Q+A with Daryl Howard

Published on
March 29, 2021 at 2:43:09 PM PDT March 29, 2021 at 2:43:09 PM PDTth, March 29, 2021 at 2:43:09 PM PDT

Daryl Howard is a celebrated contemporary American woodblock printmaker. In her work, Howard interweaves influences from her home in Texas with traditional woodblock printing techniques learned in Japan. Rendered in bold, handmade colors with eye-catching gold, silver and copper details, Howard’s prints capture the natural world through a meditative eye. This March, we took a moment to catch up with the artist and chat about her lifetime of Japanese woodblock printmaking, her artistic practice, her pandemic-era explorations, and her latest projects.

Daryl Howard at home in her Texas studio. Image courtesy of Daryl Howard.

1. What first drew you to Japanese woodblock prints? Both as an artist and as a collector?

I was first introduced to the Japanese woodblock print in art history class at Sam Houston State University in 1967, while working on my BFA degree. Until that time, I had only viewed prints that were reproduced in books or on a slide projector in art history class. It was when I took my first printmaking class that I began to understand their complexity, beauty, and extraordinary compositions.

I became a collector when I moved to Japan in January of 1971 and met a gentleman, Claude Holeman, who had resided there since 1949 and had collected woodblock prints for over 40 years. Claude became my “guide” into this amazing world. Upon our meeting at a reception for my former husband at Yokota Air Force Base, my journey with the antique print began. Finding out that I had an art degree, he invited us to his home in Kunitachi City for dinner and woodblock print viewing. That night after dinner he unlocked his safe containing over 900 antique woodblock prints—many of which were gifted to him by Dr. Richard Lane, a leading authority on ukiyo-e. By the end of the evening, we had viewed his entire collection and I became “hooked.” This was the first time that I actually viewed original prints and held them in my hands. I had never seen anything like them before in my life of 21 years. We instantly became good friends and would frequent old bookstores and antique print shops in Tokyo on weekends.

After two years of collecting, I received an invitation to train with Hodaka Yoshida, son of Hiroshi Yoshida. Claude was instrumental in instructing me about the protocol of introduction in Japan. I knew it was amazing that he took me as a student because I was both a female and a westerner. I went on to train for a year in his “home” studio, having tea several times with Fujio, his mother, and Chizuko, his wife—both were also fabulous printmakers.

Daryl Howard. "Even the full moon listens to falling water." 2019. Color woodblock print embellished with silver. Ronin Gallery.

2. What was the first print in your collection?

The first print in my collection was Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi’s “Odawara Station” (1850) from Fifty-three Pairings Along the Tokaido Road. Claude Holeman was with me at an old bookstore in Tokyo when we came across it in a stack of woodblock prints and he suggested it to start my collection.

3. Combining computerized carving with traditional Japanese brushes and paper, your work combines centuries of tradition with technological innovation. Can you tell us about your practice?

Since my training with Hodaka Yoshida in 1974, I have created traditional Japanese woodblock prints. I have used the same print paper, Kizuki (handmade in Fukui on the Sea of Japan), that the Yoshida family has used since Hiroshi started printing in the 1920s. However, my technique of carving the wood changed after my third hand surgery - necessitated by 38 years of carving with hand-held blades. I now draw my designs on a Wacom tablet in the Illustrator program. I send my drawing files to a craftsman who works with a CNC router. His computer reads my drawing and his CNC performs the initial carving of each block of wood. For me today, it is not “how” the blocks are carved but the quality of the end product - the finished print. While I continue to use the traditional brushes, ink and paper as I have done for decades, modern technology has allowed me to continue to make prints long after my carving hands gave out.

A glimpse of Howard's handmade pigments. Image courtesy of Daryl Howard.

Color planning in shades of blue. Image courtesy of Daryl Howard.

4. What is your favorite part of the printmaking process?

The most amazing part of the printmaking process for me is pulling a new print off of newly carved blocks - it is like the birth of a “being” for me. I call this part of the process “proofing” the blocks, as I frequently will work for days to achieve just the right color palette and the most effective bokashi to go with the carvings.

5. Each of your prints bears a poem. Do you have the poem in mind as you create the print? Or do they develop simultaneously?

As I work on a new print, I recall the place of my inspiration, its “essence,” and begin creating a sort of Haiku with my own twist. The words that come to me arrive either during or after my new print is completed, I refer to those as “Daryl-ku.” I have taken several writing courses over the years and am fascinated with words that express the reason for the creation of my work, it then becomes part of my completed image.

Pulling a print from the block. Image courtesy of Daryl Howard.

