My sister came to visit us here in Tokyo a few weeks ago, and needless to say my daughters were thrilled to see their cool aunt. I have always considered my little sister to be the "artsy, creative" one in our family, so I wanted to find something fun for my girls to do with her. After a bit of research, I came across "Kazoku no Atelier" (it translates to something like "Family Atelier"). They are a free facility run by one of the 23 wards in Tokyo, and every month they offer classes through their Art School. There is a two-week sign-up period, and you are encouraged to be quick because I believe the classes are first come, first served.
The class we signed up for was, at first, a bit of a mystery to me. But that was entirely my fault because when I signed up, I didn't read it carefully and thought it was going to be a bread-making class (I just saw that you were asked to bring your own apron and didn't bother looking at the woodblock printing part, oops).
Fortunately, I received a reminder email a few days before the class, and I figured out that we would not be baking, but woodblock printing. A (*cough*) minor difference, right? The class was led by the husband-wife team of Hikosaka Yuki and Morito Izumi, who together wrote and illustrated the book パンどうぞ (which very roughly translates to "Please help yourself to some bread"). They have also done some artwork for some major advertising campaigns. You can check out their website (in Japanese) here, and there is an interview with them (again, in Japanese) where you can see some more examples of their work here and here.
Before the workshop, Mr. Morito introduced one of their books and explained what the children would be working on that day. They brought with them the already carved woodblock pieces, and set them up at 4 different stations, each for a different type of bread. There was water, paint, paintbrushes, a cloth, and the sample prints.
It's not too complicated, but there were quite a few steps so I wondered if my daughter would be able to remember them all. I shouldn't have worried. Once she got started, there was no stopping her. It was the same with all the children there. Everyone was so well-behaved and wonderful about taking turns, too!
First you prep the block by squirting a drop or two of water on it and spread it around with the brush. Then you dab a little bit of paint on it and spread that, too. If you need to lighten the edges or certain areas, you take the cloth and wipe some of the paint off. Then you place the paper over the block (they had cleverly put in indentations marking where to line up the edges of the paper) and take the circular pad to rub the paint onto the paper. And that's it!
Oh and in case you're wondering why my daughter is wearing a bunched up plastic raincoat around her, it's because I forgot to pack her cute apron and I had to borrow something from my sister to keep from staining her dress. I felt bad that all the other children had their handmade aprons that their mothers had made and my child was wearing some plastic contraption, but lucky for me, she was too excited to care.
They made four prints in all that day. A cream-filled bun, a sakura bean-jam bun, a pancake, and a donut. They looked so delicious that my sister said she wished the workshop had been a woodblock printing AND bread-baking workshop, haha.
I think if you wanted to try this at home, you could totally do it without the woodblocks. Of course if you're super talented and crafty, like Leslie of A little goodness (whom I admire so much!), then you could do your own block carving. But for the regular folk like me, I think it is doable with some potatoes or other vegetables sliced in half and carved out with whatever design you'd like to make (I know Martha always has some ideas). It would be more like stamping rather than printing, but I think the idea is the same. I might even make some printed fabric with my girls, if we're feeling adventurous enough.
I hope you enjoyed this peek into crafty life in Japan, and I would love to hear any and all ideas you might have for printing on paper or fabric!!