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.