The Prints

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Basic Information on the Process of Making an Ukiyo-e Print

The art of making ukiyo-e woodblock prints is a meticulous process that involves four main specialists. Typically, the four specialists were the Artist, Carver, Printer, and the Publisher who each had specific roles. The artist would come up with the initial design, the carver would create the woodblocks associated with the design, the printer would apply the ink to the woodblocks and create at least the outline for the artist to fill in with color, and the publisher would calculate the feasibility of the venture while also marketing the prints.

For the design, the artist would first create it on an ordinary piece of paper and then transfer it onto a special thin, semi-transparent paper called Hoshō which was made from the inner layers of mulberry tree bark that could be pasted onto the woodblock for the carver. Woodblocks, like the ones seen above to the right, were traditionally made out of wood from a cherry tree. After receiving the woodblocks, the printer would apply the ink and then align the paper between the Kento or a “set of two cuts on the edge of the block” and rub the paper with a tool called a Baren, pictured above on the left, which is essentially a round disk. The use of multiple colors in woodblock printing first started in the 1760`s by Suzuki Harunobu. This type of print was called Nishiki-e or polychrome printing; a separate block was used by the printer to apply each different color.

Woodblock prints were usually made in a variety of standard sizes for easy production and marketing. These sizes included Oban or large prints that were 38 by 26 cm, Chūban or medium Prints that were 15.5 by 18cm, and a Hosoban or pillar prints, which were 35 by 15cm. Oban’s could be and were typically joined together to created triptychs and pentipychs. Triptychs are a series of three prints while a pentipych is a series of five prints.

In addition to the description written above, this link shows Keizaburo Matsuzaki, a modern day printer, creating a reproduction of a Print originally created by Kitagawa Utamaro, titled Takashima Ohisa.