Works and Days

Japanese Woodblock Printing, Presidents Summer Fellowship, Second Chapter

Work in the studio is well under way with my instructor Richard Steiner, who has been teaching Moku Hanga, or Japanese woodblock printmaking, for over twenty years and is an established artist in Kyoto. His studio is near downtown Kyoto and makes use of every square inch of it’s modest size.  Steiner has dreams of moving his studio to an abandoned temple in the countryside of Japan, but for now we work in the little house, where everything--brushes, rulers, paints, scissors, rulers, papers--has its right place. Usually there are only one or two students in the studio at a time, so the room never gets too crowded.

Traditional moku hanga separated the designing, the carving, and the printing of artworks into three distinct roles to be performed by the artist, the carver, and the printer. In Steiner’s studio, we still maintain this separation, but the artist performs all three jobs. Many traditional moku-hanga instructors begin by teaching students as a master would an apprentice: by asking students first to adhere to the instructor’s style. Richard Steiner, however, while following the traditional method of moku-hanga printing, encourages students to explore their own ideas when designing prints. What results is a collections of whimsical and creative works made by Steiner and past students which fill every spare spot of wall in the studio.

The photographs below show me working on my third print, and my first with color. The paints used are simple water colors, mixed with a starch paste.

First I ink the carved board with a brush:


Then I lay the paper face down over the carving, and press the paper with a special tool called a “baren”:


Then I pull the print off and check it for imperfections, such as areas that aren’t carved deeply enough, or colors that are too light or too dark.


So far, I’ve completed three prints, and am working on my fourth. 

Meanwhile, I am exploring Japan and gaining inspiration for the prints that I plan on completing when I return to Reed college and start working on moku-hanga as a thesis topic.

Tags: psf, presidents summer fellowship, japan, art, woodblock printing