#woodblockwithlaura: Episode 20 - A Chat with Carver and Printer Will Francis
Hi. So today, i'm going to do something a little bit different, because i have will frances, here with me. And. Will, is an expert, in japanese, wood blog, and we thought it'd be really interesting, to compare. Me as a creative. Artist, who, designs, cuts and prints. With will who is an expert. In. Carving, and printing. But you actually work, in a collaboration. Don't you, yeah so, i work. More in the traditional, sense. So in a sort of qa. Edo, period. Yeah so. The process, would be, separated. Into. A designer. A carver, and a printer. And in this situation, i act as both, carver. And printer. And. My collaborative, partner. Henry, designs, all of the imagery, so this lovely print that we can see here. Is produced. Very much, with, the traditional, techniques. And. Traditional. Yep, so, yeah, the the paper. The pigments. The blocks to a certain degree. Are. Relatively, unchanged, since, the, edit period. The techniques. In which i carve and print. The same. As. You would see on, oxidized, great wave, or. Red fuji. Stuff like that, so. You guys have been watching, me, develop, a print. And, you've, seen, that it's a very loose, organic, process. I'm. Thinking i need another block and pulling another block in and cutting it, and i'm also working with lino, instead. So. I want to have a look at how will work so that you can see. The traditional. Process. So in terms of what you're cutting. It's very different from my sheena plywood, isn't it, yes, so. We carve, on. Japanese, cherry. Or. In. Certain cases. A north american, cherry. Like this but you've made this haven't you because you and, your father. Yeah so we've recently, started. Making. Our own blocks. So, out of necessity. With, import. And. Shipping. Being, quite delayed, or quite inconsistent. In the current times, we've moved to making our own blocks. Um. So the cherry that you're using. It allows, you to cut. Beautifully. Fine, lines, here, yes. And you can see quite clearly the two differences. In the color of blocks. And. That's quite a good, indicator. When, looking at the hardness. Oh really so the darker, is harder, yes so generally, looking for a darker more tighter grain, is going to suit. Fine lines such as this, keyblock. Whereas. A more porous, block, which you could. You could find. A wider grain, or. Paler. Paler heartwood. Would be more suitable for taking, large colour impressions. Because one of the, problems, that i've had, and, the reason, i've added lino. To the print that i'm working on. Is that i wanted a fine line block but i'm working on sheena. Which, is, it's actually compared to cherry, it's really quite soft and woolly.
And It's very hard to get, like these glorious, fine lines that will's working with if i just show you. Here. An impression, from, this this block you can see these exquisite. Lines that he's got going on here. And i i, haven't got a hope of cutting. Lines like that in sheena, i mean would you expect to, um. You, you. Could to a degree. The real issue with carving. Very fine lines in, sheena, is, the softness, in around. The, edges, of the lights. Over time if you were to be pulling. Multiple, additions. Sort of running into the three four hundreds, you would. You would find. That the edges of the sheena would start to wear down. Very easily and that's the main. Reason that we use a very hard block for keyboards. Is. We don't, want to have to carve this block again. Carbon so, durability. Yeah carbon color blocks, and and things like that is. Easy enough to do so we can carve that multiple, times if we need to over the years whereas, we would like as much as possible for this keyblock. To stay. With the print forever, for registration. Reasons and also. Because it's. Generally the most complicated, book to come. Right. And. The, the order in which will is working, is really different from the way that i'm working and it's, quite important, the difference. So for me. You will have seen from my films, that the lino, block that the very fine linobot, was like an afterthought, i hadn't even planned for that i just thought that i needed, it, and if you can hear thunder, i'm sorry we're in a rainstorm, at the moment. So, i hadn't planned my very fine line block i just thought i needed it so i added it in, but the way will. Works. The line block is absolutely, crucial, and it's the very first thing that you do isn't it yeah so tell us, so the key block, is, the, blueprint, for the entire. The entire piece of work. So, i will, receive this file from, from. The designer. So it'll come, literally, as an email with an attachment, yeah so it comes, as a photoshop, file and generally the color breakdown, is all within in the file but all i'm interested in at that point is. This, line block that then gets pasted. To. The. Keyboard, so you print you print the file out onto, a special, paper yeah so we have a, piece of copy paper, with, a very thin, gampy tissue. Laminated, to it with a. Repositionable. Spray now i think that david, bull, uh, who makes wonderful films on youtube he shows that whole process, of how to, make paper, into. The sort of paper you can put through a printer, if you want to so if you're interested in that go and look at david ball's, videos, and i think you'll find out exactly how to do that and that's where i learned as far as i know dave. Pioneered. I'd say pioneered. That, method, is it's very hard to. Transfer. A, piece of gumpy.
