Yoshida - Japanese Woodblock Printing : Chapter III : Part IV

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Japanese Wood-block Printing

Hiroshi Yoshida



Further Consideration of Blocks

The information so far given in this book will impart sufficient knowledge for those who cut linoleum, or simple blocks for New Year's cards. At the same time it may prove useful to those who are engaged in advanced work requiring greater skill and more complicated methods.

We will now proceed to deal with more complicated aspects of print-making, touching on various phases of the work. In so doing I shall have to repeat myself in certain matters but I hope my readers will bear with me. Sometimes it is necessary to have two key blocks, though such a practice to all appearances did not exist in the Edo Period. But I felt the need of it very soon after I began my work. For instance, in a landscape the outlines of near mountains may be rendered in distinct lines, while the distant ones may be in pale lines. In the case of figures, the outline of the garments is in dark colour and that of the features in lighter lines.

The key blocks may not necessarily be printed in black; they are often printed in red, green, or blue, in order to bring out the feeling which the artist desires.

In case two key blocks are to be made, one block should first contain the entire drawing, and then the part which goes to make up the second block should be taken out and cut. But this is tedious and unnecessary and may be avoided. If the entire drawing is printed first in thin colour, it is not necessary to take out the part which goes with the second block. There is a simpler way. Take for instance a print which depicts a view of the garden seen from a room. In such a picture two outline blocks may be required as the lines used for the interior may be better rendered dark, while those of the exterior printed in a lighter tone. In cutting these blocks the lighter lines of the exterior should be extended beyond the darker lines of the interior where they touch. This is merely to indicate the place where the exterior view is to be placed, and the mark is necessary in verifying the correctness of the register marks.

Sometimes the artist feels the necessity of making many key blocks, involving himself in great difficulties when he comes to print them. It is troublesome to place colours in the different places where they are required. The use of many key blocks complicates the work very seriously, and repeated failures will teach the artist the necessity of minimizing the number of them.

Different colours and different gradations may be obtained from one block sometimes, as in the following case: Gradual blending, such as is seen in "Grand Canyon" (No. 3) in which the foreground is in dark blue, and the distance in red. Use the same block twice, care being taken when putting on the pigment. Again, if the places are far apart, it is easy to work with different colours. One should strive by all means to simplify, and to use one block whenever possible.

The key block does not necessarily have to be in outline; one similar to a colour block may be utilized as a key block. But in that case one must be prepared to face a great difficulty in obtaining a perfect fit where different colours are joined.

The register marks may be correct, but there is another factor to be taken into consideration; namely the shrinkage and expansion of the paper. Suppose one were to print one hundred sheets of outline drawing and had to stop for the day in the midst of the work. Suppose the next day one continues the printing the same way - and it may happen to be a rainy, dry, or windy day as the case may be. But when it comes to the printing in colours, a misfit is discovered on account of the shrinkage or expansion of the paper. The conclusion is that all the impressions from the key block should be made at one stretch and not continued over two days.

In the course of printing it may become necessary to use the key block again, perhaps to give a deeper tone to some of the lines. Then one must be very careful because the shrinkage or expansion of the paper may require a change in the original register marks. Not only the paper, but the block itself may necessitate a change because of shrinkage and expansion. This explains why the best possible wood should be used for the key block.

Sometimes the colour blocks are first printed, one after the other, ending with the outline block. This is not easy, and the result is not commensurate with the difficulty involved. However, it may be well to remember that there is such a process. Failures in this process may be minimized by having the first several sheets printed from the key block so that the artist may be sure of the exact registering when each colour block is printed. Having first assured himself about this, all the colour blocks may be finished, and then finally the key block may be printed in order to give a sharp definite black outline to the picture. But even this is a rather ticklish process.

There is still another process of printing. I applied this method in "A Window in Fatehpursikri" (No. 148). The key block was first printed in a brownish colour not to be recognized in the finished print. The darker outline about the figures was applied last as a colour block, not as the key block. In this picture the impression of the key block is not prominent; it was useful in the beginning in distributing the colours.


Further Consideration of Kyogo

The kyogo is a print made from the key block on thin minogami paper. It is a necessary aid to the cutter. It is not the print of a picture, but a sort of manuscript or dummy for use in making the colour blocks.

Kyogo must give clear, definite lines. The paper must be flat. They must be so exactly printed that several sheets of them may be placed one on top of another and show that the outlines of the drawing coincide exactly.

The thin minogami must be first treated with comparatively thick dosa, and the paper must be "killed" with the baren. That is, the paper must be rubbed with the baren until it becomes "dead" as far as the shrinkage and expansion are concerned. It must be perfectly flat, not a wrinkle or trace of warping to be seen.

Now printing ink is often used for printing kyogo for the oil in it does not cause the paper to shrink. When water-colour is used, it is applied uniformly over the block, not too much but just sufficient so as not to wet the paper more than absolutely necessary, for moisture in water-colour will cause it to expand and to shrink when it dries. The placing of the paper on the block requires great skill as we have already described, the paper being blown flat onto the block with the breath, and printed with a baren.

In printing this, the paper is not adjusted to any register marks, but the register marks themselves must appear in the print.

If ten colour blocks are required for the print, at least fifteen kyogo should be printed to allow a margin. This is important, for if a second attempt is made to get kyogo, the conditions being different, a different result is liable to be obtained and cause a great deal of trouble. The flaw will be revealed when the colour block is to be made. When the area to be dealt with in the colour block is small, a flaw is not easily noticeable, but when the block is large, and the lines delicate, then .the flaws in the kyogo will become marked.

Some of the outlines in the kyogo do not remain in the print. On the key block, it is necessary to have some lines to mark the boundary of the colours; the cutting of these lines is called mudabori (or useless cutting), because these lines become useless afterward. They may be more appropriately called temporary lines, or working lines. These lines exist in the drawing to mark the boundaries of the different colours, and when the block is cut for the colours they are no longer necessary, so are no longer retained in the blocks.

An ideal paper should not contain any pulp; it should be made of the pure fibre of the bark. This is because it should be made proof against shrinkage. If the paper shrinks, however well the blocks have been cut, it will be impossible to get a perfect fit for all the impressions to be made from the different blocks.

Colour should be indicated on the kyogo for the cutting, but caution is necessary not to wet it too much. Then the kyogo should be pasted on the board. This requires great skill.

On one occasion the dosa was not strong enough, and the right half of the paper absorbed water while on the block and expanded. The expansion of the kyogo paper is from right to left, while that of the block, as well as the printing paper, is up and down, making the adjustment difficult.

The following elements play important parts in obtaining a desirable result: a good quality of paper, a correct kyogo, the correct manner of rubbing with the baren, the "killing" of the paper, and the right amount of dosa.

Whether or not the kyogo has been well printed cannot be determined until later when different colours are printed on it.



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