Yoshida - Japanese Woodblock Printing : Chapter V : Part II

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Japanese Wood-block Printing

Hiroshi Yoshida



Practical Hints

Inspiration Necessary. When the artist draws on thin minogami, he must be bold and free in order to get good results. If he is too cautious and timid, the result will show a cramped effect. And when he is bold in execution, he is liable to make mistakes, but he should not mind that. The bad part may be mended by pasting another piece of paper over it and a new drawing made on this.

For instance, the artist may be inspired to draw a landscape, but he may not be in the mood to draw the figures which are necessary in that landscape. In that case he should draw the landscape and not attempt the figures, which should be left until the inspiration comes. He may leave a space for the figures to be filled in later. When the opportune time comes, he may draw these figures on a separate piece of paper and paste this on the proper place in the landscape. The paper should not be pasted on completely, but by the four corners only.

Not too Many Repairs. When the drawing is pasted on the block ready for cutting, the artist who cuts should take a sharp knife and cut off the unnecessary part of the paper from the back. It will peel off easily. With practice he will be able to cut it without the least damage to the block. There should not be too many repairs, or it will require too much time to cut off the unnecessary parts and, meanwhile, the paper may dry too much for the peeling, which we described before. Once I had as many as ten places patched and when I came to cutting them off the paper became too dry to peel off.

Dry Brush. The use of kasure-fude (dry brush) was primarily connected with calligraphy, and the technique required in cutting the block to produce the effect is not as difficult as it appears in the print. Care is needed, however, in the printing. Too much pigment on the block will produce a result contrary to that which is desired, for the pigment is liable to fill the small cuts. The block should be tapped with the brush in order to force out the pigment from the holes. The dry brush is necessary only when the artist tries to cut so as to reproduce the brush-strokes faithfully.

Sabi Block. The term sabi suggests the mellowed effect obtained after long and fond use. The sabi block is used to kill the obtrusiveness of the new in the print. In the print the term designates that quality which gives an appearance of being old or soiled, often presenting a faded or darkened effect. There is a wide variety of methods calculated to make a print look as if it had been printed from wornout blocks. In order to get this effect the blocks are often scratched with a knife or whetstone, scraped with dry tokusa (pewterwort), or corroded by sulphuric acid. With the exception of special cases the attempt will end in failure, and it is better for beginners not to try it. The dry brush effect may be considered as a variety of sabi, but it has its proper function in block-printing. Sometimes more than one sabi block is used, one on top of the other, to produce a very interesting result somewhat resembling lithography. But the lithographic effect should not be the aim in using sabi blocks; the wood blocks have their own functions to perform without being used to imitate effects which really belong to stone.

Mistakes in Cutting. Seldom does the artist make a wrong cut, but often the wood chips off when he is clearing away the unnecessary parts. If a line chips off, even a small fraction of it, a thin piece of wood should be driven into the block after cutting it with a chisel. Then the surplus height should be sawed off, the surface levelled with the nagura whetstone, and the line completed. Generally a broad chisel is driven in and a wedge-shaped piece of wood is hammered into the cut so made. If the area of the place to be mended or altered is large, then a suitable piece of wood is inlaid. For this purpose the block should be cut down to the necessary size, the walls being cut with a chisel vertically, and the bottom of the indented area being levelled. Then a piece of wood cut the exact size is driven into it, so as to show not the edge but the surface on top as the block itself, and the surface planed smooth. Now it will be ready to have the drawing pasted on it and to be cut. The work should be done when the wood is dry since, when the printing is begun, it will become wet and securely fasten the inserted piece of wood in place. No glue is used, but it stays firm.

Inlay. Sometimes a harder kind of wood is desired for the head of a figure where very thin lines are needed for the features, because otherwise these fine lines are likely to be worn off prematurely. In order to get fine durable lines for the features often a piece of tsuge (boxwood) is inlaid in the beginning.

Hari-awase (Pasting Together). In distributing colours, it sometimes becomes necessary to have several extra blocks for a limited portion of the drawing. Take, for instance, my print entitled "Chion-in Temple Gate" (No. 186) and "Ghat in Benares" (No. 145). Each contains a large crowd of small figures, and extra colour blocks were necessary for the different dresses of the figures. In such a case the iro-sashi for one colour block should be pasted with the register marks on one side of the board, while that of another may be pasted on the same surface of the board with its register marks on the opposite side, or on the same side with register marks further receded. These, when cut, are to be printed separately each with its own register marks. Of course, the groups of figures should be placed sufficiently far apart so that there will be no danger of blind printing when any one of the colours is being printed. The pasting of more than one iro-sashi, each with its own register marks, on the same surface of the board is known as hari-awase.