To The block without, warping. The image and once you've walked the image and, you've lost your registration. Yeah it makes it very hard so. This key block is carved before, absolutely, anything, else, and then. For example at this print, um. There's. 11. Faces in total. So i'll take 11 impressions. On the, gampee. So when you say faces you mean color blocks. Yeah so so faces, yes so there's, five blocks. Front and back, with one key block to eleven. Seven um, yeah i should just say that's it that you see this one that's quite. Once. I've made all my color separations. I then. It's, like a jigsaw, puzzle i'm just filling in, the areas that need their color so for example, this is going to be a pale blue. There's no pale blue needed on the rest of the block so this is the only area that i would that i would carve, so this. This is the wrong, um. Paper i mean this just happened to be paper that i had knocking around in the studio that will has very kindly printed up, his line block on, but. If he were using gampy which is very thin, uh paper this is that that's what you would be sticking, face down to and that's what you can see is, left over yeah you see how thin the gameplay, is. Yeah, yeah so you can sort of you can sort of peel the edges up a bit very. Carefully, but. It's yeah it's very thin and it's very hard to handle without that, that, lamination. So you can see here where will's working how much. Of an area you've cleaned away. Around the block so it's slightly, different from me, if i grab, my. Sheen apply. Here. Let's use my, my line but you can see i've got quite a narrow. Bit there yeah, but i'm. I'm printing. Far far fewer impressions, than you are yes so. Yeah and, the reason why so much is carved away is because. Um, well it's it's really it's personal preference, the, the general rule of thumb is is three fingers, with. Um and that's generally sort to them, to where it starts to. Bubble back up and you want. Some surface, for the paper to be able to to hold itself, if there's no. If i'd carved all of this away the paper would be flopping down it'd be very hard to register, so generally. So you need a sort of support bridge, yeah. Whereas, up in here doesn't matter. Too much. But, most of all it's because, the baron, the type of iron i like to use, is, slightly larger i use a 13.5. Centimeter, barren, right so, that's larger than the ones that i would normally. I would say yours, is. That's probably. Yeah so mine's very marginally. Wider. So when i'm taking the impression i don't want to be sort of hitting this, corner, and creating, a, a dent in the edge of the paper, and you use i mean this this baron, is a sort of, um. It's a professional, but not a very special, barrier but you use a, home bar, yeah for my keyboards. I do my very fun because. The. If i'm trying to get a very fine impression. Having a baron of that quality. Is very important, my other. Three barons i own are the same as this. I have another fine, uh medium, and a. Hard one, because i think it's it's worth explaining, that when you're working. In the kind of way that will is in this very traditional, way. Things like having the right baron, are critically, important because the better the baron the kind of the more feedback. You get as you're printing. Definitely especially, especially. On a keyblock, where, as you can see i've missed a. Corner, here and, things like that. With a, thicker baron. There's, a lot less. Feedback. In in terms of where you are in relation, to the, to the block, because your, horn baron that you're using for the line block that's made up of. Lots of layers of laminated, paper isn't it yeah, sort of very, sensitive. Sort of spring it was yes. But these barons if you're going to look inside the, atagawa. Is. A braided, cord. Um. Probably a synthetic, cord and then, you have. This, i think is a very thin, wooden layer and then you have the paper underneath. The hon barron, is. This bamboo, skin. Uh. Turned into thread and the braid itself is made from. From bamboo, fiber, and then, it's, lacquered. Washi paper, so like the printing paper. It might be showed you or something like that i'm not quite sure there's. Around, 100, layers of that paper. Lacquered together, and then sheathed. But it feels good i mean i had i was lucky enough to try one when i was out in japan. Um. Last year and it it feels, completely, different it's really sensitive, for printing with, if you want to watch one being made. A friend of mine called andrew, stone. Who is on facebook. Has been making, himself, a baron, from scratch. And you know he'd be the first to say he's not a baron making, expert. But it does, detail, the whole process, of, of how it's done.
