/educators/lessons/grade-9-12/Japanese_Woodblock_Print

Japanese Woodblock Prints

Explore the history, evolution, and techniques of Ukiyo-e prints.

Overview

Key Staff

This lesson should be taught in tandem by a history teacher and an art teacher.

Key Skills

Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture

Summary

This lesson explores the history and evolution of the Japanese woodblock print. Students will study the Ukiyo-e from its early beginnings to its height in the late 1800s. Students will also learn about the techniques and development of this process, view prints from the time period, and create their own Ukiyo-e prints.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand that woodblock prints contain historical information about Japanese society and culture.
  • Recognize that the Japanese have influenced the print-making process by their characteristic style of flat brilliant colors.
  • Observe gradations in value (lightness or darkness of color) employed in Japanese printmaking.
  • Recognize how shapes appear flat as if cut from paper and pasted to a wall.
  • Discuss that Japanese artists included characters from Kabuki theatre, the countryside, flowers and birds.
  • Complete a block print of a character/person, landscape, birds or flowers.
  • Demonstrate positive and negative space by carving away the negative spaces in the designs.
  • Produce a print lining up multi-color prints using the kagi and the hiki-tsuke.

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Studio Practice
  • Discussion
  • Reflection
  • Visual Instruction
  • Multimedia Instruction

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment

Preparation

What You'll Need

Materials
Resources
Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • Projector
  • Speakers
Required Plugins
Technology Notes

Review Web links to make sure your computers have the necessary plug-ins.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

The first known Ukiyo-e (woodblock) paintings emerged in the cities of Kyoto and Osaka in the early 1600s. Ukiyo-e, which roughly translates to pictures of the floating world of the common man, was considered "low" art by and for the non-elite classes. Early paintings were very simple. Artists added sumi (black ink) and colored chalk by hand. Over time, artists began to use more and more color, making the Ukiyo-e paintings more complicated to produce. As a result, the woodblock print process emerged as a collaboration of the artist, block cutter, printer, and publisher.

Ukiyo-e followed the general migration from the smaller cities to Edo (present-day Tokyo) at its height during the 1800s. The shoginate (ruler) at the time demanded that the daimyo (lords) and their samurai (warriors) spend time in Edo. This caused the entertainment industry to grow in Edo, and the city became a political center as well as a cultural center. The merchant class in the city grew with the influx of people, and many became wealthy—though they were still commoners in the eyes of the nobility.

Two- and three-color prints emerged during the mid-1800s, and full-blown multicolored prints became the norm soon after. The Ukiyo-e print became commercialized during that time, with widespread production. Prints depicting characters from Kabuki plays were used as flyers to advertise performances in the cities and countryside. Other prints depicted beautiful women, birds, flowers, and landscapes.

Japanese vocabulary:

  • Ukiyo-e: a Japanese art movement that flourished from the 17th to the 19th century and produced paintings and prints depicting the everyday life and interests of the common people; the paintings and prints themselves.
  • Kabuki: traditional Japanese popular drama performed with highly stylized singing and dancing.
  • Kento : registration marks on the woodblock used to line up the image correctly for each color re-printing.
  • Kagi: a raised "L" shape on one corner of the woodblock, into which one corner of the paper fits.
  • Hiki-tsuke: a raised bar along one of the sides of the woodblock.
  • Tokaido: a coastal highway connecting Edo (present-day Tokyo) with Kyoto.

Demonstration of Woodblock Printmaking

Demonstration of Woodblock Carving

Demonstration of Inking Woodblock

Prior Student Knowledge

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Visual Arts Studio

Grouping

  • Small Group Instruction
  • Individualized Instruction

Staging

Have a computer with an LCD projector and screen set up beforehand for the Introduction, Engage and Build Knowledge sections. Have materials and workstations arranged ahead of time when students begin printmaking in the Apply section.

Instruction

Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge
Assessment

Engage

1. Have students view and discuss a variety of woodblock prints. Ask students the following questions:

  • How are the prints similar?
  • How are they different?
  • Do they remind you of other works of art?
  • Who do you think created these prints?
  • Why do you think these prints were created?

2. Explain the history of Japanese woodblock paintings. The first known Ukiyo-e (woodblock) paintings emerged in the cities of Kyoto and Osaka in the early 1600s. Ukiyo-e, which roughly translates to pictures of the floating world of the common man, was considered "low" art by and for the non-elite classes. Early paintings were very simple. Artists added sumi (black ink) and colored chalk by hand. Over time, artists began to use more and more color, making the Ukiyo-e paintings more complicated to produce. As a result, the woodblock print process emerged as a collaboration of the artist, block cutter, printer, and publisher.

Ukiyo-e followed the general migration from the smaller cities to Edo (present-day Tokyo) at its height during the 1800s. The shoginate (ruler) at the time demanded that the daimyo (lords) and their samurai (warriors) spend time in Edo. This caused the entertainment industry to grow in Edo, and the city became a political center as well as a cultural center. The merchant class in the city grew with the influx of people, and many became wealthy—though they were still commoners in the eyes of the nobility.

Two- and three-color prints emerged during the mid-1800s, and full-blown multicolored prints became the norm soon after. The Ukiyo-e print became commercialized during that time, with widespread production. Prints depicting characters from Kabuki plays were used as flyers to advertise performances in the cities and countryside. Other prints depicted beautiful women, birds, flowers, and landscapes.

Build Knowledge

1. Have students study images, located in the Resouce Carousel and are property of the Library of Congress, of a variety of woodblock prints from the 1600s to the 1800s. Students should view prints and complete the worksheet. If possible, allow students to explore the site on their own; otherwise, use a computer and an LCD projector to show the images to the class as a whole. More examples are located at the Library of Congress website.

