I thought I’d talk a bit about how one of my prints is made, from start to finish…

This is one of my latest prints called Blue Table Porto, which is about a lovely café I visited in the spring.

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For those who know my work, I started the diary-of-a-printmaker project when I was offered a fellowship at the Royal Academy of Art Schools in London, as a print fellow, back in 2016. This series of prints is about places and memories and anecdotal humour, a little bit like making postcards to send home…

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So, how do I make a print from a place? First of all hanging out in beautiful cafés always helps (!)… though I’ve also made my fair share of prints about working at the vets and walking around in gummy suburban cities and the hilarity of communal changing rooms. All these situations have a unique sense of energy, and leave a strong impression on the mind.

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These impressions are full of visual narratives, even though there may be scanty factual details. Sometimes it’s as if the images are from a dream-bank because the stuff that’s there is pared down but the sensation of being there remains.

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So sometimes I take photos, other times I draw directly onto the lino from memory, and then go home and think about what it is that it felt like to be in that moment of time, surrounded by that space. What was the most enduring sensation? For this café in Porto, the pale blue expanse of weather-beaten table-top plus a skylight bringing light into a dark cave of a room, plus the battered Turkish carpet were the most significant for me. The feeling I wanted to convey was of being engrossed in drawing and being marooned in a sea of carpet, the table as a raft.

blue table porto the two blocks side by side

After one colour is printed, I transfer the still-fresh ink onto a second block and start to plan what I want to make. In this case, I wanted the carpet to be full of swirls and detail and the light to be the focal point. I knew that one block had to be pale blue. The drawing on the second block was partly copied from the drawing on the first block. It’s hard to explain what or how I carve the second colour in factual terms, but I think of removing every area in terms of the process of revealing the first colour, allowing the first colour (plus any areas which were already carved away and which would be white) to shine on its own.

colour trial prooof sheet for porto table_e

Then comes colour trial proof printing time… I try out different colour combinations and try to maintain a sense of rigour to the experiments, making notes of ink recipes and how much ink is on the slab in order to achieve my preferred effects. I’m always using the same brand of ink: Sakura Oil based Relief inks, because I love the way I can wipe the ink off the block and apply thin layers in places to achieve a graded look. I write notes to myself about what I’d like to differently on the next print.

printing slab for porto table_e

So, taking the proof above, I decided to start editioning but with the addition of orange to the red mix, in order to move away a bit from the candy colours that the pure red and blue were creating.

editioning blue table porto _e

The red still appeared red, but was mixed 50% with orange in the centre, and cut with green on the edges. When I put the blue layer on top, I was very happy with how the edges of the print appear to recede into darkness, a kind of black has formed from the combination of red/ orange/ green and blue on the sides.

blue table porto_e

The magic of ink is maybe why I keep making prints…

 

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Back in November, Marc Donaldson of The&Partnership agency got in touch with me about an exciting project for the Japanese car manufacturers, Lexus.

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The brief was to highlight the deep beauty of making something by hand, looking at the physical knowledge and near super-human skills honed over a lifetime of practice, and link it to the use of AI and digital manufacture. Essentially, it was a reminder that despite the inexorable increase in the digital world, ultimately it is humans who have a lifetime of knowledge who are still in charge.

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They had already commissioned a gorgeous film on the subject, called Takumi. This film follows several artisan makers talking about their craft and displaying their skills. Takumi is the Japanese word for artisan, a term earned for exceptional skill achieved after 60,000 hours on the job.

Marc’s vision was to create a Japanese woodblock poster from cherry wood that would use hand printing to embed traditional pigments into hand made paper, based on a design which he had created in the computer.

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I have to say that while I trained in Japan in Japanese woodblock, and printed large prints for several years, I found this commission extremely challenging…

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Japanese woodblock technique relies on a harmonious combination of humidity, speed and response to simple changes in the basic materials. The wood absorbs paint, and then releases it to damp paper. Too much ink, too wet paper, too much pressure, and the paper bleeds; too little, too slow, too much glue and the paper is patchy.

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Photo by Feng Ho

However, the air pressure, sunlight, temperature, the number of previous printings, the absorbency of the wood, how much glue is used, the number of brushstrokes and humidity in the brushes, the consistency of paint, the speed of brushing, the precise way the paint sits in or on the wood, all these factors vary second by second, hour by hour.

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Photo by Eoin O’Flynn

The colour had to be coaxed onto the page, like a dance of wills.

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Photo by Feng Ho

I have to admit, my first 50 prints were a disaster. It took a lot of determination to keep going, as each print took an hour, so it was days and weeks before I’d made a passable layer of colour. Having made linocuts for the past few years, it was a shock to be a beginner at a technique again.

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I had to learn how to ink up generously on the block with an almost foamy layer of ink, without leaving a drop of ink anywhere near my table, in order to keep the edges of the paper clean when they were placed face down.

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I made my own homemade recipe for ink, combining gum arabic with nikawa and pure pigment, a blend of graphtol red and ruby red, and added a tiny drop of sumi ink to help the colour depth.

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I learned to hold my elbows out a certain way to fix the edges of the paper on the registration marks accurately, and how to trust that registration mark when each poster needed two or three printings to achieve the required depth of colour. Every now and then, the registration would be out by a fraction of a millimetre, and the print would fail.

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Photo by Feng Ho

I learned that a lovely intense colour field would leak through the damp paper in the last stage and mark other areas, so I developed a way of protecting the paper with a spare sheet of newsprint to stop this from happening for the final layer of ink.

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As this technique needed solid day light and it was during the winter months that I was printing, I’d skip lunches to maximise the hours of printing. I rigged up the ceiling light to a scaffolding to give myself a bit of light boost. There were no short cuts. I didn’t get faster. I had to keep moving, at a slow pace, and enjoy the process.

