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New video - making a kuchi-e woodblock print

Posted by Dave Bull on March 31, 2017 [Permalink]

Has it been nearly a year since I did that (overly long) video presentation talking about the old carver Susumu Ito? I guess so ...

Perhaps it's time to try another one of that type - this one isn't about a person it's about a process ... just how were the old kuchi-e prints produced?




Added by: Marc Kahn on March 31, 2017, 6:53 am

I'm looking at the color block comparison at around 13:36. Clearly they are from different blocks. That's easy to see. But... how did the different carvers, working free form as they did, come as close as they came in terms of the general shapes that they were carving?

What were they working from that kept them basically (but not exactly) on the same page?

Added by: Dave on March 31, 2017, 9:03 am

This point is worthy of another whole video … it’s a huge issue.

There was a major change in the entire system of production with the entry of the collotype process to the scene. One of the interesting aspects of that process is that you could make ‘prints’ (speaking of the collotype image itself) on paper that you had sensitised yourself, and somebody back then did the same kind of thing that I myself do now with my own process - create a ‘double layer’ sheet consisting of extremely thin gampi paper layered to something more substantial (to allow easy working).

So the image of anything you were trying to reproduce in woodblock could be photographically (through the collotype process) created on thin gampi, which could then be pasted onto wood for carving. This must be how the Shimbi Shoin and all the others who were making woodblock reproductions of the old painting, etc. did their work.

Once this technique was established, it was no longer necessary for the woodblock print designers to remain as ‘separated’ from the process as they had been.

1) Early days (Edo, etc): designer sends the outline drawing only (drawn on gampi directly). Carvers carve it, create multiple copies for colour separation, designer (or somebody) works out a colour separation, carvers cut the colour blocks, etc. etc. as we know. The ‘classic’ ukiyoe technique.

2) from Meiji (post collotype): designer creates the entire thing worked out right to the end (usually in watercolours). Make the repro in collotype, paste it down, get busy with the key block. Then, when it’s time for colour blocks, you have as many copies of this collotype as you want, to use for transferring stuff like those leaf shapes, kimono pattern, etc. and etc. for colour block carving. My thought is that they didn’t paste down those shapes, but drew them by hand onto a collection of kyogo-zuri (the colour transfer sheets). I have video here of Adachi’s ‘colour separator’ (Funabashi-san, who I never had a chance to meet) doing this work for the colour patterns of an Utamaro reproduction … (Remember, Adachi and I are making reproductions of classical ukiyo-e, which means we don’t work in the same way as Utamaro’s ‘team’ back in the old days …)

So many things to write about, talk about … and try to document before they all totally fade out of memory ...

Added by: Jacques on April 1, 2017, 3:47 am

Thank you very much for another great video Dave.

I can't believe you never told us collectors about these issues at the time you were making this beautiful kuchi-e print!

Added by: Dave on April 1, 2017, 8:47 am

Me? Admit to a mistake?

Added by: Jacques on April 2, 2017, 6:08 am

_I_ would have forgiven you for your "mistake",

as I'm sure every other collector would have!

Added by: Karl on April 5, 2017, 1:06 pm

Excellent video Thank you.

Added by: ranran on April 16, 2017, 8:44 am

The scratch carving you are describing, almost sounds like a technique I've seen in woodworking. Cuts would be made into the area where the wood is going to be cleared and then with a chisel or other tool, each section is cut out and removed, and then smoothed out.

I was wondering if the method is similar but on a smaller scale. I guess the only thing that would nag at me is how would one be able to get the surface of the cleared area smooth.

Added by: Dave on April 16, 2017, 9:36 am

get the surface of the cleared area smooth

Well, that's not what we want. Making a 'cleared area' just results in a blank white space in the print. We want to end up with a section of torn up and jagged points of wood, so that the resulting print will have a similar texture ... looking just like a brush running out of ink.

Hiroshi Yoshida talked about this in his book, and gave illustrations (scroll down to the bottom of that page ...)


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