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In the Japanese Tradition

Ando Hiroshige

Students will
  • 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.
AE 2.25

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:

  1. 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?)
  2. Brayer. The brayer is a roller with a handle. It is used to ink the plate.
  3. 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 demonstrate this.

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
  • simplicity
  • 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,

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