With Him experimenting. With it so if you're interested, in that look up andrew stone. Um. On. Facebook, and you will see his efforts with the baron, making. Um, so. When you've got your line block cut, and you've got your color, separations. Cut. You then go into the proofing, stage. Does. What what input does the artist, have. How long does he stay involved generally, we'll talk, once or twice. Um. As i'm carving. The block set if i feel like there's another block. Needed for example. On the reverse, side of. This keyblock. I, carved this this morning. Which was another impression, that i, felt we needed. To be able to get this, this depth, in here. Because. It's, you have quite fine areas in the bottom here. Which. Can be lost. So it's almost the same color these bits that are highlighted. With your highlighter paint they're, pen they're they're all going to be printed the same yes they will be the same color um, i i felt that we needed another block for this to be able to get the depth because it's quite a deep. Brownie gray. And with darker colors. Generally. You want to do a couple of impressions. Um. So, this is just this area with and i added in. These from from a previous block just to make sure that we were getting the depth. Right, okay so, the other thing that's worth mentioning is that the way will is working is that he is printing, a lot of prints. So, any. Carving, that he can do, that makes the actual process, of printing. More straight forward, yeah that's better for you yeah, generally, generally we. Don't like to go. Too, many blocks, because then. It makes the prints. Quite expensive. And sort of our ethos, is to do. Quite a lot of prints for a very reasonable, price, so generally our orders are anywhere between. Or my batch orders uh between, 50 to 100, prints. Um. So, in terms, of. The way you're working you might be printing a hundreds. Is that right yeah so this one, as it's slightly, larger, i'll be doing, around. 50.. These smaller, ones. They could be. 60, upwards, depending, on on how popular we might feel the image, is going to be. And when you work when you're printing, the idea, is that each printer is identical, yes, yeah, very very different from me so. Will is printing, in, quantity. And each print must be identical. I, am. Printing, if i edition. I'll be printing maybe 20 in total. And i don't have to make each print look identical. In fact i may not even addition, i may print each printer's, unique, work. And, that means that when it comes to printing, instead of having. A kind of controlled, process. Where, everything, has to be the same. I can print. As many times as i feel like it maybe more or one print less on another, different, colors. And i can go for. If i find my print. And show you this very rough, proof. I can go for sort of messing about with color mixes. And. Building up texture, and stuff like that. Whereas, will. Is looking for, like if he's doing a shading, like this at the bottom, part of his skill as a printer, is to control, that so it's, it's consistent. Yeah and then in the proofing, process, so, i'm i'm working from a master. Of, a photoshop, file. And. Colors that can be made. Digitally, on the screen don't necessarily, necessarily, translate. To the real world. In terms of a, pigment, application, and stuff so. My first pass, on on, a. Test proof will be to try and get as close as possible. To, the master. And then, subsequent. Proofs after that we might do two or three rounds, of maybe, five to ten. Will be. Changing, and adapting, certain parts, to. Make it. Work better as a print so for example, on, the, what looks like a darker blue here. Was a dark blue on the file. Um. And it also covers this this brown area. To, darken that up all right so the blue actually. Yeah combines, with that that's how, jet had laid it out on a file. And had used opacity, layers and stuff, yeah you get that. Whereas when i was test printing. Adding. A. Pale indigo, to that. Just muddies it up, so it actually worked out better to do a very pale gray layer. Then just darken, everything gray is generally. Uh a darkener, that we use. Yeah i mean i've read about that in the, sort of shin hanger printing. Yeah and they would do they would do, the gray, multiples. In, impressions. Of grays, and, browns, and, sort of tonal, shades. To make those, prints, and they were quite interesting, in the way. That. They almost worked similar to, how you do if they felt like they needed another block whilst they were printing. They would just ship it off to the carvers and say carve this block here. So shin hanger just in case you don't know the term it means new print, and, i guess it's sort of. What was the periods, of 20s. Through to, yeah so, yeah and it sort of boomed.
