Published by the Reader Collection, Ontario, Canada, 2014  ISBN 978-0-9937035-1-5

Reader Collection > Guides > History of Japanese Art: Bird Prints


Chapter 4 – Gendai Bird Prints



Notable Artists


Some gendai artists produced more bird prints than others.  The work of eighty-nine artists (16%), each of whom made at least ten bird prints, is described below. Artists are arranged based on their total print production with the most productive artist considered first.






1) Iwao Akiyama


Owls are Iwao’s specialty and since the 1960s he has made more than two hundred owl prints. Most of these prints were vertically oriented and showed a single owl unaccompanied by any other objects, as in print 140. His style is deliberately amateurish which makes it difficult to identify the species of owl depicted. The owl’s body was always colored black and its eyes red. Sometimes a hint of other colors was added, as in this print. To complement the rough, unfinished look of the picture’s bird subject he used rough, handmade paper which contained fragments of tree bark. Iwao’s choice of paper, style and woodblock printing were influenced by the Japanese Folk Art movementa which promoted the continued use of traditional Japanese printmaking practices.    


a   Blakemore (1975)



140   Owl (Family Strigidae) by Iwao Akiyama, 250 mm x 300 mm, woodblock print entitled winter wind



(2) Yoshiharu Kimura


During the past fifty years Yoshiharu has made more than one hundred and seventy bird prints. His bird subjects were typically large birds such as the crane in print 141. Neither the bird nor other objects in his prints were easily identified because he simplified their shapes and colored them with a mixture of colors which were not true-to-life. In this print the crane had no eye and only one foot and trees had few branches and no leaves. The sun was multicolored instead of simply yellow and the ground was grey and blue instead of brown. The combination of false color, novel shapes and complex picture composition made each of his woodblock prints both visually stimulating and highly entertaining.  



141   Crane (Grus sp.) by Yoshiharu Kimura, 525 mm x 710 mm, woodblock print entitled silver bird



(3) Atsushi Uemura

Atsushi is a painter who also designed more than one hundred and fifty lithographic bird printsa. Small birds such as the great tit in print 142 were his favorite subjects. Their shapes and colors were drawn very accurately making identification easy. To focus attention on the picture’s bird subjects few other objects were included and a single, contrasting color was chosen for the background. Here warm colors (i.e., orange background plus red leaves and fruits) were contrasted with the birds’ cooler colors (i.e., greyish tail and wings plus black head).

a   Most painters chose lithography presumably because the act of drawing a design on stone was most similar to painting a design on paper. Other printmaking techniques required additional technical skill (i.e., carving wood, cutting into a metal plate, making a stencil or screen, or learning to use a computer drawing program).  














142   Great tit (Parus major) by Atsushi Uemura, 660 mm x 540 mm, lithograph entitled autumn field



(4) Kōji Ikuta

Kōji has made more than one hundred bird prints during the past twenty-five years. Black-and-white mezzotint (i.e., intaglio) prints of owls are his specialty. His choice of mezzotint to depict owls is perhaps not surprising because it provides the dark background appropriate for a bird of the night. Kōji also took advantage of the mezzotint’s ability to show even slight differences in feather tone to depict owls with near photographic accuracy, as in print 143. The Blakiston’s fish owl in the foreground is one of the largest and rarest of Japanese owls while the scops owl in the background is one of the smallest and most common. Most other prints featured only a single owl species and were oriented vertically. Picture composition was always simple with only the moon and (or) a plant also included in the picture.







143   Blakiston’s fish owl (Ketupa blakistoni) and scops owl (Otus scops) by Kōji Ikuta, 460 mm x 260 mm, intaglio print entitled Blakiston’s fish owl and scops owl



(5) Keisaburō Tejima


During the past thirty years Keisaburō has made more than eighty woodblock prints of birdsa. He focused on birds native to his home in northern Japan and especially on the endangered Blakiston’s fish owl. In print 144 he showed this owl returning to its perch in a tree after a successful fishing trip. It is one of the world’s largest owls and Keisaburō did not exaggerate the length of its outstretched wings by much. He chose to depict it in only black and white in this night scene but in most other prints birds were drawn in full color. This bird only inhabits coniferous forests near water as shown in the background. The appearance of coniferous forest in a Japanese bird print is unusual because most artists focused on birds of the heavily populated southern part of Japan where other types of habitat are more common.


a   Keisaburō also designed books about birds for children, some of which have been translated into English for sale outside Japan (e.g. Tejima, 1984).    



