Kids Web Japan

How to Make Ukiyo-e

A Joint Effort Between Artists, Carvers and Printers

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 design — to finish one work.

  1. The eshi (artist) sketches the design with sumisen (ink lines).
  2. The horishi (carver) pastes the sketch on a block made of wild cherry wood and carves out the design. This block, called an omohan (key block), is only for printing the black outline.
  3. Other blocks are carved out, one for each color; these are called irohan (color plates).
  4. The surishi (printer) applies color on the blocks under the artist's supervision.
  5. 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.
  6. Colors are applied in the order of lightest to darkest and smallest area to largest area as a general rule.
  7. Gradations are added to give the finishing touch.
(1) This is a sumisen (ink lines) picture made using the key block. Colors will be added to this to complete ukiyo-e.
(2) The color that matches the wooden boats, which are swamped by the wave, is added.
(3) Now the boats are starting to take shape. Can you see where the color has been added?
(4) The dark color on the prows and sides of the boats is added.
(5) Here the boats have been filled in completely.
(6) The sky is colored in. The sky is tinged with a little red.
(7) With a color in the sky, the appearance of the whole picture really changes.
(8) The clouds in the sky are given color.
(9) Now that the sky has more depth, the picture has some real perspective.
(10) The dark color right around Mt. Fuji is added. This will bring the mountain into sharp focus and draw attention to it.
(11) Mt. Fuji stands out much more sharply against the sky now.
(12) Now it's time to add color to the waves. Two different shades of blue are used to give the water more contrast and depth.
(13) With more colors in the waves, the water really looks like it is moving.
(14) Lastly, a deeper shade of blue is added.
(15) Now the ukiyo-e is complete!

(The Adachi Foundation for the Preservation of Woodcut Printing)