Japanese Woodblock Print
Woodblock printing involves the engraving of an image or words onto a block of wood, which is painted with ink and pressed against paper. As long as the woodblock survives, you can reproduce that page countless times. This technology became extremely important to Japanese arts. Woodblock printing was used almost exclusively to reproduce written works, notably Buddhist texts and Chinese philosophy.
One of the most important genres of art of the do period (1603-1867) in Japan. The style is mixture of the picture scrolls produced in the Kamakura period and mature decorative style of the Momoyama and Edo periods.
Shin-hanga (New prints) are 20th Century Japanese prints made by the same traditional system used to produce ukiyo-e, but most shin hanga prints are distinctly different from traditional ukiyo-e in their looks (western manner); and tactile quality (of the modern paper and pigments). Shin hanga prints produced in this manner typically fall into the categories of: landscapes, birds and flowers, beauties and actors.
Ken Brown, distinguished scholar, lecturer on modern prints and most importantly, a friend writes: “Shin hanga artists, compared to their 18th and 19th century predecessors lived in a radically new era marked by international travel, urban life, mass media and industrialization. Technical developments introduced new modes of printing that displaced woodblock printing largely to a specialty technique associated with Japanese “Tradition”. The majority of modern print designers, however, trained as painters and studied in art schools rather than apprenticing in a master’s atelier. As such, they were conscious of historical Japanese styles as well as recent trends in Western art, which they imbibed through exhibitions, magazines and even study abroad. Moreover, the obvious impact of Japanese prints on Western art and the presence of Western artists studying printmaking in Japan brought about a new pride in native traditions. Most critically, artistic discourse paralleled larger cultural trends in that it was dominated by debate over the nature of modern Japanese identity. This meant that styles and techniques defined as foreign or indigenous were zealously adopted, consciously rejected or most often, synthesized as each artist negotiated a course between the freshly created poles of tradition and modernity. In an age when artists had a variety of options in media, making a woodblock print was not only a means of creative satisfaction and perhaps extra income, it was a self-conscious statement of identity.”
For further reading:
Amy Reigle Newland, The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints, Hotei Publishing, 2005, 279-302