In the Japanese Tradition
- understand that there is great reverence in Japanese culture and art for nature
- recognize the impact of Japanese printmaking on 19th Century arts in America.
- be able to identify some characteristics of Japanese prints.
- experience the printmaking technique.
With their exquisite detail and delicate coloring, the artistry of Japanese
woodcuts is legendary.
The woodblock print was a mainstay of Japanese art between the 17th and
19th century. Woodcuts were an inexpensive alternative to paintings, and were the products of the
combined efforts of artist, carver and printer. Around the middle of the 18th century, such printing
began to gain in status. Throughout the 19th century highly skilled master printers such as Hiroshige
were at work. Subject matter was typically drawn from nature.
Plan for the class:
Set the stage: Music of Claude Debussy, Nocturnes or Afternoon of a Fawn.
As students enter the room, have each make a handprint--on the blackboard using colored chalk dust, or on a bulletin board, after pressing palms into a large tempera-soaked sponge.
Explain to students that Ando Hiroshige's prints are made by a process similar to the one they used when putting handprints on the board.
Here's a textbook explanation:
Printmaking is transferring an image from an inked surface to create a work of art. While prints may be made with many different media, all use the same basic tools:
- printing plate. This is surface on which a print is made. The plate carries the mirror
image of the finished print. Ink is applied to the plate. It is responsible for the image
appearing on the print. (What's the plate for their handprint?)
- Brayer. The brayer is a roller with a handle. It is used to ink the plate.
- Editions. Usually more than one print is made from a single plate. Together all the prints
made from a plate form an edition. Each print in an edition is signed and numbered by the
artist. The number is made up of two numerals with a slash between them. The first number
tells which print you are viewing. The second tells how many prints are in the edition. So
the number 4/50 means "the fourth print in an edition of 50." Finally, have one student make
multiple hand images, initial and number them. One student might make multiple prints to
Assignment: make a limited edition print in the Japanese style. This may be a woodcut, linoleum print, or a simple relief block print.
You can make your own relief printing plate using found materials. Begin by cutting a 4-inch square from a sheet of cardboard. Cut a variety of smaller geometric shapes from the same sheet. Arrange these on the surface of the square. Form an interesting design. Glue the shapes in place. Let them dry overnight. Apply printing ink to the surface with a brayer. Lay a sheet of paper over your inked plate. Apply pressure evenly. Carefully peel back the print.
Source: Glencoe McGraw Hill. "Printmaking Basics", pp. 50-51 Introducing Art, New York 1999
As you cut and arrange the shapes, consider these distinctively Japanese qualities:
- reverence for nature
- sensitivity to space
- areas of flattened space
- striking juxtapositions, bold lines
Ideas for review:
printmaking techniques and materials, Japanese qualities in art, importance of printmaking in the works of 19th century artists
Ways to expand the lesson:
Connect with Constable and Monet.
Like the works of Constable and Monet, Ando Hiroshige's landscape paintings are often inspired by the
weather. This commentary by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, is a resource for discussion of Sudden Shower at Ohashi Bridge. Source: BBC website.
Learn about the fad For All Things Japanese
In 1854 Commodore Matthew Perry forced the Japanese government to open a limited number of ports
for trade and effectively ended 216 years of Japanese isolation. In the years following, huge
numbers of Japanese artifacts and handicraft articles flowed to Europe, mainly to France and the
Netherlands. All things Japanese were the rage. Impressionist and Post-impressionist painters
like Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin were profoundly influenced by
Japanese woodblock designs.
Identify the Japanese characteristics in these Impressionist and Post-impressionist works.
- Poplars by Claude Monet
- The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt
- Irises (white vase) by Vincent Van Gogh
- Tahitian Women on the Beach by Paul Gauguin
Discuss the Asian sound of Claude Debussy's musical compositions.
It was no accident that French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) chose The Wave by
Katsushika Hokusai the cover of La Mer. The parallel fifths and fourths and whole tone
scales he found in music of the Orient gave his composition new textures of musical expression,
and reflected his intense interest in music of other cultures. Debussy's music broke with
traditional rules with its absence of melody and harmony, and evokes a fleeting mood and misty
atmosphere like that of an Impressionist painting.
Practice the Japanese art of origami. In keeping with the nature theme of this unit,
create plants or animals and hang them from the ceiling.
Visit an o-lectrifying origami website.
Here are a few simple patterns:
To see a step-by-step printmaking demo, www.woodblock.com.