KBAC – Will you please introduce yourself and tell us about the workshop you will be teaching at KBAC?
Mary Brodbeck photo by Mary Whalen
MB – Sure! I’m Mary Brodbeck. I’ve have worked in the traditional methods of Japanese woodblock printmaking since 1998 and I am excited to be teaching a weekend workshop on this process on June 20 and 21.
KBAC – What is Japanese woodblock printmaking?
MB – Japanese woodblock printmaking, like other forms of woodcut, is a relief printing process. One carves away what you don’t want to show and the remaining surface area – left raised – is the image. This raised image then gets inked, paper is laid on top of it and then pressed so that the image transfers onto the paper. The Japanese techniques are unique because of the water based pigments and pressing with a baren.
KBAC – What got you interested in first learning the Japanese techniques?
MB – I was making color woodblock prints using rolled-on oil based inks in the Western tradition when I began the graduate program in printmaking at Western Michigan University in 1997. The idea to study in Japan was introduced to me by Professor Curtis Rhodes and subsequently Professor Richard Depeaux who connected me with Yoshisuke Funasaka, in Tokyo, who would teach me the technique. And then, fortunately, Funasaka knew of a government-sponsored fellowship and applied on my behalf – and I got it.
Mary’s print, Haze, woodblock print, 10” x 14”, 2014
KBAC – How much time did you spend in Japan?
MB – The Bunka-cho Fellowship was for five months. I have been back to Japan several times since then. The last time was in the fall of 2014 when Funasaka Sensei and I had a joint exhibition together in Takayama. Teacher/student relationships in Japan can last a lifetime, at least I feel this way about my Japanese teacher.
KBAC – What is the most important thing that he taught you?
MB – The importance of a baren and printing by hand.
KBAC – You don’t need a printing press?
MB – Woodblock prints made in the Japanese method are printed using a baren – a hand held disc that is made from bamboo. I was attracted to the this process precisely because of its hand-made qualities, and the water based pigments were a big allure too. There is no heavy equipment or toxic chemicals involved in the Japanese method. It is a simple process that hasn’t changed much in over 400 years; it’s timeless. I like mechanical printing presses – their power is alluring – I just don’t want to have to move them or maintain them. From the beginning I wanted to work as a one women operation and sought to keep things as simple as possible so I could manage and maintain my own studio. And, besides, with water color pigments you actually must use a hand held baren – a printing press won’t work. There is a kind of finesse that’s required with printing with water color pigments that can only be achieved by using a baren.
KBAC – Your imagery is often very delicate and watercolor-like. Are the water based inks key to getting the wonderful colors and gradations that you create?
MB – Yes, absolutely. I use watercolor tube paint most of the time. The paints get modified with a little rice paste in order to lay down on the block smoothly, but essentially my prints are made with water color paint, which is translucent. I also use pure pigments and grind and mix them with the rice paste. The ink gets applied to the block with brushes, and the gradations are achieved by the way the ink is painted onto the block. The transparent inks, the use of brushes, the specially formulated Japanese paper, and the way that it is pressed with a baren, are all integral in creating the vibrant colors and unique look that can only be achieved with these materials, tools, and methods.
Printing with a baren
KBAC – What might your students expect to achieve in the weekend workshop and what do they need to do to prepare?
MB – I will teach the basics of carving and printing with the Japanese methods and materials – and also the basics of color registration. We will make a two color, 5” x 7” print – I recommend that one of the colors is black (sumi ink) because that has the biggest punch. If participants could bring a two color cartoon drawing to fit within a 5” x 7” matrix, that would be great. All materials and tools will be included in the class fee. And if everything works out, we will make enough prints in the class to share with one another. Also, all levels are welcome.
KBAC – Participants will make more than one print in the class?
MB – Yes. My plan is to have everyone make as many copies as there are people in the class and then at the end, everyone will share with each other.
KBAC – Anything else that you would like to share with us?
MB – Oh yes, I have a plug. I have a new DVD out called Becoming Made http://www.marybrodbeck.com/purchase/
. It is a documentary film about Japanese woodblock printmaking and its relevance in the 21st century. Though it is not a step-by-step instructional film, it does shed tremendous insight on the techniques involved and can be very helpful to anyone interested in learning more about this process. I highly recommend it!
KBAC – Thank you, Mary.
MB – My pleasure, thank you!