Characteristics of Japanese Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints

Woodblock Print

The Japanese woodblock prints, also known as the Ukiyo-e period of Japanese woodblock print production, are from the 1670s to the 1900s. The name Ukiyo-e means “pictures of the floating world.”

Japanese woodblock prints were produced to have a mass appeal to the Japanese audience. There are a lot of characteristics in the Japanese woodblock print, such as the asymmetry of design, how the artist experiment with composition, the artist use of flats spaces, and the use of colors.

When you understand these Japanese woodblock prints, you also understand why so many artists have been influenced by them and the styles they used in their woodblock printmaking.

Here Are Some Characteristics Of Japanese Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints

Mass Appeal

What makes the Japanese woodblock prints unique from other works of art is these woodblock prints were made for mass appeal. In other words, everyone could afford them and have them in their home; they were a commercialized art print during its period.

These prints were known as the floating pictures of the world, but they showed ordinary people, urban life, brothel quarters, and Kabuki theatre. They also included other popular motifs as birds, flowers, and landscapes. They pretty much covered most aspects of Japanese life at the time.

Asymmetry Of Design

Many Japanese woodblock prints during the Ukiyo-e period are asymmetrical; the woodblock prints failed to have parts that correspond with one another as far as shape size or arrangement. In other words, they lacked symmetry.

This is probably one of the best well-known aspects of the overall design of the Japanese woodblock prints because they have asymmetry. The woodblock artists did not produce symmetry but produced them for what they saw as artists.

Experiments in Composition

The Japanese Ukiyo-e shows us a lot of experimentation in composition. This is why you often see that some objects may be truncated or even cut off or shortened. The composition is done this way so that the viewer wants to know what is next or hidden from our view.

Many Time Simple

Many of the drawings may be simple rather than busy. This does not mean the subject matter is simple, but the artist may have used a drawing technique to simply some subjects.

Use of Flat Color

Many of the Japanese Ukiyo-e artists fully understood the power of flat color. You will find some flatness on parts of the woodblock prints and then depth and detail on others. The Japanese woodblock print artist were masters at understanding how and when to use flat color.

Black Outlines

The Japanese Ukiyo-e artist used a lot of black lines in their work. Sometimes they outlined figures and others with black lines. They understood how and when to use the black lines.

These black lines often helped produce a strong sense of movement, and other times, they helped dominate onto a particular part of the woodblock print.

Bright Colors

The woodblock prints were not dull but usually were bright. They purposely choose a bright color to convey their message fully.

Images With Narrative

Many of the images had a narrative to them. This would be some writing or description for the woodblock print itself. The narrative is used to emphasize something for the woodblock print.

Produced in Sets

Many of the woodblock prints were reproduced in sets such as three panels or a series. This gave the woodblock prints some continuity in the production, printing, and message.

Movement

Japanese woodblock prints show movements. Whether it’s a wave that’s about ready to crash down onto a boat or people doing something routine, the images usually include some movement.

This often showed people in everyday life doing some work or doing something as a woman kneeling to serve tea or a Japanese warrior ready to fight. The woodblock prints give you some feeling that an action is about ready to happen at any moment.

Along with this movement, we usually find a sort of rhythm within the painting itself. And this rhythm is how your eyes will move around the woodblock print from one part to another. These Japanese artists were masters of this movement and rhythm.

Repetitions Is Used

Set a lot of the artwork used repetition within the artwork. Whether the same motif is painted again and again or an article of clothing with repeated motifs or dots on it. There’s a lot of repetition that is used in many parts of the woodblock prints.

The continual repetition of color and form helps to give continuity to the entire woodblock print.

Cultural Meaning

Many of the woodblock prints have cultural meaning to them. They will contain some images of everyday Japanese life. The audience was able to connect them to a broader meaning of Japanese life.

The Japanese woodblock prints also give us a glimpse into life in 17th, 18th, and 19th century Japan.

I’m a massive fan of Japanese woodblock prints. I find them inspiring – they inspire my artwork.

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Related Questions

What Are Some Japanese Woodblock Print Characteristics?

There are many characteristics of a Japanese woodblock print, from the woodblock print title, artist name, and publisher’s seal; other features also include the color and subject matter. Japanese woodblock prints also have different artistic art movements.

By clicking here, you can learn more by reading What Are Some Japanese Woodblock Print Characteristics?.

What Is A Japanese Woodblock Print?

A Japanese woodblock print is, as the name implies, a print that is made by using carved woodblock and applying ink on the woodblocks to print a design on paper.   The Japanese woodblock artists used the woodblocks to print artistic prints and even books.  Artists have used the woodblock print technique in Japan for hundreds of years.  

You can learn more by reading What Is A Japanese Woodblock Print? by clicking here.

Anita Louise Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Louise Hummel. I am an artist and a blogger. I paint mainly oil paints. I love to paint women, animals (mainly dogs and cats), and abstracts. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings. I also love to blog about anything to do with art, business, Procreate, and all the wonderful artists that inspire me.

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