Yoshida - Japanese Woodblock Printing : Chapter IV : Part V

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Japanese Wood-block Printing

Hiroshi Yoshida



Order of Printing

As has already been explained, there is no strict order of printing universally observed. The order for various reasons naturally differs with each print. However, this much may be said: usually the outline drawing is to be printed first and then the different colours are to be filled in by successive printings. There is another way which begins with the colour block, which ordinarily would come about the middle, and gradually builds up the finished print. Of course, some prints have no outline block, using one of the colour blocks as a key-block. In others, lines are put in at the end, not as a key-block, but as a colour block. If the top part is printed first, then the lower part should be printed next. If the middle part is worked out, then both sides should receive attention next in order to equalize the moisture of the paper. This general principle should be the guiding principle for the order of printing.

Block printing is in a way similar to an artist painting on canvas. The order of applying the colours depends upon the individual: each has his own reasons for the order he may follow.

The experience and taste of the artist will formulate the order of printing. The colour which the artist desires to make prominent should be printed last, for each colour has a tendency to bury the colour previously applied. The outline drawing is generally printed first in order to guide in applying the different colours. But there are cases in which the artist wishes to have the outline stand out clearly in the finished print. Then it may become necessary for him to print the outline twice, the second time at the end.

The printing of the outline again at the end requires great skill. One who has mastered all the technique may be able to do it correctly; the artist usually fails to get the outline to register exactly.

It is natural to print the body colour first and the transparent colour last. Of course if the print requires a soft effect, when vagueness is desired, then the order may be reversed.

It is not because I wish everybody to follow this order, but to guide beginners in this branch of the art, that I give below an order of printing which may prove useful.

The process is difficult to explain in words, so I have decided to show it by means of prints, hoping that the reader will understand the order. Note the front as well as the back surface of the paper where the marks of the baren may be observed.

Of course, I am not concerned about criticism, from the art standpoint, of the print used here; I am concerned merely about the printing, the order and how to work it. These examples will show, not only the order of printing, but the analysis and different ways of cutting as well.


"A Junk"

In making this print the following twelve blocks were employed, the last three being for the special prints:

  • I. Sumi, or outline, block.
  • II. Sail block for the sail and boat.
  • III. Boat block for boat only.
  • IV. Reflection block.
  • V. Nezumi-ban, or grey-block.
  • VI. Sky block.
  • VII. Water block.
  • VIII. Red block on water.
  • IX. Indigo block also on water.
  • X. Lights block.
  • XI. Beta-ban with lights and reflections cut out.
  • XII. Beta-ban (flat block) over everything.

This analysis was based on the intention of producing "A Junk" (in the afternoon) and also its special edition, viz., "A Junk" (at Night), Plate V.

The following will show the order of printing "A Junk" (in the Afternoon) and various uses that were made of the different blocks:


Plate I

  1. Black outline; outline block (I).
  2. Blue sky; sky block (VI).
  3. Brown sail and boat; sail block (II)
  4. Yellow on water; water block (VII).
  5. Indigo reflection on yellow; reflection block (IV).

Plate II

  1. Subdued purple gradation for the sky from bottom upward. The sky block (VI) repeated.
  2. Carmine to heighten the light; the red block (VIII).
  3. Indigo gradation from top downward on the reflection. The reflection block repeated.
  4. Indigo gradation on water from either side; the water block (VII) repeated to kill the red where unnecessary.


Plate III

  1. Brown gradation on sails from top downward; the sail block (II) repeated.
  2. Brown over the boat; the boat block (III).
  3. Indigo for water to heighten the light in the upper part, and also perforated in the lower part; the indigo block (IX).


Plate IV (Finished)

  1. Indigo gradation from the top of the sky. The sky block (VI) repeated.
  2. Grey-block (V) to darken the masts and give a shade to the boats.
  3. Indigo gradation from the bottom upward on the water. The water block (VII) repeated for this purpose. A baren of sixteen-strand cord was used to produce the horizontal marks on the water.

Attention may be called to the fact that the colours in the print, as they are applied one on top of another, do not in many cases appear nearly as strong as their samples shown on the margin, revealing the effect of the colour combination in printing on the value of those colours.


Plate V (Special Print)

For the production of "A Junk" (at Night) many of the blocks employed for "A Junk" (in the Afternoon) were used, while some were omitted, and three extra blocks (X, XI and XII) were introduced. The following will show the analysis:

  1. Outline block (I) in black.
  2. Sail block (II) for sails and boat in dark brown.
  3. Boat block (III) in grey.
  4. Grey-block (V) in grey.
  5. (Reflection block (IV) in grey.
  6. Beta-ban (flat block XII). Only a portion of it where lights are and a distant town is indicated, was printed in pale orange.
  7. Sail block (II) in dark brown gradation from top downward on the sails.
  8. Beta-ban with lights and reflections cut out (XI), in indigo with circular marks produced by a baren of sixteen-strand cord.
  9. Beta-ban (XI) in indigo tsubushi, partly submerging circular baren marks.
  10. Beta-ban (flat block XII) used for indigo gradation on water from bottom upward. Block XI may be used instead.
  11. Lights block (X) in yellow.


"Cherry and Castle" (Frontispiece)

The following blocks and impressions were used for this print:

  1. One block for the outline drawing. This was printed once in brown.
  2. One block for the cherry blossoms. This was printed in pale carmine once.
  3. One block for buds. This was printed in carmine once.
  4. Two "grey-blocks." Three impressions were made: purplish-grey, warm-grey, and bluish-grey. An impression of one of the "grey-blocks" is shown facing page 24.
  5. One block for the leaves. This was combined with the water block, and was printed in two colours: leaves in greenish ochre, water in subdued green. Only a part of the leaf portions of the block was repeated later in pale carmine.
  6. One block for the stone embankment. This was combination with the shade on the castle, and printed in two colours: the embankment in grey, the shade in blue. The "grey-blocks" already used help to produce the necessary tint.
  7. One block for the roof and the people on the bridge. One impression was made of this block in subdued indigo.
  8. One block for cherry-tree trunks. With this was combined the tall pillars of the bridge and the shade under the eaves of the castle, etc. in pale brown.
  9. One block for the sky. This was combined with the grassy embankment of the moat in different colours: the sky in pale ochre, the embankment in subdued green. The sky was printed three times: first in pale ochre, second in light grey gradation from top downward, and third in indigo gradation from bottom upward.
  10. One block for the railings of the bridge. One impression in red.As the above list shows, ten blocks were cut for the production of this print. And from them eighteen colour impressions were taken. This is an excellent example of the effective use of so-called "grey-blocks" for giving soft tone and delicate gradation.

In "A Junk" and "Cherry and Castle," shown in this book, there is a limitation as to the size and the number of colour blocks used and the impressions taken. In ordinary art prints the blocks are more generously used and a much greater number of impressions is taken. When the tone is weak, another impression will be added to it to give a deeper tint and richer tone, and the extra application of the "grey-block" produces all sorts of variations.

"Cherry and Castle" is an example showing how a print may be built up with thin tones. But three or four soft tones are not enough in artistic prints. Take, for instance, the figures on the bridge which received only one colour in this print, though a different effect was obtained by printing other colours on top of it. In single sheet art prints, a greater variation is necessary.

A careful examination of the list given in the Appendix will give an insight into the analysis of each print. What is given above is the analysis of what has been done, but the first analysis is that of the picture in the artist's imagination. It is difficult to make it on that account. Yet the print to be made must first be definite in the artist's mind, and the analysis must be thorough and definite before he proceeds with the work.



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