Re-Create

Process


Re-creating Vermeer

process-vermeer

Unlike Vermeer paintings, there is more than one “original” for each print in the Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji. Multiple impressions were made of each design, from a master printing block, and those prints surviving today as “the real thing” have in fact been printed at different times by different printers with different colours and tones. To start off the re-create process, decisions had to be made on which of the extant prints available were likely to have printed in colours the closest to those which Hokusai himself had intended to be used.

Digital copies of original prints were sourced from leading ukiyo-e collections around the world and input was sourced from multiple Hokusai experts in order to make the final selection of prints to form the basic reference material for the re-create process.

Having selected the original prints, the next issue to be clarified was what the ultimate objective should be in re-creating Hokusai’s body of work. To re-create the colours, lost to time, that would have been seen by the people of Edo who were the original consumers of his art was a priority. There was another goal: to try and reproduce, using modern day digital technology, the impact Hokusai had been aiming for, the wonderment and inspiration he had been trying to stir in his audience.

Basic design work began by attempting to recover and restore all of the information that would have been present in the original print, for example any parts missing or damaged by soiling over time. Hokusai experts were then brought in to provide guidance on any subtle gradation that may have deteriorated over the years, as well as on how best to replicate the vividness of the Prussian blue, also known as Berlin blue, used so extensively by Hokusai.

The process began with the Re-create team members carefully examining original prints of Hokusai works in order to reach a consensus about the precise hue of the Prussian blue which is used to a considerable extent in the Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji. The work was intense; the re-created prints were to retain any characteristic marks or slips in alignment resulting from the way in which the printer moved his tool, the baren, over the back of the paper to print the colour, as well as any traces of wood grain seen in betazuri (flat tone printed) areas. The prints were enlarged for the exhibition, and in enhancing the data to the larger size, the true intricacy of the designs were, each line expressed with incredible care. It was inspirational to see close up just how talented the woodblock carvers must have been in their work.

At the beginning of the process, the team had assumed that, when it came to the process of transforming our re-created data into actual prints, they would use high density pigment inks, taking advantage of their superior colour reproductivity. The question of which material to print the images upon proved problematic. The team began by making test prints, trying a variety of different paper types, including a type of fine handmade Japanese paper called tesuki washi. It was a struggle to find print media that met expectations: the aim was not reproductions but with re-creations.

The use of plaster-coated paper, able to guarantee strong colour development stability after printing as well as an appropriate expression, was the solution. After conducting some printing tests, the team determined that this print media met the required conditions and gave it the final approval. We then conducted further test printing, checking each time that the individual features of each piece, such as the use of Prussian blue, were suitably expressed, and correcting any changes to the images resulting from enlargement.


Re-creating Hokusai

Unlike Vermeer paintings, there is more than one “original” for each print in the Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji. Multiple impressions were made of each design, from a master printing block, and those prints surviving today as “the real thing” have in fact been printed at different times by different printers with different colours and tones. To start off the re-create process, decisions had to be made on which of the extant prints available were likely to have printed in colours the closest to those which Hokusai himself had intended to be used.

Digital copies of original prints were sourced from leading ukiyo-e collections around the world and input was sourced from multiple Hokusai experts in order to make the final selection of prints to form the basic reference material for the re-create process.

Having selected the original prints, the next issue to be clarified was what the ultimate objective should be in re-creating Hokusai’s body of work. To re-create the colours, lost to time, that would have been seen by the people of Edo who were the original consumers of his art was a priority. There was another goal: to try and reproduce, using modern day digital technology, the impact Hokusai had been aiming for, the wonderment and inspiration he had been trying to stir in his audience.

Basic design work began by attempting to recover and restore all of the information that would have been present in the original print, for example any parts missing or damaged by soiling over time. Hokusai experts were then brought in to provide guidance on any subtle gradation that may have deteriorated over the years, as well as on how best to replicate the vividness of the Prussian blue, also known as Berlin blue, used so extensively by Hokusai.

The process began with the Re-create team members carefully examining original prints of Hokusai works in order to reach a consensus about the precise hue of the Prussian blue which is used to a considerable extent in the Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji. The work was intense; the re-created prints were to retain any characteristic marks or slips in alignment resulting from the way in which the printer moved his tool, the baren, over the back of the paper to print the colour, as well as any traces of wood grain seen in betazuri (flat tone printed) areas. The prints were enlarged for the exhibition, and in enhancing the data to the larger size, the true intricacy of the designs were, each line expressed with incredible care. It was inspirational to see close up just how talented the woodblock carvers must have been in their work.

At the beginning of the process, the team had assumed that, when it came to the process of transforming our re-created data into actual prints, they would use high density pigment inks, taking advantage of their superior colour reproductivity. The question of which material to print the images upon proved problematic. The team began by making test prints, trying a variety of different paper types, including a type of fine handmade Japanese paper called tesuki washi. It was a struggle to find print media that met expectations: the aim was not reproductions but with re-creations.

The use of plaster-coated paper, able to guarantee strong colour development stability after printing as well as an appropriate expression, was the solution. After conducting some printing tests, the team determined that this print media met the required conditions and gave it the final approval. We then conducted further test printing, checking each time that the individual features of each piece, such as the use of Prussian blue, were suitably expressed, and correcting any changes to the images resulting from enlargement.


Plaster Paper

Plaster-coated paper makes use of the same principles as the fresco technique seen in Renaissance art: in which pigment colours diluted with water are painted onto fresh (fresco) plaster, which then sets, locking the pigment in. This mechanism is the key to why today, half a millennium later, the colour of surviving fresco paintings is preserved so vividly. Plaster-covered paper also makes use of this principle: calcium, a component of plaster, reacts with carbon dioxide in the air to create a film of calcium carbonate, which functions to protect the surface of the pigment ink from oxidation degradation. Plaster, being strongly alkaline, is also resistant to mould, making it the ideal choice for the re-create concept, which seeks to pass on a record of the true colours of masterpieces for the benefit of future generations.