Chinese Print Making

Notes - Work in Progress

  • very colourful (no real brush line)
  • signs of wisdom
  • wood blocks tend to be very small
  • often is made by doing random bruss strokes
  • many print blocks have animals from zodiac or animals with meaning( rabbits,dogs,cranes,dragons,tigers,rats,pigs,pheonix,phesent,"bird of paradise", horses,snake,sheep panda etc.)also plants( bambo,lillies,water chesnut,plum flowers,orchids,Azalea,peach flowers,cherry blossoms. etc)
    people(warriors, emperors,women,importent,families.etc)
  • Often includes a chinese word or phrase of wisdom in the form of caligraphy
  • has the stamp or signiture unique to the artist who made it usually near the word(see above)
  • depicks nature and life/cutlure

History of Printmaking

  • invented around 105 A.D. (after paper was invented)
  • first form of printmaking- stone rubbing
  • texts and holy images carved on huge flat stone slabs for Chinese scholars to study scriptures
  • printing continued to spread with Buddhism from India to China
  • prints from a single blocks were made onto paper
  • Block-book printing: method of combining text and images
  • earliest known Chinese woodcut with both text and picture:
    • made in 868 A.D.
    • famous Buddhist scroll
    • size: 5 m (about 17 ft) long
    • from: the Diamond Sutra
  • The Diamond Sutra:
    • early devotional prints
    • prints were drawings that were reproduced from artists with large range of talent
    • prints were made without thought of artistic interpretation
    • in the development of the print, these works of folk art were very important.

Final Copy


Can you imagine a world without books, magazines, or even newspapers? Without the Chinese and their remarkably inventive minds, this fantasy might have been a reality. After its invention around 105 A.D., the art of Chinese printmaking became an important part of Chinese culture, and eventually developed into an important part of cultures world-wide.

How it works

Though woodblock printmaking is the best known form of ancient Chinese Printmaking, a method known as stone rubbing was the first form of printmaking invented. In stone rubbing, lines were carved into large, flat masses of stone. Then, damp paper was molded to the surface of the stone, shaping to the contours of the carved out lines. Finally, ink was applied to the paper, and when the paper was removed from the rock, a white image/text on a black background was seen. After the invention of stone rubbing, the Chinese eventually created a new technique for printmaking. Woodblock printmaking was a common method used in China, using woodblocks that tended to come in extremely small sizes and were composed of wood from pear trees. The design would be sketched on a special thin paper called 'gasen' paper, while the woodblock was covered in rice paste. When the design was finished, the front of it was pasted on the rock woodblock. Soon the paper would be rubbed off, but the design remained on the block. Then, the design was carved out using a knife called a Quan Dao. This knife originated in the Tang dynasty. The knife had a slightly curved design and two metal ends that were used for carving and cutting. When the woodblock was ready to be printed, it was painted with oil-based or water-based inks that were gathered from vegetables. The brush that they used was made from palm tree fibers. Then, the woodblock was placed on one of two tables, and supporting pieces of wood were used to keep it in place and later support the paper. Afterwards, one stack of paper would be nailed to the other table and one at a time were flipped onto the inked woodblock to create prints. After the print was made, it was dropped down through the hole between the two tables. Then the woodblock was then immediately re-inked. Other times, one table with a slot in the middle was used as opposed to two tables. The first couple of prints are used to test to see if the table needs to be moved. Sometimes the paper or the block can move slightly. Finally after printing, all the extra paper is cut off.

The printing is done on two tables shown below.

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Fist knife, Quan Dao
Fist knife, Quan Dao
Here is the Quan Dao knife that is used for carving and cutting.


Chinese Printmaking is a very decorative art that can involve large quantities of color and can have very elaborate designs. The images depicted in the prints can have many meanings. There are signs of wisdom and signs of wealth that can be understood by interpreting the animals, plants, scenery and people displayed. This is because each symbol has its own meaning. For example, dogs from the Zodiac can represent loyalty, or if a picture has a plant (such as a orchid blossoms) it represents a high class respectfulness. The tiger indicates a powerful and respected person/people, and a rabbit is for luck and intelligence.
The artist always signs his or her own work by putting their seal on it and adding a Chinese word or phase in calligraphy to it. The prints give off an essence of nature an peace.
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There are many different ways of creating a print by carving it, or if it has color by long or short brush strokes,random brush strokes etc.

History of Printmaking
Among the countless inventions of the Chinese, perhaps one of the most innovative was printmaking. After the invention of paper in 105 A.D., a process called stone rubbing was created in China.
Chinese Stone Rubbing from 456 A.D.
Chinese Stone Rubbing from 456 A.D.
Chinese Stone Rubbing from the Han Dynasty (206 B.C-220 A.D.)
Chinese Stone Rubbing from the Han Dynasty (206 B.C-220 A.D.)

These stone rubbings used a method called block-book printing, which combined texts and images in a single carving. Prints were created on huge flat stone slabs, and they were very important because they allowed Chinese scholars to study scriptures. Several hundred years after the invention of stone rubbing, the Chinese began to create woodcuts. The earliest known woodcut incorporating both texts and pictures was created in 868 A.D. This woodcut print can be found in a famous Buddhist text known as the Diamond Sutra. Below is an image of The Diamond Sutra showing a woodcut print.
Here is a Woodcut Print from The Diamond Sutra
Here is a Woodcut Print from The Diamond Sutra

This text is a collection of devotional prints reproduced from artists with a large range of skill levels and created without a great deal of thought about artistic interpretation. On the whole, in the development of printing, the folk art works from the Diamond Sutra were of large significance.

Sources lots of history!!!