Monday, July 29, 2019

Continuing with Moku Hanga

Avocet and Moorhen at Minsmere.  Moku Hanga by Ken Januski. 6"x4", 2019.

I don't think that there are any excuses for the huge gaps between my blog postings. Suffice it to say that the lack of  comments, overabundance of  spam, and other online outlets all took their toll. Nonetheless I  hate to let  this  blog  just die, especially as it's sort  of  become a  blog about  my progress  with moku hanga. So with that said  here are  my two newest prints.

Above  is a  6x4 inch print of  an Avocet and Eurasian Moorhen  that we saw at Minsmere RSPB  last year on our trip  to England for  'The Natural Eye' show  of  the Society of Wildlife Artists. Below is  the newest print,  a  4x6 inch print  of a Great Crested Flycatcher, motivated as you might expect by seeing  some of  the first  returning birds  of  spring.

Great Crested Flycatcher against Blue Sky.  Moku  Hanga by Ken Januski. 6"x8", 2019.

Technically speaking I'm not sure why anyone would take up moku  hanga. There are so  many things  to consider  and so many things that can go  wrong: paper  that is  too wet or  too dry, bad paper, paper with too little or too much,  paint  that is  too  wet  or  too dry, too splotchy or  too saturated, smudging  everywhere, colors that don't print the way I think that they will,  wood  that  is drier than I'd like  and  breaks  as I'm  carving a  crucial  line, etc.,  etc.,  etc.

Some love  moku hanga I'd guess because  of  the  great moku hanga art  that was done in Japan during  its heyday. I admire  it, both artistically with hardly a  thought of the technical difficulties, but  also for  the incredible technical craftsmanship.  I understand why artists want to continue that noble  tradition.

Others  today love  it  for a variety of other reasons  but I suspect  one  of the top ones  is  that it  is largely non-toxic, i.e. safe,  and because  it  is  so  connected  to  nature.  The paper is made  from plants, the baren  often  is  made  largely from bamboo. Only perhaps  the watercolors  and/or  gouache  used by many might have some  man-made ingredients.

For me  the safety is  important. When I switched,  to a  large  extent, from painting to  printmaking  around 10 years ago I was thrilled by printmaking, all done without a press. But  I was bothered by the toxic fumes of  the paint/ink solvents. Did I  really want to use  them?

I also  found that I much admired  some  contemporary moku hanga, used as a means of modern expression.  I'd guess that the last two, safety and exciting  examples, are what got me started.

But what kept me going, especially after the trials  and tribulations  of  the first  couple of  prints,  was  my understanding  that I  was beginning to get  control  of  the medium. It was  starting  to be a  useful  tool. At some point  your  artistic medium has  to start seeming like  a useful  tool, one that helps  you  do  what you  want, rather than  a constant  opponent, one that you wonder  if  you  can ever best. Oddly enough that happened  with me.

There are  still  numerous  technical mistakes  and difficulties  with my moku  hanga prints. But I'm comfortable  enough with it, and also  know what rich possibilities it has that I've come to feel  somewhat comfortable with it.

Too much of my experience  with printmaking has been reminiscent of  battles. I'm often happy with the results  but never relish the process  and regret how  many prints have blemishes which necessitate  discarding them. That seems to be, finally, less the case with moku hanga.

I'm not going to say too much about these two prints themselves. In both of them I'm trying  to  find a  contemporary artistic  vocabulary to express what I  want, and also to use  the subject  of birds, insects, nature and the environment. Even with perfect mastery of a medium that is still a  large  task. How  do you  take  traditional,  some might  say ancient, subjects and make them fresh? I find that moku hanga  has helped  me to do that.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Starting My Third Year of Moku Hanga Prints

Purple Finch and Hairy Woodpecker. Moku Hanga print by Ken Januski. Edition not complete as of 02.10.19 but it will be between 20 and 25. Printed on Echizen Kozo paper.

The title is true and accurate but it's possibly misleading. I did make my first moku hanga print at the beginning of 2017. I did that largely because I'd seen the prints of one wildlife artist in particular who used and still uses moku hanga to make brilliantly colored, quite creative prints. His colors in particular seemed to offer something richer than what I was getting in my previous linocuts and woodcuts. I'm not naming names here, more for privacy reasons than anything else, of that artist or of another family that was also instrumental in my deciding to try moku hanga. The family bought a large number of my works in late 2016 and it was the proceeds of those sales which helped to fund most of my early moku hanga supplies. So I first should say thanks to both the artist and the family. If you read this I imagine you will know who you are.

Back to why the title might be misleading though. The fact is that the print at top of this post is only my sixth moku hanga print!! What can I say? As soon as I tried my first moku hanga print I loved the possibilities that I was now seeing first  hand. On the other hand when I made that first print technical difficulties required me to yell out to my wife that I'd have to skip lunch and then as the day went on I had to yell out again and ask if we could delay supper.

Everything went wrong!! The paper was too wet or too dry. I had all sorts of splotches in my print rather than the smooth, rich, even color I was expecting. My fingers got  paint on them and they went onto the paper. I can't even remember everything that went wrong. I do know that the prints  did not look as similar to one another as I would have liked(that is an understatement!!).

But still the possibilities were obvious. In other words I was hooked. I haven't done any other types of printmaking since then. But given all the problems I encountered I knew that I would have to modify what I did in moku hanga to some extent. For  one thing I wasn't going to be able to carve small outlines around every shape. If I'd taken a course I might have learned this right off. But I learned everything from books and trial and error.

Anyone who does moku hanga printmaking I think will tell you how complicated  it can be. There are so many variables, so many things to learn, and such a rich tradition to contend with. To make a long story short I had to learn how to approach moku hanga in a way that made sense for me.

It's also true that after an initial start in printmaking of just using anything as a subject I've gotten more and more ambitious.  I want my prints to some extent to be the same as paintings, just done as multiples. So I wanted ambitous prints, but using a medium in which I was a rank beginner.

The end result is that it takes me a long time before I decided to actually make a new print. I may spend months toying around with various possibilities. So.................. that is why I say that this is my third year of making moku hanga prints. It's 100 percent true. I just haven't done many during that time.

I think that the first print in which I haven't felt the need to tear my hair out as I printed the edition is  this one of  a female Purple Finch and male Hairy Woodpecker. I had few if any problems in the first edition of 20 on Nishinouchi paper.  Well major problems I should say. There were some minor problems, like ink coverage. But the new, as yet unfinished edition on Echizen Kozo, printed at top seemed to have fewer problems with ink coverage. Until the paper seemed to pull off the page as I printed additonal prints!! I  think that problem is resolving itself and so all in all this will be a second edition of about 20, with, I hope, better ink coverage.

Printing the Purple Finch has been the first time that I've largely liked the process. I'm not screaming and tearing out my hair as I print part of the edition each day. And I'm quite happy with the results.

So as I start my third year of moku hanga I have to say it seems the perfect medium for  me as a printmaker. I don't need to use toxic chemicals. I don't need a printing press. I don't need a lot of room. I do all my printing in my very small studio(once a bedroom). I think all artists hope for the day when their tools  become an extension of  their  hands. That is now the case with me and moku hanga. There are still a million ways I'm sure in which the technique can become better and more predictable. But it is predictable enough right now. I feel very fortunate to have stumbled into moku hanga.

I should add that this print was based on an actual scene at The Wissahickon Environmental Center in late 2018. It is based on sketches and photos I made on a very misty, foggy day. I've tried to keep some of that sense in the print.