Two block impressions in the process of printing Hiroshi’s Hansen (Sailboats)

Yoshida Hiroshi
Japanese (1876-1950)
Two block impressions in the process of printing Hiroshi’s Hansen (Sailboats) , Unkown
Woodblock print with colored ink
Archives of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

Woodblock printmaking in Japan is a labor-intensive process. The outlines of a design are first carved in negative on a “keyblock,” then multiple woodblocks are carved with separate portions of the image—each to print a single color. A sheet of paper is then placed onto these blocks in order and a hand tool called a baren is used to press the ink from the surface of the woodblocks onto the paper.

These two prints were among a series of smaller-scale test impressions for Yoshida Hiroshi’s Hansen (Sailboats). The first print on the left is marked as the fourth block impression, showing only a few basic layering of colors on the central boats and their reflections. The second print on the right, the sixth block impression, is closer to a finished product but still needs a few more block impressions to add details. These two images exemplify the meticulous process necessary to produce Hiroshi’s elegant prints.