In 2014 there will be an international conference for artists working in Japanese woodblock. It’ll be in Toyko and I hope perhaps to deliver a paper there on the subject of my students and their response to learning the technique with me in the UK.
I have yet to write an application and, far more important, work out if I can afford the cost and time to get there. In the meantime here’s a few thoughts about those of you who have dipped your toes in the traditions of watercolour woodblock and why you play such an important part in saving this beautiful printing method from going the way of the dodo.
Keiko Kadota is an extraordinary woman: she organises and runs residencies, like this one I am currently attending, to teach Western artists the skills and techniques of traditional Japanese woodblock through the organisation Mi-Lab. In addition she has been battling for years to support the craftspeople responsible for producing cutting tools, printing brushes and paper. She faces an uphill task: traditional Japanese woodblock is seen in Japan through a haze of nostalgia as a largely historic process. Tool makers are veering away from traditional tool forms to Westernised handles and shapes, impractical for the cutting of traditional blocks. Brush makers are finding sales dwindling. Paper makers need a whole blog in themselves – so more on that difficult subject later. On the whole the outlook is not great here and if it weren’t for Keiko and her residencies and conference, it would be so much worse…
That’s where you come in: all those of you who want to learn and at all levels. Every single student from the expert printmakers wanting to add a new skill to their repertoire to the out and out amateur who has never printed before helps to promote the process and create demand.
If I do get back to Japan and face the esteemed audience of academics and contemporary artists, I’m going to be pushing for the recognition of the Christmas card makers, the recipients of the unexpected class as a birthday surprise, the beginners and the unsure. You may just save the day for us professionals!