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Tools and Materials Illustrating the Japanese Method of Colour-Printing

Edward F. Strange




The engraving was invariably done by a second person and not by the designer.

The wood used was that of the wild cherry (Yamazakura), the timber of which was not allowed to be exposed to sunshine, but was carefully seasoned in the shade. Fig. 1 illustrates the most economical way of cutting up logs into blocks; the harder portions of the wood - those nearer the centre - being used for the key-blocks (see below), and the softer for the colour-blocks. When possible, wood from the same tree was used for all the blocks in each series. The outlines of the drawing were incised with a knife-edged graver, and the superfluous wood then hollowed out with chisels or gouges of various form, for all practical purposes identical with those used by European woodcarvers. The result is an intaglio block, the printing surfaces alone remaining in relief.

The block first made from the drawing is called the key-block (Daiban) and gives, in relief, the lines only of the design. From it a number of proofs are taken, one for each colour-printing to be made. On each of these proofs the separate portion of the design covered by one colour is painted; and is then pasted on a block and cut in the manner described above. Every part of the surface of the block, however, which is not required for the one colour in use, is cut away.

To produce a colour print, therefore, a key-block is required and also a separate block for each colour in the design. For the sake of economy, colour-blocks are sometimes cut on both sides; and, for small details, two portions of the design may be cut on one side, but only one colour is printed at each operation.

In the actual cutting of the block, the old Japanese engraver adhered to an important principle - that of following the direction of the brush strokes of the original drawing, in such a manner as to reproduce the actual quality of the brush-mark. This is less apparent in the ordinary colour-prints; but in reproductions, by the same process, of paintings and drawings, the results obtained are extraordinarily faithful to the originals.

Blocks were often framed, to prevent warping, in the manner illustrated in Fig. 2. This device was more generally employed in the case of those especially made for book-illustration. A block that had warped could often be straightened out again by being well soaked in water and then placed under a weight.

12. ILLUSTRATION of an engraver cutting a wood-block, showing his position and method of holding the knife or graver (Kogatana) with which the outlines are first incised.

A colour-print, in the Japanese manner, by Emil Orlik, of Prague.

E. 797 - 1912.

13. ILLUSTRATION of the process of making colourprints, showing various stages of cutting the blocks, sharpening the tools, damping the paper; and the tools and materials of the printer.

A 3-sheet colour-print, by Utagawa Kunisada, signed "Toyokuni" (A.D. 1785 - 1864). The process is fancifully represented as being carried out by women.

E. 9984 - 1886

This print is imitated from one by Utamaro, a portion of which is illustrated herein (Frontispiece).

14. TOOLS used by engravers.

Knives (Kogatana) for cutting outlines. The v-shaped trench round the outline of the key block is made with two strokes of a knife.

E. 4338 - 4343 - 1910. E. 98, 99 - 1915

Gouges (Kamazarai) for removing superfluous wood.

E. 4335 - 4337 - 1910. E. 107 - 1915

Chisels (Nomi).

E. 4333, 4334 - 1910. E. 109 - 1915

Saw (Kushigi) for sawing even the peg inserted in a block to correct an error in engraving.

E. 115 - 1915

Rule, steel.

E. 114 - 1915

Engravers' table or bench (model) with bench stop.

E. 127 - 1915

15. STONE (Koshito) for sharpening tools; and Felt (Abura-men) which, when greased, is used to polish tools after sharpening.

E. 4345 - 1909. E. 142 - 1915

16. STONE (Awasedo) for polishing the surface of the Koshito.

E. 4346 - 1909

17. MALLET (Saizuchi) used with tools for cutting away the superfluous wood.

E. 4344 - 1909

18. DIAGRAM, showing the most economical way of cutting a log into blocks for printing (Fig. 1).

19. DIAGRAM, showing method of framing a block to prevent warping (Fig. 2). Also a board (Hashibama) framed in this manner.

E. 128 - 1915


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