April Vollmer taught a workshop for the Horizons Craft Program this August. Here is a report by Bea Gold ...
August 15 to 21, 1999 - Williamsburg, MA
We had been in New England from Wednesday, August 11 and stayed in Rockport, MA to eat Lobster in the Rough (not a California treat). It was great. We then went on to the Sunapee Arts and Crafts Fair in New Hampshire to see Matt Brown's exhibit. It was a real treat! Sunday, August 15, was the introduction to the workshops by the instructors at the Elderhostel workshop at Horizons in Williamsburg, Ma. This week included classes in Japanese woodblock, Black and White photography, Basket Making, Pastels, Welding Sculptures, and Cabinet making- April showed slides of her work and all were duly impressed as they were with the other instructors who showed slides of their work.
Monday, the class started with a general introduction to print making, then tools and sharpening in the morning and a discussion of the design and planning of the print (to keep it simple). There were seven people in the class including Barbara Hearn and myself who are members of the [Baren], and several others who had never done wood cutting before. I have cut wood forever but incorrectly so I spent the day unlearning bad habits. For example, I have always used to use a small 'V' gouge to cut lines on blocks, so that when I started using the 'toh' I cut on both sides of the line imitating the 'V' gouge. Learning to hold and use the toh was a real challenge. It was hard work. April demonstrated the way to cut a kento using a kentonomi, how to hold the toh, how to finish the cut using a U-gouge and the bull-nosed chisel. Monday and Tuesday were cutting days with Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for printing.
The Elderhostel week was very enjoyable and I will describe it some but mostly I will talk about the things that were learned during this very hard working time. The environment was rustic, the food good and healthful, the studio somewhat lacking but OK, the teacher great, the students enthusiastic.
Things I learned about tools, sharpening, cutting and printing:
The toh: Hold it with the pinky down, thumb on top (cut the handle if it's too long) Cut about 1/16 inch through the first layer on a shina plywood board. Cut towards you (not where your hand is)
April says: Pull the toh towards you, push the other tools away from you, always work with both hands on the tool.
CUT SLOW and EASY! (relax, take a deep breath and cut) Cut along the outside of the line - the toh will cut the correct bevel if held properly .
Use the medium U gouge a short distance from the cut toh line.
April says: this separates the edge of the color area from the waste areas to be cleared. Then the large U-gouge clears these large areas, then the soainomi smooths out the ridges between the U-gouge marks. This is where you must cut deep enough so the paper will not dip down into the non-printing area. You only need to clear areas that are close to printing areas (about 2 inches). Since color is applied with stiff brushes, color will not get on the whole block.
Use the large bull nose chisel - soainomi - to clear about 2 inches from the raised surface. Use the aisuki along the toh cut to flip out the remaining wood along the toh line.
April says: This is the satisfying part, should be easy if you cut a deep, even toh line.
Cut deep enough to make sure that the outside area will not hold paint.
Sharpening the toh and other tools: The sharpening stone should be smooth (I specifically had cut a depression for V-gouges). Use water to make it create a slip for sharpening. Find the angle of the bevel of the toh on the stone. Use two hands to hold the tool .
April says: I use a figure 8 because it covers the most surface area, other shapes will work!
Slowly and smoothly slide the knife in a figure 8 pattern. Sharpen often to keep the toh and other tools sharp. Use a wet/dry sand paper to keep the sharpening stone smooth.
April says: this is only if it's been chipped or damaged. The Nagura stone should be all you need ordinarily.
Planning and cutting the Kento: Mark the drawing for both kento marks - the kagi (the backward 'L') and the hikitsuke (the straight line stop) about 2/3 down on the long side of the block (bottom). Use a ruler to measure a 1" border on the bottom (long side) and right side of block.
April says: This is only if you want a 3/4" margin and are cutting a whole block.. Sometimes you can place the image on different parts of a block, so the registration might be in a different place.
On the right side and on the bottom, on the line mark a backwards L for the kagi. Using a kento-nomi (straight edge chisel specifically for cutting the kento or substitute 15mm hira-toh) holding it with the bevel away from you - cut straight down on the L marks; do not remove wood. To complete the kagi make eight cuts (see diagram #1)
Mark the hikitsuke about 2/3 down the long side at the bottom of the block, also about an inch long. Using a kento-nomi, holding it with the bevel away from you - cut straight down on the hikitsuke mark. Complete using 5 cuts - Repeat this placement and cutting on all blocks.
Planning the print: The drawing is made and the colors planned, then the drawing is transferred to each color block (if the block is large enough to have 2 inches of clear space, two or more colors can be cut on the same block). Think in flat color areas rather than line. The drawing can be transferred using carbon paper on the block (or other preferred methods such as gluing paper copies to the block or key block print, glued to the block).
April says: this is the traditional way, but a little tricky, you need the right weight paper, etc.
Cutting: SLOW AND EASY. Use sharp tools, bench hook or rug mat or damp cloth to secure the block and keep it from slipping. Use the toh to cut, bull nose chisel (soainomi), U-gouge and V-gouge - leave uncut areas two inches from color areas and cut outside deeply to keep unwanted color off the print.