29 July 2014
Book Review: Japanese Printmaking
Japanese Print Making: A Handbook of Traditional and Modern Techniques by Toshi Yoshida and Rei Yuki; published by Tuttle Publishing, 1966.
This wonderful book is out of print, but happily I just received a copy from my friend Paul Ritscher, a California based wood engraver, book maker, and letterpress printer. The link above connects to Amazon, where you'll find copies starting at about $125, or you can use WorldCat to search for a library copy near you. I recently spoke with someone from Tuttle Publishing about re-issuing this book (I told them I know where they can find quite a few buyers!), but sadly they weren't interested.
There are plenty of books in English about Japanese prints, especially ukiyo-e prints, but books in English about Japanese woodblock techniques are few and far between. This book comes from a period in the first decades after World War II when Japanese prints became so popular that even books about techniques could find a readership. I love it not only because it's full of descriptions of advanced techniques, but also because it contains contributions from some of my favorite 20th century Japanese printmakers: Umetaro Azechi, Un'ichi Hiratsuka, and Kiyoshi Saito.
The book is divided into two sections, the first being an overview of ukiyo-e techniques and the second detailing 20th century developments. The ukiyo-e section, while it covers some material that is easily found elsewhere, is not a historical survey but a step-by-step description of how a Japanese woodblock print is made, from getting the design onto the blocks to carving and care of tools to all the details of printing, including discussion of pigments, brushes, the traditional baren, and basic techniques like bokashi.
Part two, "Modern Prints," begins with a brief history of the modern print movement in Japan and color plate illustrations of a dozen or so practitioners. The rest of the book discusses the various ways that these artists expanded the materials and techniques of Japanese woodblock printing, with discussions of various woods, pigment types, and papers followed by well-illustrated examples of artistic effects and techniques. These are too numerous to recount, but they include printed wood grain effects, baren effects, effects caused by different paper absorption, and various overprinting techniques. If you're an artist working with moku hanga, this section of the book is a treasure trove of information that could transform your practice (as I'm hoping it will transform mine). The last chapter in this section is a fascinating account by each of the artists whose work is illustrated in the color plates, detailing how they employed the various techniques in the book.
There's an appendix at the end with a chart called "Guide to the Beginner" which is presented as a kind of curriculum for learning moku hanga. I was amused to see that the very last entry in the chart is "changing of the ategawa," which means "baren re-covering," a task I've yet to master.