Recently, JCMU introduced a short program focused on mokuhanga, a style of woodblock printmaking unique to Japan. Many of our students are unsure of what mokuhanga is, so we reached out to Linda Beeman, a successful Western mokuhanga artist, to provide us with more information. Linda teaches this style of art at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan, and is the current vice president of the Michigan-Shiga Sister State Board. She has exhibited her art in both the US and Japan, including the recent “Art from the Lakes” artist exchange held between many Michigan and Shiga artists. In fact, many of Linda’s artworks are on display in JCMU’s East Lansing office!
“First, could you please introduce yourself?”
My name is Linda Beeman. I am a mokuhanga artist. Moku means wood, and hanga translates to print, or Japanese woodblock prints. Mokuhanga differs from Western woodblock printmaking in the use of four things: water color pigment instead of oil-based inks, the kento registration system, printing by hand with a baren (a handheld burnisher) instead of a press, and the use of washi, or handmade Japanese paper.
“How did you first become interested in mokuhanga?”
I started out as a Western style woodblock printmaking, but I didn’t like the inks or the toxicity used for cleanup. I also couldn’t get transparent gradations that I was looking for. Therefore, I started researching non-toxic water-based printmaking and found mokuhanga. Outside of Japan this technique is not widely known, so finding an instructor was a challenge that took me three years.
“So who finally ended up teaching you mokuhanga, and how have you continued studying it?”
I found Mary Brodbeck, a former JCMU visiting scholar and fellow mokuhanga artist, in Kalamazoo and took a five day workshop from her. Since then, I have been learning on my own and through my travels to Japan. I attended the first and second International Mokuhanga Conference in 2011 and 2014. I was also Artist in Residence at Mokuhanga Innovation Laboratory at Fujikawaguchiko.
“Were the Japanese people surprised that you were a mokuhanga artist?”
While I was there, people inquired who I was and what I did. When I said mokuhanga, they were surprised because I was a Westerener, but also because I was a woman doing the entire process myself.
“So was it unusual for women to be mokuhanga artists?”
Because mokuhanga is so physically taxing, it traditionally was very unusual for women to do mokuhanga.
“Did the Japanese artists think positively of you being a female mokuhanga artist?”
Yeah, it was almost like they respected me more because I took on the challenge!
“So what does the mokuhanga artistic process entail, anyways?”
The process of mokuhanga begins with a line drawing – almost like a cartoon or coloring book. Then, you make a color drawing from that and break down those colors into individual woodblocks. My prints usually take 6-10 woodblocks to create, but it wasn’t unheard of with ukiyo-e prints by artists such as Hokusai or Hiroshige to take up to 100 woodblocks. The next step is to carve all those blocks. Then, the process of painting and printing begins. Each block is hand-painted and hand-printed with a baren. If there is an edition of 100 prints, each block in turn is hand-painted 100 times. If there are 6 blocks, that would be 600 times you paint and press by hand at a minimum. Sometimes, I might even have to reprint blocks 4, 5, 6, or more times.
“How did you first begin exhibiting your art in Japan?”
In 2011, I approached the Michigan-Shiga Sister State Board with the idea of an artist exchange. Using art as an economic initiative was something new, and I felt viable. During my stay in Japan that year, I met artists who thought this was an excellent idea and “Art from the Lakes” was born. In 2013, 6 artists from Shiga traveled to and exhibited in Lansing. In 2014, 4 Michigan artists exhibited in Otsu, Shiga.
“How were you treated as a Western artist in Japan?”
It was like being surrounded by paparazzi! At the opening reception in Otsu, we were treated like VIPs. Governor Mikazuki came to the opening and gave a speech, and we were sponsored by the Otsu Chuo Rotary. We were honored, respected, and treated with great care.
“What advice would you give to students interested in mokuhanga?”
I felt as if mokuhanga chose me, so if you want to give mokuhanga a try, do it! You will know right away if it also chooses you. If you are interested in taking mokuhanga lessons, feel free to come to the classes I teach at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan.
If you are interested in seeing more of Linda’s work and/or learning more about mokuhanga, her website is www.lindajbeeman.com. If you want to ask her more questions about how to go about learning the art style, she can be reached at the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.