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Printmaking in Japan

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

I’ve been dreaming of heading back to Japan recently and all this day dreaming has got me thinking about a woodblock printing lesson we took part in when we were in Tokyo back in May.

Sophie and the finished print

I’d done a bit of research before our trip into printmaking in Japan and came across the ‘print parties’ at Mokuhankan in Asakusa. Asakusa is one of the older parts of Tokyo and we wandered the back streets to find this little printmaking shop upstairs overlooking the street. Mokuhankan specialises in woodblock prints and the prints on sale were wonderful and so beautifully detailed! You might recognise one of the most famous woodblock prints of all time in this beautiful print (The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai).

The Great Wave of Kanagawa

After browsing for a while we got chatting to the owner of the shop, David, and asked about the print parties on offer - I thought we would have to come back at the end of our trip 2 weeks later but they were able to fit us in straight away! Print parties are an opportunity to print a pre-designed woodblock with water based inks and to learn more about Japanese woodblock printing. Here's a close up shot of one of the blocks we were printing from and some of the tools we used.

One of the printing blocks in action

We headed into a room lined with tatami mats and set to work straight away using ink and the woodblocks that had been prepared for us. The process involves 4 different wood blocks that are printed in different colours to make up the final print. We started by carefully brushing the first colour, red, onto the woodblock. We learnt all about positioning the paper and how to use a baren, (the flat tool you can see me using in the picture!) to make the finished print.

All four printing blocks

We learnt lots about the paper to use and how to line it up, before applying several layers of different coloured inks to make up this picture. The finished piece is harder to line up than it looks and we had a few goes to make sure we had a good one to take home!

The whole lesson was just over an hour and gave us a great insight into Japanese wood block printing. For less than £15 each it was a bargain and certainly one of our favourite experiences during our trip. During the lesson we got to handle some seriously detailed wood blocks and admire the work of the shop’s owner and the other printmakers who teach there. Japan is such an interesting country and they have a strong printmaking culture - what a match made in heaven!

James printing

Our teacher
The finished print

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