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Mokuhanga   japanese woodblock prints

In Japanese "moku" means wood and "hanga" means print, therefore mokuhanga is the Japanese term for woodblock print.

Coming originally from China, woodblock printing was mastered in Japan. Originally, prints were produced by carving the key outlines and painting on top to create full-colour images. However, in the Edo era, the art of multicoloured printing was mastered and became widely available to the general public.

Today there are very few masters of this craft.

The process traditionally beggins with an artist drawing. This will then be turned into a hanshita (a lined design ready for pasting down on to a woodblock for carving usually produced on gampi.) Whether produced by the artist himself or more often by the workshop that will produce the print, a piece of very thin paper is placed over the design and carefully traced, filling in any recurring details to the artists' instructions or cleaning up messy lines. Today the job of creating a hanshita can be done by digitally tracing and then printing in the case of reproductions or simply by printing a design on to paper of the carvers  (almost always gampi). This gives us much more fidelity to the original brushstrokes of the artist and is standard practice today.

Once the design is pasted to the block and back of the paper removed by rubbing with a bit of water to remove layers of paper to reveal the design. (a touch of camelia may be used to produce even more transparency, but this should be done just before carving as the oil may cause the paper to pull up from the block after some time.)

The lines are then cut on both sis ides and the waste wood cleared in between leaving  behind a raised design on the surface of the block. this is called the Omohan or Daiban in (English key block.) After washing the glue and paper off the block, it is then ready for printing. Sumi ink is then spread over the block (usually using a horse hair brush called a marubake -round brush) and impressions are taken by placing paper on top and rubbing the back of it with a rubbing tool called a baren.

several impressions are taken from the block and colours are worked out for the print by marking off wanted areas. then in the same manner as the key block was produced this will then be glued t the block and carving will continue. once this process is done the work of the carver is done for the time being and the blocks are then sent off to the next person in the chain, the printer.

the printer then rub pigments on the blocks one after another and press the paper into them using a range of barens fromcourse to every fine . depending on the printable area or delecy of carving for each block. a registration system(kento) was carved into each block by the carver consisting of a L-shaped notch (kagi) in the bottom right-hand corner and a flat line somewhere along the bottom edge (hikitsuke.) before printing the paper is wetted and must remain at a constant moisture level through the process to avoid swelling or shrinking as this would cause misregistration in the final print.


The final person to mention in these process would be the published who organises commissions and pays for the crafts people to produce the print.


Today many printmakers play multiple roles, but in the traditional system, these four roles were clearly demarcated. An artist didn't print and a printer didn't carve. While I have great respect for multidisciplined artist-producers, my rout is that of the craftsperson. 

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