Bibliography on Woodblock Printmaking

Capsule Commentaries ...

WOODBLOCK PRINTING by Tomikichiro Tokuriki

Published by HOIKUSHA, 1968. Frequently reprinted.
(entry by David Bull)

It should be quite easy for you to find this little book. It is one of a series put out by this publisher, covering every possible aspect of Japanese culture. (This volume is a translation of the domestic Japanese edition) As something to whet your appetite for Japanese prints, it is excellent. As a practical manual on actually 'how to do it', it is rather less useful. This book was my first introduction to printmaking, and before I had a chance to come to Japan and actually see printmakers working with my own eyes, it was my only guide. I remember well my frustration at the skimpy level of detail with which he covered each topic - only one or two very short paragraphs for each major step in the process.

But I shouldn't leave you with a bad impression. If you are at all interested in Japanese woodblock printmaking, order this book immediately, if for no other reason than to see the many interesting illustrations showing different kinds of prints, tools and materials. Despite my past frustrations at the shallowness of the information, I must admit that he wasn't trying to write the ultimate guide to printmaking, but was just intending to promote interest in his passion. And that he did very well. (see also next entry)

WOOD-BLOCK PRINT PRIMER by Tomikichiro Tokuriki

Published by Japan Publications, Tokyo, 1970.
(entry by David Bull)

This is another book by the same author as the previous volume, but differs in that it was written specifically for an English speaking audience. It is laid out in a simple-to-understand format, and takes you by the hand through the creation of a few simple prints. Many illustrations show every step of the process.

He takes a very 'low-tech' approach to the craft; the book is peppered with phrases like 'Any flat piece of wood ... will suffice', and he offers many suggestions for improvisation if the 'real' tool is not available.

The prints he uses for demonstration are rather child-like and simple, but that's his style. If you had nothing but this book to guide you, you could certainly make some interesting and attractive prints.


Published by Sanseido, 1939. Out of print.
(On-line copy is available
(entry by David Bull)

This is a great book. If it were still readily available, there would be no need for you to be reading my pages - just dig into this volume and get busy carving and printing! It contains a massive amount of information, more than you can possibly absorb in years. If I criticized the previous book for skimping on details, I can say no such thing about this book. I'm still learning things from it, even after many readings and re-readings.

He goes on about such things as the 'artistic' value of prints a bit too much for my taste, but that is simply a reflection of his own background - he didn't start out as a craftsman, but as a painter, and came to woodblock printmaking in his mid-forties. Although he seems to have had a good personal grasp of the woodblock techniques, most of his prints were made by professional craftsmen working under his supervision. (In fact, although he died in 1950, his studio remains in operation, and prints are still being made from his blocks and sold ...)

As this book has long been unavailable, your best chance is perhaps a university library, or an inter-library loan. Make the effort to try and find it.

Here's a quote from the book, taken from the discussion of pigments: "Someone told me in India that good yellow might be obtained from a cow after feeding her with mango-tree leaves. I have not been able to obtain such colour." But you can be sure he tried!

A printed collection of his work is available (The Complete Woodblock Prints of Hiroshi Yoshida, Abe Publishing, Tokyo 1987).

JAPANESE PRINT-MAKING by Toshi Yoshida and Rei Yuki

Published by Charles E. Tuttle, 1966. Out of print.
(entry by David Bull)

Son of Hiroshi Yoshida, author of the previous volume, who took over the studio, and who has now also passed away. This book also is a wonderful source of information on every aspect of printmaking. Divided into two sections, covering in turn traditional and modern techniques, it takes a less philosophical, more factual approach than the previous volume. It is crammed with information, and you will learn something important with every paragraph. How I wish I had had one of these two books when I was starting out!

