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The Charm of Woodcut Printing, According to Rico Leong

Rico Leong Woodcut Printmaker Illustrator Malaysia
He's one of the few in the region doing this print technique.

Imagine switching out your canvas for a wood block and your paintbrush for a knife. This is the task that belongs to an ancient technique of printmaking (the oldest form, in fact) which Borneo-born Rico Leong of @rlwoodprint lives and breathes — yes, all of his artwork is entirely made from intricate wood carvings!

When, and how, did you start out in woodcut printmaking?

Everything started 7 years ago when my brother (who was part of the printmaking movement) suggested that I try changing my medium and master a new technique. Since then, I’ve been continuing with it and even teaching others in woodcutting workshops.

What was the main thing that attracted you to this art?

One interesting aspect of woodcut printmaking is how the colored ink is spread on the wood post-carving using a rubber roller. This is an ancient technique of printing that has been passed down for many generations. It can also be seen historically practiced in Japan and China.

We understand that you are from Borneo. Can you help to give us insight into your background and some of the types of art you were exposed to?

I grew up in a big family with many siblings so there was definitely a lot I was exposed to! Every time my brothers would come home every holiday, they would bring home all sorts of band cassettes. Because of this, I got to know more about hard rock, zines and the underground art scene.

How much would you say your background plays a role in your art?

I would say not that much, to be honest! Only my brother and I make art by being self-taught; the rest of my family are into sports!

Because we are a small network, keep working with the community, join art festivals and don’t stop making stuff!

Would you like to see more woodcut printmakers? And why is that?

Of course! I would love to get to know more woodcut printmakers and even collaborate with them, especially if they are from the peninsular.

In your own words, how would you describe your style?

I don't focus on just one medium, right now I’m really into mixed media and social criticism. This type of art can be a great way to express my feelings.

What would you say is the toughest part about making woodcut prints so far?

The technique of carving the wood with a knife is a very manual and arduous process. I have to start by sketching the image onto the wood before I get to carving it. The next step in the process is what we call ‘wood printing’ when we add the color. This part is quite complicated because it can get rather messy! But most of the time, I use my body weight to do the printing by stepping on the wood.

How do you think you evolved or got to the style you have right now?

I always do my best to keep practicing and sketching through trial and error. Collaborating with my fellow artists outside of my own field has also taught me a lot.

What are your best three tips to creatives in the Malaysian scene?

Because we are a small network, keep working with the community, join art festivals and don’t stop making stuff!

Your top three Malaysian creative crushes that you look up to?




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