Barely 20 years old when she arrived in Berkeley, California, from Japan, Yoshiko Yamamoto soon found herself in an Arts & Crafts enclave. She and her husband, Bruce Smith—both writers and researchers by profession—soon were doing research for a book about the movement, The Beautiful Necessity (published in 1996). As for leftover material: They sought out old letterpresses being retired in favor of computer-generated printing. That led to production of The Tabby, a hand-printed, hand-bound “little” magazine with its own editorial board. The couple held discussions, readings, and dinners. When Yamamoto’s drawings for The Tabby garnered compliments, she began experimenting with note cards. “A local greeting-cards dealer started selling them right and left! She really helped me grow the business.”
From the beginning, Yamamoto was carving blocks in the tradition of the Japanese ukiyo-e masters. She starts with a watercolor drawing, then transfers it to what’s called a key block before individual color blocks are made. The key block is inked with the first color, which is then impressed on paper. Separate blocks are used for each additional color in subsequent print runs. She uses the same techniques for her limited-edition block prints.
Her current project is preparing 20 or so plates for what she hopes will be a new edition of William Morris’s influential book News From Nowhere. “Re-reading that book made me think that it’s time to stop producing cards with petroleum-based technology.” She plans to move to an older, slower but ecologically sound method, carving and printing from hard bamboo disks called barens.
Yoshiko Yamamoto has also designed art tiles for Motawi and two lace-curtain patterns for Cooper Lace. On her website, find silkscreened tea towels and pillow covers along with the printed goods, all designed with beloved Arts & Crafts motifs.