aspens and mountains made with Japanese woodblock print

Print Studio Demo Artist Leon Loughridge

Leon Loughridge will be in the Print Studio demonstrating contemporary Japanese Moku Hanga November 24-25.

Japanese prints have a luminous quality very similar to that of watercolor, as both use a transparent ink over a white paper.

– Leon Loughridge

Raised in Northern New Mexico, Leon Loughridge developed an early affinity for the Southwestern landscape. Stationed in Germany while in the army, he was able to travel extensively throughout Europe, visiting museums and filling journals with sketches. On his return to Colorado, Leon studied intaglio techniques and began selling his prints in mountain galleries. Today, Leon Loughridge owns the Dry Creek Art Press publishing company, where he utilizes his printmaking skills to make reduction woodblocks, etchings and limited edition books, hand-printed on a 1920 Vandercook Flatbed Letterpress. His work is exhibited nationally and collected by numerous museums including the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Public Library, and the Colorado History Museum.

Annika Birnbaum: What will you do for your demo at the DAM?

Leon Loughridge: I will be working on a few woodblock prints during the weekend, using the Japanese style of printing commonly referred to as Moku Hanga. Don't expect to see a large printing press as the Japanese print process uses a round textured disk to apply pressure to transfer the inked image to the paper.

The Japanese inking and printing process is quicker than the traditional Western oil-based ink, allowing four to five colors to be printed within an afternoon. Visitors can expect to see a print develop through five color printings.

AB: What can visitors expect to see?

LL: I will have a number of display prints showing the development of a multiple color woodblock, which will help to demystify the process. As the print process moves along quickly, visitors will be able to see the block inked with stiff brushes, registration of the paper and the image transferred with a baren (a textured disk), all within a few minutes.

The ink applied is a rice paste and pigment mix and is brushed across the carved surface of the woodblock with stiff-haired brushes. After the ink is evenly applied to the carved surface of the woodblock, the paper is registered to the image. A baren is rubbed over the raised areas of the block to transfer the ink to the paper.

AB: What sparked your interest in Japanese woodblock techniques?

LL: Japanese prints have a luminous quality very similar to that of watercolor as both use a transparent ink over a white paper. That luminous quality translates so beautifully from the plein-aire watercolor sketches that my work is based upon. As the ink is applied by hand with brushes, the intensity and transparency can be controlled and varied on each print.

In essence, each print is an original, with the ink application being manipulated by hand for each print. Color, the emotional core of my work, becomes very immediate when printing with the process, allowing me to develop my connection to the artwork.

AB: Many of your prints focus on the Southwestern United States as subject matter. What makes this landscape so special to you?

LL: Most of my imagery relates to the Southwest as this is where I have lived. The images represent my moments and encounters with the environment that has influenced and affected my life over the years. With years of living in the Southwest, my woodblocks draw upon those encounters and experiences, both past and present, to develop a grounded emotional statement in a woodblock. I am able to talk or print the experiences and environment I know. The outdoors is experiential and becomes ingrained in one's psyche, easily finding its way into my artistic statements.

Leon Loughridge working in his studio
Photo by Perry Loughridge

AB: How does your process inform your final work?

LL: My woodblocks are based upon the many watercolors sketches I do while outdoors. The spontaneity of the plein-aire sketch creates a strong visual connection to the subject. Many of the quick decisions and inadvertent distortions create a unique statement of the subject that would probably be lost in a methodical rendering in a controlled studio environment. The challenge is to maintain the freshness and spontaneity in the final woodblock.

AB: What makes it especially suited to your subject matter?

LL: The simplified shapes and forms that are carved into a woodblock allow a wonderful simplicity of design. The flexibility of inking by hand afforded by the Moku Hanga process allows me to create atmosphere and depth in my woodblocks.

Photo at top: Leon Loughridge, Shady Vista, 3/13 (detail). Woodblock Print, 6.50 x 16.50 in. Courtesy korologosgallery.com

Annika Birnbaum is an artist and studio programs intern in the department of learning and engagement.

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