Katsushika Hokusai was believed to be born on October 30, 1760 in Edo Japan (which is now Tokyo, Japan). The records from this period are scarce and not very clear, but he is thought to be the son of an artisan that made mirrors for the Shogun, who is a local military leader. At age 12, Hokusai was sent to apprentice with a bookmaker and he became very skilled at the woodblock carvings which were used to make illustrated books for the upper classes. His master, Shunshō was an artist of ukiyo-e, one of many different styles of woodblock prints that were used at this time. Often the prints were of Kabuki actors or Courtesan and generally used for entertainment. Hokusai eagerly searched for new techniques from other schools in the area and even studied works from as far away as France and Denmark. He was expelled from Shunsho’s school after the master died and it was taken over by a rival student. He said later that this was the cataylist for his artistic growth. “What really motivated the development of my artistic style was the embarrassment I suffered at Shunkō’s hands.” Hokusai went on to take his skill above the general artisan level to that of a true master, developing new techniques and creating images that are still reproduced and popular today. He moved away from the popular subject matter of courtesans and Kabuki actors to landscapes and images of daily life for people of different classes. Throughout this time, Hokusai changed his name several times, which was a common practice for artisans in Japan in the 1700-1800s.
By the time Hokusai was in his early 50s, he enjoyed fame and success. He took this time to write a serious of art instruction books. As well as cartoon-like books which he called Manga. These would heavily influence comic books as they are today. (Anime is also known as Manga today.) After this period, he changed his name to “Gakyō Rōjin Manji” (The Old Man Mad About Art) and did many of the works that are famous today, including “One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji”. Hokusai was constantly seeking to produce better work, it is said that on his deathbed he exclaimed: “If only Heaven will give me just another ten years… Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.” He died on May 10, 1849 at the age of 89.

Today we will make our own carvings. It takes so many hours and a lot of skill and practice to carve wood. We will try out cork which is a lot softer, but still a bit tricky. Please really emphasize the need to be careful with the nails to the students. I have done this in an after-school program and the kids loved it, but we will need to keep a close eye to make sure everyone is safe. We will be using nails, please emphasize how sharp they are and how important it is to be very careful with them.

1. Lightly draw your initial or a very basic design with pencil on the top of the cork. Keep it simple! Remember straight lines are easier than curved ones.

2. Next you will carefully use the nail to press into the area and indent the initial or design. I find it easiest to use the nail to make dots along the line, then scrape to connect them.

3. Finally, press your stamp onto the stamp pads to load them with ink and press onto the paper.