Technique in the spotlight: What is Mokulito?

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Our latest exhibition True North Far South by Danielle Creenaune includes prints created through the Mokulito wood lithography technique. Indeed, this rarely-seen and difficult-to-master process is something for which Creenaune is widely celebrated. Yet, because of its rarity, this has led many of our collectors and gallery visitors to ask: what is Mokulito?

As an expert on the process, who has spent many years acquiring the knowledge and skill to practice Mokulito, we think it’s appropriate to let the artist herself  shed some light on this little-known process.

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Mokulito or Wood Lithography, is a form of printmaking based on principles of lithography using wood as a printing matrix instead of limestone. This technique was developed by professor Seishi Ozaku, in Japan in the 1970’s. Josef Budka and his daughter Ewa have realized further development of the process in Poland.

To give a simplistic description of the technical process, a sanded plywood surface is drawn on with lithographic drawing materials. Once dry, a layer of gum arabic is applied to the wood as an etch and left to dry to be printed another day. The same lithographic principle that oil and water don’t mix applies. The gum arabic is washed out before printing and the matrix is ready to be printed in a similar way to traditional lithography keeping the surface damp, applying ink using a roller and running through the press.

In my own practice, I’ve adapted this simplified process, combining it with elements of the traditional Japanese method, traditional lithography and also those stemming from my own discoveries.

Some unique characteristics of Mokulito are that it produces small editions usually of under 10 prints, each of which is varied. The image provides a wood texture which can also be combined with woodcut. As the printing progresses, the wood texture generally becomes more prevalent and tones are altered until the image gradually deteriorates. The image matrix is unstable in contrast to traditional lithography and generally cannot be reused, washed out or reprinted at a later stage. When thinking in terms of traditionally editioned forms of printmaking, some of these elements could be viewed as disadvantages however, I find them liberating as they allow for some unpredictable and surprising results.

For me, Mokulito is a very organic process due to it’s variability, flexibility and the pace at which the matrix can be processed and printed. Although at first glance prints in the edition may seem the same, each possesses it’s own unique attributes. With large scale image making it allows for working more intuitively, where the subtleties of wood texture can be achieved and colour and composition can be explored more freely.

Danielle Creenaune

October 2015