2. Review Ukiyo-e Handout #1, located under 'Resources in Reach' with students. Point out that over time Ukiyo-e became known for its use of flat, brilliant colors, as well as gradation of colors, limited depth (shapes appear flat), and scenes from Kabuki theatre, the countryside, flowers and birds. These are the characteristics students should be looking for as they view Ukiyo-e and should incorporate into their own print. The phrase floating world of the common man refers to the fleeting pleasures depicted and is an art form for the average person.

3. Have students read the Biography of Hiroshige Ando to learn about the artist and his work. After reading, check to make sure students understand that Hiroshige Ando was an Ukiyo-e artist who created a series of prints called the Fifty-Three Stations of the Takaido. The Takaido or "Eastern Sea Route" was the main highway from Tokyo (where the military leadership lived) to Kyoto, where the imperial court was located.

4. Have students visit Cleveland State University's Visual Literacy Exercise based on the Takaido series and complete the online exercise. Students may do this individually or in pairs. Afterwards, students should share with the class questions and insights that the exercise raises.

5. Introduce students to woodcut techniques online at the Museum of Modern Art . Each student will read about and practice the animated steps for creating a woodcut print.

Apply

Students will now create a three-color block print. Students may use a linoleum block or pine board cut to size. Prior to each step below, the instructor should provide verbal instructions, a visual aid or briefly model the step for students.

1. Have students develop sketches for Ukiyo-e three-color prints. Sketches should include a character, landscape, flower, or bird such as those found in the prints they viewed from the Library of Congress and Cleveland State websites. Using pencils and newsprint, students should create five different 2" x 2" thumbnail sketches showing a variety of ways to depict the idea. Then, they should choose one thumbnail sketch for their final print and enlarge it on 12" x 12" tracing paper.

2. Have students transfer designs to blocks. Students should place sheets of carbon paper on the blocks, then place tracing paper on top of the carbon paper, image side down. Explain that the picture must be carved in reverse in order to print correctly. Demonstrate how the image will be reversed when printed. When students have arranged the tracing paper correctly, they should trace the images with very sharp pencils, to transfer the images to the blocks. Students will carve three blocks: one for each color.

3. Have students identify the areas to be printed with each color. Each of the color blocks must have a kagi and a hiki-tsuke guide mark so that the colors register in the same place for each print. This insures that the paper is placed on the block in the same place each time. Remind students that they will carve the negative space in the sketch and that they should only carve the area that needs to be inked for that block’s color.

4. Review safe carving instructions and allow students to begin carving. Instruct students to make all cuts away from themselves and caution them to always keep the hand holding the block away from the path of the carving tool. (Wooden bench hooks may be used to brace the block during the carving.)

5. Have students check the design. Once all three blocks are carved, students can get rough previews of the final image by placing pieces of newsprint on the carvings and rubbing over the surfaces with the sides of a pencil.

6. Have students apply first color. Squeeze a small amount of ink from the tube onto an ink slab. Roll the ink with a brayer until it is spread thoroughly over the ink slab. Use water to obtain the right consistency. (It should be kind of sticky, making a crackle noise when you roll your brayer over the ink.) Apply the brayer to the carved block until it is completely and evenly covered.

7. Prepare six sheets of printing or rice paper for the print series. Number the papers with the number of the print and the total number of prints in the series (1/6, 2/6, etc.) When inking each paper, they will work in this order for each color, completing print 1 of 6, then 2 of 6, etc. (If students complete practice pieces they should label them as artist proof, rather than number them.)

8. Line up the printing or rice paper on the block using the registration guide markers. Carefully place a sheet of rice paper by lining up the kagi and the hiki-tsuke registration guide markers with the side of the paper. Use the baren to rub firmly from the back with a circular motion. Print six sheets with the first color. Re-ink the block between each printing.

9. Hang prints to dry. String clothesline across the room and use clip clothespins to hang the prints. Hanging them in order along with placing the number on them makes for easier tracking. Permit prints to dry overnight.

10. Apply second and third colors. Ink the second color block and line up the paper with the guide markers. Continue this process for the third color, permitting a day of drying between each additional color.

Reflect

As a class, discuss the students' works and their experience with the printing process. Use these questions to guide the discussion:

  • What are characteristics of the Ukiyo-e? Which of these elements were you able to include?
  • How did shapes appear in your print?
  • How did you utilize color?
  • After examining the examples of historic Japanese woodblock prints, and making your own, can you understand why a method of reproduction was necessary to reproduce posters that advertised the Kabuki plays?

Assessment

Students will be assessed based on their understanding of the historical, cultural and artistic aspects of Japanese woodblock printmaking, as well as their demonstrated effort in applying traditional artistic techniques during the printmaking process. Use the Assessment Rubric located under 'Resources in Reach'.

Extend the Learning

In the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s, European artists were highly influenced by Japanese woodblock prints. Their paintings and prints show Japanese-inspired color, shapes, and subject matter. Artists whose created works expressing Japanese print characteristics include Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Mary Cassatt, and Claude Monet. Have students research how these artists were influenced by Ukiyo-e by choosing a Western artist and at least one work that demonstrates this influence. Students should point to specific attributes of Japanese Ukiyo-e in the work chosen.

Standards

Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
Visual Arts

Grade 9-12 Visual Arts Standard 1: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

Grade 9-12 Visual Arts Standard 3: Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas

Grade 9-12 Visual Arts Standard 4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

Grade 9-12 Visual Arts Standard 5: Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others

National Standards in Other Subjects
Foreign Language

Foreign Language Standard 4: Understands traditional ideas and perspectives, institutions, professions, literary and artistic expressions, and other components of the target culture

Historical Understanding

Historical Understanding Standard 1: Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns

Credits

Writers

Elna Eichenmuller
Original Writer

Jill Gerlman
Adaptation

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