144   Blakiston’s fish owl (Ketupa blakistoni) by Keisaburō Tejima, 450 mm x 610 mm, woodblock print entitled owl’s lake – winter moon



(6) Keiko Minami

From the 1950s to the 1990s Keiko made more than eighty bird prints. She was a pioneer in several ways. First, she was one of the first Japanese femalesa to make bird prints and second, she used the intaglio method of printmakingb instead of traditional Japanese woodblock printing. Print 145 is a typical example of her workc. Mythical birds and plants were often paired to create simple scenes of a fairy-tale world. Her childlike style of drawing shapes and using color was novel for the time and it helped to make her prints popular with patrons of modern bird art both in the west and in Japan.  

a   No ukiyo-e or shin hanga bird printmakers were female versus about 14% of gendai bird printmakers in the sample of prints examined.
b   Keiko learned intaglio techniques while living in France (Kawakita, 1967).
c   See Minami (2006) for additional examples of her bird prints.














145   Unidentified bird by Keiko Minami, 570 mm x 380 mm, intaglio print



(7) Tomoko Kyūki


Tomoko is a female printmaker who has made more than seventy bird prints in the last ten yearsa. Her designs are modern but her printmaking technique is traditional. In print 146 the simplified, semi-transparent shapes of the bird and trees are very modern but the black outline and evenly applied color is typical of traditional Japanese woodblock prints. The vertical format and relatively small size of this print are also more in keeping with traditional Japanese bird prints than with modern large, horizontally-oriented bird prints (e.g., print 145). However, most of the birds she selected for depiction, including this common cuckoo, were not chosen by traditional Japanese bird printmakers. Her unusual choices suggest that she is a birdwatcher as well as a bird artist. 


a other examples of Tomoko’s bird prints are shown on her website



146   Common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) by Tomoko Kyūki, 100 mm x 150 mm, woodblock print entitled bird’s time - common cuckoo



(8) Umetarō Azechi


Umetarō made more than seventy woodblock prints of birds during the last half of the twentieth century. The bird was a source of astonishment and pleasure to Umetarō and it appeared in his work as a symbolic statement of lifea. Umetarō’s favorite bird was the rock ptarmigan which he would have encountered while climbing mountains during his free time. In his depictions of mountains and birds (e.g., print 147) he attempted to capture their essence and eliminated what he considered to be unnecessary detail. The resulting simplicity of shape, color and composition may cause his work to be thought of as amateurish by viewers who are either unfamiliar or unsympathetic with his style of art. 


a   Petit (1973) 



147  Rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) by Uemtarō Azechi, 125 mm x 115 mm, woodblock print



(9) Tadashi Ikai

Tadashi started to make mezzotint prints in the 1970s and since then he has made more than fifty bird prints. His three favorite bird subjects are the common kingfisher shown here in print 148, the Japanese white-eye (print 127) and owls (print 126). He drew the shapes of these birds very accurately and used graded, accurate colors to make them appear very lifelike. The bird always appeared in the foreground against an indistinct background of mixed colors and shapes. Here a single leaf was the only identifiable shape in the background. This combination of an indistinct background and a distinct foreground object created the illusion of a three-dimensional picture which is unusual for modern Japanese bird prints.














148   Common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) by Tadashi Ikai, 440 mm x 300 mm, intaglio print entitled river breeze



(10)  Kunihiro Amano


Kunihiro is one of the post-World War II generation of Japanese artists who combined traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking techniques with modern, western artistic style. The word abstract best describes the birds that appear in his more than fifty bird prints. In print 149 the long neck of the bird in the foreground and the long wings of the bird in the background suggest that they are cranes. However, their coloring made them look like they had either been tattooed or were wearing colorful Japanese kimonos. Kunihiro’s novel depiction of birds never fails to stimulate the viewer’s imagination which is one reason why some people find abstract art so attractive. The composition of his pictures was typically simple and balanced as in this print. Kunihiro often drew pictures with similar compositions which were issued as a series (e.g. this morning series).



