Arts & Crafts Revivalists: Yoshiko Yamamoto & Nawal Motawi


We live in the world of massive change, which impacts our daily life for better or worse. However, one thing that has not and will not change is the creative activity of “hand and mind.” My creation is a result from the silent conversation between materials and my hand.

 —Yoshiko Yamamoto

 Japanese-American artist Yoshiko Yamamoto is the founder of The Arts & Crafts Press in Berkeley and self-taught block printmaker. Several years ago, Nawal Motawi, a longtime admirer of Yoshiko's work, approached her for a collaboration. Motawi thought Yamamoto's bold prints would work well as a raised-line tile design. She was right. Yamamoto's graceful, swaying scenes brought the clay to life. 

“I was thrilled when the Motawi team approached me to consider adapting some of our existing print and note card designs for their tiles," says Yoshiko. "It was a great match, as we both strive for high quality in our work and also are very much inspired by the turn-of-the-20th-century Arts & Crafts aesthetic.”

For her block prints, Yoshiko starts with a sketch, usually something she's observed here or in Japan—anything from fir trees, pines, maples, and poppies, to heron, koi fish, and crickets. After multiple drawings and watercolors, she begins cutting blocks. Sometimes she works with woodblocks, usually cherry, and other times she chooses linoleum. Yoshiko also uses hard polymer plates for some of the color blocks. She then takes these blocks and plates, each color separately on a Vandercook printing press, using as many as twenty blocks per print to achieve the desired effect. For each of Yoshiko's blocks, then, a corresponding color of glaze would be hand-applied to a Motawi tile. 
“My block print style is very much like Motawi's style of designing. By using block printing as a basic way to approach my designs, I always distill my compositions and layouts until we get simpler, cleaner lines. Aesthetically, I draw a lot from my Japanese heritage, especially the Japanese woodblock printing, which was also influenced the original Arts & Crafts movement.  .. I loved both the philosophy and the aesthetic of the Arts & Crafts movement, in which we’re encouraged to make something of beauty with functions like tiles (by Motawi) and note cards and decorative prints (by us).”