Iro-ochi (Colour Slips). It sometimes happens that vacant spots are discovered in the print after the blocks have been printed. These are known as iro-ochi. Somehow in distributing the colours some parts of the design on the block are left out by mistake. It happens also because the brush strokes in the iro-wake do not always cover the entire surface. When vacant spots are discovered, extra pieces of wood should be stuck in and the necessary parts supplied. To locate the exact spot is not an easy matter when it does not occurs on the line. The best way is to cut out the vacant spot from the kyogo, and place this kyogo on the block, adjusting it to the register marks, then thrusting a gimlet through to the perforated spot in order to locate the exact position of iro-ochi. In this case a slightly larger piece should be inlaid, for often the piece is found not to be large enough.

However, caution against iro-ochi should be taken before the artist proceeds to the cutting of the colour blocks. When the colour distribution is made and the necessary number of kyogo are marked preparatory to the making of the colour blocks, one kyogo should be sacrificed for the purpose of ascertaining any iro-ochi. Upon it the area covered by each colour block should be coloured red. If the whole surface becomes red, it means that every inch of space is accounted for and there will be no iro-ochi. But if vacant spaces are left, these indicate iro-ochi and they should be added to the proper kyogo for colour blocks.

Locating Exact Spot. The contrary often happens. That is, an unnecessary piece is left on the block. For instance, when the leaves of a tree are being cut, the artist may leave a certain small detail in the background, thinking it to be a bud, or a leaf, though in reality it was not so intended. Something like that very often occurs when the drawing is complicated.

These unintentional overlappings must be remedied. It is usual for the beginner to make mistakes in trying to remedy these defects. That is natural, because it is difficult to locate the exact spots on the block. One must always bear in mind that the block is a negative.

There is one method to insure exactness. Sacrifice one print and paint the spot on the print exactly in the right shape with a different colour, such as thick vermilion, and then wet the block and transfer the colour from the print to the block. Then one can know the exact spot and the precise area to be taken out of the block.

Remedy for Defects. Sometimes a defect may be discovered in the block after the printing is started. Perhaps a rotten spot in the block which does not show in the beginning appears in the course of printing. Where there is a rotten spot there the colour does not stick well. This often occurs in the beta-ban. If the hole is single and small, it may be remedied by inlaying a small piece of wood, but many of them may occur in a limited area. In that case, a larger area should be cut out and inlaid with another piece; the colour will not stick evenly otherwise. These blocks may be inlaid in various sizes, but the print will not show such insertions. Similar wood should be chosen, of course, for the inlay and it should be inserted with the face of the wood up in order to insure a uniform colour impression.

Mending Indentations. Sometimes the surface of the block is damaged by driving a sharp corner into it, causing an indentation. In that case there is no necessity for an inlay. The indented place should first be wet. Then take hosho paper, saturate it with water, place it over the spot, and apply a hot poker to it. The sudden application of heat will cause the moisture to expand the indented part.

Spotting or Rotting. When the printing is once started, it should be continued to the end of the pile. But if by chance the work has to be suspended for two or three days, then it will be impossible to keep the paper damp so long without fear of its getting spotted. Spotting occurs even in winter. So it is best to dry the paper. But if the unfinished print is exposed to the air in a single sheet, the paper warps. In order to prevent this the paper should be dried by inserting cardboard between the sheets.

Before running the printing, the paper must be moistened again, of course. But the usual process of moistening it the previous night will be too tedious. So this time one may use newspapers. Moisten the newspapers and let them "crawl" so as to equalize the moisture, and insert them between the prints. This will give enough moisture to the paper to allow one to continue the printing. When there is danger of rotting about an ounce of formalin to a good-sized bowl of water should be used in moistening the paper.

Stains. When I printed "Parrot," I used yellow. Before long I noticed some stains on the yellow, something like iron rust, almost black. By investigation I found the cause: it was the result of the chemical action of oil on yellow. When printing a block with a small design, the baren is pressed forcibly on the paper, driving the oil used on the baren into it. I verified this by mixing yellow in oil and found it produced black stains like iron rust.

Such stain may be removed by hydrochloric acid diluted in water in the proportion of one to ten, applying it with a writing brush to the stain. Care should be taken, at the right moment, to absorb the acid with a blotter. It leaves no harmful effects, so far as I can ascertain, but care should be used not to allow oil to penetrate the paper, especially when yellow is being printed on a block with a small cut area.

