Today is and I have exactly 7 days left of my residency. It seems clear to me that I’ve made big steps of progress each week from one artwork to the next. But this week feels like the first time that I'm really excited about the piece I’m making, really engaged with the subject matter.
Towards the end of last week I had the idea to base my next print on a tourist brochure about Kawaguchi, for tourists coming to experience Mt Fuji and I took a cable-car up to the top of a mountain in the centre of Kawaguchi town to look out over the view of where I'm staying – the lake, town and mountains. I had my eyes pealed for a leaflet or poster with images of Mount Fuji plus Japanese text.
Quick digression - having taken the cable-car and whilst I was at the top of the mountain snapping pictures of Mt Fuji and Kawaguchiko town and lake I saw a sign at the entrance to a foot path saying 6 HOUR WALKING TREK, BE PREPARED TO RETURN BEFORE DUSK. WALK AT YOUR OWN DANGER. So I have mentioned this to the rest of the group and we are all planning to do this walk this . I’m very much looking forward to it!
I mentioned in my last blog post that I cooked dinner for everyone last Saturday. While shopping I picked up a couple of free glossy cooking recipe pamphlets all in Japanese of course. These pamphlets are a bit like the free ones you find at supermarket checkouts in the UK.
I began to get excited about the idea of making a print of Japanese food and made sketches from the recipe and included text in Japanese. The image I’ve drawn is based on a collection of different photos but it's basically of a Bento Box with all sorts of beautiful foods shapes and colours. Later in the week Yoko told me that the image is advertising a traditional Bento Box eaten at New Year. She showed me the price and said it’s expensive but very good. It’s made with food that keeps well for a few days so you can either buy it or prepare the box days in advance so you don’t need to cook on New Years Day, which is a very big national holiday in Japan.
I’m having lots of fun with this print as I can see so many directions to take it. I started by printing the key block. This is the black out-lines of the image
I then moved on to cut the colours within the print – the highlights (the yellow areas) and the shadows (the green and grey areas of the print). I got a wonderful surprise when I printed a very subtle bukushi (the graduation of pigment from light to dark) depicting one side of the box and I left the other panel of the box free of any colour - just the white of the paper showing. My intention is that the viewer perceives the the box as a 3-D object. The edited lack of information is a lot more interesting and effective then when I printed the black outline of the key block. Although the key block took me over a day to plan, cut and carve, I have decided not to include it because I don’t think it works. The black lines make the image look cartoon like. I've discovered that I need a hard wood, like Cherry, for cutting key blocks.
One day I’d like to try making one print created though printing off several different woods. Each wood offering different qualities and effects which I can manipulate to achieve different results within my print.
Mi-lab has a very good library of books on Mokuhanga, and print making in general. I have found a fantastic book about an artist who has dedicated his life to making Mokuhanga prints depicting actors in the Kabuki theatre. Tsuruya Kokei is the name of the artist and he is still alive today. He does everything himself from rough sketching to carving through to final printing.
There has been a long tradition in Japan which started in the Edo period of artists depicting actors in costume and makeup, which has helped historians learn about Japanese theatre in the past.
Below is a quote from David Kamansky, Director of Pacific Asia Museum. “I think Kokei’s work will probably represent the most valid lasting artistic impression of the great actors of our generation, as the only images we have of the great actors of the Edo period are from the woodblock prints which have been preserved. As a westerner, my own fascination with Kabuki began when I first saw those Edo prints.”
Both Mr Kamanshy and Lawrence Smith, the keeper of Oriental Antiques, British Museum make the same observation that they enjoy the juxtaposition of the strong masculine figures he depicts and the ephemeral, thinnest and most transparent paper which he prints on. It would be amazing to see these prints in reality; when I get back to London I’ll try to go see and them at the British Museum.
The prints are incredible. He’s given all the actors wonderful expressions and their hands, which take up about a third of the picture, are beautiful, fluid, almost abstract shapes. Their clothes have lots of different patterns and colours and draped fabric. We are all in awe of the quality of this work, since we are all struggling to execute the right texture that we are after within our own prints. There is a massive range of ways ink can be applied to the paper. These all give a different effect and each type of texture has its own name.
It’s something that we all discuss on a daily basis – each day one of us expresses their frustration at not achieving the graininess or smoothness (density of colour) we want. When this happens we all crowd around and offer tips and suggestions. Equally when someone makes a good print everyone else rushes over and asks 'how did you do that?' Usually the answer sounds something like this:
“so the paper was slightly dry and I printed over the same area twice and on the second attempt of printing I used slightly less pressure with the barran. And my ink was quite liquidy, also try soaking your woodblock in water for 3 minutes before printing, it helps to open up the grain of the wood”.
You can really see the different textures within in the application of pigment in Tsuruya Kokei’s prints, the background and in the many parts of the clothing of the Kabuki Actors.
- very cold and rainy. We’ve all done our chores and I have walked to a farmers & craft market and back on the other side of the lake and I have the afternoon ahead of me. I want to spend the next few hours (before Anna cooks us all dinner) working on my Bento box print. Yesterday I basically finished it and I’m really pleased. Although I would like to go a bit further with this image. I want to add some large flat panels of colour into the background image that give a suggestion on an interior space. This should be fun – my barran box is a similar shape to the bento box so I’m going to use it to set up a still life replicating the bento box. My plan is to place the box on the edge of a table with the corner of the room just behind in the distance. I’ll take photos and make sketches of this study. By interior space I mean a table and the table to be placed in the corner of a room.
Monday - the final week of this residency, which is only a half-week the last day being 23rd, my birthday, and the day Tim comes to join me on this adventure! I can't wait! I have been thinking over the past few days how best to use these few days. Do I start a new artwork or carry on with the prints I’ve already made. I have decided to not start anything new and just reprint all the wood blocks that I’ve made over the past month and really experiment with different colour combinations and try to print a small edition of really good prints for each image that I’ve made while I’ve been here. I'm excited about this - mixing, applying colour is what I do best, and I have 3 days and 3 prints work on.
We had a great day yesterday, walking the 6 hour trek across the very top ridge of a mountain. First we took a cable-car to the top of the mountain where there was a cafe and viewing platforms for photographing Mt Fuji. This was the starting point of our walk which was all up hill from there. I had made the suggestion to the group that we should do the trek so I was a bit nervous that we’d all make it back in one piece. We had set off from our house at and were back at so it was over 9 hours of solid walking. There was a pretty clear path to stick to but at times there was a sheer drop on either side of the path. The views during the walk were incredible; forests filled with pine trees and when we came to an opening, there were breathtaking views of the town, lakes and mountain ranges beyond. I have never seen such incredible landscapes in my life.