It's the first night in my new home for the next 5 weeks. Today has been all about travelling here and meeting the other artists who, like me, submitted their application proposals 14 months ago and have flown across the world to this tiny village to learn the craft of Mokuhanga (Japanese Woodblock Printing).  So far so good - they all seem lovely. I'm looking forward to Monday when we each give an introduction and  slide-show presentation of our work. There's 6 of us in total; five female artists and one man (poor thing) - a Brazilian, two Dutch, a woman from Moscow, one from Colorado USA, and me. Tomorrow is Sunday and we will be given an orientation of the village.  I've been told there is a supermarket a 20 minute walk away. We'll also be shown our studio and workshop. Everything is in one large, old and traditional Japanese house. Our accommodation in one half of the building and artist workshop in the other.

My first impressions of the house...well let's just say I'm getting 'The Shining' vibes... nothing in this big house has changed since the 60's and there is some psychedelic patterned lino flooring along the corridor to our bedrooms. 

The shower is traditional Japanese: one large room with lots of shower hoses. Luckily they are used to westerners coming here and don't expect us to all shower together!  I asked our teacher what the history of the building is and she said it used to be a BnB for children coming here on sports holidays and the Mi-Lab organisation has rented it since moving from Kyoto in 2011.


My bedroom is lovely, with traditional sliding doors to enter the room, tetami mats and paper screens to cover my windows.   Other people on the residency have a bedroom view of Mount Fuji and get really good sunlight with big windows and a balcony. Unfortunately I wasn't so lucky when we drew straws to pick our rooms which felt a bit like an initiation game because it was the first thing we did when we arrived.  We played a Japanese game to get assigned a number to our bedroom. But I'm definitely not complaining because my room is lovely and more importantly, I managed, through the same game, to bag the studio space I wanted. I have great light and a view of Mt Fuji just beyond the huge window opposite my desk. 

I've now been here a whole week and today being Saturday, it's the first free time I've had to reflect on the week and think about how I am best going to use my time here. 
Our teacher is fantastic with so much energy and passion to pass on.  Tula Moilanen originally from Finland, has lived in Japan for over 20 years and has dedicated her life to Mokuhanga.
We've had 5 full days of intense teaching and learning; It's going to take a lot of work before I have the ability to create anything that looks good or close to sophisticated. I am able to produce marks and get colour onto the paper but so far the way I've cut the wood block is hideous. I have to be strict and remind myself that at this stage I'm learning. It's not about creating a good image, right now I'm just learning how to use the tools - the correct way to cut the wood, how to hold to carving knife, how I should hold the baren and apply pressure. There are so many tiny variables of how dry or wet various tools need to be. For instance the brush, the block of wood, the paper, the watery consistency of the paint all make a huge difference to the application of the paint and therefore the look of the print. All these variables can be manipulated to achieve different mark making results.

For instance it you want a grainy affect you don't add any Nori (rice paste) and you apply the paint very dry and use hardly any pressure when pressing the baren to the back of the paper.  
If you want more solid colour but also to see the grain of the wood you first buff the ink into the grain of the wood in a circular motion then you brush the wood in a sweeping motion in the same direction as the grain of the wood - hang on! is it the opposite direction to the grain of the wood?... I can't remember. There has been so much learning! 
And then there's bokashi. Bokashi is the gradation of colour from light to dark of the bleed from one colour to another. Although this is a new word to me, bokashi is an effect I use a lot in my monoprints and also one of the main reasons I've wanted to learn the technique of Japanese woodblock printing. Mokuhanga prints are created through the layering and gradations of colour but mastering this affect is going to be the big challenge! 

I'm now at an exciting point as I am planning my next print. This week I've made lots of awful prints, I've cut and carved 3 woodblocks and tried out lots of different techniques to achieve painterly mark making in print.   I've also tried out lots of different Japanese papers. But now that I'm at the stage of planning my next print, I want to think carefully about the image. Certain subject matter will lend itself better to the technique of Mokuhanga.  

The landscape here is stunning! I'm surrounded by mountains and there is a beautiful lake five minutes walk from the house. The lessons have been intense, with long days in the studio. So I've been getting up at 6am to go for a walk/run by the lake each morning, otherwise we don't leave the house all day and it gets pitch black outside at 5.30pm. This week we have self study and we can choose how we spend our time.  A new teacher is coming at the start of the following week to see how we have progressed and we'll then have a whole week of further tuition. It's exciting and a bit scary - I really want to have something good by the end of this week to show our next teacher. 

Back to the landscape... I've never lived anywhere so rural before. There is a small community of houses that I pass on my way to the lake. I think everyone must be pretty much self sufficient here because there are vegetable patches everywhere growing in back gardens.  Lake Kawaguchi is beautiful with dramatic mountains reflected in the water. The view is constantly changing with passing clouds and mist partially covering the lake and mountains. I have an idea for how I'm going to try to make a print of the lake but it's a real challenge. This is completely new subject matter for me and more importantly I'm not using any of the tools, techniques and materials that I've become so used to working with over the past 8 years. It really only just dawned on me earlier this week how foreign this experience is - to think creatively with completely new materials.  It's a real challenge and I'm right at the beginning.

One final note; the other artists on this residency are all amazing. I'm very lucky to be here with such a great group of people. We are living and working together for 5 weeks all under one roof.  All of them are professional artists and very serious about what they do. Everyone has a very different set up back home and it's interesting to hear about their lives and interests. Everyone is keen to hang out and chat as a group and eat together, make meals where we each contribute a dish. We are all getting on well - we created a rota for cleaning, turning off all the lights, heaters and locking the door of the house at night:  it's honestly a bit like living in a commune.
And we are all learning this new technique together although we're learning at different rates. For instance Simon from Holland has been making a living for the past twenty years from his woodcuts. He makes beautiful very intricate heavily layered oil based woodcuts of landscapes. So although Mokuhanga is new to him he has 20 years experience of thinking in terms of woodblock printing. Monkuhanga is printed with Watercolour and Gouache, but he wants to stop using oil based inks that require solvents like white spirit and turps which are very dangerous when used everyday over many years. Here is a link to his website so you can get an idea of what Simon does and here is a link to Sara's site, her work is amazing and fresh just like her character; she's a force of nature.
And Anna who's bedroom is opposite mine and studio desk next to mine, was an architect who came to Japan in 2011. Inspired by Tadao Ando, she built an incredible studio for herself in San Paolo, Brazil - it's impressive to say the least


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