Edo Woodprint - Perfect Reproduction of The World of Ukiyo-e

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, famous woodprints

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, famous woodprintsUkiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, famous woodprints
Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, making process and steps by artisans
(Images: edohanga.jp)

Edo Woodprint is a multi-color printing technique unique to Japan used to make pieces such as the Ukiyo-e. It became increasingly popular and thus advanced during the latter half of Edo Period when ‘Chonin-bunka (Culture of the merchant class) began to blossom. Kitagawa Utamaro, Toshusai Sharaku, Katsushika Hokusai are few of the Japanese artists who helped take this trend to the next level.

In this blog post, I’d like to introduce to you some of the Ukiyo-e masterpieces reprints from Hokusai and Hiroshige, and demonstrate how multi-color Edo Woodprints are made.

The Ukiyo-e I introduce to you today are the reprints produced by the artists who inherited the exact, unchanging technique and skills from 200 years ago. In order to preserve and expand this culture of art, the people of the studio officially recognized by the government for traditional art and crafts came together to recreate the prints.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) – The Ukiyo-e artist who contributed to the birth of Impressionism

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, self portrait of a genuine Ukiyo e drawer Hokusai
(Image: hokusai-museum)

Hokusai’s paintings became popular during the widespread of Japonisme (Study of Japanese art and artistic talent), which began from the Paris International Fair in 1867. Among other Japanese art pieces, Ukiyo-e was introduced to the European audiences for the first time at this fair. It is said that features such as the bold use of composition and bright colors, both of which were unusual in conventional European paintings, had a huge influence on the European artists of the Era, and lead the birth of Impressionism.

The artists who were influenced by Hokusai include Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Having been one of the most influential Japanese artists in Europe, Hokusai achieves a very high evaluation worldwide. The variety of masterpieces that Hokusai has left receives an even higher reputation 160 years after his death, and he is still considered one of the greatest artists of all time.

The arts of Hokusai

Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji Series - The Great Wave of Kanagawa

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, representative art of Hokusai
(Image: edohanga.jp)

This is one of the most popular masterpieces from Hokusai.
A huge wave is about to break, splashing particles of water everywhere. The ships are barely holding itself together, letting the trend of water lead its way.

Size:Height 250mm x Width 380mm
Price:¥14,040(Reproduced by Edo Woodprint)

Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji Series- Fine Wind, Clear Morning

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, famous woodprint of Hokusai
(Image: edohanga.jp)

It is said that Mount Fuji sometimes changes its color in early mornings of autumn. It gradually changes its color to red as if to mark the beginning of our day.
The art is of the scene of Fuji, just been visited by the daylight and the sky full of cirrocumulus clouds. The dark mountain top shows that the night has just left, as the lightened mountainside expresses the start of a clear day without rain.

Size:Height 250mm x Width 380mm
Price:¥14,040(Reproduced by Edo Woodprint)

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) - Rival of Hokusai

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, self portrait of a genuine Ukiyo e drawer Hiroshige
(Image: ndl.go.jp)

Raival Ukiyo-e artist of Hokusai who left masterpieces such as “53 Stations of the Tōkaidō”.

He mainly produced ‘Bijin-ga (Ukiyo-e portraying beautiful women)’ and ‘Yakusha-e (Ukiyo-e portraying actors)’, but he began working on landscape pieces such as “Famous places in the Eastern Capital”, and later became famous for “53 Stations of the Tōkaidō” as a landscape artist in 1833. The popularity among the people were equally divided between him and Hokusai. He was also a big influence on Gogh and Monet, and was popular worldwide.

The arts of Hiroshige

53 Stations of the Tōkaidō Series - The Nihonbashi Bridge at Daybreak

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, a famous woodprint art of Hiroshige
(Image: edohanga.jp)

‘Hasamibako (box for carrying)’ and ‘keyari (spear with feathers on top) leading a daimyo’s procession with morning glow as the background. On the north side of the bridge is a fish market where fish peddlers come and go. This is a masterpiece showing the beginning of Tokaido journey and the beauty of Nihonbashi at sunrise.

Size:Height 250mm x Width 350mm
Price:¥12,960(Reproduced by Edo Woodprint)

Views of Famous Places in Edo - Sakai no Watashi

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, a famous woodprint art of Hiroshige
(Image: edohanga.jp)

A piece that portrayed the ferry platform of Nakagawa in Sakura Highway, which is on the way to Shimohusa (Used to refer to North of Chiba). The name of the place originates from an incident when the tide regurgitated all the way back to this area. The white egrets are portrayed to emphasize the idyllic atmosphere of the countryside.

Size:Height 340mm x Width 220mm
Price:¥14,040(Reproduced by Edo Woodprint)

How to make the Ukiyo-e Woodprint

Ukiyo-e Woodprint developed as an affordable means for the common people to print newspapers, magazines, portrait collections and such. But how did they make such colorful prints?

The process of making an Ukiyo-e is divided between three different craftsman: ‘E-shi’, ‘Hori-shi’, and ‘Suri-shi’.

Step.1 The work of E-shi (Sketching)

E-shi starts working on a preliminary sketch on request from a publishing company.

Step.2 The work of Hori-shi (Curving)

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, making step carving Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, tools used for Ukiyoe carving
Hori-shi uses a small knife and a chisel and starts curving out the woodblocks which are separated according to the colors used. It takes a long years of practice to be recognized as a professional Hori-shi of Edo Woodprint, because it requires a highly intricate technique.

Step.3 The work of Suri-shi (Coloring)

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, making step painting Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, making process coloring
Suri-shi layers the colors ten to thirty times before he finishes his piece. In Edo Woodprint, Suri-shi first rubs the outline of the drawing onto the paper using the main block, and then uses the color blocks to layer the colors in on top of it. For the color blocks, they layer the ones with the least surfaces, and then move on to the thinnest colors.

Transition of Adding Color Layers from Top Left Side to Bottom Right Side

Ukiyo-e, Japanese art of Edo woodprint, changes as painting process proceeds

In Conclusion

If you’ve ever tried to make woodblock printing, you probably know that it is extremely difficult to get more than one pattern in the right place. To create woodblocks that match each other perfectly, and to layer more than four or five colors takes a tremendous effort that even years of practice cannot easily catch up to. It might be a little pricy, but when you think about the time and effort, and above all the beauty of the smooth print, it is definitely worth hanging on your wall.

author Kanna

Author - Kanna

A writing/translating enthusiast and a part-time illustrator, recently graduated from Sophia University. My expertise is in media and English studies, but I am also interested in a wide variety of fields, including traditions of art in Japan and how it has changed and been preserved. I hope people find interest in Japan through this blog!

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