Posts Tagged 'How it’s Made'

Layers and colors and prints, oh my!

Whether they’re used as Weezer’s album cover or turned into emoji, Japanese woodblock prints have long been admired for their striking imagery and rich detail. At the Center for Creative Connections, we’re excited to welcome three Japanese woodblock prints from the DMA’s permanent collection by Hiroshi Yoshida.

The soft colors and fine details on these prints make them appear delicate or fragile, but the process behind each of these artworks requires some intensive labor. To illustrate a bit of the behind-the-scenes work that took place for these prints, we collaborated with Austin-based printmaker Daryl Howard to recreate a traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking station similar to the one Yoshida would have used to create the works on view in C3. Based on a diagram from Japanese Print-Making: A handbook of traditional and modern techniques by Rei Yuki and Toshi Yoshida (Hiroshi Yoshida’s son), the display case in C3 shows a few of the most essential printmaking tools used for this art form.

There are two essential steps to make color woodblock prints:

Carving the woodblocks. Each color on a final print image corresponds to a separate woodblock. For instance, creating a final image with black, red, and yellow colors would require a printmaker to carve three separate blocks-one for each color. Printmakers used a (knife), to cut fine lines into each wooden block, and various aisuki (flat scrapers) to carve out unnecessary pieces of wood. Chisels known as sōainomi and marunomi were used with wooden mallets to clear out large spaces on the wooden surface.

Printing onto the paper.  After carving each woodblock, printmakers applied colored pigments directly onto the surface of the blocks using horsehair brushes called surikomi-bake. Softer mizubake (water brushes) were used to moisten sheets of paper before printing. To transfer pigments from the wooden block surface onto the paper, printmakers placed the paper on top of the woodblock and rubbed it with a baren made of coiled fibers and bamboo sheath. The artist would repeat this printing process, laying the same sheet of paper on top of each different woodblock to create a final image made of multiple color layers.

C3_blockdetail In the Interactive Gallery, we’ve developed a printmaking station where visitors can experiment with Step 2 of the printmaking process by making their own layered color prints using paper, carved linoleum blocks, and crayon rocks. Like the traditional Japanese woodblock prints, each of the carved blocks at the C3 table activity corresponds to one color that can be layered with others to create a final image. Yoshida often used 20-30 different color block layers in his prints, but our activity only requires four layers. The crayon rocks act as both a baren and an inking brush because they simultaneously apply color and transfer the impression of the carved block onto the paper. Take a look at the slideshow below to see a step by step run-through of the C3 printmaking activity.

C3_overview

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My favorite aspect of the printmaking process is the way working with separate layers allows for countless color combinations. Yoshida used this facet of the medium to create vastly different moods and atmospheres in his prints—these kinds of prints focused on color variants are called betsuzuri. In his 1926 Inland Sea series, part of the permanent collection in the MFA Boston, Yoshida utilized the same set of woodblocks to create six entirely distinct images showing various times of day:

A small sampling of the prints visitors made in C3 this week demonstrates a similar effect using color variants to produce unique images from the same set of carved blocks:

If you’re like me and you can’t get enough of this medium, check out these DIY printmaking tutorials using styrofoam and soda (yes, the drink!). For a deeper dive into the intricacies of traditional Japanese printmaking, mark your calendars for the upcoming Late Night Art Bytes on May 20, and the C3 Visiting Artist Workshop with Daryl Howard, printmaker extraordinaire, on May 21. Happy printing!

Paulina Lopez
McDermott Graduate Intern for Visitor Engagement

 

How it's Made: Japanese Lacquer

Next time you visit the Dallas Museum of Art, make sure you stop by our Japanese collection.  You can find the Japanese gallery on the third floor in the Arts of Africa, Asia, and Pacific Island galleries.  In the center of the gallery, you will find three exquisite examples of Japanese lacquer.  In fact, one of my favorite works in our collection is a Japanese lacquered Chest of drawers.

History of Japanese Lacquer

According to Monsieur Gonse, a French connoisseur and art critic, “Japanese lacquered objects are the most perfect works of art that have ever issued from the hands of man.”

The art of lacquer actually came to Japan from China around the 6th century A.D.  Originally connected with Buddhism, early lacquer adorned the walls of Buddhist temples.  As the medium became more popular, lacquer objects became more utilitarian and were primarily used as everyday objects.  Individuals who commissioned such decorative objects had to be patient with the time commitment involved, for it could take months to even years to complete a lacquered object.

What makes Japanese lacquer special?

In order to appreciate the true value of Japanese lacquer, it’s important to understand how lacquer objects are made.

Lacquer comes from the sap of the lacquer tree, Rhus vernicifera,and is known as

Extracting lacquer from the Rhus vernicifera tree

urushi.  Most lacquer forms begin with a wooden foundation, a special wood called Hinoki, a species of Japanese cypress.  Before the layering of the lacquer begins, the lacquer artist wraps the wooden object in a silk or hempen cloth saturated with a mixture of lacquer and rice flour called nori urushi.  Then, a layer of powdered earthenware mixed with lacquer is applied over the cloth and sanded smooth.   This method is applied with finer grades of powder until an even layer is produced.

After the foundation layers are smoothed, the object is ready for the refined lacquer. The refined lacquer is blackened by iron and applied carefully in layers.  Because the lacquer takes a long time to dry and needs high humidity for hardening, the object is placed in a “wet box” for three to four days before the next coat is applied.  After the object is removed from the “wet box”, it is carefully smoothed and polished with magnolia charcoal.  This is repeated about thirty to eighty more times until the final coat is applied.  After the last coat has dried, the object is finger polished with deer’s horn ashes and oil.