149   Unidentified bird by Kunihiro Amano, 170 mm x 230 mm, woodblock print entitled morning 31



(11) Shirō Takagi


Shirō received art instruction from Kunihiro Amanoa, described above, so it is not surprising that their bird prints are similar in some ways. For example, Shirō also tattooed his cranes with unusual patches of color in print 150. This print also shared the simple, balanced composition of print 149. Shirō simplified the shapes of his bird subjects but not to the extent evident in Kunihiro’s prints. The word semi-abstract best describes Shirō’s prints. He also designed more than fifty bird prints but he chose a wider range of bird species as subjects for these prints. Cranes, peafowl and doves were his favorite subjects and each appeared in more than one print with a similar composition. However, unlike Kunihiro, prints with a similar composition they were not issued as a numbered series.     


a   Merritt and Yamada (1992)



150   Red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis) by Shirō Takagi, 200 mm x 230 mm, woodblock print






(12) Ay-Ō (Takao) Iijima

Ay- Ō started to make screenprints using the Pop Art style after he moved to the United States in the 1960sa. More than fifty of these prints featured birds. Print 151 is a typical example. He simplified actual bird shape and applied color in a rainbow fashion which made it difficult to identify the species depicted. Picture composition was always simple and a single bird was often the only object shown. Many pictures had a patterned background which was also colored in rainbow fashion. This novel use of a rainbow of colors is a unique feature of his work and for this reason he was nicknamed rainbow man.  

a Sakai (1992)













151   Unidentified bird by Ay-Ō, 170 mm x 120 mm, screenprint entitled sings-A



(13) Masao Ohba

Masao used an unusual screenprinting techniquea to make more than fifty bird prints during the late twentieth century. Instead of making the screen from mesh fabric he used porous paper. Ink was forced through a series of these paper screens to create a complex, multicolored design within the outline of a bird, which was typically a domestic fowl (print 152) or owl.  Masao’s use of color was creative rather than realistic. He also simplified the bird’s shape using a combination of smooth curves and straight lines. The hard edge of the bird’s outline was then softened by adding a speckled border. The background was left blank in most bird prints presumably to allow the viewer to focus on the complexities of the bird’s shape and surface. 

a   See Johnson and Hilton (1980) for a more complete description of this technique.














152   Domestic fowl (Gallus gallus) by Masao Ohba, 150 mm x 90 mm, screenprint entitled cock



(14) Masahiko Saga


Masahiko is a digital printmaker and illustrator who has made more than fifty bird prints during the past decadea. His choice of bird subject was influenced by the work of the innovative ukiyo-e artist Jakuchū Itō who specialized in painting domestic fowl. Masahiko’s depiction of domestic fowl is equally novel, as shown in print 153. He colored them entirely blue and gave them a flamboyant tail. Fowl were typically paired with flowers, similar to ukiyo-e bird-and-flower pictures. The picture’s vertical format and absence of a white picture border were also similar to most ukiyo-e bird prints.


a   More examples of his bird prints are shown on his website



153   Domestic fowl (Gallus gallus) by Masahiko Saga, 300 mm x 420 mm, digital print



(15) Ryūji Kawano


Ryūji is an illustrator and digital printmaker whose artwork includes more than forty bird prints. He chose a range of bird species as subjects for these prints and drew each bird in a creative way. The plump caricature of a red-crowned crane in print 154 is a good example. Both the bird and other objects that were included in a picture looked crisp, clean and three dimensional because Ryūji first outlined their shapes using a thin black line then filled the shape with strongly graded color. Birds were typically shown in an idealized Japanese landscape scene with rugged mountains, clear water and a deep blue sky. Such scenes would be especially pleasing to Japanese viewers.



154   Red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis) by Ryūji Kawano, 300 mm x 420 mm, digital print



(16) Masaki Shibuya


Masaki has made more than forty black-and-white bird prints using three different printing methods; namely, wood engraving, woodblock and intaglio. Print 155a is a one of his wood engraved prints. One of the most notable features of these wood engraved prints is the small size of the picture portion of the print. It is only 30 mm in diameter in print 155a. To fully appreciate the fine details of these small pictures requires either a magnifying glass or an enlarged version such as print 155b. Despite their small size many pictures included both a bird and a complete landscape in the background. Masaki’s favorite bird subjects were owls but no attempt was made to copy the external features of real species. Instead, each was drawn in a highly creative way with no two alike. This novelty makes his prints very entertaining.