6. The past year has changed how we all work and live. How has quarantine affected your practice? Has the past year changed your perspective?

2020 has definitely shifted my life. I live on a fifty-acre ranch outside Austin, Texas with a spring-fed creek and 13 head of cattle. That did not change. But my husband, Owen Kinney, and I did not leave the property except for grocery trips every two weeks and monthly outside window visits with my 94-year-old mother in San Antonio. My art shows were cancelled. My studio staff of two, Cyndle Roberts and Heather Romero, no longer came daily to assist me - I was alone.

Covid gave me the opportunity to focus in a completely different way than I had ever done before. In 2019, an exhibit at the Blanton Museum of Art featured Durer etchings paired with etching artists of the same time period. They had copied Durer’s prints as a didactic process. I was fascinated by what they had created and what they must have learned as an artist through that practice. I explored this idea through works that inspired me. I first reproduced Hokusai’s “Great Wave,” a work that, as Dr. Richard Lane wrote in Hokusai: Life and Work (1989),“…more than any other print, astounded and delighted artists in Paris at the close of the 19th century.”

Van Gogh and the other Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters were highly influenced by the antique prints, just as I have been my entire career. One work I drew daily on my tablet was the image of van Gogh’s oil painting “Bridge in the Rain” (1887), which he based on a woodblock print from his collection, Hiroshige’s “Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake” (1856) from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. No two prints are exactly alike because it is a painterly process for me–I mix the color individually for each block in this edition. With 11 carvings and 23 specific hand-made colors, this image may be the most complex woodblock set that I have ever completed.

Daryl Howard, after Vincent van Gogh 1887. "... as the world stopped... rain washed time away... leaving pools of memories." 2020. Color woodblock print. Ronin Gallery.

7. From your introduction to collecting in 1974, to your training under Hodaka Yoshida, to your recent explorations of “inspiration”—whether Hokusai or Van Gogh—you draw upon both ukiyo-e masters and great ukiyo-e collectors. How do you see yourself within the legacy of Japanese woodblock printmaking?

I hope that my legacy within the Japanese woodblock tradition depicts its classic essence. I strive for the same perfection that the masters achieved throughout the centuries. I also want my work to highlight both the places on this earth that have inspired artists for centuries, as well as my beloved Texas, in a medium that is unique to the Japanese culture. As Hiroshi Yoshida travelled the globe and created imagery along his path, that is my hope as well. It is critical for me to keep this tradition alive, as it is essential to who I am as a human being in 2021.

8. I hear that a new book project is in the works, juxtaposing your original work with those of masters of Japanese printmaking. What inspired this project? What kind of connections were you exploring between prints? Can you tell us a bit more about what we can expect with this exciting book?

I decided last year that since I had no art shows, it would be the perfect time to produce my third book. The first book was published in 1990, The Source…The Image…The Journey, and is sold out. The second, A Warm Stone to Dream Upon, was published in 2003. The author of both titles, Annie Osburn, resides in Albuquerque, N.M. I contacted her and we were both thrilled to get started on number three, Master Reflections–Stories Between the Stones.

Because my new work is currently based on antique prints, it became obvious to my staff that they should pair my original work with my collection of antique prints. When I started seeing the obvious relationships which they were identifying between my woodblock prints and what I have been collecting my entire lifetime, I began to understand why I was doing my 2020 theme work. It literally took someone else to bring this to my awareness. When my author saw the new direction my work was taking, she was convinced the focus for the third book should be, “Reflections of the Master.” The book will present 15 pairings of my antique print collection with my own woodblock prints. Some of the pairings are based on subject matter, some on technical similarities, some composition and others color relationships.

Daryl Howard. "I am the wave that no one sees." 2020. Color woodblock print. Ronin Gallery.

9. As we inch towards normalcy, what are you most looking forward to in a less socially-distant world?

As we literally “inch” forward, I look forward to having an “in person” show at Ronin Gallery whenever we regain an acceptable degree of normalcy. I would enjoy presenting workshops there, as well as in my studio outside of Austin. Another goal is to go to museums and galleries, to experience the actual art and not simply view it on my computer screen. I anticipate having to learn again how to relax inside a restaurant so I may enjoy a good meal with friends. This experience has taught me to appreciate all that I once may have taken for granted, but now see as part of the good life.

Image courtesy of Daryl Howard.

To explore our full collection of Daryl Howard’s work, visit her artist page here. To preorder her new book, follow this link. Want to see the artist in action? Howard was recently featured in the GoDaddy video series Icons of Our Tribe. Be sure to check out the video here!