Last summer I signed up for a two day workshop on Japanese woodblock printing. Circumstances conspired (our car broke down) so that I only attended the first day, but in preparation I had done a bit of research. The other day I received a lovely card which reminded me of some of that research, and prompted me to seek a little further for this post.
Japanese woodblock prints were popular in the heart of the modern art world in Paris at the time after the Great War when several American artists were visiting. These artists returned to pass on their enthusiasms, and so it was that some American artists even went to Japan to learn techniques. Edna Boies Hopkins was one of those. It was her image of Cascades on the card I received this week.
Japanese woodblock printing involves making a separate plate for each colour used in the design. Printmaking in Japan was an industrial process in so far as the publisher commissioned the image from an artist, then the plate makers cut the wood into as many plates as necessary, after which the printers printed each colour onto the very large editions – the prints were extremely popular. However, for the artists in the burgeoning summer art colony of Provincetown New England this process was too longwinded. They ingeniously invented white line woodblock printmaking.
This involved cutting a line of separation between different coloured elements in a design, so that each colour could be printed from the same plate. The result is rather like painted silk using a gutta (glue) outline round each area which is to be coloured.
Here is an excellent post describing the simple stages of the process. It is mostly women who were known for using this technique.
are but a few. There is an excellent section on this seemingly totally American art technique and its artists in the book American Women Modernists edited by Marian Wardle. (Unfortunately this is now out of print and is being offered for sale online at ridiculous prices!) And there is more information in an academic paper by Maura Coughlin on Southcoast New England Printmaking.
I am interested to see that these white line printmakers have been influenced by the French artists (Ethel Mars’ work reminds me of Vuillard, for instance), Post Impressionism, with touches of Cubism, but have their own delightful character. I must say that my favourites are the ones who use the white space for more than simply delineation – as Edna Boies Hopkins does in Cascades.
White line printmaking is becoming popular once more, with new practitioners and workshops offered even in the UK. I have not tried it yet myself but I certainly very much like the idea of the technique.