Post-war. When, a couple of publishers, really saw. Um. That there. Sorry. I got the cat hanging. Yeah when the publishers, saw. That there was a, no we don't. Need. So. So. So yeah the shin hanger, period, for printmaking. That was what sort of, 1920s. Yeah the boom. And it really came. Post-war. When. Uh. You had the american occupation. Of japan. Um they started to. Get a lot of, domestic, tourism, a lot of um. Americans, coming into japan. And there's a few publishers, that really. Saw, an opportunity. To capitalize, on that. They noticed they had a few, a. Window of a few years to really. Sort of make well pranks are the ideal souvenir, aren't they because they're lightweight, they're easy to send, yeah and there's the whole mysticism. Of, japan, and japanese, culture, and. Architecture. And things like that and they. There was also. A lot of very skilled. Artists. Designers. And. Carvers and printers, left that. Were very experienced but had, no real work. Um, so, they were able to really. Put a concerted. Effort into creating. Very realistic, looking prints. And that's where you see these, very highly detailed. Uh very common they almost look like watercolors, don't they that's that kind of western, watercolor. Approach, yeah and you had a lot of those artists. Um, were. Predominantly, watercolor. Artists, that came from. So they were generally working, from. Almost watercolor, images, as opposed to. Straight, line work like you would have seen. 100. Years prior. They were. Much more influenced, by, french watercolor, artists. And, you can see that so it's just the light yeah the dramatic lighting effects, and especially, the yoshida, prints where. You could have upwards of 40 or 50 impressions, to get those. Really, deep like. Um, sunsets. And the very, very dramatic, different, from your. Yeah, yeah our. General, aim, is. Line and flat color. On, white paper. That's not to mean that we don't occasionally. Venture, into. Shin hanger elements, this for example, is. Much more, in line with something like that there's quite a few gradations, in in the final print in the top that. Sort of radiate, out, around, from this lantern. Which is much more in keeping, with that you wouldn't so the sort of shading, effects. Yeah you wouldn't generally see something like that in the uk, print they would do more. Okay, print is is. Much more of. A caricature. Of. Real life, whereas. Shin hangar, is more. Trying to replicate. Real life. As much as possible, so i should say shin hanger means new print so it's a sort of break away from the, traditional, more traditional. Style and approach. So. I would say what i do, is more in keeping, with. The third style, of. Japanese, woodblock, which is creative. Printing. Uh and that kind of appears in japan. It runs parallel with the shin hanger movement, and that was. Uh generally a group of, oil painters. And. Watercolor, painters. That, had. All graduated. In around the same. Sort of 10 years or so, and they were, disillusioned. With. The. Sort of old. Tradition, of making prints, and they wanted to go out and.
