Print Party ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 4:19 AM, April 23, 2014 [Permalink]
Anybody who participated in our Kickstarter campaign a couple of years back might remember that one of the backer 'rewards' was a Print Party, described on the campaign page as "PRINT PARTY! – Visit David Bull's studio and get a lesson in printmaking! Plus, you receive 1 of our main woodblock prints, and both Chibi Heroes prints. (Transportation to Ome City, Tokyo, not included.) Various dates available."
Because we were afraid of quite a flood of participants, we limited that reward level to 12 people, and we were right to be wary; it sold out in minutes. It has taken nearly two years to get through all the parties, because quite a number of those backers live overseas and - at the time they enrolled - weren't sure just when they would next be in Japan, but we're nearly done (we have two left to go).
Here are a few snapshots from last Friday afternoon here ...
The scene of the crime was the bench we normally use for wrapping prints, but for this occasion, transformed into a long printing bench:
After a short demonstration ...
... everybody got to work!
We had a very pleasant afternoon working on the prints, and looking over other items from my collection (not to mention lunch of giant bowls of noodles at the little restaurant across the street), and then headed off to the bus stop. The attendees this time were very lucky - they got to see one of Ome's top 'tourist attractions', a glorious weeping cherry tree:
Thanks again to our Kickstarter backers, and especiallly for coming all the way from the Philippines ... 'just' to see me!
Flight of Fantasy - video is ready!
Posted by Dave Bull at 11:52 PM, April 16, 2014 [Permalink]
At last! Months have passed since our previous 'process' video ... but here we are with the next one, showing the start-to-finish process of proofing the Flight of Fantasy print!
Flight of Fantasy progress ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 7:32 PM, April 3, 2014 [Permalink]
It's been too long since I brought an update on the latest Heroes print - the 'Flight of Fantasy". I posted an image of the partially carved keyblock a while back; this was actually finished a few weeks ago:
Here are a couple of closeups (after proofing it):
There will be two blocks acting as 'keys' on this print - the one you have just seen, and another one that will be printed in a light grey:
And with both of those blocks now carved, they can be 'mated', and the set of colour separations prepared:
So there will be seven pieces of wood, carved on both sides, giving 14 blocks. Just how many impressions there will be is still uncertain, but it will probably come in at around 24 I think ...
Time for a change?
Posted by Dave Bull at 7:39 PM, March 15, 2014 [Permalink]
The short story - we are now accepting Bitcoin as payment for our two woodblock print subscription sets. Subscribers to our very popular Ukiyoe Heroes Portraits and Chibi Heroes series can now make their payments that way if they so choose:
The long story ...
We're well into March now, and as always at this time of year, tax matters raise their head! Along with our steadily increasing business over the past couple of years has come a commensurate increase in our expenses, of course, and keeping the two from 'colliding' is not an easy task!
Here at Mokuhankan we did turn a small profit last year. I say 'we', although from the point of view of the tax authorities there is no 'we' about it; the business here is organized as a 個人事業 (kojin jigyo - personal enterprise), which simply means that every part of it is my own personal affair. All income is treated as my personal income (against which many expenses can be deducted, of course).
The left-over money at the end of the year is the amount that I then pay personal income tax on, and this time around, as that was a very small amount, my taxes were also very light. This will have an additional benefit over the course of the coming year, as many other expenses 'cascade' from this tax assessment: my medical insurance premiums will be very low, as will be my prefecture and city taxes. (And if I still had children in civic day care, their fees would be negligible; fortunately those days are long past!)
But having only a very small profit isn't really good news of course. I work insane hours, and to find that there was so little left at the end of the year (and I take no salary) is a bit disheartening. So I've been going over the financial statements to see if there are any expenses that seem like they could be reduced.
The complete statements will be coming up in a post later, but for now, here's one small clip from the yearly expense summary:
The figures are yen, and the highlighted column is 'Bank", and contains the amount I paid out in money transfer fees over the course of the year, to both local banks and to Paypal. In US$ it came to nearly eight thousand dollars, approaching 5% of our overall income.
Now considering what I get for those fees - easy access to money transfers in small amounts from customers all over the planet - I'm not really complaining. Go back around ten years or so, and such a thing was inconceivable for a small business person like me here in Japan. Typical bank transfer fees were in the $50 - each - range.