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I learned to relax and enjoy the meditative brush strokes and listened to quite a few absorbing but calming podcasts to keep my mind occupied and body in the flow.

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Photo by Feng Ho

After a mere 100 hours on the job, I cannot call myself a Takumi by any stretch of the imagination, but have a renewed respect for the masters of the field!

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My mum’s from Malaysia and dad’s from Singapore, so I love visiting these countries even if they are relatively foreign places to me. My niece invited me to her wedding in May, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to catch up with family.

Study in Millenial Pink

The wedding was in a “Six” star hotel, called the St. Regis. We lounged around in the gap between official ceremony and evening fun, getting ourselves pampered and primped. It did amuse me to see that the epitome of luxury was a chilly air conditioning bordering on UK winter temperatures, and that the fruit bowl contained northern hemisphere waxy green apples.

Mellower Coffee

I spent some time hanging out with my brother and sister in law. They took me to a fancy cafe called Mellower Coffee, whose top hit menu item was a black coffee with a ball of candy floss suspended above. As the steam rose, the floss melted, looking like pretty rain. We tried the cake, which looked much better than it tasted. I was so happy lurking in the noisy buzz of this popular place, spending time in companionable silence.

Belly Fire

My sister in law was kind enough to let me come to her acupuncture session one afternoon. I was amazed by the number of needles that the doctor put in, and how calm she said she felt afterwards.

Teh Tarik and Mahathir in the Midnight café

After a long bus journey I arrived in Malaysia to see my mum’s side of the family. We ended up drinking Teh Tarik in the midnight cafe, and reading about the shock victory of Mahathir, who had just won a second term in office at the ripe age of 92. In hot countries like Malaysia, the night time is peaceful and cool, it’s a good time to get snacks once the appetite returns. I love the way people enjoy this time of the night together.

Hungry cat café

Malaysian food, even breakfast, is the best. Every now and then I long for a bowl of fresh slippery salty noodles in gloriously bright purple plastic bowls, lit by the flicker of neon cut by a whirring fan. My cousin and I had a quick bowl before we set off for Singapore together in the car. The cafe had a little scrawny cat who poked around under my table; I wanted to take him home.

I’m still working on some more of these prints, and they have brought back good memories of fun times with family. I know that taking pictures would have been more immediate, and accurate, but these slower images bring back the sounds and smells and heat of the place… for me, at least.

 

Last year, when I was on a residency in China, I made a series of fifty water-based woodblock prints (mokuhanga prints) which ended up becoming an animation called Smiley Rock.

Smiley Rock still frame

The technique of printing successive thin layers of watercolour is called bokashi and some of the frames for the animation were made from progressive stages of the printing process. I took photos of the print, while printing fresh layers of colour, so that you can see how the colour builds up. I edited the piece in the Royal Academy Schools in Piccadilly, London, and talented musician Eliot Kennedy made the music for me.

Smiley Rock frame being photographed for the animation

The animation is currently being shown in West Yorkshire Print Workshop, as part of their group show called Japan, until 1 September. Read about the show here or at https://www.wypw.org/blog/japan/

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Smiley Rock is also coming with me to the IMPACT conference in Santander, Spain next month… I’ll be showing the animation alongside some of the frames. Watch this space!

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You can watch the animation here or go to https://vimeo.com/237974015

 

Oh! I’m so happy to be included in the Tokyo Mini Print Triennial!

She Dreams of Flowers

She Dreams of Flowers (2017) by Wuon-Gean Ho. Linocut, 15 x 20 cm

Have a look here to see the prizewinning works and here to see a list of the artists selected (yes, it’s loads of people, but I am still pleased to be in it!)

Tama Art University Museum

Date: (Sat.) Oct. 27, 2018 – (Sun.) Dec. 2, 2018

Open Hours:10:00 – 18:00 (last admission at 17:30)
Closed:Tuesdays
Admission free
1-33-1 Ochiai, Tama-city, Tokyo, Japan
Tel. +81-(0)42-357-1251
Access:7 minutes from Tama Center Station (Keio Sagamihara Line, Odakyu Tama Line, Tama-monorail)

I’m very tempted to go over and see the show, as they will have a full programme of printmaking events running alongside…

The Novosibirsk International Triennial of Contemporary Graphic Arts in Russia: Oh, What a fancy sounding show! I’ve seen some technical and graphic excellence from Russian and former Soviet Union artists, and imagine the show will be full of excellent work.

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I’ve been invited to take part by a curator of the digital section, Derek Besant.

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For those who know my work, it’s resolutely analogue, except I do make many of my prints into animations! So, the use of digital software qualifies me to take part.

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I’ve submitted Shadow Boy and Shadow Girl, as two sets of still frames (nine frames per panel) and the animation on a flash drive. Fingers crossed the film works over there!

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The Novosibirsk International Triennial of Contemporary Graphic Arts runs from 14 Sept to 4 Nov.

If you’d like to see the animation, it’s here:  https://vimeo.com/208883758

 

 

Buckingham Palace is beautiful, golden, sparkling, opulent, baroque, rich. If it were a dish it would be molten duck egg yolks, velvety on the tongue… However, I was thinking how even though it’s filled with life-like marble statues, their ghostly pallor and illusion of softness might make one yearn for the reality of a living, breathing, messy, optimistic dog.

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So I made this print, which is of my friend’s ornate chair in her living room, one that kind of resembles a throne, and her happy dog, Lily. It was a lovely experience to sit in such a grand chair, and have Lily leaning on my legs. In way she was half mascot, and half protector, fully present.

I sent one of these prints to The Queen to thank her for inviting me over. I hope she didn’t think I was being blasphemous…