! Below the tools is the "bench hook" Tom made for me to hold my blocks in place while I carve with both hands on the tool. Much safer that way! On the bench hook are the first two shina plywood blocks that I carved -- two lizards and a turtle. (The lizards didn't turn out well enough to post!)

Robert McClain writes: "Keep in mind that Moku Hanga [Moku = wood; Hanga = print] medium lends itself to bold, flat, and sharply delineated designs. The results will look quite different from, say, delicate pen-and-ink sketches." With that in mind, I carved this turtle--bold, flat, and sharply delineated, and, yes, he IS quite different from my pen-and-ink drawings, but such a sweet little guy! Yesterday I made a print run of ten copies, using kitchen spoons--first a wooden one, then a silver one--to rub the back of the printing paper and force the ink up off the woodblock and onto the paper. Whew! It was hard work! Think of the artists who hand-rub a hundred prints at a time! Who needs to lift weights! By the way, anybody want a turtle?


3" X 4" woodcut

Of course, I couldn't stick to the simple design concept that Robert McClain recommends. So I tackled this ram next, a design I probably couldn't master with one of my finest pens much less my new carving tools! When will I learn?


6" X 8" woodcut

I carved this "horny" fellow on Birch plywood. It doesn't cut quite as easily as the Shina ply does, and it was harder to ink for printing. I'm only half-satisfied with the results. I like the nose and mouth, but the horns look stiff, not nearly as fluid and majestic as they are in Holly Merrow's great photograph.

Big Horn

Holly Merrow

I'm also thinking that I should have left out all his curls in favor of pure black wool. His eye gets lost in all those squiggles. That would have made for a much simpler design. Maybe I'll have to carve him again.

I've just read a book about Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), the great Japanese Ukiyo-e printmaker and painter, famous for his "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji" and "The Great Wave of Kanagawa." When he was an old man Hokusai said to his daughter: "I don't want to die yet! When I was seventy-three I understood the very substance of nature, animals, flowers, birds, and insects. When I was painting them it seemed to me that they would fly away from my paper. They were so vividly and realistically painted. But it was the engraver's fault that they couldn't fly away . . . If only the gods would give me ten or at least five years more, I could become a perfect artist." Hokusai died at age 89 having created at least 35,000 pictures and illustrated 169 books. By Hokusai's reckoning I have at least another couple of decades before I can expect my horns to curl off my paper the way his cranes fly away from his!

Cranes Nearby Mount Fuji

Katsushika Hokusai

1 comment:

Melissa & Emmitt said...

Hi Leslie!
oh! i LOVE your woodcuts! The ram and the turtle are simply amazing! I love the texture and the horns on the ram.
He looks so strong yet soft to touch. his expression is wonderful too. He is truly amazing!
:) Melissa