Laura was in residence at Ardington School last weekend teaching Japanese Woodblock printing to a group of very enthusiastic students. Laura’s courses are almost always booked up months in advance, and this pays testament to her reputation as a teacher. One student said to me ‘what a privilege it is to be here – Laura is so professional and talented’.
What is Japanese Woodblock printing?
Japanese Woodblock is a water based printing technique that takes practise and a real feel for the materials. It uses watercolour paint with all the demands that particular medium brings; most prints are a build-up of many layers, all of which have to work. That said, the results are enchanting and it is a true table-top method: no press and no nasty chemicals. You get to use some exquisite hand-made Japanese papers too. You can read more about the entire process on Laura’s website.
A residency and a book deal
Laura will be heading off for her second Japanese residency for a month in March 2019. She has secured studio space in Tokyo, sharing with three other printmakers, all Western artists working with similar Japanese Woodblock processes. The idea is that all four of them will work on their own projects in the studio space, but there is an opportunity for an idea exchange between them, sharing best tips and bouncing inspiration off each other. Room to incubate a new printmaking movement perhaps?
Residencies can be varied. Laura’s first one in 2009 concentrated on learning the methods from the masters in their art in Japan. However, a residency can also be structured just to take time out of everyday life to concentrate on working on your art, and also a great way to access local ‘kit’. Tools, paints, papers and other equipment that we artists just love, and bought from local merchants. There is a greater degree of authenticity and a stronger feeling of connectedness to the original art form by doing it this way.
Laura is also likely do some one to one study with a range of Japanese specialists while she is in Tokyo, probably focussing on the printing techniques part of the process in particular. She has two projects in mind to focus on during her residency. The first will be a planning exercise whilst out there. Laura would like to create a series of small Japanese landscapes to match a series of poster style UK landscapes she has yet to print from the local landscape in which she lives and works. She would like to end up with sister sets of prints of Japan and the UK.
The second goal, to be completed while she is there would be to produce two or three images that could be combined in a set. Traditional Japanese prints often combine images together to make a larger one, as the cherry wood used for carving is of a finite size, so combining multiple blocks is the only way to get large prints. Laura would prefer hers to be framed in one frame, but with the images separated to make a diptych or triptych. Laura explains that it is such a good discipline to work towards this goal, as you have to work on all of the images at the same time so that they connect well, and the printing colours match. She is keen to design images that work alone and as a combined set. Her current theme may focus on how, in Japan, there is a culture of bringing the garden into the city, particularly into homes and buildings. Nature has always played a strong part in Laura’s work.
Laura’s husband Ben will travel out to Japan with her for part of the trip but will then return to run the business and the household while Laura concentrates on her art. And of course, he will be in charge of their cats while she is away!
This year has seen some big changes for Laura. After her election to the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, her life has become even busier. All of the Society's members are practising professional printmakers, elected after a rigorous selection by a panel of their peers. From their home at Bankside Gallery, next to Tate Modern & on the south banks of the Thames, they hold regular exhibitions showcasing the best in contemporary printmaking. Laura is looking forward to exhibiting there in the coming years.
And on top of this, Laura has also signed a contract with The Crowood Press to write a beginners guide to Japanese Woodblock printing. Not surprisingly, Laura is very excited about all of these events that lie ahead. And so are we!
Back to the classroom
In the meantime, whooping sounds can be heard coming from the room next door. This usually means someone has just pulled a print and it has generated the noises that people make when they see fireworks – lots of OhOhOhs and AhAhAhs. Indeed, on closer investigation, a lovely Koi carp has emerged from the far corner of the room, and although the student tells me ‘it’s not finished!’, it is still a lovely illustration to include in this blog. We hope you are inspired to go on and try out Japanese Woodblock printing for yourselves, and see what sort of masterpieces you can create. You can find more information about all our Printmaking courses here.
LEARN DESIGN CREATE at Ardington School of Crafts, Oxfordhsire.