In traditional ukiyo-e printmaking, the design was always carved first as a keyblock, a very fine line drawing that was printed in black with colors added almost as one would color in a coloring book drawing. Here is a portion of a bijin (beautiful woman) print by Utamaro that shows the beautiful thin lines used in this keyblock technique:
Prints can also be made without a keyblock. Here's a bijin print by Kiyoshi Saito that uses only areas of color with no linework to define the figure:
In the four years that I've been making woodblock prints I've rarely used a keyblock, but that's about to change. I've just started a new print, a portrait of John and Priscilla Alden that looks at ways that their story echoes several Bible stories in the American imagination. I want it to look a little bit like a Japanese ukiyo-e print and also a little like a 17th century wood engraving, so that calls for linework.
Here's a peek at a section of the keyblock I'm carving:
You can probably recognize the Bible story shown here.