Review: Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop by April Vollmer

CoverJapanese woodblock printmaking or mokuhanga—moku meaning “wood” and hanga “printmaking”—is the subject of a new book by New York artist April Vollmer. Published by Watson-Guptill, Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop: A Modern Guide to the Ancient Art of Mokuhanga, re-introduces to an American (mostly) audience the beauty, history and significance of mokuhanga alongside step-by-step instructions for creating your own work using this ancient technique.

If you’re wondering how Japanese woodblock printmaking differs from the western woodcuts, Ms. Vollmer not only writes about three significant differences, but makes a case for a fourth one: washi, or Japanese handmade paper. First, mokuhanga is printed with water-based sumi ink and watercolor brushed onto the block with stiff brushes, rather than rolled onto the surface with brayers as in western woodcuts. Second, mokuhanga prints are printed with a handheld barren rather than a hard rubbing tool or a mechanical press. Third, it uses the accurate kento registration system cut directly into the block—a Japanese invention that makes it easy to align the paper for printing multiple colors.

Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop is not the first book in the English language to have been published on the subject—there have been others, including Rebecca Salter’s Japanese Woodblock Printing, a book Ms. Vollmer praises for feeding her passion for the subject. That said, Ms. Vollmer’s book is one of the most comprehensive, lavishly illustrated and impeccably researched books I’ve encountered in my quest for absorbing anything and everything related to Japanese culture.

Part reference guide and part instructional book, Ms. Vollmer briefly traces the history of the art form and places it in a much broader context, showcasing many examples of prints by contemporary artists living in North America. Working in mokuhanga since the 1990s, Ms. Vollmer studied under master printers Kathy Caraccio, Bill Paden and Tetsuya Noda and when presented with the opportunity to write a book that would serve as an introduction to the basics of mokuhanga, she immediately accepted it with great enthusiasm. Three years in the making, Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop is a terrific book worth savoring again and again.

At 256 pages, Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop is more than just a book, it is an indispensable guide to everything related to the Japanese style of printmaking. It is an introduction to the history, significance and practice of mokuhanga in and outside Japan and features illuminating discussions such as that on washi- Japanese handmade paper and its role in Japanese culture. Other highlights include a listing of contemporary artists using mokuhanga in their practice, among which are Annie Bissett, David Curcio and Kevin Frances, all artists making work in Massachusetts.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.