Fun Fact: Because the humidity in Japan is so high, the three lacquered objects here at the DMA are placed in humidity controlled cases.

This precise artform requires a huge amount of skill and patience.  If one were to apply thirty coats of lacquer and wait four days in between each layer, it would take up to 120 days to complete the lacquer portion of the object.  This is not including any special techniques such as inlay or other carving methods.  Altogether, it could take half a year to complete a lacquer object!  How long do you think it took to create this Lacquered wood saddle?

Next time you’re at the Museum, come by and see some of the finest hand-made objects in our collection.  Once you see these beautifully-crafted objects in person, they are bound to become your favorites!

Over and out,

Loryn Leonard
Coordinator of Museum Visits

Resources:

  • Mody, N.H.N., “Japanese Lacquer,” Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Jan., 1940), pp. 291-294
  • Weintraub, Steven, Kanya Tsujimoto, and Sadae Y. Walters, “Urushi and Conservation: The Use of Japanese Lacquer in the Restoration of Japanese Art,” Ars Orientalis, Vol. 11 (1979), pp.39-62

How it's Made: Etruscan Jewelry

Welcome to the introductory blog of the “How it’s Made” series.  In this series, I aim to shed some light on the technical methods of how objects in our collection were created and to gather a greater appreciation for art-making in general. 

Coming from a metalsmithing background, I wanted to start this series with precious  metal objects.  I selected Etruscan jewelry because I have such admiration for how beautifully designed and how well-crafted these metal objects are.  While studying metalsmithing at the University of North Texas, I had the opportunity to learn several of the same techniques the Etruscans used, but with the convenience of modern tools and technology.

Pair of "a bauletto" type earrings, Etruscan, 6th-early 5th centuries B.C., Museum League Purchase Funds, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., and Cecil H. and Ida M. Green in honor of Virginia Lucas Nick

Who were the Etruscans?

Early inhabitants of Italy, the Etruscans settled in the northern region of Rome in the late eighth century B.C., and can trace their heritage by name in modern-day Tuscany.  The Etruscans succeeded the Villanovan culture, a civilization that established early foreign trade and was adept in creating bronze jewelry. The influx of Greek colonization in Italy aided in the transition from Villanovan to Etruscan culture, which thrived until Roman imperialism succeeded around 200 B.C.

 

Etruscan territory

What Makes Etruscan Jewelry Interesting?

Today, it’s no mystery why jewelers love to use gold.  Gold is a very easy metal to work with; it’s malleable (which means it’s easy to shape and form), there is less clean up after soldering, and it doesn’t tarnish over time.  So, why is Etruscan gold so amazing?  This ancient civilization manipulated metals and implemented tedious applications without the modern convenience of a torch and other fancy tools is pretty incredible.  It amazes me that such delicate pieces could be fused together by controlling an open flame instead of a pressure-controlled torch. 

Take granulation, for example.  Granulation derives from the Latin word granum, meaning “grain,” and it describes the method of fusing small granules to a base.  This ancient technique is a hallmark of Etruscan jewelry and requires a lot of meticulous preparation. 

Pair of Funerary Earrings, Etruscan, 4th-3rd Century B.C., gift of Mr. and Mrs. Cecil H. Green

In order to make the granules, Etruscans would place gold dust or very small clippings of metal into a crucible.  In order to keep the granules from clumping together and melting into one giant granule, they placed layers of charcoal between the clippings, and then heated them to their melting point.  At that point, the metal dust or clipping will roll itself into a little ball and create a granule.

Modern granulation technique, courtesy of "The Complete Metalsmith" by Tim McCreight

Modern granulation technique, courtesy of "The Complete Metalsmith" by Tim McCreight

Once you have your tiny granules, you have to then position them and fuse them to a base.  Today, metalsmiths use ready-made flux and solder to join granules on a base.  According to Jochem Wolters in his essay “The Ancient Craft of Granulation: A Re-Assessment of Established Concepts,” adhesive non-metallic solders such as the gem chrysokolla (which literally translates to “gold glue”) or any other copper-bearing compounds were the solder of choice for the Etruscans. 

Chrysokolla, a gem used for non-metallic solder

If you’ve never soldered before, and you’re having a hard time visualizing this, think of a peanut butter sandwich.  You have two surfaces that need to be fused together.  Think of the base and the granule as the two slices of bread, and the solder as the peanut butter; without it, the two surfaces cannot fuse.  Once you have your solder and granules in place, you place your object over an open charcoal fire and heat it evenly.  Amazing!

It’s important to note that the Etruscans didn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of metalsmithing techniques, for many of the methods they are recognized for (such as granulation, filigree, chasing, and repoussé) were borrowed from neighboring cultures.  The true reason Etruscan jewelry stands out is because of the ancient metalsmiths’ technical skill and amazing ability to manipulate gold with precision.  I can attest that even with modern tools, it is difficult to execute many of the techniques that were used in the 6th and 7th centuries B.C. 

I hope you find Etruscan jewelry as riveting as I do, and if you have any questions about other works from our collection, please feel free to post your questions in the comments area. 

Happy making,

Loryn Leonard
Coordinator of Museum Visits

Resources:

  • Barbara Deppert-Lippitz, Ancient Gold Jewelry at the Dallas Museum of Art, (Washington: University of Washington 1996), 31-57. 
  • Tim McCreight, The Complete Metalsmith: Professional Edition, (Davis Publications: February 2004).
  • Jochem Wolters,”The Ancient Craft of Granulation: A Re-Assessment of Established Concepts,” Gold Bulletin, Vol. 14, Number 3, 119-129. 

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