Technique Exploration through The Great Wave


The Great Wave

I’m a huge fan of Hokusai’s “Wave off Kanagawa”; there’s something captivating about that majestic beast of  a wave suspended in time with its’ foam claws outstretched that seems to speak to everyone.



"Wave off Kanagawa" woodblock print by Hokusai

"Wave off Kanagawa" woodblock print by Hokusai

If it looks kind of familiar, but can’t quite put your finger on where you’ve seen it before try the iphone’s wave emoji, the Quicksilver logo, or your local sushi shop.

I’m obviously not the first to be inspired by this masterpiece, but I’m happy to add my name to the long list of admirers.

Below my humble take, using The Great Wave as a framework to explore different mediums: embroidery, block printing and screen printing.This was my first time trying all 3 so it was interesting to compare the different boundaries.



By far the most time consuming technique but also the most forgiving since stitches can be corrected if not done perfectly. I also love the level of depth and complexity the different textures add.

Block Printing

While I carved on rubber, not wood, this is essentially the same technique used on the original artwork.  To transfer the mirrored version of my sketch to the rubber block I traced over the original drawing with a soft lead pencil then placed it front side down onto the rubber block. After securing it with a bit of tape, I rubbed the reverse side of the paper with a wooden spatula until the pencil trace was visible on the rubber. Then, with a set of carving knives I carefully cut along the graphite lines and emptied out the background behind the wave.

It’s definitely not easy to get a high level of detail as a beginner, especially on curvy lines. I was so afraid the knife would slip and cut through all the work I had already put in! In the end it was still much faster than embroidery with the added bonus of being able to easily make many copies that each come out a little different to keep that hand-made charm. This technique looks really sharp on paper, I was disappointed though to see that it doesn’t work great on fabric.


Screen Printing

For this version I actually used my block print as a base, technically you can get way more detail and fine lines through screen-printing. It’s also much faster so it’s great for doing mini series, (I burnt my screen and printed 40 tote bags during a 3h workshop) and it looks great on both fabric and paper! The downside is that you need more material and more space, not to mention the mess factor…

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Which technique is your favorite? Have you ever tried any of these yourselves? Would you like to hear more about how to make them? Let me know below!

Ppppssstttt- Looking for more creative inspiration? Check out the post below!