The wood block art studio is a creative space on all its own. As you walk up a set of stone steps, the smell of mosquito incense and a faint hint of cigarette smoke greets you at the front door. If you turn back and look down the stairs, Ucup’s home village dots across a sprawling green space. The sounds of chickens, a screaming goat that sounds scarily human, and the shouts of children playing take up the audible space around us. Ucup, the instructor we worked with for the three weeks we spent in Jogja, stands up with an impish grin on his face, a quiet inventiveness in his eyes. In one ear hangs a small grey carabiner, and on his rough hands are several silver rings inlaid with red stones. He stands at the entrance to his workspace, and greets us in a soft, commanding voice. Throughout our weeks, he would instruct us with an openness and honesty that made it impossible not to listen and impossible not to try and soak up every last scrap of wisdom, and he would do it all within the walls of his own home. His house, perfectly nested to fit his family’s every need, conjoined with his art studio so that we were left imagining him waking up in the morning, eating breakfast with his son and daughter, and then promptly moving into his studio to start his day of wood block carvings.
The process, though some days grueling, taught us much about patience and vision. We started with a blank block, painted ink black so we could see our work as we made progress. We used several types of carving knives, but the most common for beginners were the “V” chisel and the “U” chisel. One constructed wider lines, and one we used for thinner detailing. Each day we carved more and more, our ideas becoming visual. I (Nell) used a particularly complicated technique called a “reduction”, which involved carving the initial lines for my work, painting onto the block and printing it onto a dense sheet of woven stock paper, carving out more lines, and then reprinting the new lines on top of the old ones to add different colors to the final product. It took me all eight sessions to complete and at some points had me wanting to pull my hair out at the roots, but I am proud of the final product. It was incredibly special for me to attempt the reduction technique, as I found out towards the end that I was the first Dragons student to do so. Though I may have been out of my depths at some points (I was still learning how to hold the chisels in the first place), I am grateful that Ucup had the kindness and patience to help me work through the complications. I learned a lot from him, and I hope that this will not be the last time I see him. (He has art in galleries all over the world!)
I (Abby) really struggled to start off. I literally had no idea what I wanted to do. Ucup gave me a giant visual dictionary in which I spent the whole fist day just flipping through the whole time. Eventually I settled on a design and ended up turning out 2 different prints by the last meeting. I even got to make my own Indonesia t-shirt! You’d be so proud Lisa!