I find it quite insane that a book like this has been left to go out-of-print. Again, you had best try the university libraries ...


by Manly Banister, 1976. Published by ...
(entry by Julio Rodriguez)

This little book (5x7), could easily be overlooked by someone looking for traditional Japanese techniques. The word 'Japanese' is only mentioned a few times (in relation to the baren tool) and the author does not discuss history or artists. It's kind of a cute book with animal prints on the cover and could easily be passed over as something aimed at children. What I think might be of benefit are the photographs in the book. They are mostly sharp close-ups taken at low angles that really show the wood blocks at their best. There is also a good chapter on starting out in color printing with 2-4 blocks. If you are a beginner and anxiously read with knife in hand.... this book will take you thru your first steps quickly.


by Walter J. Phillips, 1926. Published by Brown-Robertson
(entry by David Bull)

A small, very rare volume by a self-taught Canadian water-colourist/printmaker. Phillips worked in the first half of this century, and produced a large number of simple, but attractive woodblock prints of Canadian scenery. A beautifully produced collection of his work is available (The Tranquility and the Turbulence, by Roger H. Boulet, Loates Publishing, 1981).

An on-line copy is available on the internet at It has been prepared and uploaded by Mr. Boulet, the above-mentioned author, who has his own page at

EVOLVING TECHNIQUES IN JAPANESE WOODBLOCK PRINTS, by Gaston Petit & Amadio Arboleda, published by Kodansha International, 1977. ISBN: 0-87011-309-7

(entry by Julio Rodriguez)

Deals mostly with the combination of traditional & contemporary techniques. The book has hundreds of photos of Japanese artists (craftsmen ?) at work. It also has a chapter dedicated to Japanese papers and the technique of making paper by hand. There is a section that covers the work of six artists in a step-by-step fashion that gives a wealth of insight into the work and passion of these men.


(entry by Julio Rodriguez)

This book deals briefly into history and then is all how-to. The book is simple to read and the techniques and drawings are easy to follow.


Published by Shufunotomo, 1989
(entry by David Bull)

A disappointing (for me) book on traditional printmaking. Disappointing because although it looks at first to be a mine of information on printmaking techniques, there is actually no 'hard' information at all for somebody who is trying to learn printmaking. Her purpose is simply to give the layman a general survey of the traditional printmaking scene.

I'm suspicious of how much she has really seen of the actual process. Printmakers never (never!) use sesame oil to lubricate the baren as she says (camellia oil is the only choice), and when I read things like this: "He printed ... by rubbing from the back with a baren. How firmly? It's said with strong enough pressure to work up a sweat on a winter's day.", I have to wonder if she ever bothered to go and watch anybody working while doing her research.

There are some interesting photographs of craftsmen at work, and I guess I shouldn't be negative, as the book is a good source of historical and general background information. It's also nice to see the photos of some of the actual present day craftsmen who have been helping me in my explorations.


Published by Kodansha, 1978 ISBN # 0-87011-318-6
(entry by Julio Rodriguez)

This is quite a book...all you ever want to know about Japanese paper-making. It's quite large ( 9"x12") and all 360 pages are dedicated to washi. There is a complete section of b&w photos approx. 80-100 pages (just pictures !) showing these paper makers in a step-by-step process. The author covers quite a number of villages (Kurodani, Otaki, Warabi, Yoshino, Shiroishi, etc.) and explains differences between families and their techniques.

This book is a treatise on the traditional Japanese way of making paper. There are several interviews/references to masters of the art. I quote from the writing about one of the men: "This paper is so strong that, grasping it with the hands across the grain, a man trying with all his strength to pull it apart can not tear it ... experts estimate his paper will last more than 1500 years ... He beats the fibers with long hardwood bats without the aid of machines ... His is the only surviving shop in Japan to do all the fiber beating by hand, this work is now carried on by his son, as it has for the past several years".

You can tell that the author (who lived in Japan for a number of years and trained under master Seikichiro Goto (also a printmaker!) has a love for this art and these people she describes and got to know. One last thought from Ichibei Iwano himself; "who refused to teach the craft to anyone other than his immediate family (two sons and their wives)": "The work is too arduous, the young can't take it. I have visited not a few villages where no one under fifty is making paper. What will happen when these elder craftmen die?"

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