Ukiyo-e Heroes: The Art of Jed Henry

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A few years back I was taking a leisurely stroll through the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens during Sakura Matsuri (the Japanese cherry blossom festival). I happened across a table selling wood-block prints and when I saw the art my jaw hit the floor; Katamari Damacy, Dragon Ball Z, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Princess Monoke! Some of my favorite video game and anime characters were rendered into stunning works of art from a truly unique stylistic perspective! I immediately had to own some of those prints, and that was how I met Jed Henry.

Like many of us, Jed grew up on a diet of video games. Using his favorites as inspiration, he developed an interest in drawing and eventually went to college for animation. He was very impressed by the work of Dave Bull, a traditional wood block printer (who lives in Japan), and so he reached out to his hero to see about collaborating. Two years later, they started working on a project called Ukiyo-e Heroes. With Jed’s illustration and animation background and Dave’s block printing skills, they have created an impressively unique collection of art.

Every piece takes many steps.  To create a print, Jed first designs the illustration and inks it onto lithography paper with traditional Japanese calligraphy brushes. Once the image is complete, he scans the image, colors it, and sends it around the world to Dave’s studio in Tokyo. Dave uses traditional techniques to carve the woodblocks that will make the prints, based on Jed’s design.

In videos which inevitably evoke the lovely nostalgia of watching Bob Ross (for those of us who did so), Dave shows how he separates the lines and colors of the image and prints them out onto a special paper called Gampi. This paper is then pasted down onto a wood block, which Dave carves directly through.  By using the Gampi as the outline, Dave transfers the image into the wood.

The line and color blocks are carved separately, as each colored ink is added to the paper one at a time. First, Dave presses the paper onto the dark black outline block and then to each color to form the complete image. It is a painstaking process that takes a masterful hand to produce at such a high level of quality. The slightest mistake can ruin a print and cause Dave to have to start all over again. The whole process takes the Ukiyo-e Heroes project from Jed’s amazing concept art to breathtaking, gallery-worthy pieces.

While Jed may love making tradition art out of video games, he’s also now featured in one! Unsurprisingly for someone so inspired by video games, Jed recently brought together a group of game designers to build Edo Superstar, a mobile fighting game. In Edo Superstar, you play Masaru, a monkey with dreams of becoming Japan’s most famed fighter (you know, typical monkey dreams).  To earn his star status, Masaru needs to best fighters from every corner of Japan and beyond in the annual Zodiac tournament.  For fans of Jed’s work, it’s exciting to see him going beyond just his excellent prints.

Jed’s art is really awesome and he is constantly coming up with new pieces. In fact, he even has a subscription service, where his fans can get a new handmade print every month. The prints are shipped directly from Tokyo and go to supporting the education of Dave’s apprentices, which ensures the continuation of this traditional art style. You can check out more of Jed’s amazing artwork in the gallery below or visit his site,  Ukiyo-e Heroes, and if you are interested in checking out Edo Superstar, here’s a link to it on iTunes.

What fandoms would you want to see Jed draw next? Let us know in the comments below!

Featured Image Credit: Jed Henry/Ukiyo-e Heroes

Blog Image Credits:  Dave Bull/Youtube Edo SuperstarJed Henry/Ukiyo-e Heroes

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