Hokusai Techniques

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Katsushika Hokusai, who lived from 1760 until 1849, was a prolific Japanese artist best known for his creation of ukiyo-e, or wood block prints. Hokusai created over 30,000 works in his life, including prints, paintings, drawings and book illustrations. He is best remembered for his series of wood block prints called "36 Views of Mount Fuji".



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Hokusai influenced traditional Japanese art by introducing influences from Western art, the most important of which was perspective. Most Japanese art of the time was created in a very flat manner, paying more attention to the symbolism and composition of the subject matter than to mass or the illusion of space. Hokusai, an enthusiast of Western art, allowed its influences to enter his art and created works that utilized perspectival techniques and presented the illusion of depth and three-dimensional space.

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Ukiyo-e Techniques

Hokusai's best-known works were done using the techniques of ukiyo-e, or Japanese wood block prints. Ukiyo-e are created by carving a relief image onto a woodblock, covering the surface of the block with ink or paint, and then pressing the block onto a piece of paper. Multi-colored works are created through the use of a different block for each color, with everything except the parts of the image that will be that color carved away.



Hokusai used cherry wood to create the wood blocks with which he made his prints. Cherry is hard and close grained, making it well suited to carving fine detail. Japanese printmakers did not actually carve their plates; they would do the drawings and have carvers create the plates based on the drawings. Because Hokusai had been trained as a woodcarver before he became an artist, he was able to take the strengths and weaknesses of wood into account when making his images, and to work more closely with the carvers than did most artists.



In order to make an ukiyo-e, the wood block holder needs to be hinged on one side onto a flat surface. This is so that multiple wood blocks with different colors on them can transfer ink or paint onto the same paper and be registered in the same location. If the wood block moves at all, the different colors of the image will not meet properly. Hokusai was a master not only of multi-colored prints but also of printmaking techniques that involved shading and fading of colors into one another through the application of multiple colors to the same block.



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