It took Linda Beeman three years to find someone to teach her how to make a Japanese woodblock print.
She finally found someone teaching a workshop at the Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids.
“When I pulled my print on the last day, I burst into tears,” recalls Linda. “Because it felt like this is what I was made to do.” She was at Interlochen, teaching her own Japanese printmaking workshop.
Linda had gone to school for visual art, but gave it up when her son was born. When he grew up, she returned to art and discovered printmaking.
“I really liked carving the wood for woodblock prints," she says. "But I didn’t like all the fumes and the toxicity of it.”
Linda wanted to find a way to do printmaking without the chemicals and that’s when she found the art of moku hanga, which in Japanese means “wood print.”
Moku hanga uses watercolor paints instead of synthetic materials like acrylic or oil-based paints.
“It’s such a rare art form that people in the United States, especially universities, don’t know anything about it,” Linda says. “There are so few of us; we’re drops in the ocean.”
One the most iconic prints made in this style is called “The Great Wave.”
There’s a large copy of it hanging on the Chase Bank building in downtown Traverse City.
“The Great Wave” was made in the 19th century. But people in Japan didn’t think that much of it during the time.
Linda says these kinds of prints weren’t considered a fine art until the 1900s.
“It was more of a mass produced print— like posters,” explains Linda. “There were factories of men who did this.”
It was like an assembly line. Linda says one man would cut the mountains in the background and then another would add the trees. That’s what they did all day long.
When Linda Beeman makes a print, she starts with a line drawing, similar to a coloring book page.
Then she transfers the drawing onto multiple wood blocks. There’s a different block for each color.
She carves away at the wood, which reveals her design.
“You just put some watercolor on the block and brush it into it,” she explains. “And then you take your piece of paper, put that on top of the block, and press it by hand with a hand-held disc called a baren.”
Like a lot of Japanese art, moku hanga prints don’t show much dimension. But the depth is created by colors—and their different shades and hues.
Linda’s prints show calm and quiet nature scenes.
“Most people when they see it they say it evokes a sense of peace, which is what I’m after,” she remarks.
She made a print inspired by Canyon Falls, a waterfall in the Upper Peninsula. It’s called “Rhythm and Blues.” The print shows the sun reflecting a gold glow on the rocks and a light blue current making ripples in the water.
Linda hopes her prints will help viewers notice subtle details in the landscape that they may have missed. She says it’s one thing to look at a beautiful place but it’s another thing to really see it.
“I love Michigan. I love the landscapes and the waters and the wetlands,” says Linda. “I think that sometimes we get so used to where we are that we begin not seeing it anymore.”
Michigan is known for its water and Linda says working in a water-based medium allows her to express its delicate atmosphere.
“The watercolor gives me subtleties that you can’t get with other mediums. And that’s what Michigan is—moments of subtlety.”
Click here to see more of Linda's prints and learn about her upcoming exhibits.