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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

Printmaking with Hokusai


The students will learn about the Japanese artist Hokusai, 1760-1849, and his major contribution to book making, block printing, painting and his relationship with art and nature. After a slide show of Hokusai's prints of both the waterfall series, and the 36 Views of Mount Fuji, the students will sketch their ideas for an image that will be traced onto a Styrofoam plate. The image will include a mountain and/or waterfall with a foreground, middle-ground and background depicting either a combination of Hokusai's prints or from nature photographs. The image will be created using a contour line outlining the shapes of their composition. The students will be conscious of the positive/negative space created by their drawings to include interesting shapes. The next step will be to place the drawing onto a Styrofoam plate; they will trace their lines to indent into the plate creating a line impression into the Styrofoam. The students will then remove the paper image and add details into their composition by scratching various texture marks into the landscape directly onto the Styrofoam plate using a wood stylus tool. They will use a combination of cross hatching, stippling, scratching and other inventive texture patterns. Once the plate is completed the students will begin the printing process. They will begin by rolling their plate with white ink completely coating the entire plate. They will be given a palette of a variety of ink colors that they will apply with a stiff brush over the white ink, allowing the colors to mix with the white ink creating a gradation of pigment. This will model the technique the printers used in the Hokusai prints. They will be able to paint a variety of colors into specific areas unlike when they roll the colors with a brayer. The students will need to work quickly as the ink will dry fast. One way to control this process is to add a retarder to the colored inks so they dry slowly. The amount of ink used on top of the white needs to be thin as well, so when they press the paper on top of the plate the inks do not smudge. This is similar to a mono-printing process where each print is a unique image. To repeat this process the students can either wipe the plate clean or continue to print onto paper until there isn't any ink left on the plate creating "ghost" prints. These "ghost" prints can be reworked when dry with colored pencils. 


9" X 12" Styrofoam printing plates

9" X 12" Thin newsprint paper


wood stylus

variety of printing ink divided into round palettes

white printing ink


inking trays

Rice Paper, or thin cotton paper for printing

Variety of Hokusai images and/or nature pictures from magazines


After viewing the online slides and looking at a variety of printed samples the students will draw their images onto newsprint, and then transfer the image onto Styrofoam plates redrawing the image with a pencil.

Once the image is transferred the paper will be removed from the foam plate. They will retrace over their lines using a wood stylus. Other texture lines will be added directly onto the plate, being sure not to rip the Styrofoam but to indent into it evenly.

White ink will be added to cover the plate evenly. They will now paint with small amounts of colored ink over the white ink, allowing the colors to mix.

Once the plate is coated the students place their paper on top of the plate. Do not try to pick up the plate and place it on the paper as that will cause different problems.

Gently, but firmly rub the back of the paper, trying not to move or shift the paper as it will create a double image. Be sure to completely rub the whole plate. Using a "dry" brayer works great.

Pull the print from the plate evenly and carefully and lay out to dry flat.

* Optional: When the prints are dry have the students trim off the excess paper around the image and glue them to another colored paper for a frame. Be sure to use glue sticks and apply the glue to the back of the print. Once the print is placed onto the frame paper turn it over and give it a back rub. The glue can sometimes re-wet the ink.

Embellish the print using colored pencils, which can also be used on the undesirable prints or ghost prints to enhance the images.

During Lesson:

Be sure the students incise their lines deep into the foam plate. They can retrace their lines again once the paper is removed from the plate. 

Be sure the students do not clean their brushes with water, they can wipe it clean with a dry, or damp paper towel.

Have them work quickly as the ink drys fast.

Another option is to dampen thicker construction paper, by spritzing them in a plastic bag, and pulling out one sheet at a time. Blot any excess water and then place paper onto plate and give it an even back rub.

History/Social Studies:

During the Edo Period Hokusai created thousands of images that were carved into wood blocks for printing into books and used as works of art for sale. The printing process was managed by the Publisher, who hired the Artist to create the images, the Block Cutter carved the various plates needed for each color, and the Printer inked the plates and printed them. Hokusai did not actually carve his plates, he did however have a say in how they were embossed and printed, using the Prussian blue pigment in a gradation effect showing depth. Another technique Hokusai used to show three-dimensions is perspective. Other Japanese artists dismissed using the Laws of Perspective in the way that Hokusai did. He created depth by showing the corner of a room, and the view outside the window, as well as traditional perspective in some of his exterior images. Other images depicted the traditional layering of a landscape as seen in scrolls, showing the foreground, middle-ground and background stacked on top of each other, or the perspective shifted to illustrate what is happening in the background. This is demonstrated in his Amida Falls image, where the river creating the falls is shown in the circle shape in the upper part of the falls.


The students' prints should depict a natural scene using various texture marking techniques within the image. 

The final prints image have a variety of colors that were mixed with the white ink to demonstrate the gradation of color.

The prints should not have too much ink on them causing the image to smudge.


Created By

Brenda Lillly


History/Social Studies, Science, The Arts

Grade Level