Sometimes it’s good to move on. Four years ago I came to Japan to learn watercolour woodblock from a master carver and a master printer. It was an exhaustive education in the traditional printmaker’s skills, taught with the emphasis on techniques used for centuries to capture the beauty of the floating world of old Japan. In tune with my masters I bowed, I silently presented tea and I worked hard: I knew nothing of the process and was grateful for the exacting formality our lessons.
Now I am back in Japan working with four other artists. We’re all printmakers, we already have a fair grip of the process and we don’t so much have masters as visits from superbly skilled contemporary printmakers generous enough to share their ideas and talent. Now I find myself surrounded by new thoughts and ideas which would never have had a place back in the days when I had everything to learn.
It’s been hard to adjust: Japanese teachers who chat, laugh, hug us and show us pictures of their babies, who dot between waterbased and oil based woodblock, use Western papers as well as Japanese washi and welcome new innovations in technology. Add to that the work of my fellow artists who learned in different ways and with different methods and you can see that I’m having to shape up to a lot of new ideas.
All this is, of course, the whole point of taking a second residency. My first residency taught me all the skills I needed to begin my work in Japanese woodblock. This residency is teaching me how to shake up those skills and inject some new and creative approaches. I still made tea for my teacher this week, but this time it was Earl Grey which Katsutoshi Yuasa misses from his residency in London and we shared it over a chat about our kids.
Incidentally you can follow this residency, my work in progress, and any new printing discoveries by liking my printmaking facebook page