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HOW WOODBLOCK PRINTS ARE MADE

For woodblock prints to be created, there had to be the artist, the block maker/carver, the printer, and of course, the paper maker.  A Japanese artist would create the artwork using ink to draw a line symbolizing color.  From there, the student within the school would take the design, copy it onto thin, translucent paper, after which the publisher would secure thick and seasoned blocks of cherry wood to the sides being used.  As the copy of the artwork was placed onto the blocks, the lines would be cut out by the block maker. 

Next, the block maker would eliminate the wood so he was only cutting around the lines.  This way, a key-block effect was created in which the lines were high.  The step following included rubbing ink onto the raised lines and then proofing paper applied on top.  This paper would be rubbed by the block maker to produce a copy of the image.  Also known, as “pulls”, the paper with the image could then be used to create other blocks using colored ink if so desired.  From that point, the blocks would be carefully carved. 

When these parts of the process were complete, the printer took the key-block, again rubbing ink on it, left alone so the outline would dry.  Colors would then be mixed by the printer with all of the blocks being covered in paint and then color printed.  As you can imagine, the process of wiping the color on to produce a gorgeous design was painstaking and key to the printer’s success.  Keep in mind that to maintain colors and keep everything aligned, precision was required when passing between blocks.  Finally, the registration marks were applied by the block maker. 

Interestingly, most colors used for woodblock prints were derived from vegetable extracts until the latter part of the 19th century.  While the colors were beautiful, consisting of blue, violet, and pink, if the dye were exposed to sunlight, they would fade to gray or ivory.  To enhance the beauty of the blocks with a shinier surface, some printers would add small particles of metal dust or mica.  Additionally, the number of print runs during the 18th century had to be limited to 200.  Otherwise, the key-block lines would start to show significant wear and tear.  In fact, over time the colors were so saturated that producing good results was near impossible. 

With time came new options such as the one-sheet design now, being stretched out to two or even three sheets in the late 18th century.  For this to be successful, the edges had to join yet at the same time, the artist and printmakers needed to keep each sheet as an individual piece of art.  Again, it was common for prints to be done in series, some as many as 100 or more pages.  Most often, people would store the multi-page prints in boxes or sometimes, mount them in albums. 

Often times, sheets would be joined horizontally and rolled up similar to a scroll.  In most cases, these sheets would show a gorgeous landscape or city scene.  While some woodblock prints were merely the actual artwork, some publishers also allowed consumers to request additional work such as writing done in the form of poetry, a birth announcement, New Year’s greeting, and so on.  Typically, these paintings were elaborate and the detailing incredible.


Read more about Japanese Woodblock Prints:
  Japanese Woodblock Prints   Ukiyo-e   Toyokuni Utagawa   Eisen Kikugawa   Hiroshige Ando   Utamaro Kitigawa

 

Visit our online store for dozens of Japanese Woodblock Prints

Click here to see our current selection.
 
The Great Wave by Hokusai
The Great Wave by Hokusai
Code:fw1002
Price:$27.95
Kabuki by Utagawa
Kabuki by Utagawa
Code:fw1121
Price:$27.95
3 Beauties by Utamaro
3 Beauties by Utamaro
Code:fw1118
Price:$27.95
General in Battle by Utagawa
General in Battle by Utagawa
Code:fw1120
Price:$27.95
Mt Fuji by Hiroshige
Mt Fuji by Hiroshige
Code:fw1010
Price:$27.95
 

 


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