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How to Make Ukiyo-e (1)

An ukiyo-e woodblock print is not something created by just one artist. It takes the cooperation of three people--one to draw the design, one to carve it, and one to print the image--to finish one work.

  • The ukiyo-e artist sketches the design with sumisen (ink lines).

  • The horishi (carver) pastes the sketch on a block made of wild cherry wood and carves out the design. This block, called a sumiita (ink plate), is only for printing the black outline.

  • Other blocks are carved out, one for each color; these are called iroita (color plates).

  • The surishi (printer) applies color on the blocks under the artist's supervision.

  • Each block has a marking on the same spot relative to the finished picture. The printer uses these markings to make sure the paper is set on the block in the right position, so that the colors don't go out of place.

  • The general rules when printing ukiyo-e are:
    (1) go in order from lighter to darker colors and
    (2) go from blocks with smaller printing areas to those with larger ones.

  • Gradations are added to give the finishing touch.

  1. (1) This is called a sumisen (ink lines) picture. It's the basic image around which the whole print is created.

  2. (2) The color of the boats being swamped by the wave is added.

  3. (3) Now the boats are starting to take shape. Can you see where the color has been added?�

  1. (4) Next the dark colors on the prows and sides of the boats are added.

  2. (5) Here the boats have been filled in completely.

  3. (6) Next the sky is colored in. The sky is tinged with a little red.

All prints courtesy of the Adachi Foundation for the Preservation of Woodcut Printing