What is it about this old Japanese art that I love?
I’ve always been fond of certain ascpects of Asian culture, from Martial Arts (of which I train in a few) to artwork such as Taoist paintings (I love the minimalism) and Japanese prints.
One of the things I really love about the Japanese printmaking methods is that no matter how simple the design of the print, you can tell how it would require many years of tough practice in order to produce such artworks – and not just the prints themselves, the paper too as I discovered!
In my research into the Japanese printing techniques I was surprised to find out that traditionally it wasn’t just one person who made a print – it took the combined work of up to four people to create a print!
I hope you will find the printmaking techniques interesting.
First of all, what does Ukiyo-e mean? And how do you pronounce it?!
The term Ukiyo-e originated from the Buddhist term Ukiyo. Ukiyo referred to the material world as being un-pure and filthy – as opposed to the world after death.
Slowly however this term changed to mean something else. Japan had been a war-torn country for hundreds of years, but in the Edo period (the 17th century) it was brought together under the Tokugawa shogunate and the wars ended.
This brought with it a rise to artistry and the appreciation of beauty. Urbanization was on the rise, and Edo became the center of culture and pleasures. The term Ukiyo changed to mean “the floating world” – referring to the fleeting pleasures and freedom from the concerns of everyday life.
The Japanese prints during that time usually depicted this carefree philosophy and thus came to be known as Ukiyo-e: “pictures of the floating world”.
I have only a small understanding of Japanese, however looking at how it’s written it’s pronounced as follows:
U (like “oo” but short)
ki (as it sounds)
yo (again just as it sounds)
e (as in the “e” in “met”)
So when were these techniques created? Woodblock printing techniques had actually been around for a long time before they became popular in Japan. The Chinese had been using woodblock printmaking methods to make books for hundreds of years – and lots of these books could be found in Japan as well – however, the first Japanese illustrated print book only appeared in 1650.
The book was “Ise Monogatari” which was a famous traditional Japanese story, but in this book the text had the main focus, and the prints secondary. This slowly changed however until prints were made as unique artworks – meaning they had begun to be seen as true art pieces.
The Ukiyo-e however weren’t made just for art’s sake – there were lots that were created as advertisement posters (not the famous ones obviously).
So who was involved in the creation of the Ukiyo-e prints? Printmaking wasn’t a solo act…
Even though the Artist of the Japanese print got the credit for the art piece there were three more craftsmen involved:
The master woodcutter: the tradesman who carved the woodblock according to the artist’s sketch.
The Printer: mixed the colors and actually did the printing.
The Publisher: in charge of co-ordinating the efforts of the Artist, Woodcutter and Printer. The Publisher also chose how the print was going to be published.
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Source by Daniel Wallman