Tuesday 6 March 2012

Japanese Woodblock Printmaking Course

On that freezing cold Saturday in February I went on a printing course at Artworks Mk in Great Linford, Milton Keynes. It was a beautiful drive with the trees covered in frost. I really wanted to take lots of photographs at home but it took me ages to defrost the car and I didn't want to be late for the course.
It was a wonderful setting, as you can see from the photographs.

This is the cafe, exhibition centre and reception building.
The beautiful hall in the park.

Great Linford church.

The course was with Laura Boswell, a printmaker whose work I love. If you don't know of her, take a look at her website. www.lauraboswell .co.uk
Laura demonstrated at Art in Action last year. She learnt water based woodblock printing in Japan during an 8 week residency with a master carver and printer.
I have done some wood cutting but this process is very different from inking up a block with a roller. It is an ancient printing form in Japan and comes with all the rituals one would expect from that country. There are special cutting tools (similiar to lino cutting tools) and a clever, precise way of registering prints.
Laura suggested we started with a simple design that we could complete in a day.
I settled on a simple landscape, which we drew and then transferred to tracing paper, all with an exact frame drawn to relate to the size of paper we were using. Carbon paper was used to transfer the design onto the block.

This would be cut as 3 blocks, mine could be fitted on one piece of ply. The initial outline is cut with a hanghi to.

Cutting in progress and below the tools.

My cutting finished. The notches for each block are the kento slots for registering your prints.

Laura demonstrating placing the Nori paste (made from rice flour) onto the block....

and mixing the water colour paint with the Nori paste on the block...

The printing is done by hand, using a baren, the paper proteced by a piece of silicone paper.

Here's my block with 2nd block inked up ready for proofing, which Laura does on lining paper.

Here are 2 blocks printed....

the 3rd block ready to print....

and the proof....

I then experimented with colours on Fabriano paper; by the way, this method always uses damp paper, which needs to be kept damp throughout the printing.

and a close up....

This has some splodgy edges where I had too much paint/ Nori paste but OK for a first attempt. It is an interesting process which takes endless practise to get a feel for the method.
Laura says 'It can be unforgiving, wasteful and often tiresome, but the end result is so wonderful that it really is worth the effort.'
Obviously in a day we learnt the basics; colours can be built up by printing layers of colour and there are effects such as bokachi (shading) to give more depth or texture.
It was a lovely day and I enjoyed learning the processes of this ancient Japanese art form. I have to mention what a good tutor Laura was, highly organised and it was one of the best courses I've taken.
I have all the tools now.....


  1. Thank you for such an interesting post. It is good when the tutor is organised it makes the day especially enjoyable.

  2. Looking forward to seeing where you head with this method Anna. I am useless at relief printing. Can't cut a decent line to save my life so admire anyone like you who can! I think Laura used to have a blog that I sometimes read. Must go and search her website for a good look!What a fabulous post. Thank you.

  3. Well done Anna: you achieved so much in a short time. I saw Laura's work at Art in Action last year. She was demonstrating her methods during the event and was very calm and friendly. I love the texture you have achieved and I'm tempted to try a course myself now!

  4. how lovely, the way such simple shapes can evoke so much, I suspect the block carving is pretty hard on the fingers though. it looks as though you had a lovely and inspiring day

  5. What a fabulous sounding workshop and lovely results Anna. I met Laura as she was at Missenden teaching the weekend I was there.

  6. Hi Anna - fantastic blog which I have mentioned on my facebook page! Love the photos. Thank you very much - Laura

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