Hokusai’s Great Wave has gone from woodblock to art sensation to a wooden art display piece.

Even basic uncultured louts with no knowledge of the arts will feel a familiar twang when they see The Great Wave off Kanagawa, the striking woodblock print from 19th-century ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai. It shows a tremendous wave rearing up, presumably about to demolish the fishing boats in its wake, while the peak of Mt. Fuji looms in the background. It’s one of the most famous pieces of Japanese art in the world and has inspired countless other masterpieces, as well as various fresh takes on the print itself.

▼ It’s a seriously cool print, you see.

A small company in Fukushima Prefecture, Kiharie Kobo Kinowa (or Wood Cutout Workshop Kinowa), produces kits where you can recreate The Great Wave for yourself, albeit in a small, pasted collage with thin cut-outs of wood. The end result has a subtle 3-D effect and you can purchase a small version for the low price of 2,200 yen (US$20.16).

▼ The small kit comes with everything you see here.

▼ It includes four sheets of Japanese cypress, cedar, walnut, and hop hornbeam veneered wood.

Other kits based on different pieces of art contain sheets of Japanese horse chestnut, Amur cork, pine, cherry blossom, and Japanese zelkova trees. The trees used are all the domestic variety in an effort to help sustainable sourcing, and the sheets produced have an incredibly pleasing texture to them. Despite their relative thinness, they each have their own texture and, of course, a wonderful woody scent.

To start the process we affixed the first sheet onto a base so that it could be mounted. This kit makes a version that ends up about the size of a postcard.

At this stage, you have to cut out the second and third sheets so they can be placed on the base. The wooden sheets are thin enough to be cut with a knife or scissors, but since the sheet is thicker than a sheet of paper it may take a bit more effort to trim the pieces free than you would expect.

▼ As you can see, we used too much force and fudged this particularly tricky curve cut here.

The wave itself proved to be especially tough to navigate with the scissors. We were struck with a new sense of respect and awe for the original wood-block artist, who not only sculpted all of these tiny cracks and crevices but imagined their striking form without the assistance of a 3-D modeling program or aerial photography.

We decided to use a utility knife, and with very small, careful movements we were able to extract the wave from its surroundings. Phew!

The wood sheets are so thin that you only need a simple wood-bonding glue to attach them all together. Simply stack the second and third sheets atop the base and the waves begin to take shape.

Cardboard is also supplied to pad the gaps between the sheets, which adds an extra dimension to the final piece.

And now for the final piece. The workshop that sells the kits has a mascot, and you can cut it out and place it into the print if you’d like.

▼ You’re in danger, little guy.

Two hours later and our masterpiece was complete! It looks just like a sepia-toned version of the original print, plus some added 3-D effects and a tiny cartoon bird.

Glancing down at the work from the side helps you to really appreciate the layers of wood. It may be a kit for beginners, but we found the final product incredibly striking and were enthralled by the whole process. Cutting the pieces loose and arranging them on the board is a tactile experience and it’s especially novel to do so with the feeling of the wood grain beneath your fingertips.

Kiharie Kobo Kinowa also sells fairytale designs, ones based on UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and even animal designs for children. If you want a real challenge, their Great Wave design is also available in an even larger A4-size…or you could always just buy the cat scratching post version instead.

Related: Kiharie Kobo Kinowa
Insert image: Wikimedia Commons/Scewing
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