Hikosaka Woodblock Print Workshop — print your bread, and eat it!

All around the world, perhaps the art works that says “Japan” more than any other are the famous ukiyoe woodblock prints. As you all know, to make ukiyoe, you carve an image into wooden boards, and print it onto paper — woodblock printing. This time we’re going to show you one example of how wood prints are carried on today, at Hikosaka Woodblock Print Workshop. But instead of kabuki actors and giant waves, the motifs Hikosaka use are, bread. Yup, delicious looking, freshly printed, bread.

PingMag talked to Yuki Hikosaka and Izumi Morito of Hikosaka Woodblock Print Workshop to find out more about their “baking” skills.

Hikosaka Woodblock Print Workshop’s book – “Bread and Woodprints”

First off, how did you start making woodblock prints?

It started when I made woodblock prints at primary and middle school. I think they were both monochrome self portraits, but I remember that I really enjoyed making them, and my teacher was really impressed. Then I went on to art college, and at first I enrolled in the painting degree, but there happened to be a woodblock printing course and my prints were admired then, too. So, to be honest, I guess it was the praise from other people around me that led me to wood block printing.

Can you explain simply how you make a woodblock print?

1) Draw you image 2) Carve it 3) Print it. Those are the three stages. In the first stage, I imagine the final image as I draw, but at the same time I also figure out how many layers it will be split into, and how many colors. So in a way it’s more like making a blueprint than simply drawing a picture. In stage two, you transfer your drawing onto a wooden board, and then carve away the parts that you don’t need. And in stage three, you ink up the board with paint, place Japanese paper on top of it and use a tool called a baren to rub over it and transfer the ink to the paper. You can see from the images below that the croissant, for example, is divided into four boards, and needs to be printed four times.

Woodblock 1 of “Sweet Croissant”
Woodblock 2 of “Sweet Croissant”
Woodblock 3 of “Sweet Croissant”
Woodblock 4 of “Sweet Croissant”

What made you choose bread as your motif?

When I was at college, I had a part time job at a bakery, and the bread there was really beautiful. I thought it looked great, so I tried drawing it. When it came to actually making the prints, though, it turned out that more than just being pretty, the natural inconsistencies in the woodblocks was very similar to the uneven way bread browns in the oven, so from then on I’ve been printing bread.

Pain de mie
Ogura Anpan sweet bean bread
Garlic France

My image of woodblock prints is that the colors are pretty obviously separated, but in your bread prints the gradations are really smooth. How do you achieve gradations like that with a wood print?

You put ink onto the block only where it will be darkest, and then work it into a natural gradation with a paintbrush. To get the breadth of gradation I want, sometimes I print the same block two, or even three times.

What is the hardest part of drawing and printing bread?

The cut edge of french bread is the most difficult to get right. If you carve the block at random with your chisels, you can get a look in the wood similar to the inside of a baguette. Then you print and carve and print and carve again and again, making minute adjustments until the carving looks just like inside of cut bread. It can take a whole day just to get that bit right.

Cheese France

The prints are wonderful pictures, but they also look like they’d be great to eat. Do think it is because you use woodblock printing that you can get that “deliciousness”?

I think there are two reasons the bread looks delicious. First is the similarities between the inconsistencies in the wood, and in baked bread. And the other is that even though you know it’s a picture, it doesn’t look as though it has been drawn. One of the features of woodblock printing is that, unlike paintings or drawing, or some other printing techniques, there are no traces of a brush or pen. Also, when you rub to transfer the print with the baren, the ink isn’t transfered to the surface of the Japanese paper, but it soaks right into the paper’s fibres, so the color is actually in the paper itself. I think that’s what makes it possible to imagine the prints as real, delicious bread.

Ink is placed on the woodblock, and the gradation adjusted with a brush.
Using a baren to transfer the ink.
Lifting the Japanese paper to reveal the image.

In the past you have printed things other than bread. Do you want to keep working on bread prints, or have you any other ideas for the future?

I’m thinking of doing a series of vegetables. Actually, I’ve already started working on them. I’m drawing vegetables we eat every day like tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage and things. Each vegetable has a completely different color and shape, so I’m hoping I can bring out those qualities and make a series quite different to the bread prints.

Thank you, Yuki Hikosaka and Izumi Morito!

Hikosaka Woodblock Print Workshop currently has a show in Hyogo Prefecture, but will be taking part in an event in Tokyo on May 24th! There will be actual bread on sale too, so head along to feed both your eyes and your stomach!

Hikosaka Woodblock Print Workshop

Venue: Tokyu Hands Ikebukuro, 1F Event Space
Address: 1-28-10 Ikebukuro, Toshimaku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3980-6111 (Tokyu Hands)

Yuki Hikosaka ‘Bakery Himuka Bread Exhibition’
Times: May 11th (Sat) to May 26th (Sun) 2013, 11:30-19:00
Address: 202-2 Inuishinmachi, Sasayama, Hyogo
Tel: 079-552-3680

Yuki Hikosaka ‘Bread and Woodprints’ book event at bookstores across Tokyo


Koenji Shorin