October 15, 2015

Chapter One – The Print [The Technique of the Color Woodcut]


Chapter I


There is a lack of agreement as to the most apposite and euphonious name for the products of this delicate craft. It is variously called the color wood-cut, wood-block print, color-print from wood-blocks, wood-cut in color, and chromoxylograph. To enlightened enthusiasts, however, certain distinguishing features reveal its identity at a glance: no label is necessary. Even our unsophisticated friends who annoy us by remarking, “How Japanese,” subconsciously recognize those characteristics which are peculiar also to a Japanese print, dimly remembered perhaps. The annoyance arises from the feared implication that we are copyists in subject or treatment, or both, whereas the common qualities that establish the relationship result merely from a similarity of method. Simplicity, which involves direct graphic statement and purity and transparency of color, is an essential feature, and one consequent upon the technique; a virtue easy of attainment. Regarded technically the craft is the simplest ever devised. It is the oldest too. No press is necessary; nothing save a plank and a knife to make the engraving, and paper, color, and brushes, with a printing pad (for which many things will serve) to secure an impression.

In the days of the illuminated manuscript the wood-cut was sometimes used for capital letters, but in outline only. The print was colored by hand. So were the earlier Japanese prints. Several authoritative historical accounts of the craft have been published, also complete descriptions of Japanese methods. It is unnecessary to deal with history here, but you—potential chromoxylographist, to whom I address these remarks—had better make an immediate, if for the present slight, acquaintance with traditional practice before we can discuss the physical aspects of the color wood-cut.

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