Genre: kappazuri-e (合羽摺絵 stencil print)

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Biography: Also かっぱ摺 or kappaban かっぱ版; sometimes kouhan 孔版 or katagamizuri 型紙摺. A technique used to apply color to a monochrome woodblock print sumizuri-e 墨摺絵. Paper stencils were used for each color rather than additional printing blocks, as is the case with polychrome woodblock prints *nishiki-e 錦絵. Particularly used in the Osaka/Kyoto area, the stencil was made from thick paper or several sheets of mino paper *minogami 美濃紙 stuck together and coated with persimmon tannin kakishibu 柿渋. Holes were cut in the required places and then the stencil laid in the correct position on top of a print on which the outlines of the design had already been printed in black ink from a woodblock. A round-headed brush similar to a Japanese cosmetic brush was then used to daub color directly through the hole in the stencil onto the print. If the stencil was not cut or placed accurately, color would stray over the edges of the woodblock-printed black outlines, but this was considered to be one of the charms of the medium.

Source: JAANUS http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/k/kappazuri.htm

Kyoto was the main center of activity for the production of kappazuri-e (stencil prints, literally, "oil-skin prints"), with a tradition spanning close to a century. Prints of teahouse women and courtesans represented one important aspect of this genre, although they amounted to only a small fraction of the total output—among these were the Gion nerimono-e of Kyoto (see references below). More common were actor prints (yakusha-e: 役者絵).

Once abundant throughout western Japan (Kansai), kappazuri-e were often printed quickly and in small and cheap editions on thin paper, with fugitive pigments (generally more transparent than those used in nishiki-e — "brocade prints" or full-color prints, 浮世絵) that were brushed through stencils after woodblocks were used to stake out the keyblock lines. It was only in Kyoto that kappazuri-e maintained fairly high standards and enjoyed a measure of respect up to the midpoint of the nineteenth century.

The persistent support accorded such a quaint, antiquated technology, as compared with the predominant nishiki method, seems to have been due not only to economics, but also, ironically, to the very primitiveness of the stencil print's appearance. Japanese, in general, value evidence of the artisanal process in their crafts, and kappazuri-e reveal how they are made even more frankly than do nishiki-e. On top of that, Kyoto-ites are known for championing the rustic, imperfect aesthetic of the tea ceremony, and may have actually preferred the quieter, subtler-toned look of stencils to the relatively slick and flamboyant aspect of nishiki-e.

Sadly, almost all stencil prints have perished over time, due to the delicacy of the paper, their generally small size, and the relatively low esteem in which they have been held when compared with nishiki-e (though they, too, were too often neglected). The vast majority of stencil-print designs are now very difficult to find, regardless of condition.

Source: Peter Ujlaki