Moku Hanga – Japanese Woodblock Printmaking

Moku hanga is a traditional Japanese form of woodblock printmaking notable for black outlines, vibrant colors, and angled perspectives (think of Hokusai and Hirosada).  In modern times the images may have changed, but the process remains much the same, and its simplicity is very appealing, requiring not much more than a block of wood, a cutting tool (gouge), ink, and paper.  The image, a type of relief print, is produced by carving away everything except the lines to be printed.  To make a print, the block’s surface is saturated with water color and nori paste, and then slightly dampened paper is laid down and pressed with a buren.  For multiple colors, multiple blocks are carved, with exact registration (kento) marks on each block.  As the images are all hand-pulled, moku hanga prints don’t need a press, and using water-based inks makes this for an easy clean-up.  McClains Printmaking Supplies is a good source for tools, blocks, and books about the process.

Carving can take a long time, but it’s an opportunity for contemplation, for “being in the moment” with your image, and the blocks eventually become works of art, along with the prints.  San Francisco-based Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) selected Berkeley artist Miwako Nishizawa, born in Kyoto Japan, to create pieces for its 2016 poster art series using the moku hanga woodblock technique.

Here are my first prints using this process.  The first, “Breakfast Bee?” (the nuthatch and the bee), is in the Wingtip Press 2019 Leftovers print exchange.  The other prints are entitled “Leafy Lullabies” (the crow is listening to, and looking for bugs under the leaves), and “Chrysanthemum” (inspired by a Hirosado print and an image of my niece).


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