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The Beauty of Surimono


The 'recipe' for a woodblock print is a simple one:

How to Make a Woodblock Print


  • 1 sheet washi (Japanese handmade paper)
  • assorted pigments (just a few basic types: red, blue, yellow, black ...)
  • a few pieces of cherry wood


  • 1 set carving tools (knife, a few chisels and gouges)
  • a few horsehair brushes
  • 1 baren (a circular pad for printing)


  • draw design on thin paper
  • paste paper onto a piece of wood
  • cut away everything that isn't the design
  • brush pigment over the wood
  • place paper on top
  • rub with the baren
  • repeat as needed to add additional colours

That's all there is to it! But it is not the end of the story. There is another recipe that I must tell you about ...

How to Look at a Woodblock Print


  • 1 woodblock print
  • 1 low table (optional)
  • 1 light switch (firmly in the 'off' position)
  • 1 window (North facing is best ...)


  • place print on table in front of window (better yet - hold print in hand in front of window)
  • enjoy!

Now can you see the beauty of this print? With the proper light - a soft and horizontal light falling across the face of the print - everything is revealed. Without it, all is lost. Put your print in a frame, and hang it up on a wall? Ridiculous!

Look at this close-up from a small woodblock print:

Surimono are 'prints', things that most people tend to think of as being two dimensional, but they are much more than that. They are actually three dimensional, with the depth of the 'washi' playing a most important part in their beauty. Put a print up on a wall behind glass in a frame and this tactile aspect will be almost completely erased. Yes, the design will be clear, but it won't be a 'print' anymore - just a facsimile. You might as well put a colour photocopy of the print up there in the frame. Without natural light, there is simply no point to looking at a woodblock print.

We mostly think of prints as being 'made' by the artist whose name is connected with any particular work, but they were actually created by quite a large team of people - of course the carver and printer who produced the print itself, but behind them also standing the paper maker, the block planer, and the various artisans who made the tools needed in their production. It is only when we look at a collection of surimono under soft natural light though, that the work of all those men becomes visible!

In this era of living under artificial illumination, we have all forgotten 'how' to look at prints. Do you have any prints in your home with you now? Please rediscover their beauty for yourself - turn out the lights, and enjoy ...


Here are a few of my prints, in overview and close-up. I know it won't help to turn out the lights and carry your computer over to the window - but maybe you can get some idea of what they really look like ...

Click to pop-up enlargement

Click to pop-up enlargement

Click to pop-up close-up

Click to pop-up enlargement



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