155a   Owl (Family Strigidae) by Masaki Shibuya, 120 mm x 135 mm, wood engraved print entitled under the stars




155b   Enlargement of the picture portion of print 155a



(17) Makiko Hattori


Makiko is an intaglio printmaker whose print production to date includes more than forty bird prints. Like Masaki Shibuya above, the picture portion of most of her prints is very small and a visual aid may be required to fully appreciate its details. Print 156a is an example of one of these small prints and an enlargement of its picture portion is provided in print 156b. Her favorite bird subject is the owl but also like Masaki Shibuya above her depiction of birds is best described as creative. The combination of a short, round body and larger-than-life dark, round eyes made the owl in print 156a look like a cute, stuffed toy instead of a real-life killer of small animals and birds. The inclusion of baby birds in other prints (e.g., print 100) reinforced the illusion of cuteness.




156a   Owl (Family Strigidae) by Makiko Hattori, 130 mm x 130 mm, intaglio print entitled starry sky (blue)




156b   Enlargement of the picture portion of print 156a



(18) Shūji Wakō


During the past thirty years Shūji has made lithographic prints featuring objects associated with traditional Japanese culture. An origamia crane appeared in more than forty of these prints. Print 157 is one example. The crane was typically accompanied by brightly colored objects which were drawn in a photo-realistic way and arranged in such a way that they appeared to be floating in center of a vertically-oriented picture. The picture’s solid black (or blue) background enhanced this optical illusion. Shūji’s objective was to express his inner sense of Japanese tradition through modern eyes.


a   origami is the Japanese name for the art of folding paper to make an object.



157   Crane (Grus sp.) by Shūji Wakō, 385 mm x 565 mm , lithograph entitled folded crane - spool



(19) Tōshi Yoshida


Tōshi made more than forty bird prints during a long career which started in the 1930s and ended with his death in 1995a. Many of these bird prints were published during the 1970s, including print 158. Birds and other objects in the picture were drawn realistically, reflecting the training he received from his artist father who used the shin hanga style. Birds were typically not the largest object in his pictures. Instead, they were part of a landscape scene appropriate for the species depicted. This coastal scene of cormorants resting on a rocky island is a good example. Tōshi depicted birds from a greater range of habitats and continents, including Antarctica (print 98), than any other Japanese bird artist. He and his father were world travelers which provided both the opportunity and experience needed to draw foreign birds and their habitats accurately.  


a   See Skibbe (1996) for more information about Tōshi plus other examples of his prints.



158   Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sp.) by Tōshi Yoshida, 400 mm x 545 mm, woodblock print entitled cormorant island



(20) Shōkō Uemura

Shōkō was a twentieth century painter who also made both woodblock prints and lithographic prints during his long career. Print 159 is one of his more than forty bird prints. He chose a wide range of brightly-colored bird species for depiction many of which appeared nowhere else in gendai bird prints (e.g., the three species in print 159). Birds were typically paired with flowers or fruits which added extra color. To highlight these colorful bird and plant subjects he usually left the background empty and filled it with a muted color. Plants and birds were drawn with sufficient accuracy to allow them to be identified by the viewer but they were not true-to-life (e.g., robin’s wings are too large and pheasant’s head is too small in print 159). Shōkō taught his style of bird printmaking to his son Atsushi whose prints were described above (i.e., notable gendai artist 3).










159   Siamese fireback pheasant (Lophura diardi), yellow-breasted magpie (Cissa hypoleuca) and Ryūkyū robin (Erithacus komadori) by Shōkō Uemura, 630 mm x 455 mm, lithograph entitled pheasant beneath the trees



(21) Shūzō Ikeda


During the last half of the twentieth century Shūzō made more than forty woodblock prints which showed birds accompanied by children (e.g., print 160). Depicting the fascination of children with nature was one of the major themes of Shūzō’s artb. In print 160, as in most others, the bird’s shape and color were simplified to be compatible with those of the child. Consequently, the bird’s characteristics rarely matched those of an actual bird. This mismatch would likely be unimportant to viewers for whom the picture triggered a fond memory of a similar childhood encounter with a bird.


b   Blakemore (1975)



160   Unidentified bird by Shūzō Ikeda, 140 mm x 125 mm, woodblock print



(22) Kazu Wakita

Kazu was a modernist painter who also made more than forty lithographs showing birds. He depicted the world of dreams in which neither the bird nor any of the other objects appearing in a picture were true-to-life. Birds were usually outlined in black and colored to match the background color as in print 161. Color was applied haphazardly which created a patchwork effect. To help unify this patchwork Kazu typically used only different shades of a single, dominant color (e.g. orange in print 161). Despite this color unity the patchwork of colors and shapes required careful study for the major features of the picture’s design to become apparent. The dual challenge of recognizing and interpreting these major features may limit to the appeal of Kazu’s artwork to those who enjoy puzzles.
