Design, Card, print and publish. All their own and that's where, you first. Saw. A really a group, of. Self-made. Artists. Creating. Prints, in japan. So as soon as you go into the business where. The artist, is designing, cutting printing. Kind of all rules go out the window, in a way. Um. I mean obviously there are still it's a process, led. Medium, you do have to do certain things for it to work at all. But, when you get to that stage, you can work. More flexibly, like i've been doing where i'm pulling a block in when i feel like it i'm using. Wood grain in quite a random, way and i may be printing. I'm not printing a matching edition, i'm being more flexible. So. There are very different styles, so what will is doing. Is is much more traditional and much more controlled. And you're. Also working with things like traditional, pigments. Yes so. Uh as much as possible. We. Make, our own pigments. We either make them or. We, purchase, the pounded, pigment. But, but they're water-based. Yeah they're all water-based, yet and um. Yeah we, break them down we use miller on them and, yeah we. Either that or we create them from. Their natural source be that. Ochre, or. Cautionary. Or. Some flowers. Stuff like that, is that because you find they work better or is it because you want to stay true to the method, um, it's a little, bit of both i've tried. Watercolor. On the cherry. Um. And it just wasn't. For me that's not to say that it's an inc i don't think there's an incorrect way of working because, there are people like tom killian that use. Carved blocks, with oil-based, ink and he runs. Very different way very interesting, artists worth looking at yeah um it's and. It, just it lends itself. To the process, i'm i'm, using. Cherry wood from japan. As much as possible. I'm using, paper that's. Only ever been made for that purpose. So in my mind it only makes sense to use pigments. That were made, specifically, for that purpose everything is then. Contained, within its own. Controllable. Bubble. Right so the paper yeah we should talk a bit about the paper because will's very. Well and jed are very specific, about the paper they use. I've talked, a bit about, washi, paper. And i'm working, with. Our gummy, and i'm using a machine, made. Bamboo, washi, for this print project. Which is. Slightly different from what you're working yeah so i use, a, mulberry, fibre. Echizen, hosho. That's been, i think i think. That same, workshop, has been there, since. Almost. The edo period, certainly. Certainly a, couple hundred, years. And. The that is. The last. One of the last surviving. Uh. Outlets for that type of paper mr rowano, is a. He's designated. A japanese. National, living, treasure. Um. For better or worse. Um so a real. Absolute, washy, expert but not just that an expert, in printmaking, pokemon. Yes that paper has only, ever been, made. To make prints with, it's never been used for, anything else so. It's been. Perfected. It's, and this is, that paper, it's its sole use, is to make, prints with. Um. It comes on size so, we've had to learn, how to size ourselves. And. And. So that's that's really interesting. Because again. It requires. Like massive dedication, because you it's taking you a lot of testing. And a lot of work to get, the paper to. Exactly, the right. State for printing, hasn't it yeah so, so. Usually, or historically, that would have been. The paper maker would make the paper. The, the publisher. Would then. Uh, tell the, the sizing, expert. What. Uh prints, what types of prints were being made and they would they would size it to those specifications. Um. We don't have that, luxury, anymore. Um. There's, not really anyone left. Sizing, so. I was fortunate, enough to. Visit david bull at the start of the year. And. He. Taught me, how to size. So when we say size it's basically, it's putting a layer of fluid on, the paper. And that's a mixture, of. Uh, animal groups. Fantastic. Thank you. Looks like sugar, but it isn't. Lovely, okay so. So this, is. I think. Is that fish. This, could, this is nikawa, glue. I'm. Almost, certain this is. Rabbit high glue, all right. And. This, is, alum. Crystallized, album, um you can get this, in big long sticks. And you can get this in quite large crystallized, form. We just found that this works.