Fuki-tori, or the Wiping off of the Pigment. For the purpose of creating an effect of illumination, the colour may be wiped off the block with a piece of cloth. It produces a pleasing effect, such as one finds in etchings. Some artists do this to get the right effect of the moon, and a skillful use of this device will bring out the light of a night scene with commendable results.

Blending Colours. To blend colours it is necessary to have pigment on one end of the brush and to leave the other end blank. But interesting irregular effects may be obtained by wiping the charged surface of the block with a wet cloth.

Small Holes. When small specks suggesting lights are desired in the printing the work must be done very carefully. The block with many small holes is liable to produce dots in the colour - a result contrary to the aim - for it is natural for the pigment to fill these small holes. In this case, the artist should tap the surface of the block with the brush before the finishing strokes so that the hair of the brush may go into the holes to drive out the pigment filling them.

Designs Close Together. When from an unavoidable cause two different colours are to be applied to designs cut close together, it is difficult to print one without smudging the other. In this case the dangerous parts may be covered with paper, one end of which may be pasted to the edge of the block, and the other end covered with tinfoil which does not receive colour. This may be swung out of place when the impression is being taken.

Blind Printing. Blind printing may be utilized with good effect. I have used this on the wings of the bird in the "Obatan Parrot" (No. 70). Lines are first printed on an uncoloured block, pressing the baren hard enough to indent the lines of the design on the paper. The pigment applied afterwards will not stick to the indented lines, which should be left white. Lattice work may be printed by the blind printing process and then a mass block used on top of it with good effect.

Another use I have made of this process was in printing the dandelions in one of my prints, "Hokuryo" (No. 203). It is extremely difficult to get these flowers without outlines exactly in place if the block for the earth was to be cut out for these flowers. So the block with flowers was printed first with much force and indented. After that a tsubushi-ban of grey was printed on top of this. But the flowers being indented did not receive the colour and the outlines of the flowers were soft and pleasing.

This process may be applied for various other purposes with good results. When coloured lines or dots are to be indented, the result should be obtained not by one process, but by two. First print the colour and then do the blind printing on top of it. If indented with colour, the effect of the colour is not satisfactory.

Parallel Lines. When the lines are parallel, the brush should apply the pigment to the block in the same direction as the lines. Then there will be no blots.

But in the case of lattice work this is not possible. Even tapping the surface will not give the desired result. In such a case, it becomes necessary to make two blocks: one cut with horizontal and the other with vertical lines. Of course, the intersection of the lines will be darker, but that must be made part of the plan.

In the Edo Period a piece of sha (coarse silk) was used for indenting the surface of the paper, and beta-ban was used on top of it to produce the woven fabric effect.

Ita-bokashi (Soft Edge on the Block). Use sandpaper on the block where ita-bokashi is desired, rubbing it down towards the end. A better result may be obtained, however, by finishing the end with a knife, as the colour does not adhere well to a surface rubbed with sandpaper. The place where ita-bokashi is desired should be cut down gradually to the level of the space cleared away. I have used it for clouds; but I found it necessary to wipe the block with a wet cloth in addition in order to obtain the desired effect. Some artists may be able to utilize this method of ita-bokashi to better advantage.

Wari-ban (Split Block). This was devised by the author in order to obtain the soft effect so difficult to secure. It consists of a number of blocks each with the end split, or forked, and each projection tapering and disappearing. These blocks are so cut as not to have these split ends coincide. This will give a soft effect to the end which will be shaded off in a gradual cadence in a rather short space.

Baren-suji (Baren Marks). In order to give a soft effect the marks of the baren are also utilized. The repetition one on top of the other produces a soft tone. In order to obtain the effect of mist the baren marks which are made alike over the objects will prove very efficacious, giving these objects an appearance of receding into the distance.

The Outline in Different Colours. In the Edo Period only black was used for the outline print, but certain feelings are better expressed by other colours - feelings impossible to express by black. For a bright, buoyant feeling red and yellow are suitable; for sadness blue answers the purpose best.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to print outlines twice in different colours, though this is difficult. Sometimes repeating the colours will bring out nthe desired effect, by making the colour richer.

Colour Feelings. Different feelings expressed by different colours should be considered at the beginning. That is the reason why the outlines of some designs are printed in suitable colours. The following are some of the feelings expressed by various colours: black signifies something dark, and white something light. Red signifies love and passion. Blue expresses truth, while yellow stands for sunlight and life. Green imparts coolness, while purple indicates sadness and delicacy.. Orange expresses warmth. Black and red together signify power, and, when the red is impure, demon's power is indicated. But white and red express purity and heavenly love.

