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.
Owl (Family Strigidae) by Iwao Akiyama, 250 mm x 300 mm, woodblock print
entitled winter wind
(2) Yoshiharu Kimura
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.
Crane (Grus sp.) by Yoshiharu Kimura, 525 mm x 710 mm, woodblock
print entitled silver bird
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).
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).
Great tit (Parus major) by Atsushi Uemura, 660 mm x 540 mm,
lithograph entitled autumn field
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.
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
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.
Keisaburō also designed books about birds for children, some of
which have been translated into English for sale outside Japan (e.g.
Blakiston’s fish owl (Ketupa blakistoni) by Keisaburō Tejima,
450 mm x 610 mm, woodblock print entitled owl’s lake – winter moon
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,
See Minami (2006) for additional examples of her bird prints.
Unidentified bird by Keiko Minami, 570 mm x 380 mm, intaglio print
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.
other examples of Tomoko’s bird prints are shown on her website http://kyuki.fool.jp/
Common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) by Tomoko Kyūki, 100 mm x 150
mm, woodblock print entitled bird’s time - common cuckoo
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.
Rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) by Uemtarō Azechi, 125 mm x 115
mm, woodblock print
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
Common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) by Tadashi Ikai, 440 mm x 300
mm, intaglio print entitled river breeze
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).
Unidentified bird by Kunihiro Amano, 170 mm x 230 mm, woodblock print
entitled morning 31
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.
Merritt and Yamada (1992)
Red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis) by Shirō Takagi, 200 mm x
230 mm, woodblock print
Ay-Ō (Takao) Iijima
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)
Unidentified bird by Ay-Ō, 170 mm x 120 mm, screenprint entitled
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.
See Johnson and Hilton (1980) for a more complete description of this
Domestic fowl (Gallus gallus) by Masao Ohba, 150 mm x 90 mm,
screenprint entitled cock
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.
More examples of his bird prints are shown on his website http://magicstrange.com/
Domestic fowl (Gallus gallus) by Masahiko Saga, 300 mm x 420 mm,
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.
Red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis) by Ryūji Kawano, 300 mm x
420 mm, digital print
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.
Owl (Family Strigidae) by Masaki Shibuya, 120 mm x 135 mm, wood engraved
print entitled under the stars
Enlargement of the picture portion of print 155a
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
Owl (Family Strigidae) by Makiko Hattori, 130 mm x 130 mm, intaglio print
entitled starry sky (blue)
Enlargement of the picture portion of print 156a
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
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
See Skibbe (1996) for more information about Tōshi plus other
examples of his prints.
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sp.) by Tōshi Yoshida, 400 mm x 545
mm, woodblock print entitled cormorant island
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).
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
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.
Unidentified bird by Shūzō Ikeda, 140 mm x 125 mm, woodblock
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.
Unidentified bird by Kazu Wakita, 480 mm x 380 mm, lithograph
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
a Merritt (1990)
Johnson and Hilton (1980)
Gull (Larus sp.) by Rokushū Mizufune, 225 mm x 250 mm,
woodblock print entitled seagull
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.
owl (Strix uralensis) by Tomikichirō Tokuriki, 540 mm x 410
mm, woodblock print
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.
Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus) by Tamami Shima, 190 mm x 280 mm,
woodblock print entitled “with”
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
Owl (Family Strigidae) by Kaoru Kawano, 415 mm x 270 mm, woodblock print
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.
More examples of his bird prints are shown on his website http://mnagashima.webcrow.jp/w-art.html
Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) by Mitsuru Nagashima,
315 mm x 415 mm, intaglio print entitled black-winged stilt
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.
Blakemore (1975), Munsterberg (1982)
Hawk (Family Acciptridae) by Shiko Munakata, 345 mm x 305 mm, woodblock
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.
More examples of his bird prints are shown on his website http://hya.main.jp/gallery_1.html
white-eye (Zosterops japonicus) by Hidetaka Yamanaka, 280 mm x 275
mm, intaglio print entitled suntrap
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.
bird by Fumio Fujita, 140 mm x 160 mm, woodblock print entitled to 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.
Verses were written by Santoka Tanaeda. The verse on this print says “the
wind blowing down from the moon is cool”.
Owl (Family Strigidae) by Kan Kozaki, 220 mm x 320 mm, woodblock print
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.
Scops owl (Otus sp.) by Kōichi Sakamoto, 185 mm x 150 mm,
intaglio print entitled catbird No. 2
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.
The heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) in print 172 is associated
with longevity and good fortune.
white-eye (Zosterops japonicus) by Shizuo Ashikaga, 190 mm x 280
mm, woodblock print
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
Green pheasant (Phasianus versicolor) by Yoshio Kanamori, 360 mm x
230 mm, woodblock print entitled mountain lake bird and maple
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.
Owl (Family Strigidae) by Gashū Fukami, 230 mm x 310 mm, woodblock
print entitled surrounded in green
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
Illustrators are the only Japanese artists to embrace digital printmaking
More examples of his bird art are shown on his website http://www.tabuki-art.com
Common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) by Masahiro Tabuki, 280 mm x 275
mm, digital print entitled gentle breeze
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
See Grund (2001) for pictures of all Shirō’s bird prints.
Ural owl (Strix uralensis) by Shirō Kasamatsu, 285 mm x 405
mm, woodblock print entitled owl
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.
Unidentified owl (Family Strigidae) by Jun’ichirō Sekino, 685 mm x
505 mm, woodblock entitled forest owl
Enlargement of the bird in print 180a
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.
Owl (Family Strigidae) by Kōtarō Yoshioka, 250 mm x 200 mm,
screenprint entitled road to happiness
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.
Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) by Yukio Katsuda, 320 mm x 475 mm,
screenprint entitled No. 124
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.
Gull (Larus sp.) by Shigeyuki Ōhashi, 375 mm x 280 mm,
screenprint entitled migration I
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).
Scops owl (Otus sp.) by Kiyohiko Emoto, 310 mm x 185 mm, woodblock
print entitled round moon
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.
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sp.) by Shigeki Kuroda, 140 mm x 205 mm,
Enlargement of the picture portion of print 182a
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.
flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) by George Ueda, 200 mm x 135 mm,
screenprint entitled “talk about …”
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.
Little egret (Egretta garzetta) by Hiromitsu Sakai, 295 mm x 425
mm, digital print