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Prior to January 2021 Mokulito was a technique I was only vaguely aware of. However with another lockdown imposed and closed studios once again, I was craving a way to keep lithography as part of my practice. The past few months have been spent learning, experimenting, and developing the process, and I have begun to appreciate the aesthetic of the marks that can be achieved.

 

Mokulito, a Japanese printmaking technique, relies on the same principles as lithography, namely the antipathy of grease and water. However, instead of the matrix being a limestone slab it is a plywood block. Just as with the stone, you need to build a relationship with the wood matrix, nurturing the uniqueness of the grain of each block, such that its natural properties complement the composition. Personally, I want the grain of the matrix to be a tangible component of the final prints, particularly as I enjoy the harmony between the wood and the subject matter I am attempting to give life to. 

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The Mokulito process starts with a piece of plywood that has been well sanded to ensure a totally smooth surface absent of any grease. Marks are added using lithographic drawing materials, and once the image is dry, a thin layer of gum Arabic is applied as would be the case for an etch on a stone. This helps to push the grease from the drawing materials into the wood, as well as protecting the areas that will be unmarked in the final prints. The plate is then left in a sunny, warm environment for a few days. Prior to printing, the gum Arabic layer is washed away and ink is applied with a roller in multiple thin layers, slowly building up the tones. As with stone litho, patience and consideration are needed. 

 

The challenge has been less to do with making the technique work, and more about refining the process to allow for the mark-making and aesthetic I seek. My first attempt used Baltic birch plywood sourced from a specialist art supplier, which I then cut down to fit my tiny etching press. However, I was keen to find a more cost effective solution, and my most recent artwork used birch plywood bought from a local timber yard, where I could select a particular sheet with grain patterning that I liked. Moreover, I have been effacing previously used blocks and like the way in which the block retains a memory of the previous image resulting in a ghost print as part of the new composition. I experimented with different drawing materials, finding that lithographic crayon was not stable enough for my liking; almost as if the grease particles in the crayon sit on the surface of the wood rather than impregnating it, and therefore breakdown too quickly during printing. Instead, I was attracted to Charbonnel litho ink and tusche diluted to different concentrations in order to achieve the tonality I wanted. I enjoy using brushes, dip pens, and twigs and cones I have collected during my wanderings. Reductive marks can also be made by cutting away parts of the wood, and will become areas of light in the final composition. 

 

When ready to print, there are strong parallels with stone lithography. Like the stone, the wood needs to be kept damp throughout, with ink applied gradually such that the layers are built up slowly. I have been using foam rollers, applying minimal pressure, allowing the ink to do what it does best – adhere to the greasy marks. I have experimented with different weights of paper, including some Awagami Japanese papers, and although I like the delicacy of the latter as a substrate, I prefer the aesthetic of the marks on Somerset Satin.

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As I explore and develop my own way of working with Mokulito, I am continually learning and refining the many variables. Certainly, starting my exploratory Mokulito journey in the depth of the Scottish winter presented its own challenges, as it is now clear to me, that warmth and sunlight aid the processing of the block prior to printing. I try to leave images with gum Arabic on for at least a week – I really enjoy that it is not an immediate process, and although the marks themselves are directly expressive, the technique as a whole is measured, affording scope for reflection.