Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Guest Blogger Charles Wisseman, on Moku Hanga and Martin Vinaver

Charles Wisseman is a retired pathologist who now does mixed media art with a current emphasis on book arts and papermaking. Charles lives in Champaign, Illinois and has a website where he shares some of his work:

Charlie has been at PBI every time that I have been there and I think he's been there many times more. This year at Ox Bow, he took Martin Vinaver's class on Moku Hanga, a Japanese woodblock printing technique. He kindly agreed to share his class experience here on my blog.

Martin Vinaver was an unusual presence at PBI this year ( May in Oxbow in Saugatuck, Michigan). He is a Mexican from Vera Cruz who fell in love with Japanese woodblock printing, which led him to learn Japanese and spend several years in Japan learning this art form from remaining masters. This is a difficult and labor-intensive process which is in decline. The samples of older prints from Japan show an almost superhuman degree of fine detail and carefully drawn lines.

On returning to Mexico, he set about working with some other Mexicans and foreign artists to try to "Mexicanize" the process, because some of the Japanese materials were very expensive or unobtainable in Mexico. He gave a talk on his art center progress so far, with U-tube clips showing the making of paper from old towels discarded by local tourist hotels, lithograph stones from local quarries, locally cast metal parts for presses, local colored earths for pigments, carbon black from the local bakery, fat for lithography crayons from local sheep, etc. The website for his organization is

In the class we did not try to reach the level of the old masters. Each person tried to carve and print an original 4.5" x 6.5" block of shina plywood to learn the traditional methods of carving (including registration points), mixing pigments and printing on Japanese paper using a traditional baren. Martin brought carving sets of traditional style made locally in Mexico using steel from older quality European files. These were for sale after the class, and I liked the tools enough to buy a set. He brought powdered earthen pigments from Mexico, demonstrated traditional baren-making (which we all tried).

We were all feeling pretty good about our designs and carving, until Martin came in on the third day and said that we needed to carve our negative spaces deeper to avoid stray ink transfer. In the cold studio space this was not welcome news, but the final results were worth it. I carved a turtle design using two blocks.

Moku Hanka Woodblock Print by Charles Wisseman

Carving to have color areas contact without gaps or overlaps was harder than I expected, but we were all pleased with the results. The main challenge is to think in terms of color areas rather than lines. I have no graphic training, but found the final result pleasing.

Martin's other contribution was tai chi instruction in the open before breakfast every day. I liked his style better than other forms I have tried, but probably can't find a teacher here. What a great way to start the day, though.

Martin Vinaver leading tai chi at Ox Bow

More photos on Flickr


marta traughber said...

Martin sounds like an amazing man. How lucky you are to have learned from him.

Velma Bolyard said...

i like how you asked charles to write about his experience as a student...i enjoyed some early morning talks with him at machias.