The Far East, specifically Japan, has something that has always fascinated those of us who live in more western longitudes.
That fusion of tradition and the most advanced technology, the samurai stories, the folklore of the yokai, and the type of Japanese art we all have in mind: the ukiyo-e, the Japanese artistic prints that reflect "the floating world."
In this article, we want to talk about this artistic manifestation, so recognized and appreciated worldwide, both for the complexity of its creation and its unmistakable aesthetics.
Ukiyo-e or "paintings of the floating world"
The term ukiyo-e can be translated from Japanese as "paintings of the floating world," referring to the acceptance of the ephemeral character of the world as a path to realization, a conception drawn from Buddhist philosophy.
Ukiyo-e prints were very popular in Japan during the Edo period (1603 - 1867). Their subjects, which we will see below, were varied, ranging from landscapes and theaters to erotic scenes that left little to the imagination.
The ukiyo-e technique
The ukiyo-e is made by woodcut, a technique that consists of printing on paper drawings or paintings previously made on wooden plates. The first prints were made in black and white, but the use of color became popular in the second half of the 18th century.
Thanks to this woodcut technique, easy to reproduce on a massive scale, ukiyo-e prints quickly gained fame and allowed the democratization of this type of art: practically all social classes in Japan could afford them.
Main classical representatives of ukiyo-e
Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 - 1806)
This author stood out for his predilection for feminine beauty, captured in portraits of bijin-ga themes and shunga-type scenes, which were erotic representations.
Katsushika Hokusai (1760 - 1849)
His main prints depicted nature, especially the famous Mount Fuji. However, he is known worldwide for The Great Wave of Kanagawa, undoubtedly an ukiyo-e present in the common imagination of Japanese art lovers.
Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865)
He is considered the most prolific ukiyo-e artist, with more than 20,000 prints produced. His main theme was the representation of the kabuki theater, a subject considered by many experts the most authentic of ukiyo-e.
Preferred ukiyo-e themes
Although we have already given an overview of some of the most common ukiyo-e themes, we explain them in more detail below.
These were prints about idealized feminine beauty: porcelain skin, small eyes, mouth, long nose, and dark hair. In general, the women depicted were courtesans and appeared in the prints in groups, not individually.
They consisted of depictions of sumo wrestlers, both in the ring and in more everyday activities.
A subgenre of ukiyo-e based on the depiction of samurai, Japan's classical heroes. Although this subject matter was censored for a time, in the Meiji period, these prints made a strong comeback.
During this period, kabuki theater was one of the main activities in the cities. Hence the yakusha-e prints, which depicted the actors of this popular theater.
As mentioned above, this type of ukiyo-e is erotic in theme. The prints depict explicit scenes that include all members of Japanese society.
Finally, fukei-ga were prints depicting nature, which became especially popular in the 19th century.
Paint an ukiyo-e print with Canvas By Numbers.
At Canvas By Numbers, we offer you the possibility of making ukiyo-e art with your own hands, not by woodcut, but by using our paint by numbers system.
All you have to do is apply the paint corresponding to the numbered area, a technique designed for people who have never picked up a paintbrush.
Take a look at our ukiyo-e proposals below and put yourself in the shoes of a Japanese artist!