The Asahi Shimbun Displays
woodblock printing

a craft of precision

25 May – 16 July 2017


The Asahi Shimbun Displays 

Supported by

Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1864), Shokunin (Artisans). Woodblock print triptych showing the process of printmaking, 1857.

Discover how the exquisite detail and colour of Japanese woodblock printing is achieved in this display revealing the little-known processes behind this beautiful art form.

Woodblock printing was prominent in Japan during the Edo period (1615–1868) as it provided a way to make artworks and books available throughout society. The technique is closely associated with celebrated ukiyo-e artists such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1865) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858). Ukiyo-e is the art of the ‘floating world’, which featured courtesans, poets and views of famous places.

The display uses three works by different ukiyo-e artists to illustrate the skill that went into creating a traditional woodblock print. The focus of the display is a full-colour triptych by Kunisada. The three panels form a depiction of the printing process, showing the workshops of a master block cutter and master printer. It highlights the main stages involved in making a finished product – from cutting the first printing block through to printing onto specially prepared mulberry-fibre paper.

A rare brush drawing by Hokusai will also feature in the display. These ‘block-ready drawings’ were a vital initial piece in the process that were usually destroyed as the lines of the drawing were traced onto the woodblock by the block cutter’s chisel.

The rain-drenched scene Sudden shower at Shōno by Hiroshige provides an excellent example of the gradation technique known as bokashi. This method of carefully removing ink from the printing block allows the creation of a range of tone and depth in prints. The process was done by hand, so no two examples of gradation are exactly the same.

The display also features a selection of traditional carving and printing tools, including a modern carved woodblock.

Running alongside our major exhibition Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave, this show allows you to get closer to the craft behind the masterpieces on display.