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Carvers: How to Experience Ukiyo-e Making with Authentic Artisans in Tokyo(2)

Updated: 5 days ago


Let's explore the craft of 'Horishi' (carvers)


Woodblock printing in Edo-period Japan is a comprehensive art form that involves four main craftsmen: the "Eshi (painters)" who create the initial design, the "Horishi (carvers)" who carves the design onto separate wooden blocks for each color, the "Surishi (printers)" who uses a baren to transfer the design onto paper, and the "Hanmoto (publishers)" who oversees the project. In our previous discussion, we focused on the role of the "painters."


Now, let's delve into the role of the "carvers." While the "painters" often receive acclaim, the "carvers" and "printers" typically remain behind the scenes. However, it is their extraordinary skills that bring ukiyo-e prints to life.


Let's explore the craft of 'Horishi' (carvers)


The "carvers" receive the design (known as a key block) from the "painters" and transfer it onto prepared wooden blocks, usually made from cherry wood. Each wooden block corresponds to a different color in the design, and the "carvers" meticulously carve away the areas that are not meant to be printed in each color. Depending on the complexity of the design, multiple wooden blocks, ranging from 5 to 20, may be required. Once all the wooden blocks are carved, they are handed over to the "printers" for the next step.


The "carvers" must possess intricate skills. Ukiyo-e prints are relief prints, meaning the design is carved into the surface of the woodblock, leaving the areas to be printed raised. For instance, to print a straight line, the "carvers" must leave the line untouched while carving away the surrounding areas on both sides. This requires even finer detail than the lines drawn by the "painters."


One of the most challenging tasks for the "carvers" is rendering human hair, particularly at the hairline. This task is often divided among multiple carvers. Carving hair requires exceptional precision, as the "carver" must leave the lines representing individual hairs intact while removing the surrounding wood, sometimes working at a scale of 0.1 millimeters.


Let's explore the craft of 'Horishi' (carvers)


Initially, "carvers" were rarely credited in ukiyo-e prints. However, from the mid-1800s onwards, their names began to appear alongside those of the "painters" and "publishers" with increasing frequency.


When viewing ukiyo-e prints, I encourage you to observe the "carver's" techniques closely, especially when examining human hair. Additionally, keep an eye out for the "carver's" name within the print itself.


Experience Making with Authentic Ukiyo-e Artisans in Tokyo: Why Not Give It a Try?


Wouldn't it be fascinating to experience the art of ukiyo-e firsthand under the guidance of authentic ukiyo-e artisans in Tokyo? They can not only teach you about the production process but also provide insights into appreciating ukiyo-e prints. Furthermore, you'll have the opportunity to take home both a genuine ukiyo-e print created by a master craftsman and one that you've made yourself (on a fan and book cover). This unique experience, available only at Takahashi Kobo (Studio), could enrich your life and lead to a deeper appreciation of art.


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