November 1st and 3rd 1998
Tenth Annual children's block-printing
(Hamura community centre, Tokyo)
November 3rd is a national holiday here in Japan - 'Culture Day', and our community centre here in Hamura, as do all such places around the country, holds many events during the week. Art groups, theatre groups, dance groups ... photographers, calligraphers ... you name it, and it's on show there.
There doesn't happen to be a woodblock printmaking 'circle' in our town, so ten years ago when I offered to 'show the flag' for this craft and do some kind of event, the organizers accepted right away.
To make a woodblock print takes time - at least the carving takes time - so for the kids to be able to make their own print during the course of a single short visit to a community centre seemed like 'mission impossible'. But I found a way to do it; I prepare a carved set of four blocks and line them up on a long table, each one accompanied with the necessary brush, bowl of pigment, baren, etc. The kids line up at one end, grab a piece of paper from a stack, and work their way along the row of blocks, putting on each of the four colours in turn.
Of course, they don't have a clue what to do at first, so I (and some helpers from the community centre) stand behind the tables and guide them through the process. This event has become very popular during the years, and during the two days that I do it, there is a constant line-up of kids waiting to make their print. They have a lot of fun, and are always very thrilled when the sheet comes up off the final block and they can see what they've made.
Some of the younger ones need a lot of 'help' - getting the paper properly placed into the registration marks, and the pigment spread evenly, but many of the kids can do the whole thing alone quite comfortably. But it doesn't seem to matter just how much they did 'by themselves'. They go home proudly carrying their 'own' woodblock print.
By the end of the two days, I can no longer stand up straight (those tables are low!) , but it is a lot of fun. Kids come back year after year, and their mothers tell me that they have the prints from each year all stuck up in a row on their bedroom wall. And who knows, maybe some of those kids will find their interest deepening, and will want to explore printmaking a bit further as they get older. Stranger things have happened!