How to replicate watercolor effect on woodblock print.
Recently I have experimented with recreating the look of watercolor paint effect on woodblock print. I love the way watercolor blends when wet, and I had been wanting to combine it with woodblock printmaking. I had a design in mind, something spacey... For my designing stage, I have painted some bubbles in watercolor, scanned them in Photoshop and arranged the image. The bubbles, or planets maybe? were the bits needed to retain the watercolor effect, which cannot attain with traditional woodblock printing methods.
Of course I googled for how-to's, but there was nothing. There were some tutorials on watercolor monoprint done using plastic, such as acrylic sheet or even cling wrap. This is done by painting with watercolor on a sheet of plastic, let it dry, then print on damp watercolor paper. I tried this, but on damp Japanese thin paper, it would not print, as it was not wet enough. If I used a wetter paper, then the paint bled as it dried. This probably was because Western made watercolor papers are internally sized* where Japanese printmaking papers are usually sized on the surface, or not sized at all, or the paper I was using was not sized enough.
*Sizing or size is a substance that is applied to, or incorporated into, other materials—especially papers and textiles—to act as a protective filler or glaze. Sizing is used in papermaking and textile manufacturing to change the absorption and wear characteristics of those materials. -Wikipedia
Helpful video about sizing of watercolor paper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apgLiRWracs
So painting on plastic was not going to work to use with woodblock elements, since it would need to work on the same sheet of paper. I took a few months break from this while I worked on other stuff, then tried the traditional Japanese woodblock gradation printing technique of "atenashi bokashi"at Mokuhanga School in Japan, but it was not right. But there, the teacher Terry McKenna had showed me a varnished woodblock.
After I came home, I brainstormed how I can replicate the watercolor effect on woodblock prints, I thought of that varnished block. The only problem was that the varnish would repel the paint too much, resulting in watercolor paint beading on the surface. Then I came across someone varnishing their painting with Mod Podge on youtube. I tried coats of Mod Podge on a Shina (Basswood) plywood gradually until I got a satisfactory repelling effect. It ended up being 3 thin coats of the glue. I think it perhaps does not need to be Mod Podge... maybe diluted wood glue might do?
There were so many challenges with this print even after figuring out the watercolor bubbles. Paper shifting while printing, damp pack growing mold, so I added tea tree oil to the water for the damp pack and it making all of the printed paint bleed..... etc, etc. I ended up with ONE print, which I sent to AIMPE (Awagami International Miniature Print Exhibition), and will not get back.
I have learned a lot! And I will be using the above technique again.