Over the last 4 months, I’ve been able to steal a few minutes here and there between teaching during Covid (0% fun BTW) to work on my Appalachian Print Collection project.
Things are brewing behind the scenes– here is some recent (and much appreciated) news!:
(1) Tanuki Prints now has an assistant, Halle Castille, who is handling much of the social media coordination and is also essential in both binding books and kicking John in the rear-end when he needs it!
(2) The A.T. prints are to be featured in winter issue of “Journeys“– The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s magazine. I’m looking forward to reaching dedicated hikers and supporters while giving back to the organization.
(3) I am also involved with a project that I can’t wait to tell the world– however, it will just have to wait. Yes, I am “dangling”, but all will be revealed soon. Let’s just say that I can’t imagine having a more meaningful honor from the national hiking community.
(4) Tanuki Prints will join the ranks of many of my Japanese woodblock friends when I am interviewed by “The Unfinished Print“ podcast later this month- I’ll send a link as soon as the pod is ripe.
John Amoss puts in more work before the sun rises than many do while the sun is high in the sky.
For the past 18 months, his day has often started around 2 a.m. with the march into his basement studio — trying almost obsessively to complete a project that has roots in his boyhood adventure and a unique Japanese artform.
Japanese art and the Appalachian Trail don’t often find themselves in the same conversation. But each day, coffee in hand, he makes the journey to his studio in Gainesville to work on his woodblock printings of 14 scenes from the famous trail — a marriage of Western scenery and Eastern art that may be the first of its kind.
“I’m just enthralled with this stuff,” Amoss said while sifting through prints of his favorite woodblock artists.
Outfitted in a floral, short-sleeved button-down shirt, oversized khaki pants, no shoes and an ink-stained apron, Amoss climbs behind his lamp-lighted work desk each day and settles in.
The lights are low and a mix of music is playing behind him as he prepares to take on what he calls “The Appalachian Trail Print Collection.”When his project is finished, three years will have passed and Amoss will have completed a book of illustrations from 14 scenes in states along the trail that — from the ink to the wood blocks and even the tools themselves — is almost entirely made by hand.
While hiking the Appalachian Trail as a 17-year-old in 1980, Amoss snapped photos along the way, preserving scenes on Kodak film.To celebrate the 40th anniversary of his trip, and to help himself and others relive their journeys along the trail, he set out to combine the hard work of hiking with the hard work of woodblock printing.
“It’s kind of interesting, because it ties in a little with the Appalachian Trail, too, because everything I’ve ever done that’s worth a damn, I didn’t know what I was doing,” Amoss said. “Had I known, I probably wouldn’t have started. So, ignorance is strength in a way.”
Woodblock printing takes a certain strength of its own. Dedication, concentration and a good bit of muscle make the art what it is. That’s also what makes it so valuable.
Unlike Kodak’s Ektachrome film in Amoss’ camera while on the trail — with colors dedicated to film with a snap of a shutter — each woodblock print is the result of hours of work in carving, coloring, printing and drying stages that must be repeated for just about every color on every print.
“I have some of these prints that have eight colors on top of each other,” Amoss said. “I find that to just be mind-blowingly fascinating. Most people, I think, would rather just tear their hair out.”
After climbing behind his desk with the block, he sprays water to dampen it so the pigment, which is a powder mixed with water and serves as the ink, prints properly. Then he dabs a little rice water onto the block, which helps the pigment transfer from the block to paper, which is dabbed in a few places next, not be absorbed by the wood. Then he brushes the rice water and pigment all over the piece of wood with a printing brush that’s not too coarse and not too soft.
He lines up a piece of mulberry paper, which has to be precisely placed with each print, and begins to rub it with a baren, a special printing pad. By pressing the paper to the block, he transfers the pigment to the paper to create a piece of his final scene.
“The next step is to use the same sheets, different block, different color pigment and it begins to build layers until the product is finished,” Amoss said.
He is making 100 full books, which means there will be 1,400 individual prints. Each one of those prints take about 12 colors, meaning Amoss will go through the process about 16,800 times. He’s almost halfway through the project and plans to have it done by September 2020.
The full books will cost $750. He’s also selling 100 versions that will include just the first and last scenes for $150.
