Zhuxianzhen, Xiangfu District, Kaifeng, China


Manufacturing process
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Manufacturing process

The production process of the woodblock New Year prints in ZhuXianZhen is very particular. The first step is to select high-quality and solid pear wood for the engraving of the blocks. Before engraving, the wood surface is coated with plant oil three to four times, allowed to cool and dry naturally, and then washed with boiling hot water. Afterwards, a special scraper is used to remove the surface floating oil, which the artists call "ripe block." In the past, the woodblock engraving tools were mostly homemade, including more than 20 tools such as engraving knives, chisels, file knives, hammers, scrapers, shovel knives, and hammers. Later, the engraving masters also began using a complete set of special engraving knives. The printing tools for New Year prints are mostly locally sourced, using the top fluff and brown of wild plants in the area, which are tied together with rope. Round cone-shaped color brushes are made from grass, with one brush for each color and not to be mixed. There are also auxiliary tools such as hammers, sandbags, and sponges. The paper used for New Year prints used to be locally sourced, inexpensive handmade paper and rough-edged paper. Since the Qing dynasty, New Year prints have begun using large-sized and tough Japanese glossy paper. Later, traditional Chinese handmade rice paper was used more often. 200 New Year prints make up one "block." When printing, the paper is clamped according to different numbers of sheets in the "block" in a self-made bamboo clamp. After the paper is clamped tightly, one end is inserted into a "pipe nail" and the other end is placed in a self-made ash brick groove, with the paper folded in an "S" shape.

The black line edition requires both hands to exert force, so that the lines are clear and solid. The entire set of actions and processes requires quick and precise coordination of the hands and eyes, and must be done with meticulous care. The color edition contains more color than the line edition, but if the force is too heavy, the paper will easily tear, and if the force is too light, the color blocks will not be solid. The left hand is used to make flat sweeping motions, and each process requires careful operation. High-end New Year paintings and deity paintings require the use of water ink, gold powder, and multiple layers of color for the eyes, beards, and clothing, which can reach up to nine layers. Ordinary New Year paintings are made up of six colors: black, yellow, red, cinnabar, green, and purple, starting with a light layer and gradually increasing in intensity. The order of layering colors for the paintings is: first black, then yellow, then red, green, and blue. Some paintings also require additional touches of water-based red or facial printing. After the painting is finished, it needs to be left to rest for a few hours to allow the colors to "absorb" into the paper. It is then left to dry overnight, and the drying process must be done just right. The colors used in the woodblock New Year paintings in ZhuXianZhen are very particular. Artists use traditional techniques such as frying, simmering, and filtering to carefully make the colors, making the paintings more vibrant and colorful. They add white alum and lime to green and purple colors. The purple and green colors need to be fully fermented and the color needs to be adjusted by whipping up foam, so that the colors are stable, pleasing to the eye, and have a good taste. They also add leftover tea water to the colors, so that the paintings won't stick together when they dry and so on.