Japanese woodblock printing, or Mokuhanga (Moku means wood, and hanga means print), is a centuries-old printmaking technique which is still practised by artists around the world today, and here at West Yorkshire Print Workshop. It is a form of relief printing – where a printed impression is taken from the inked surface of a carved wood block. Mokuhanga differs from western forms of relief printing in that water-based ink (usually watercolour or gouache) is used instead of oil-based ink, and the block is printed by hand with a baren, rather than using a printing press. The other big difference is the use of washi paper, which is usually made from Mulberry (or Kozo) fibres. Washi paper is impressively strong, and has to be so, as it is kept damp throughout the printing process, and has to withstand lots of pressure from the barren.
Mokuhanga has its origins in the printing of Buddhist religious texts – hand printed, monochrome books and scrolls containing intricately carved characters, printed with sumi ink. By the 1700s, artists had developed the technique and begun producing multi-coloured prints (produced by using multiple carved blocks which are printed on on top of the other in register).
Many famous Mokuhanga prints come from the Ukiyo-e period which ranged from the 17th – 19th centuries. Prints were mass-produced and sold cheaply so that everyday people could enjoy them. Multiple people would be involved in making a print – artist, carver, printer and publisher – they were a collaborative effort.
Although many methods of commercial printing have taken over since, Mokuhanga remains an important method of making prints for many artists today. It also has green credentials as an art form – the use of watercolours for printing makes it non-toxic, and a welcome alternative to the sometimes hazardous products used in other print technique. It also doesn’t involve using a press – a bonus for those who want to print at home or don’t have access to one.
I was lucky enough to learn Japanese woodblock printing on a 5-week residency in Japan back in 2018. You can learn from me on my next course; Japanese Wood Block Printing taking place at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop on 9th September, which will introduce you to the basics of carving and printing.
My training in Japan was intense – literally in a room for 8 hours a day carving and printing blocks! It was an amazing experience and I learned so much. I don’t solely use Mokuhanga in my art practice, (I tend to move between print processes and make hybrid prints – it comes with the territory of being a technician!), but it is always there in the background as a big influence. I enjoy using mokuhanga more experimentally to create abstract work, and most recently have been repetitively carving into wood to create prints which I see more as drawings.
If you have any questions, are interested in joining our courses, or becoming a member of West Yorkshire Print Workshop, feel free to reach out to us via email ( email@example.com ) or simply use the contact box below. We’d love to hear from you and welcome you into our creative community!
About the Author:
Meet Kate Desforges, our Print Technician at West Yorkshire Print Workshop. With a deep-rooted passion for traditional techniques, Kate’s expertise spans various print processes. Her journey includes an immersive residency in Japan, shaping her into a seasoned artist and educator. From carving woodblocks to guiding students, Kate’s commitment enriches our creative community.
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