About Rowan McOnegal
I am a British artist who focuses on mokuhanga, Japanese woodblock printmaking. I also make drawings and paintings. My work has been exhibited internationally and I teach woodblock printmaking workshops.
Born on the west coast of Scotland, I trained in Fine Art (painting) at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, where I also studied printmaking and photography. Environmental and social concerns then drew me to study herbal medicine whilst also working as a photographer. I have also worked as a gardener, herbalist, artist and teacher. All these components have been the raw materials for my work.
About my work
I feel a powerful connection to the landscape : of Scotland, Ireland, Wiltshire and now, in the borders with Wales where I now live.
My creative practice continued to evolve and transform, and I worked across many disciplines and in a variety of contexts including photography, textiles, printmaking, painting and, for the last 20 years, stained glass.
I have always been preoccupied with the notion of authenticity, and in seeking out the roots of my inspiration. In the past few years I have become increasingly interested in the ‘raw materials’ of the creative process, as well as the physical raw materials that I engage with.
These materials carry ritual power as well as being a vehicle for our environmental consciousness.
These concerns led me to travel to Japan in 2016, having been selected to take part in an International Artist’s Residency at Mokuhanga Innovation Lab, Lake Kawaguchi ( for which I was awarded a QEST scholarship), and a training in traditional water-based woodblock printmaking.
I discovered that there were many aspects of Japanese culture that resonated with me: the aesthetic of wabi-sabi, the appreciation of craft and tradition, the use of natural materials, the reverence for nature (especially in the native Shinto religion), the important role of temples and gardens, and many other concepts that have a cultural meaning in Japan.
I returned to the UK and found that I could no longer continue to work with glass, using toxic paints and sandblasting equipment. I had been enjoying experimenting with plating layers of glass together in exciting and unexpected ways, and using more painterly effects using different mediums with stains and paints, informed by my printmaking experience, but I wanted to work with more natural and environmentally safe materials. This was exciting but also an uncomfortable challenge. I had enjoyed the physical process of woodblock printmaking – the indirectness that gives the print ‘a secret and unintended beauty…this is why prints are mystifying’. There is a tension between the spontaneity and the elaborate processes involved. I had also relished the engagement with natural materials, the elemental qualities of wood, pigments, the beautiful handmade paper and handprinting with the bamboo baren, which all contributed to the sensual and meditative experience of mokuhanga.
I am now learning a new language, and reconnecting through drawing and painting in places that enchant and move me emotionally, trying not to have too much of an agenda (a work in progress) towards more printmaking. I’m hoping to immerse myself in the landscape, to be contemplative, to surrender to the creative process, to embody and not just document my experience.
About Japanese Woodblock Printing
( Mokuhanga : moku = wood, hanga = graphic or print )
This relief print form is a traditional Japanese method of printmaking, which is primarily associated with the Edo Period (1615 – 1867) in Japan. A woodblock print was at that time a product of a co-operation between individual craftsmen, with individual styles and qualities: the artist, or print designer; several craftsmen (copyist, block cutter, and printer); and the publisher. Generally blocks were cut from maple, sycamore or cherry, and the paper made from the fibre of the mulberry tree. Prints were produced in large numbers in a few recognised popular formats, with traditional themes such as festivals, geishas and flowers, and often as triptychs. These prints, known as ukiyo-e (‘prints from the floating world’), were hugely popular with the growing urban population of Edo (present day Tokyo – even then a vast city), and very large print editions were often issued (up to 20,000 impressions of Hiroshige’s Tokaido series, for example).
In the early 1900’s, as a result of the interaction between Japanese and Western influences, a movement known as ‘sosaku hanga’ ( ‘creative print’) reinvigorated this traditional art form. These were prints produced by the artists themselves, a radical idea at the time, and now there is a huge range of work produced using the technique of mokuhanga (often in combination with other print methods such as silk screen and etching).