The World of Japanese Woodblock Print…

Woodblock printing (in Japanese “mokuhanga”  ???) in Japan was originally used for printing and disseminating texts, especially Buddhist scriptures.  Japanese woodblock prints, as we enjoy them today, flourished primarily between the 17th and 19th centuries under the name of ukiyo-e.

Ukiyo-e can be translated as “pictures of the floating world” and the typical motifs for the prints were beautiful women, scenes from history and folk tales, landscapes etc.  During this period various masters formed schools and movements developing into our modern time.

WASAKU artist Masao IDO belongs to the top group of established contemporary Japanese woodblock print artists and has 40 years of experience as an artist. As you can see in his bio at WASAKU artists, IDO combines the old and traditional Japanese woodblock technique with beautiful subjects such as Japanese gardens, romantic views of famous Japanese landmarks etc.  We believe it is important to explain the amount of work behind each woodblock print and thanks to Mr IDO, we are here able to explain also in pictures the woodblock technique process.

The delicate colours and shades of a woodblock print is the result of many procedures. Behind each image there are many phases of work such as design, engraving, and printing and the artist/designer often depends on the skill and cooperation of engravers and printers to assist in the creation of the final print.

The creation starts with the artist designing the image on paper and then transferring it to a thin paper.

IDOsketch copy

 Photo credit: Gado Gallery

The design is then retraced in reverse (using carbon paper) on a woodblock and the different coloured areas are indicated.


Photo credit: Gado Gallery

In general, there will be one carved block for each colour.


 Photo credit: Gado Gallery

The print used as an example here (“Yougure” – Sunset) required 14 blocks but needed 23 printings as one block can be used several times for different techniques and effects.


Photo credit: Gado Gallery

Above, samples of blocks. When all the blocks have been carved, the printing starts. Mr IDO is proud to use only Japanese handmade paper (washi) for printing his images. The paper is placed over the painted block and rubbed with a “baren”. Baren (see photo below) is a very important tool; a flat hard disc covered with bamboo bark, which is used to press the paper against the inked woodblock to apply the ink to the paper.

Ido-baren c

Photo credit: Gado Gallery

The usual process begins with the lightest colour and proceeds to the thickest and darkest ones.


Photo credit: Gado Gallery

Step after step the image is built up with colours, but also with layers from blocks carved to give effects creating depth or a pattern…

IDO7-8blocks copy

Photo credit: Gado Gallery

The final block prints the black details using “sumi” black ink. And, here is the final result;

IDOfinal c

Photo credit: Gado Gallery

This image depicts an old tea shop in the Saga district in Kyoto. The light coming through the split shop curtain induces a feeling of tranquility.

Should you be in Kyoto, you can visit Mr. Ido in his GADO gallery directly. Knowing the process behind each print, we invite you to enjoy the beautiful images designed and created by Masao IDO.