161   Unidentified bird by Kazu Wakita, 480 mm x  380 mm, lithograph



(23) Rokushū Mizufune


Rokushū was a sculptor and woodblock printmaker active in the 1960s and 1970s. During this period he made more than forty bird prints. His favorite bird subject was the gull which he saw during his walks on the beach near his seaside homea. The gull in print 162 is hardly recognizable because neither its shape nor color is true-to-life. Rokushū created only an abstract version of the bird he depicted using a combination of lines, circles and others shapes. Any additional objects appearing in the picture were similarly abstracted and they were often even more difficult to identify (e.g., objects at the bottom of print 162). Color was applied in layers using thick, opaque pigment which made the print look and feel more like an oil paintingb. Superimposed layers were purposely mismatched to give each object rough edges. Rokushū’s intent was to make these objects look worn, similar to those he saw washed up on the beach.


a   Merritt (1990)

b   Johnson and Hilton (1980)




162   Gull (Larus sp.) by Rokushū Mizufune, 225 mm x 250 mm, woodblock print entitled seagull



(24) Tomikichirō Tokuriki

Tomikichirō was a versatile artist who made accurately drawn landscape prints for the souvenir market and more creative prints for his own pleasure. His more than forty woodblock prints of birds fall into the creative category. Birds were drawn with streamlined shapes or with simplified colors, as in print 163. A variety of popular bird species were chosen for depiction, not just owls. Some birds were shown sitting quietly on a tree branch, as in this picture, while others were shown swimming or in flight.  
















163   Ural owl (Strix uralensis) by Tomikichirō Tokuriki, 540 mm x 410 mm, woodblock print



(25) Tamami Shima


Tamami was the first female Japanese artist to make a woodblock-printed bird print. From the 1960s onwards she made more than forty bird prints. These bird prints are best described as big and bold. Big birds such as peafowl, cranes or geese were chosen most often for depiction and their bodies were elongated (e.g. neck of peafowl in print 164) to make them look even larger. Print size was also big which made the birds look larger still. Tamami often replaced dull, naturally-occurring colors with bolder ones. For example, the back and tail of the peafowl in print 162 were colored red instead of their true colors. Boldly colored backgrounds also appeared in many of her prints. Here the woodblock’s natural grain was first enhanced by carving a set of abstract shapes and then contrasting shades of red and blue were used to color these shapes. 



164  Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus) by Tamami Shima, 190 mm x 280 mm, woodblock print entitled “with”



(26) Kaoru Kawano

Kaoru made more than forty woodblock prints of birds during the 1950s and early 1960s. He used a set of intersecting, curvilinear shapes to depict his bird subject in a highly creative way (e.g., print 165). His use of color was also creative rather than realistic. Birds were often oriented in an unexpected way, for example this horizontal owl. Owls and cranes were Kaoru’s favorite subjects and they were typically unaccompanied as in print 165.












165   Owl (Family Strigidae) by Kaoru Kawano, 415 mm x 270 mm, woodblock print



(27) Mitsuru Nagashima


During the past twenty-five years Mitsuru has made more than thirty bird printsa. Most were black-and-white intaglio prints like print 166. Even without full color the birds in his prints were easily identified. Their shapes were drawn accurately, their characteristic behavior was depicted and their habitat was shown in the background. Mitsuru clearly spent time watching birds closely. His attention to detail is especially noteworthy. For example, in print 166 even ripples in the water caused by the bird’s movement were included.


a   More examples of his bird prints are shown on his website



166  Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) by Mitsuru Nagashima, 315 mm x 415 mm, intaglio print entitled black-winged stilt



(28) Shiko Munakata

During the 1950s and 1960s Shiko made more than forty bird prints. Words such as dynamic, spontaneous and powerful are often useda to describe his woodblock prints. He worked rapidly using short chisel strokes to draw angularly-shaped birds and plants. Powerful birds such as the hawk in print 167 were depicted most often and they were shown in an active position (e.g., wings raised in print 167). Shiko mostly used single color printing (i.e., black) apparently because he was too impatient to re-carve portions of a design for additional colorsb. Shiko was a member of the Japanese Folk Art Movement which promoted this unsophisticated style of art.

a Blakemore (1975), Munsterberg (1982)
b Merritt (1990)













