Watch the Making of Japanese Woodblock Prints, from Start to Finish, by a Longtime Tokyo Printmaker

There are a few names any­one inter­est­ed in Japan­ese wood­block print­ing today can’t help but hear soon­er or lat­er: Uta­gawa Hiroshige, Kat­sushi­ka Hoku­sai, Kita­gawa Uta­maro, David Bull. That last, you may have guessed, is not the name of an 18th-cen­tu­ry Japan­ese man. In fact, David Bull still walks among us today, espe­cial­ly if we hap­pen to live in the old Asakusa sec­tion of Tokyo, where he keeps his wood­block-print stu­dio Mokuhankan.

Born in Eng­land and raised in Cana­da, Bull dis­cov­ered the world of ukiyo‑e, those Japan­ese “pic­tures of the float­ing world,” in his late twen­ties. Just a few years after first try­ing his hand, with­out for­mal train­ing, at mak­ing his own prints, he moved to the Japan­ese cap­i­tal to ded­i­cate him­self to the form. Today, on his per­son­al site and Youtube chan­nel, he offers a wealth of Eng­lish-lan­guage resources on the art and craft of the Japan­ese wood­block print.

In the video up top, he pro­vides expert com­men­tary on the mak­ing of one par­tic­u­lar print by a young Mokuhankan print­er named Nat­su­ki Suga. The work is bro­ken into ten stages, begin­ning with the appli­ca­tion of the basic orange back­ground col­or, mov­ing on through the addi­tion of sky blues and tea-field greens (not to men­tion shad­ows, shad­ows, and “more shad­ows”), all the way through to the final emboss­ing of the title and artist’s name. The result, revealed at the end in a stage-by-stage time lapse, is a vivid and idyl­lic scene aes­thet­i­cal­ly bal­anced between ukiyo‑e tra­di­tion and the present-day art styles.

In the video just above, you can see Bull him­self pro­vide com­men­tary as he makes a wood­block print of his own — in real time, from start to fin­ish, with no cuts. Orig­i­nal­ly shot as a live Twitch stream, it shows Bul­l’s entire process from blank block to com­plet­ed print, which takes near­ly three and a half hours. That may actu­al­ly seem like a sur­pris­ing­ly short time in which to cre­ate a work of art, but then, Bull has been at this for near­ly 40 years.

Bul­l’s expe­ri­ence also comes through in his abil­i­ty to explain his tech­niques and tell sto­ries about the Japan­ese wood­block­’s artis­tic devel­op­ment as well as his own. What may seem like a video of inter­est only to ukiyo‑e spe­cial­ists has in fact racked up, as of this writ­ing, more than 1.2 mil­lion views on Youtube alone. But then, it isn’t entire­ly unknown for a soft-spo­ken artist ded­i­cat­ed to a high­ly spe­cif­ic form to win a wide audi­ence with his edu­ca­tion­al pro­duc­tions. “I’m com­plete­ly cer­tain that Bob Ross has­n’t died,” as one com­menter puts it. “He just got a new hair­cut.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Enter a Dig­i­tal Archive of 213,000+ Beau­ti­ful Japan­ese Wood­block Prints

Down­load 2,500 Beau­ti­ful Wood­block Prints and Draw­ings by Japan­ese Mas­ters (1600–1915)

Down­load Hun­dreds of 19th-Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Wood­block Prints by Mas­ters of the Tra­di­tion

See Clas­sic Japan­ese Wood­blocks Brought Sur­re­al­ly to Life as Ani­mat­ed GIFs

Watch an Art Con­ser­va­tor Bring Clas­sic Paint­ings Back to Life in Intrigu­ing­ly Nar­rat­ed Videos

Watch Every Episode of Bob Ross’ The Joy Of Paint­ing Free Online: 403 Episodes Span­ning 31 Sea­sons

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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