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Making a Woodblock Print

In this and the next few posts, I will show my process of making a Japanese style woodblock print. For materials including paper, wood block and tools, I recommend this website:

1) Draw a Design

First, draw a design. I will sketch out many ideas before one idea forms. I usually look at other woodblock prints that I like for inspiration too.

I also like to use Ipad to draw the design first because I can change the composition and colours more easily. Also the flatness of colour gives me a good sense of what it will look like.

2) Trace onto Gampi Paper and Stick onto the Woodblock

Once you have a design that you like you can trace it on the thin gampi paper. Gampi paper is extremely thin and fibrous. This will be the paper that you stick to the woodblock and peel off leaving the drawing on the wood.

Put some rice or starch glue on the woodblock and rub the whole surface with the palm of your hand. Once its dry, you can peel the back of the paper away carefully.

Once the paper has been peeled away, you may also need to rub gently more of the paper to see the lines clearly - you can do this with a bit of warm water. If you rub too much, the paper and lines will disappear completely though, so be careful.

3) Carving

Everyone has their own style and ways of carving. In the Edo period and in traditional Japanese carving till the present day, the outlines and fine details are carved using a knife, but I still prefer to the outlines with a V-shaped chisel (shown above). One I have the outline, I then use wide chisels to get rid of the waste.

4) Registration marks

As you can see from the above photo, I have added registration marks to the bottom right corner and bottom edge. This allows me to fit the paper exactly each time. When I will make colour blocks, I will be able to make sure that all prints register exactly.

5) Proofing

As you progress, you can check how things look by using a charcoal-rubber with some paper. This shows me roughly which areas need more deeper carving and give me sense of the overall progress.

6) Inking

This is perhaps one of the trickiest parts of the process. Because as a woodblock, there are so many variables that change and can affect the quality of the print: humidity, dryness, too much water, too little water etc, its all about getting the right balance.

Put a small dap of ink, and a small dab of rice glue mixed with some water, then using a horse-hair brush (it doesn't have to be an expensive Japanese brush, a cheap one used to polish shoes is made of exactly the same horse hair) rub across the block.

6) Printing

Fit the paper using the registration marks, then gently let it drop onto the block. Press down with the baren tool to rub. It takes experience to get to know where to apply pressure, and where to be gentle.

When the ink soaks through and is visible on the reverse, you know you are done! you can then gently peel it off the block.

In the next post on woodblock printing, I will discuss the colour woodblocks

For those who are interested, I also highly recommend taking this course at the Princes School of Traditional Art, taught by Hiroko Imada:



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