167   Hawk (Family Acciptridae) by Shiko Munakata, 345 mm x 305 mm, woodblock print



(29) Hidetaka Yamanaka


During the past fifteen years Hidetaka has made more than thirty bird printsa. Small birds such as the Japanese white-eye in print 168 are his favorite bird subjects. Their shapes were drawn very accurately but his use of a limited number of muted colors for each print meant that their color scheme was not always true-to-life. In print 168 additional shades of green and yellow were needed to show the white-eye’s contrasting throat and back colors evident in print 172 below. The crisp, clean look of the white-eye in print 172 also differs from the fuzzier version drawn here by Hidetaka. This difference results from his use of the mezzotint printing technique which is better suited to showing gradual rather than abrupt change in color.


a   More examples of his bird prints are shown on his website



168   Japanese white-eye (Zosterops japonicus) by Hidetaka Yamanaka, 280 mm x 275 mm, intaglio print entitled suntrap



(30) Fumio Fujita


Fumio made his first woodblock prints in the early 1960s. Since then he has published more than thirty bird prints. In each of these prints the shape and color of the bird was reduced to a minimum. For example in print 169 he used a set of short straight lines and no color to draw the silhouette of a bird in flight. None of the birds in his prints are identifiable. Other objects that appeared in the background of his bird prints were also difficult to identify because they were drawn using the same minimalist style. This print’s title (i.e., to the sky) suggests that the horizontal shapes are clouds. The vertical lines are more puzzling. Do they represent falling rain? The challenge of identifying objects in Fumio’s art is part of its appeal.



169   Unidentified bird by Fumio Fujita, 140 mm x 160 mm, woodblock print entitled to the sky



(31) Kan Kozaki


During the past thirty years Kan has made more than thirty entertaining bird prints. The picture’s bird subject is almost always a small owl as in print 170. Kan used his imagination when drawing these owls and no two were exactly alike. Most owls were colored using only shades of grey for the body, bright yellow for the eyes and brown for the beak and feet, as in this print. Birds were typically placed in the foreground with the moon and a starry sky in the background. A lighthearted verse also appeared in the background of each printa. Kan is one of only a few gendai artists who include a verse of text within the picture area. Other artists titled a picture with a few words written in the bottom picture border instead. Kan’s use of rough, handmade paper for his woodblock prints was also unusual.


a   Verses were written by Santoka Tanaeda. The verse on this print says “the wind blowing down from the moon is cool”. 



170   Owl (Family Strigidae) by Kan Kozaki, 220 mm x 320 mm, woodblock print



(32) Kōichi Sakamoto

Kōichi started to make mezzotint prints in the mid-1950s. Since then he has made more than thirty bird prints. His favorite bird subjects are owls (print 171) and doves (print 114). He made them look very sleek by elongating their bodies and smoothing the edges of their body parts. Edges were also indistinct, as in all mezzotint prints, which contributed to the birds’ streamlined look. He also made birds look very elegant by simplifying their natural, complex color patterns. Here the owl’s natural colors are reduced to shades of grey. The picture composition of many of Kōichi’s bird prints is more surreal than real. For example, the scops owl depicted here could only be seen standing in a grassy field in the fantasy world of dreams.














171   Scops owl (Otus sp.) by Kōichi Sakamoto, 185 mm x 150 mm, intaglio print entitled catbird No. 2



(33) Shizuo Ashikaga


Shizuo used woodblock printing to make more than twenty bird prints. He focused on small, native Japanese birds such as the Japanese white-eye in print 172. His style was more similar to that of shin hanga artists than to the style of most other gendai artists. External features of birds were drawn accurately and moderately graded color was applied to reproduce the bird’s actual color scheme. Birds were typically paired with brightly colored flowers or fruits which had a symbolic associationa in Japan. Birds and plants were the only objects depicted and the empty background was colored with the soft pastel colors used by many shin hanga artists for their bird-and-flower prints. 


a   The heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) in print 172 is associated with longevity and good fortune.



172   Japanese white-eye (Zosterops japonicus) by Shizuo Ashikaga, 190 mm x 280 mm, woodblock print



(34) Yoshio Kanamori

Yoshio made his first woodblock prints in the 1950s and since then he has made more than twenty bird prints. He chose a wide range of popular species for depiction including the green pheasant in print 173.  Birds were always outlined in black and colored creatively instead of accurately. Their angular shape showed the influence of Shiko Munakata (e.g., print 167) with whom Yoshio studied initially. Yoshio’s trademark was the silver-colored mountain lake and sharp peaks which appeared in the background of each print.











