Yoshida - Japanese Woodblock Printing : Introduction








Hiroshi Yoshida




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An eBook containing the entire contents of this book - 180 pages, including a complete list of the author's prints (with numbers of blocks and impressions listed for each), 7 colour plates of his work, 5 colour plates showing the progress steps for making a print, numerous other illustrations, and fully cross-linked and indexed - is available on my Mokuhankan.com website.



(Table of Contents below ...)

The art of wood-block colour printing may be said to have enjoyed its finest period during the Edo Period, for it is then that one finds the flowering of this peculiar art of Japan. Again, it may not be in error to state that since the Edo Period there has been a retrogression rather than an advance in this art. We cannot help observing that those artists who have followed the style of wood-block printing developed during the Edo Period have more and more gradually, even from before and through the Meiji and Taisho Eras, fallen short of the achievements of that period. No one can deny that there has been continued copying but with the imitations rather poor comparatively. A renaissance is needed by which the creative art of the present period may bring new vitality and power to the wood-block colour print. Imitation must yield to the new creative power grafted on to the foundations so well laid during the Edo Period.

A study of the wood-block printing of the Edo Period shows great independence, indeed in many cases complete separation, with regard to the artist, the cutter, and the printer. The artist was engaged by the publisher to make the sketch and having been compensated, to a large extent had no further interest in the process. Likewise, in turn, the cutter and then the printer. It is evident that such a process could not but entail a great loss in that, for the production of the finest wood-block colour print, the creative art and vision of the artist is needed not only in the sketch but in the cutting and printing as well. Only in this way can continuity be assured and the vitality and power of the artist shown in full in the final result.

The outstanding need of the art of wood-block printing today is that, upon the foundation so brilliantly laid by the masters of the Edo Period, there be built something distinctive of the present age. At least there should be an ingrafting of modern creative genius upon that foundation and not the rather half-hearted efforts to imitate that which is foreign, as is seemingly being essayed by some modern artists. It is true, of course, that Japan, in her civilization and art, is greatly indebted to other nations, both ancient and modern. Indeed, this is not less true of all other nations, for not one country has within herself the possibilities of the full expression of art, since true art is cosmopolitan and the result therefore of external influences as well as of the inherent vitality and life of the different nations. Yet it is equally true that through such a development a medium is offered for the expression of something which is purely national in the highest and best sense. For instance, while one finds in China the initial beginnings of wood-printing which engaged the interest of Japanese artists, yet these artists, through their added study and development, have evolved a technique and created an art which may be truly said to be Japanese. So while Japan, in her art life as well as in other realms, has been influenced from without, she has gladly accepted this influence, has added to it by her own study and development, has infused into it all the true Japanese spirit and, as a result, Japanese art has assumed a national consciousness of expression and content. This is quite evident in the art of wood-block colour printing.

The foundation of all good wood-block printing rests upon the perfection of drawing and painting, of colour and line. These are truly essential, yet it is also true that the artist must see the end from the beginning. The entire course of the development of the print must be charted by him so that his creative genius may be seen not only in the foundation sketch but in the cutting and printing as well. To do otherwise involves a break in that continued development of the print which demands not only a diligent study and analysis of the colour print of the Edo Period, but also the infusion into it of the new creative features significant of the present time. Only in this way can a print be produced which will do full justice to the present creative vision and power of true Japanese artists.

The author of this book freely acknowledges his indebtedness to others - to which he has added his own study, analysis, investigation, and development. So in return, since he feels that art is universal and has its message for all peoples, he would, through the medium of this book, make his experience and knowledge available to all who may care to profit by it. There is no narrowing or limitation of art in any sense here, for the author firmly believes that there is much in Japan's contribution to the art culture of the world of which she may well be proud and that - in this contribution - the wood-block colour print holds an enviable place. It is this phase of Japanese art - namely the wood-block colour print - which the author would make possible to all artists, to all art-lovers, to all students and to all critics.

I must on no account omit to acknowledge my deep indebtedness to Dr. Jiro Harada, of the Imperial Household Museum in Tokyo, for writing for me in English in the form presented in this book what I detailed to him in my mother tongue, thus helping me to realize my long-cherished desire to let this peculiarly Japanese art become better known in the West. Thanks are due also to the Sanseido Company Ltd. for undertaking the publication of this book and for taking no end of trouble to give the best possible form to this volume.

TOKYO, January 1939




(Some of Mr. Yoshida's chapters are quite long,
so are here broken into segments which will load more easily)


Chapter I - Introductory

Chapter II - General Information

Chapter III - Tools and Materials

Chapter IV - Analysis and Printing

Chapter V - Failures and Suggestions

Chapter VI - Conclusion



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