Learning Mokuhanga: carving and first proof, Emily Orzech

Hello! I am finally posting about the work I was doing in late July and August. I originally planned to spend a couple of weeks at a residency at Zea Mays Printmaking. My goal was to learn Mokuhanga, or Japanese Woodblock, with Annie Bissett. In earlier series, I often combined screenprint and lithography. Because I often don’t have access to a litho press, I was looking for another medium to combine with screenprint. I was drawn to the translucent layers of Mokuhanga and the potential for working at a larger scale. However, I’d been warned it has a particularly steep learning curve. When Covid hit, and I found that I had to teach advanced students online, learning Mokuhanga became truly urgent. Luckily, a version of the workshop was offered online.

Learning Mokuhanga from a virtual workshop with Annie Bissett
Learning the kento registration system from Annie Bissett’s online workshop.
Printing mokuhanga
Printing the first block.

I decided to create a relatively simple block so that I could focus on the printing process, especially as I was more familiar with carving.

The curves in the background of the image come from the infection rate and death rate in the US at the end of July. Our infection rate (red) had just spiked. The death rate (yellow) was rising, but always lags behind. I remember at that point in the year we were still supposed to go back to school in person, but the infection rate made that look increasingly unlikely.

first proof of a mokuhanga woodblock. Lots of work to go!

I learned a lot from my first proof (in printmaking a proof is a draft). I was surprised by how well the sumi-ink wash sat over the yellow curve. As expected, there was a lot of chatter. Chatter is what happens when part of the block isn’t carved deeply enough and the print accidentally picks up the texture. I tend to do an initial carving, proof, and then carve more deeply and add detail. I also wanted to adjust my colors. One of the biggest challenges was that my inking was uneven and had too much speckling. At this point I had no idea what was causing the problem. There was a long way to go before this print was finished. Stay tuned for the next post about the process….

  1. Avatar photo
    Anastasia Patsey

    I liked how you’ve put the mask and the elements depicting the virus in a rather traditional-looking landscape. And then I read about those forms actually depicting the curves! When thinking about the scene did you intentionally try to make it look like a landscape?

  2. Avatar photo
    Nazar Niazmetov

    I agree with Anastasia, very accurate dribbling of images. Very beautiful tints! Although I think I can name these works “nature morte” because of objects and absolutely not “still-life”!

    Also, I should ask about the US interest to Japanese culture (at leas beatniks and Zen). Do you have your own trigger to learn Japan?

    I should tell you about our resident Chikako Goto who works in the similar technique (you can see her works here). She was a participant of Transpositions-3 by the bye (her post).

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