173   Green pheasant (Phasianus versicolor) by Yoshio Kanamori, 360 mm x 230 mm, woodblock print entitled mountain lake bird and maple



(35) Gashū Fukami


Gashū made his first woodblock prints in the 1970s. To date he has made more than twenty bird prints. Birds were drawn in a modern, semi-abstract way. The bird in print 174 was clearly one of the eared owls but its shape was too distorted to know whether it was modeled on a scops owl or Eurasian eagle-owl. Its color scheme was also creative rather than accurate. Birds and other objects in a picture were drawn using the traditional outline-and-fill method employed by woodblock printmakers. In this print objects were outlined in black and filled with other colors. Color was applied evenly across the surface of most objects which made the picture look two-dimensional. Plants and either the moon or sun typically accompanied a single bird in Gashū’s pictures. Owls were only one of the many different bird species he chose to depict.



174   Owl (Family Strigidae) by Gashū Fukami, 230 mm x 310 mm, woodblock print entitled surrounded in green



(36) Masahiro Tabuki


Masahiro is an illustrator and digital printmakera who specializes in bird art. Since 1995 he has published more than twenty digital bird printsb. A wide range of native Japanese birds were depicted in these prints and each bird was drawn with extreme accuracy. The near-photographic likeness of the common kingfisher in print 163 is a typical example. Elements of the bird’s habitat were also included in the picture but they were drawn with varying degrees of accuracy. For example, in print 163 the cattail plant (Typha latifolia) in the foreground was very accurate while other objects in the background were indistinct. The contrasting accuracy of background and foreground objects makes the picture look three-dimensional.


a   Illustrators are the only Japanese artists to embrace digital printmaking to date.

b   More examples of his bird art are shown on his website



175   Common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) by Masahiro Tabuki, 280 mm x 275 mm, digital print entitled gentle breeze



(37) Shirō Kasamatsu


Between the mid-1950s and early 1970s Shirō published more than twenty bird prints. He used traditional Japanese woodblock printing but his designs were often very creative. For example, in print 176 the left side of the picture shows an owl as it would appear during the day (i.e., sleeping) while the right side of the picture shows the owl at night with its eye open. His designs were fairly simple with the bird(s) centrally placed. The remainder of the picture was either left empty or filled with a landscape element such as the large plant in this print. The shapes and colors of all objects were typically simplified to complement the simple design. The Ural owl shown in this print appeared often in gendai bird prints but unlike many other gendai bird artists Shirō was not an owl specialist. Instead he drew an impressive range of native and exotic speciesa.  


a   See Grund (2001) for pictures of all Shirō’s bird prints.



176   Ural owl (Strix uralensis) by Shirō Kasamatsu, 285 mm x 405 mm, woodblock print entitled owl



(38) Jun’ichirō Sekino

Jun’ichirō used woodblock printing to make more than twenty bird prints between the mid-1950s and mid-1980s. The word diverse best characterizes his artwork. While his favorite bird subjects were large birds such as owls and domestic fowl, he also drew smaller birds, both native and exotic. These birds were drawn with varying degrees of simplification of form. Print 177 is one of his most abstract depictions of a bird. According to the print’s title the bird was an owl but only the bird’s two forward-pointing eyes matched an owl’s true form. Picture composition ranged from very complex, for example the abstract forest included in the background of this print, to very simple with birds as the only objects depicted. Jun’ichirō’s eclectic art provides something for everyone.



177a   Unidentified owl (Family Strigidae) by Jun’ichirō Sekino, 685 mm x 505 mm, woodblock entitled forest owl


177b   Enlargement of the bird in print 180a



(39) Kōtarō Yoshioka

Kōtarō started to make screenprints in the 1990s and to date he has made more than twenty bird prints. His choice of bird subject, style and format make these prints suitable for home decoration, especially for a child’s room. Familiar species were chosen for depiction, including owls (print 178) and domestic geese (print 110). He made these birds look cute and friendly by simplifying their shapes and colors and, sometimes, by showing them as a family group. He kept print size small and hundreds of copies were made, presumably to make them affordable for even those on a tight family budget. For these reasons Kōtarō’s bird prints probably have a greater mass appeal than most gendai bird prints.













