If you have never visited Japan, what are you waiting for?

I was so pleased to have been given the opportunity by Tokyo University of the Arts to visit, speak, demonstrate and laugh with the under-graduates, post-graduates and staff at the wonderful printmaking department. The university is in Tokyo’s beautiful Ueno Park area and is surrounded by institutions of similar stature; art museums, music colleges, the science and technology centre and other university faculties.

The printmaking department is neighbour to a number of other disciplines including material sciences, with whom they work closely. This all gives the place a fascinating diversity. A diversity also evident in the faces of both students and staff; Japanese, Austrian, Spanish, Swiss, American, British, Polish. The desire for international students to live, work and study in Japan is understandable.

When visiting colleges and universities, members of the Cranfield team normally follow a well-used pattern of firstly explaining how ink is manufactured followed by explaining the variances in formulations required to suit the different printmaking disciplines. Finally we discuss common printmaking problems.

We often then have time for questions before using a portable laptop microscope for students to look in detail at various prints, plates and paper surfaces. This aspect of any visit is always great fun and normally degenerates into looking at the cleanliness of coffee cups and fingernails. This is generally accompanied by hoots of laughter and much embarrassment…

A visit to the University of the arts Tokyo had the additional advantage (and privilege for me) in that I was asked to recommission a delightful little three-roll mill belonging to the university that had not been used for many years. Knowing this in advance, and wishing to arrive prepared, prior to my arrival, I purchased some basic raw materials from a local shop in Tokyo. I was hoping to make a rudimentary ink using pigment, talcum powder and cooking oil. Sadly my failure to understand Japanese meant that we inadvertently made the world’s first (and last) batch of yellow printmaking ink based on synthetic organic pigment milled into very cheap and accidentally purchased Japanese white rice cooking vinegar… Thankfully a student produced some linseed oil from a cupboard and we were away!

Meeting with such an engaged and engaging group of staff and students under the expertise tutelage of the hugely skilled and inspirational Michael Schneider and his colleagues was tremendously exciting, not simply because of any interest in what I might have to say but, more importantly the obvious depth of understanding and real enthusiasm, proving beyond all doubt that printmaking has a future far more exciting than merely ‘the same again’.

The department is combining traditional with modern printmaking methods, combining digital technologies with ancient skills, combining Eastern and Western styles and after my visit, briefly combining white rice vinegar with yellow pigment.

My thanks to the department for the warmth of their welcome. Read more about the department at www.geidai.ac.jp or if your Japanese isn’t so hot… www.geidai.ac.jp/english/


If any readers representing a university or college with a similar interest in printmaking that would like to work with us more closely, and perhaps receive a visit then do let us know or as Google tells me they say in Japan ……あなたからのお便りを楽しみにしています