“It’s a ton of work, but it’s fun,” Amoss said. “And the nice thing about that is that it kind of filters a lot of people out that they don’t want to go through the trouble. And the folks that do know about this, they’re willing to pay because they know how much work it is and how rare this kind of stuff is.”
Years ago, while living in Atlanta, Amoss was in a book store and picked up “The Complete Woodblock Prints of Yoshida Hiroshi.” Amazed at the works inside the book, the artist wanted to learn how to do it himself.
“I love the mystery of it,” Amoss said. “I love the exoticism of it and the history … other people inspired me and I want to inspire other folks that want to do this. It just takes a really, really long time.”
His expertise has come after years of work and investment. He’s traveled to Japan more than once to learn from printmakers.
While flipping through the pages of Hiroshi Yoshida’s book, he said he “found the atmosphere in some of the prints to be fantastic.” He remembers thinking, “Every one of these things is just enchanting.”
“I’m a very, very curious person,” said Amoss, who’s also a printmaking professor at The University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus. “If I’ve got some kind of juice or energy about something, I want to go to the source of it.”
His students feel that same passion while Amoss is teaching them. Magnum Brock, a junior studio art major at North Georgia, described Amoss as an “eclectic philosopher.”
“He really tries to take time and ensure that the deeper meanings and the deeper parts of the craft are really portrayed to you rather than just the result,” Brock said. “He really emphasizes the journey of art, which is something that I think really resonates with a lot of other students.”
Brock has taken two drawing classes and is about to take his third printmaking class with Amoss.
“He is that professor that you go to college to learn from,” Brock said. “He’s the professor you want when you go to college even if you don’t know it.”
Though the project is a lofty goal, Halle Castille, another one of Amoss’ students, said that’s just the type of person Amoss is.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Castille, a senior studio art major. “I know that he thinks this could be his defining moment as an artist, and as artists we all are searching for that one goal, so I’m glad that he’s found what he’s passionate about.
“I know that this will definitely be that moment for him.”
When Amoss first saw those prints in the book that now sits on his shelf in the basement, he had no idea he’d be doing what he is today. Once he started practicing woodblock printing, though, he knew he couldn’t let it go.
“I just knew I was hooked and it was going to take me 20 or 30 years to get good at it,” Amoss said.
Watch John Amoss demonstrate woodblock printing
By: Layne Saliba
During those years, he continued his life. He worked as a package designer, then an illustrator for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He broke off from his day job and started his own illustration business, then went back to school to get his masters in printmaking so he could teach.
As he was learning, he reached out to others in the woodblock printing world. Calvin Carlisle lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and has never met Amoss in person. They’ve only talked through messages on Facebook and email — typical of artists buried in their basements and studios. That doesn’t mean Carlisle doesn’t see Amoss’ passion for the project, though.
“I think you chew on these ideas and you think to yourself, ‘This would be cool to do,’” Carlisle said. “There’s just some things you can’t let go of. There’s just some things you have a love and admiration for that you say, ‘Yeah, I could spend the next 1,000 hours doing this and I’m not going to get sick of it and I’m going to love it.’”
They bounce ideas off each other, both getting better at what they do each and every time they communicate. And they support each other, which is what Carlisle plans to do more of when Amoss’ project is complete.
“I’m going to buy one of his books,” Carlisle said. “It’s not cheap, but I think somebody like me who understands … I’m looking forward to him putting them on sale because I’ll be one of the first ones in line to get one.”
And that’s Amoss’ hope with the project. He hopes, in the end, people see the work behind it and appreciate it each time they look through the book. No matter where the book ends up — on a shelf or on a coffee table — he hopes it helps all those who purchase it relive their time on the trail.
“It’s going to last a lifetime, and if somebody has thru-hiked the whole Appalachian Trail, it’s a lot of effort, and it means a lot to them, so I want to honor that,” Amoss said.
exploring the Japanese Alps from Hakuba (the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics). On my first day, just before the sun went down, there was a nice scene featuring alpenglow where the tops of the mountains (in this case, Mt. Goryu) caught the last of the sun’s red glow. Here’s the photo- obviously, I did a good bit of editing of the colors and scene.
I tried to capture this using shin hanga techniques.