Shiho mimitsuki (Paper with Untrimmed Edges). The printing paper may be made with irregular natural edges all around. Such paper often gives character to the print, and it is quite possible to print on it. Of course, in printing it is necessary to have the right-angled corner and straight edge. These necessities may be supplied by pasting on pieces of paper for the purpose. A piece of paper with a right-angled corner may be pasted to the underside of the lower right-hand corner with the face down, and another piece with a straight edge to the proper place along the bottom edge for registering marks. These pieces of paper may easily be detached after the printing is finished.

Ketsu-soji (Removing Blots). In order to take blots away, when they occur on the margin, use a solution of boracic acid. Blots made by the baren will be difficult, or impossible, to remove. If they are created merely by paper sagging onto the cut surface, then they can be wiped off with a wet cloth or a brush. However, when once dried, they are difficult to remove.

Sky Block. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to get he right kind of block for the sky, a block that will not leave any of he grain of the wood visible. But when the grain shows it may be obliterated by utilizing more than one block. Some blocks may not need the sky; in such a case it is usually cut away, but by leaving it on it may become useful later in the production of a desirable sky.

An Extension for the Register Marks (Kento). Sometimes the block becomes too small and does not allow any room for the kento. This occurs also when the artist desires a broad border for the print. In that case, what is known as a tsuke-gento (added kento) becomes necessary. A piece of wood is nailed onto the lower right-hand corner of the block, and another piece to the bottom near the left corner, for the necessary registering marks.

Brush with Many Tips. The tying of the brush to form many tips is also convenient. If there are many figures in a landscape, they should be represented as wearing different-coloured dresses. In order to facilitate the work, the brush may be tied to create two or more points. Different pigment may be put on each tip when colouring these figures on the block to be printed. This minimizes the number of blocks and printing, thus saving much time and labour.

Different Brush Strokes. Manipulation of the brush is important. Different sorts of impressions may be obtained by different uses of the brush in applying the pigment to the block. If the brush strokes be horizontal, or vertical, or if they tap the surface, each will produce different thicknesses and effects of colour.

Seal and Signature. The artist's seal is difficult to place. The stamping of seals on the print is a difficult task. Mistakes are liable to creep in when one has to stamp many. But the most accurate way of doing this is by printing the seal, and not stamping it on the print. The seal, be it of wood, ivory, or stone, may be secured in a framework and register marks made and printed in that condition. It is better to have the seal printed first and then the signature written afterwards. Otherwise the signature and seal are not always correlated. I speak of this because I write my own name and place my seal under it. The seals may be either stamped or printed, the latter giving a better result.

Supports for Paper. Support for the sagging printing paper is often necessary. Sometimes a part of the block near the end or edge is left uncut. This uncut portion may serve as a support for the paper when it is being printed in order to prevent ketsu-ochi. However, care should be exercised, lest the baren touch it, thus causing blind printing which will prove detrimental to the print. If there is such danger, a piece of rolled paper may be pasted on the place cut down low and beyond the reach of the brush, or on the printing stand outside the block when the block is cut close to the border, or the edge of the uncut portion may be rounded and pasted with paper as a precaution. If paper is pasted on, the baren will not leave any detrimental marks even if it should touch the block.

Solvent. Alcohol may be used as a solvent. Some pigments such as vermilion and carmine, do not mix well with water; then alcohol or Japanese nsake may be used.

Expanded Kyogo. The adjustment of an expanded block is not easy. Sometimes the block is cut showing the drawing expanded lengthwise. This is the result of carelessness in pasting the kyogo on the block. In that case, print the block in halves, one half from either end, allowing the drawing to meet in the middle in a blending condition.

Shrunk Block. A contracted block may be expanded. The block shrinks, and when it is required to expand it, the block may be dipped into hot water and kept wrapped in a wet towel or paper and left over one night, or even two nights if necessary. If in a hurry, apply water to the surface to be expanded and heat the underside of the block over a stove, making the surface convex, and thus extending the surface.

The reverse of this process is not so effective. The application of heat to the surface which is to be shrunk will make that surface curl in, but its shrinkage will not be very marked.

There are various other hints and suggestion too numerous to mention here. Each difficulty must be dealt with according to the circumstances which cause it. By degrees one will be able to master the art and become so proficient that he will be able to judge the work correctly merely by the sound produced by the baren in printing. By degrees he will gain confidence in his work and when that confidence enables him to lever his chisel in the sarai (clearing) near the cut line, sending chip after chip into the air, he will be able to devise suitable means whenever any difficulty arises. There is nothing mysterious, nothing secret, in the art of print-making.



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