Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) Bando Hikosaburo as Naosuke from Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, c 1863
The fabulous double portrait by Kunisada features some very spectacular incised decoration in the surface of the print itself, around the hair of the standing figure. This type of decoration is called gauffrage and is most easily described simply as “embossing.” It also goes by the names of “blind printing”, or in Japanese, karazuri, which means literally, “empty printing”. The Japanese name is actually very apropos, since it describes the printing process in literal terms; that is, done without ink, or empty. The paper is made damp and then rubbed onto the incised block with a baren, as if it were an inked block. The delicate technique goes back as far as the twelfth century. Of course, Japanese prints were never designed to hang on a wall as we do so today. They were meant to be handled and passed around and these subtle techniques would catch the eye as the paper was turned towards the light.
A similar technique, nunomezuri, used a textured fabric or gauze glued onto a specially cut block. The pattern was then burnished into the paper in the same manner as karazuri, so that the texture of the material was reproduced as a specific part of the print. The effect was often used to depict the texture of areas of clothing or scrolls of paper, or for creating a textured pattern on title cartouches. The examples above shows a cartouche from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon. In this exquisite print, three separate materials have been used to create textured effects.