Best, So this is, melted down. Per liter of water all the measurements, have done. Very slowly. Cooked down and then this, is added to it the alum is added to it at the end, but i'm right in thinking that sizing, is really tricky because it it's sort of the season. That you do it in. How the paper wants it how you want it to behave with the print, yeah so it's not a simple. Certainly the the most important. Thing, is, the weather, and. Temperature. In the season. If. It's very hot, and, humid. You're going to be looking to use. More. More alum, and, knee power, per. Liter of water. In the winter. It's going to be less because the paper doesn't need so big. Tests, yeah, yeah so you you, do a test patch and, you might adjust your sizing mixture, a little bit but. Generally there's there's. Quite good. Records. Of. Sizing mixtures. And, and stuff and it's it's there is actually a lot out there yeah generally. The very coldest temperatures, you're going to be using about 45, grams of that. Of the, nikawa. Up to maybe about 60, in the very. Hot months, and then it's always. 15. Alum, of, the weight of knee tower and that's all per. Liter, of. Water. So, i think, actually the main thing that i want, people to understand, here. Is the kind of. Level of expertise. That's going on, with will's, work. Um. Which is, i mean i, i have sized paper myself, and. You know with reasonable, success. But. Nowhere, near. The precision, of what will's doing. And the paper that i'm working with on the project that i'm filming for this, is ready sized, it's come and it's absolutely, fine and i can print straight away. So i think, the takeaway. Is like there's a whole range, isn't there. Of kind of yeah, levels of involvement. How how deep you want to get into i think japanese, printmaking. Inherently, is a process of repetition. With. Troubleshooting. Interspersed. There's a lot of. Troubleshooting. Most certainly. Once. Once you, you, you, get, it to work, so you're making a print and, you, take an impression, and it's very smooth. If you're recording, and you're you're, diligent, with how you're. You're learning. Then. You can. Work off that and you can you can use that as a springboard. To. Next time you come to, the. A tricky impression you think oh that's what i did last time and that's what i did. Um. But yeah it's a process of repetition, that just. But it's also. I think it's really touchy feely. You. Learn by practicing. And i can't emphasize, that enough because i teach. A lot. And i get people who come to a two-day workshop, and i can kind of start, people on their journey, but that's, like the very very first step that's, nothing. To what, can be achieved if they stick with it and they practice, yeah that's. What i did i came to you and had a couple of lessons, and then. I basically just sat in my room for. Three or four years. Just carving, and printing, and. Being very confused. And then. It. You sort you see your progression, and then one day i made a print and it just kind of clicked. And then. You, each time. You make something, you you learn a little bit more and oh yeah you learn another technique, and you get a bit more proficient with the tools, and.
Because There's so many variables. With this technique, it's. It's like the way you cut the words, the kind of paper you use the pigments you use the way you print. And. I mean what i would say is that what i love about it is it's i feel like it's when i do it, it's very, loose and free, and flexible. To the way that i want. And the kind of results, that i want. But. I'm not controlling. It in the same way that would so it's sort of different things to do yeah for me the real appeal of it is. Being able to just. Is, not the, lack of flexibility. Because there is flexibility. It's the calmness. And just sitting there. Carving away or printing away. And. I, don't have to. Stress, about whether. The image, is a good image or the composition, is correct, or. Or have i used the right colors, or. Because, that's, being prescribed, for me my job is to just recreate. What has been done, so it's quite a relaxing, and calming. Process to do that. So, just to wrap up the conversation. I just wanted to pick up on what you were saying about, you like the kind of, mindset, and the. The calm, of it. And i think, the. I mean i've been talking a lot about you know i'm quite i'm pulling books in and i'm experimenting. Everything. But. One thing i would say is that. Even if you're being creative. Japanese, would block, you need to be organized. And calm. And. Just. Patient, with it wouldn't you say, definitely, there's no, there's no. Sort of. That'll do. Attitude, no no. It will show. In every print that you make, if you. Try to cut a corner, or. You try and just do it a bit quick because. Dinner's ready. Or something like that yes. I mean it's it's, it is. It's really honest, and especially, if you're using washi, papers, which are, incredibly, sensitive, and honest, as well. Will is absolutely. Right. You need to take your time and you need to focus. And, you just need to sort of practice. And get your hand in with it, and, if you, there is great joy in that isn't it that's a huge pleasure doing it well because at the end, you you can look at it and you can say well i've made every, single part of that with my hands. And it's. That's for me. The real, joy of making it is to see your print and it's nice and clean and crisp, and clear. And it looks like, the original, image that i've been given, that's that's. The greatest pleasure for me is. Being able to recreate. A painting. With my own hands. So i think the. For me. Very much, the same. About. The end result, i like the end result. To be, technically, as good as i can make, it. Um. I mean obviously. The way that i work there's the sort of creative element, as well but i'm always. Very keen like will to, sort of try and achieve the best. So. It's been a longer film than usual but i'm really grateful to will it's been fantastic, to talk to him, and. Thank you very much for joining us and i hope you'll join us again. Soon. You.