General Description of the Operation of Printing from a Set of Blocks

The early stages of any craft are more interesting when we are familiar with the final result. For this reason it is often an advantage to begin at the end.

To see a few impressions taken from a set of blocks in colour printing, or to print them oneself, gives the best possible idea of the quality and essential character of print-making. So also in describing the work it will perhaps tend to make the various stages clearer if the final act of printing is first explained.

The most striking characteristic of this craft is the primitive simplicity of the act of printing. No press is required, and no machinery.

A block is laid flat on the table with its cut surface uppermost, and is kept steady by a small wad of damp paper placed under each corner. A pile of paper slightly damped ready for printing lies within reach just beyond the wood-block, so that the printer may easily lift the paper sheet by sheet on to the block as it is required.

It is the practice in Japan to work squatting on the floor, with the blocks and tools also on the floor in front of the craftsman. Our own habit of working at a table is less simple, but has some advantages. One practice or habit of the Japanese is, however, to be followed with particular care. No description can give quite fully the sense of extreme orderliness and careful deliberation of their work. Everything is placed where it will be most convenient for use, and this orderliness is preserved throughout the day's work. Their shapely tools and vessels are handled with a deftness that shames our clumsy ways, and everything that they use is kept quite clean. This skilful orderliness is essential to fine craftmanship, and is a sign of mastery.

The arrangement of tools and vessels on a work-table may be as the accompanying plan shows:

Plan of work-table