Re: album-backing and trimming

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Posted by John Fiorillo on May 09, 2002 at 19:23:08:

In Reply to: album-backing and trimming posted by Axabrax on May 07, 2002 at 18:16:58:

I generally agree with Theo and Pat. However, a few qualifications may be useful:

(1) Untrimmed print sizes will vary within narrow ranges of their original format - they were cut from larger, standard sheets for use in printmaking (see paper sizes for a brief list of the print formats that could be obtained from 4 different standard sheets). Printmakers did not use precisely sized sheets, and we should not overemphasize the 15" x 10" size, which is only a useful approximation of the commonly encountered ˘ban format. Standard, untrimmed print sizes can vary enough to cause confusion. For example, a small, untrimmed ˘ban is close to a large, untrimmed aiban, and a small chűban is close to a large koban. A print that is now 13" x 8" (approx. 33 x 20 cm) might indeed be a severely trimmed ˘ban (formerly 15" x 10" or approx. 38 x 25 cm), but it could also be a slightly trimmed aiban (13" x 9" or approx, 33 x 23 cm). Sometimes the surviving design will indicate whether the print was originally of one format or another, but sometimes such determination can be difficult, depending on the amount of trimming and the nature of the design. In any case, donĺt necessarily assume a 14" high print was originally an ˘ban. Also, donĺt assume a print that is 15" high is untrimmed, as it might be a trimmed dai-˘ban or ˘-˘ban (large ˘ban).

(2) One should be concerned not only with the amount of trimming, but also with its relationship to the composition. If design elements are trimmed or removed, the effect can be disturbing, even if the magnitude of trimming is relatively small. Even the removal of "empty space" or background can be detrimental if the balance of the design is adversely affected. Sometimes design elements surviving too close to the edges of trimmed sheets can be out of harmony with the rest of the composition.

(3) In the 1740s-50s habahiro hashira-e (wide pillar prints) were made from two separate blocks glued together vertically for printing (roughly in the ranges of 70 x 17 cm to 75 x 26 cm). After extended use, the blocks sometimes warped, causing a visible separation or uneven surface planes between the glued blocks (not a crack in a single block). The separation can be seen in a few surviving impressions where the pigments could not be printed along the seam. Publishers frequently reused blocks for long periods and many editions. If the two blocks separated severely, one block was sometimes discarded and the print made from only the remaining block with the most "meaningful" part of the design. Hence we find later edition, tall-narrow hashira-e (approx. 70 x 15 cm, or even in non-standard hashira-e sizes) from a single block. Afterwards, the format was popular enough to justify publishers commissioning artists to design compositions for the single block, tall-narrow hashira-e format.

(4) Foxing is not just any dark spot on paper. It refers to brown spots caused by one type of mold, a saprophytic fungus (living on dead organic matter). The fungus destroys the sizing in paper and discolors it. Although almost any dark spotting is frequently referred to as foxing in non-scientific condition reports on Japanese prints, some discolorations are spot-staining from different molds or other sources. Analysis under a microscope or under UV radiation may be required to confirm the nature of a mold. One difference is that some molds appear "furry" when viewed by eye, whereas foxing does not. Other spots may be acid burns that have nothing to do with mold or foxing.


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