I’m using 7 blocks- not sure of the number of impressions, but here’s an estimate:
(1) beta ban- light yellow overall (2) mountain keyblock (3) tree/frame keyblock (4) pink cloud bokashi (5) blue/neutral clouds (6) yellow bokashi in sky (7) yellow/neutral mountains (8) light gray mountain detail (9) light blue at base of far mountain (10) orange bokashi mountain detail (11) red bokashi on peak of mountain (12) mid mountain med. blue (13) mid mountain detail (14) near mountain green (15) near mountain overprint (16) near mountain detail green (17) side trees dark green (18) overprint side trees (19) middle tree warmer dark green (20) overprint middle tree warmer dark green
I plan to make 50 copies in the next few weeks. I look forward to seeing them all laid out.
Part of my time in Japan was spent producing my “Moon Rabbit” print 13.5″ x 9.5″. I’ll admit the image is creepy, but intentionally so as I like the “beauty in ugliness” so-to-speak of things. Although I do love the idyllic scenes often associated with Japanese woodblock, I feel as if I have to “cleanse my pallette” occasionally and push what I think can be done- similar to some yokai, or ghost/demon print themes. What better cutesy animal to flay than a rabbit?
This connection of the moon and the rabbit goes way back in oriental culture- we in the West see a man in the moon- others in China, Japan, Kora, Vietnam, native americans, etc., see a rabbit- resting under a tree or pounding a pestle.
The print itself consists of 6 blocks on shina plywood: (1)dark keyblock (2) red, (3) yellow, (4) slate blue, (5) background, and (6) moon details.
The color impressions are as follows: (1) dark keyblock, (2) yellow, (3) red body, (4) blue body, (5) moon details bokashi, (6) green background, (7) green background overprint, (8) bokashi top, (9) bokashi bottom, (10) red cartouche, (11) bokashi on cartouche.
I am going to be showing my work at the SGCI Conference in Atlanta this Saturday (3/18) in the Ellington Ballroom in the Loews Hotel during the third open portfolio sessions. Frankly, it’s my favorite part of the conference.
I hope to see you there. I will be selling my prints- either way, say you saw this entry and get your free Tanuki sticker! Session 1.
My Qufu print is finished! Ater proofing, I printed an edition of about 40 on Iwano washi- I will cull the odd “less than perfect” mistakes (I say that with some sorrow, but I’ve committed to offering only the best of the batch and cull even small blemishes, etc.).
In total, the print required eleven blocks and about 14 impressions. I will post a detail after they’re finished drying. Using the overlapping shin-hanga printing style was a challenge. It was interesting to print complementary colors (on opposite sides of the color wheel) to create neutrals such as shadows. This experience will certainly help me to plan the next prints.
I plan to have both the Django and Qufu prints (along with some etchings) at the SGCI conference in Atlanta.
I taught in China almost 3 years ago and had the pleasure
of visiting the Kong (Confucius) family compound in Qufu that originally dates from 500BC (I’m not sure how old this structure is- nowhere near that, I’m sure).
I’ve always been a sucker for doorways and framing, so I thought I’d try my hand at a shin hanga-style small print. The image on the left is a photo after waiting for the tourists to pass- I was attracted to the worn smooth paving stones and rough weathered wood. The image on the right is an ink drawing on vellum. Not sure what to call this print yet, but I’m sure it will reveal itself to me. In terms of printing, I hope to utilize some goma-zuri (pigment without paste) to allow for a mottled look in the stones. I’m also thinking about splitting this keyblock into two: one dark foreground, one light background. I don’t know- like a good novel, I plan to keep “reading” to find out how this ends…
“Django Reinhart” 11-color moku hanga woodblock 6″ x 8″, 2016
This is the first of my Musician Series and is hand-printed using traditional moku-hanga techniques on mulberry paper made by Ichibei Iwano- Japan’s papermaking Living Treasure. This 6″ x 8″ print of the famous Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhart (the name “Django” is written in the hiragana cartouche in the upper right) was printed from 8 cherry blocks requiring 11 impressions. Domestic shipping is $2 and is packed in a hard protective sleeve along with a free Tanuki Prints sticker. Stay tuned for more fabulous musicians in the set!