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Nishikie, a japanese color printing technique

Nishikie is a color printing technique, invented by the japanese printmaker Suzuki Harunobu in the 1760s. Previously, pictures had generally been printed with ink or colored by hand with few colors. Nishikie pictures were made by carving wood blocks, spreading them with various colors and printing them on paper as an image. Nishikie artists used dozens of colors consisting of light or shadow. For each color they made a separate wood block. It required certain skills to arrange all the blocks together to create an entire picture. Completing the details took quite a lot of time as well.

Suzuki Harunobu tried different means of printing the pictures. In order to achieve a more opaque effect, he began to use cherry tree blocks, more expensive colors and thicker layers of color. As his clients were wealthy, he could use the amount of wood blocks he wished. Thus, he was the first to print pictures with more than three colors. One of Harunobu's principal themes was the urban life in Edo, present-day Tokyo, and its various people.

Nishikie pictures became one of the most popular art forms during the Edo period. The first pictures printed were calendar images. Soon the nishikie was used to depict people, sceneries and buildings as well. In addition, the pictures were utilized for teaching and news mediation purposes.

Nishikie remained a popular color printing technique until the Meiji era, as the western printing devices spread to Japan. At the same time, Nishikie was brought to Europe and aroused interest e.g. among impressionist painters.