Education About Asia: Online Archives

Japanese Woodblock Printing

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ISBN: 0824825535

Japanese woodblock prints have long been among the most popular and accessible of art forms, attracting a western audience for more than 150 years, even before Commander Matthew Perry brought his fleet to the Edo harbor in 1853 and, pointing US guns at the unprotected city, forced Japan to sign the Treaty of Friendship and open its borders to outside contact and trade. By that time, woodblock printing arts had been perfected for over 150 years, but while popularly collected, even prized, had been of little value. Yet a western audience, unaccustomed to the unique qualities of line, perspective, and the nuanced natural colors that defined a radical Asian aesthetic, recognized a value both artistic and monetary, that has created a flurry of collecting and, especially today, historical writing on the prints. Well known to many are the names of Suzuki Haronobu, Toshusai Sharaku, Utamaro, Ando Hiroshige, and Katsushika Hokusai, among many others, and some of their most famous individual pieces or series. The desire to learn more about their art seems insatiable, to judge by the regular appearance of books devoted to one or all of them, or to some aspect of their creative genius. Adding to the mix, and feeding further this western fascination, is a small new volume by Rebecca Salter, Japanese Woodblock Printing.

But don’t ignore the gerund in the title of this manual, for this is not a study of the famous works or their intriguing subjects—the geishas, onagata (female impersonator) actors, festivals, or famous urban and rural locales—but a detailed, and very useful, explication of the how-tos of traditional printing for the modern practitioner. And as such, the author reveals a mastery not only of the style and subtlety of the Japanese print, but also of every aspect of its creation, from the making of the paper, the most expensive and important of the elements comprising good prints, to the tools employed, the colors and their organic or mineral origins, the brushes, the printing tools and, of course, the processes of cutting and printing the wood block, each explained using the proper Japanese terminology.