Japanese Woodblock Print

Teachers' notes, activities and linked resources

This woodblock print was made in Japan in the mid-19th Century. It is an example of the ukiyo-e print style, which was very important in Japanese culture and had a major impact on the development of Western art and design.

Students can explore the print further through an interactive.

Curriculum links: 

KS2 Art & Design - Materials - Printmaking

KS3 Art & Design - Art from other cultures - Non-European Art, Cultural Diversity; 2D design - printmaking


Learning objectives:

Knowledge of Japanese mid-19th Century prints

Understanding of artwork from other cultures and the techniques used in ukiyo-e prints

Skills to create a print and experiment with new techniques from other cultures

Discussion ideas:

  • Look at the picture gallery within this resource. What appears to be happening in each of the pictures? 
  • How are line, shape and colour used?
  • How do the artists express movement in their work?
  • What sort of techniques can you see in the pictures?
  • Why do you think the artists chose the subjects that we see in their work?
  • How are ukiyo-e pictures different from other styles of artworks you have seen?
  • What do you like about them?

Activity ideas:

  • Make a relief print: Ask the children to imagine in 'slow motion' the act of falling, sprinting from a start line or dancing. Put the children in pairs. Ask one of each pair to make some 'statues' or poses that describe the sequence of an action and ask the other to record the poses as outline drawings in their sketchbooks. Then swap roles.

    Ask the class to take a good look at the images of Japanese woodblock prints to see how the artists have used figures in their work. Discuss the ways in which visual effects can be used to show movement such as: overlapping lines and shapes, blurring the edge of a distinct shape, using flowing lines. Ask the children to record techniques in their sketchbooks.

    Go back to your sketches and choose two or three to make a composition. M ake a print using using shapes of card and string glued to a firm surface. Then ink the card and press it on to a piece of paper .

    (This activity is adapted from  KS2 Unit 6A 
    People in Action

  • Faces, Expressions Feelings: Discuss the work of artists who have portrayed strong facial expressions related to figures engaged in dynamic physical activities. Discuss how this work is successful. Ask the children to record faces and expressions in their sketchbooks.

    Encourage them to notice differences in expressions. Ask the children to apply colour to their drawings to experiment with colours associated with feelings. Look at the examples of Japanese woodblock prints, this time paying particular attention to the expressions on the faces.

  • Design and print a two-colour pattern: Look for shapes and patterns in the Japanese woodcuts. Ask the children to identify how they think the patterns are made, (eg. how shapes overlap, repeat). 

    Encourage the children to use their knowledge and understanding of mathematics to create different patterns, (eg rotate, reflect).

    Cut out multiple copies of a simple paper shape and then arrange the shape in different patterns, using a grid to ensure the pattern they make is repeated regularly.

    Ask the children to cut out a second shape, thinking about its relationship to the first shape. 
    - Will it be a similar shape but larger or smaller?
    - Will it be a contrasting shape, size and colour?
    - How will it be positioned in relation to the first shape?
    - Will it overlap, be set inside or fit a space in between?

    Make a paper stencil of one of their shapes and a simple block for printing their second shape. Then make a two-colour pattern on paper or fabric.
    - First print a stencilled pattern with one shape and then overlay the second shape (the block print) onto the first. Encourage them to arrange shapes to make patterns.

    Ask the children to identify and compare the different patterns they made in their work, using the vocabulary they learnt. -  Which shapes are symmetrical?
    - Which patterns use rotation?
    - Which use reflection?
    - Which patterns make effective use of the printing techniques? Why do you think this is?

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