178 Owl (Family Strigidae) by Kōtarō Yoshioka, 250 mm x 200 mm, screenprint entitled road to happiness



(40) Yukio Katsuda


Since the mid-1960s Yukio has published more than twenty different prints of the same bird, the Eurasian eagle-owl. In these prints the owl was most often shown sitting in its daytime roost where it was partly hidden from view by plant leaves. Print 179 is one example. The most unique feature of these prints is their color. Yukio used screenprinting to apply small dots of ink across the picture’s surface. This process was repeated many times using different colors to create the shapes of objects included in the picture. These objects had indistinct edges and a speckled or mottled surface which made them look three dimensional. Despite an object’s fuzzy coloring and indistinct edges it was relatively easy for the viewer to identify it when viewed from a distance because its overall shape was very accurate.





179   Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) by Yukio Katsuda, 320 mm x 475 mm, screenprint entitled No. 124



(41) Shigeyuki Ōhashi

During the past thirty years Shigeyuki has made more than twenty screenprints showing birds in flight. These birds were typically backlit by the sun which meant that their silhouetted shape and color were the only clues to their identity. White shapes resembling gulls (e.g., print 180) were drawn most often. Landscape objects were colored to reinforce the illusion that the viewer was looking directly into the sun. Here the color of water was strongly graded to suggest reflected light while the islands were uniformly colored to suggest shadows. In Shigeyuki’s pictures it is the absence of detail which makes them look realistic.












180   Gull (Larus sp.) by Shigeyuki Ōhashi, 375 mm x 280 mm, screenprint entitled migration I



(42) Kiyohiko Emoto

Kiyohiko started to make woodblock prints in the 1980s. To date he has made more than twenty prints featuring owls. Print 181 is a typical example. The owl was placed centrally in an imaginary scene which typically included some man-made objects. Both the owl and man-made objects were drawn in a childlike way using only one color (i.e., black). Hand-made paper was used to print the picture and the paper’s imperfections nicely complement the picture’s naivety. Kiyohiko’s style and use of hand-made paper reflect the initial stimulus for his work; namely, prints made by Iwao Akiyama (i.e., notable gendai artist 1).











181   Scops owl (Otus sp.) by Kiyohiko Emoto, 310 mm x 185 mm, woodblock print entitled round moon



(43) Shigeki Kuroda


Shigeki began making intaglio prints in the 1970s. Since then he has made more than twenty bird prints. Like many intaglio printmakers, he drew both the shape and plumage of birds very accurately but usually colored them only in shades of gray. Print 182 is one example. The small size of this print is also typical of intaglio bird prints. The bird subject of this print (i.e., cormorant) was not often chosen by Japanese printmakers, perhaps because it is not particularly attractive. Most of the birds depicted by Shigeki were not often chosen by other artists, including the hummingbird in print 115. His bird subject was typically shown close up with an uncluttered background of water for aquatic birds or a flowering plant for land birds.  












182a   Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sp.) by Shigeki Kuroda, 140 mm x 205 mm, intaglio print















182b Enlargement of the picture portion of print 182a




(44) George Ueda

George is a contemporary printmaker who has made more than twenty bird screenprints to date. His birds resemble cute cartoon characters with large heads and small bodies (e.g., print 183). They typically appear in a group in his pictures and he adds a title which implies interaction among group members. Here the title is “ talk about …” which suggests that this trio of flycatchers was busy catching up on the latest gossip. The combination of a clever title and a novel bird shape make his prints entertaining. George gave his prints a smooth, clean look by applying color uniformly to objects drawn with sharp edges. The disadvantage of applying color uniformly was that it made objects look two dimensional. Most other artists who made bird screenprints applied color unevenly across the surface of an object so George’s prints are unusual in this respect.   













183   Narcissus flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) by George Ueda, 200 mm x 135 mm, screenprint entitled “talk about …”



(45) Hiromitsu Sakai


Hiromitsu is a contemporary nature artist who was attracted to birds by the beauty of their feather patternsa. Using digital technology he attempts to capture the subtleties of color gradation within and between feathers in his more than twenty digital bird prints. In print 184 he combined shades of gray with a black background to create the illusion that an otherwise all white little egret was side lit by the moon. Choosing to depict the egret with its back to the viewer was also creative. The normal practice was to show it from either the front or side. The bird in Hiromitsu’s prints is typically unaccompanied by any other objects, presumably because his primary interest is the bird rather than its surroundings.


a   Sakai (2013)



184   Little egret (Egretta garzetta) by Hiromitsu Sakai, 295 mm x 425 mm, digital print








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