The Tools of Printing UKIYO-E


Several tools are especially important to print ukiyo-e on paper. These tools have enabled the ukiyo-e printers to complete their works while sitting from the Edo Period.


Hake and Brush


The Edo Period ukiyo-e printers only used the Japanese traditional brush, hake, to apply the inks on the woodblock. The craftspeople cut firm horsetail into 4~5cm length pieces and make a hake. Because of the material, the new hake is so firm that it will damage the woodblock and create uneven ukiyo-e. Therefore, the craftspeople of hake have to improve the tool with sharkskin. The sharkskin makes it smoothly curved. On the other hand, the modern ukiyo-e printers use both a hake and a modern soft brush. The new tool allows them to spread ink evenly on the woodblock; the traditional hake enables them to make color gradations in their pictures. However, they can`t use ink effectively with a hake because inks easily enter among bristles of it. That`s why the modern printers use both tools. In addition, the painters use the other kinds of brushes according to the certain purposes. For example, mizubake is a 17-centimeter-wide brush that moisturizes the paper to let the paper absorb inks easily. Another example is a 40-centimeter-wide brush, dosahake. The printers used it to paint the special liquid dosa all over their finished artwork, which prevents inks from bleeding on the picture. They can use the liquid effectively with the brush because they can adjust the density of 3~4-centimeter bristles of it by themselves. so.




As ukiyo-e was becoming popular, the ukiyo-e printers improved the unique tool, baren. They use baren to press the paper onto the woodblock and let the paper absorb inks. The traditional baren is made from layers of paper, circular steel, and bamboo leaves. The craftspeople wrap the layer and the steel in a bamboo leaf. Then, they twist the ends of a leaf and knot them. Although the construction of it is simple, it took more than one mouth to create the layer of paper. Therefore, there used to be stores that sold baren in the past. However, the modern printers have to create baren by themselves because there is no store today. Although there is difference in how barens are acquired, both the old and modern printers must fix the tool by themselves. Therefore, fixing baren is one of their most important tasks. The quality of baren displays the skill of the printer.


Tokibou (hakobi)


Tokibou is the small brush made from a wet bamboo leaf. The printer uses it to mix colors, and put colors on the woodblock or the hake. In addition, they make tokibou by themselves. First, they cut a hard part of bamboo into 6-centimeter lengths and let the piece soak in water for about 30 minutes. Next, they break the 2-centimeter head of the piece into fibers with a wooden hammer. Finally, they use a string to connect it with a small bamboo stick




Bokashi is one of the unique ukiyo-e techniques of color gradation. The technique can show a sense of perspective and third dimension in the picture. The printers usually make a gradation from dark color to subtle color. There are several techniques of bokashi.


Ita bokashi (the gradation method of carving woodblocks)


Wood-carvers usually carve deeply to define the boundary between colors, but they sometimes create 0.4-centimeter gentle slopes in their woodblock to grade the boundary softly.That is the technique of wood-carvers, ita bokashi. There are several steps in the technique. First, they carve deeply. Then, they cut the edge of the boundary at an angle toward the bottom of the groove with a knife or a bent knife, aisuki. Finally, they polish the cutting surface and adjust the angle of the surface with a scouring rush plant, tokusa. Although ita bokashi is mainly the wood-carver`s work, only skillful printer can create beautiful color gradation of ita bokashi.


Fuki bokashi (the gradation method of wiping)


Another technique of gradation is fuki bokashi. There are many types of fuki bokashi. The first technique is fukisage bokashi. It means the gradation method of wiping from the top to the bottom. The printers often use fukisage bokashi to show the immensity of the sky. They make a subtle color gradation on the woodblock, and then they put dark color on the top of the block. After that, they create one gradation from dark color to subtle color. The next one is fukiage bokashi. It`s the opposite of fukiage bokashi: the printers make the gradation from the bottom to the top. The final one is kata bokashi they wipe an ink line and make gradation. This technique enables the printers to create curve and diagonal gradations. Kata bokashi includes hitomonji bokashi and atenashi bokashi



Hitomonji bokashi (the gradation method of the form of one)


Hiroshige Utagawa, the master of ukiyo-e, often used hitomonji bokashi to paint the skies of The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido. hitomonji bokashi literally looks like the form of the kanji of one (一), a horizontal line. Hiroshige had to express endless sky in the 2-centimeter upper part of his works because almost all his works are about 24-centimeter-lengths. Therefore, he effectively used the technique. As a result, his work became one of the most popular landscape style in the art history. The steps of hiitomonji bokashi are simple. First, the printers draw a centimeter horizontal line in a color ink at the top of the paper, and then they moisten the a centimeter line blow the ink line. After that, they press the paper with baren. As a result, the ink bleeds toward the bottom of the paper and it makes a beautiful gradation. The technique needs drawing a straight line because a distorted line blurs color boundary too much. Therefore, a wrong line can negatively affect the composition of ukiyo-e.