But that was then, and this is now. Paypal is charging me a 3.9% fee on every transaction, and then hitting me with a 2% exchange premium over and above the standard interbank exchange rate every time I 'bring money home' into my own accounts. 6% is too much, and it's time to see how that can be reduced.
But what other methods are there that enable one to move money around the planet easily and quickly and yet incur only small transaction fees? Well, how about this one?
Yes, Bitcoin. This has been in the news a lot recently, mostly 'scare' stories about hacking, thievery, and the chaotic volatility of this new pseudo-currency. I have been following news about Bitcoin for some time now, wondering - along with everybody else - whether or not it will develop enough traction to establish itself as a major factor in the way that people make transactions with each other.
I have been particularly impressed with what has happened over the past couple of weeks, following the collapse of one of the major exchanges dealing with Bitcoins. Namely, next to nothing. What could have been a disastrous blow to the new 'currency' seems to have been taken in stride; it seems as though the community is now wide and deep enough to handle such inevitable events without major damage to the overall structure of the system.
So I think it's time to give this a try, and last night I put my programmer's hat back on, set up a Bitcoin wallet, and interfaced it with my bookkeeping system.
When a subscriber has a payment due, their account page will show an option to make remittance through the Bitcoin system:
Depending on what kind of 'wallet' they are using, they can either click the QR code, or scan it with their mobile, to make the payment instantly and effortlessly.
Now having a fee-less (nearly) system of moving 'money' around the world is all very well, but accepting Bitcoins does come with other issues: they are very volatile, with the value changing quite dramatically sometimes day to day, and they of course may not actually survive in the marketplace, perhaps eventually becoming completely worthless.
Well, I don't intend to be doing much speculating with this; I'll accept transfers, and then cash them out to my local currency as soon as is practical. This should minimize my risk on both counts ...
In any case, I can't really just do nothing. The 6% Paypal fee is far too high, traditional banks are no help at all, and I would also like to do everything I can to help get this new exchange medium up and running properly. I have no idea just how many of our subscribers will use this facility - and perhaps it might even help bring in new ones - but there is only one way to find out!
Portraits #3 ships ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 6:56 PM, March 5, 2014 [Permalink]
A few days ago I returned to the workshop after a ten-day 'break' over in Canada visiting my family - parents, siblings, daughters, and grand-children ... Ten days was nowhere near enough, but it was all I could spare just now. Our new Portraits series has kind of taken over our lives here at Mokuhankan.
While I was away, the initial batch of print #3 - The Lunatic - arrived from printer Numabe-san.
The packing ladies had done all the preparation for shipping, and were just waiting for me to confirm that the prints were 'OK', before getting them all packed up. They were indeed all acceptable - as we expect from Numabe-san these days - so while the ladies got busy finishing the preparation, I fired up my bookkeeping software and initiated the automated monthly billing procedure. Payments have been streaming in over the past couple of days, and today the first batch of 130 or so went off to the Post Office.
That leaves around 100 more, and they will leave bit by bit over the next week, as those collectors send their payments in.
But 25 of the collectors will not be getting their prints sent that way in the usual envelope-style packaging. They'll be getting a larger boxy package ... Yes, the first batch of cases have been finished by Dani-san!
For any of you who might be thinking these are a bit late, I have to tell you that it's a miracle we're getting them at all. Here's his home and workshop around two weeks back:
He's way out in the country, and when that snow hit, was left completely to his own devices; he and his family dug themselves out, but the rural roads were not cleared at all, and they had to make 3 hour trips on foot to the nearest town to get food and supplies.
The snow eventually got cleared away, his normal business could resume, and yesterday afternoon he drove over here with the first 25 cases. Later today, we will be running these down to our local post office, each one with the current print inside, and off they'll go.
He is scheduled to be back here in the last week of March with the next couple of dozen, and that pattern will continue until we've dug our way through all the pending orders.
Chibi Heroes update ... new case!
Posted by Dave Bull at 9:58 PM, February 10, 2014 [Permalink]
The new Chibi Heroes storage case is finally ready!
Remember our Chibi Heroes series from last year?
I say 'last year', but the Chibi Heroes series is actually alive and well; we have a number of currently active subscribers, and more joining all the time.
Why do I mention it now, though? Because finally ... we are ready with the new storage case / display stand!
Just as with the cases for all my recent series, this one too combines the two functions - storage and display. To learn more about the case, and how to get one for your Chibi collection (if you were a collector last year), please visit this page.
IAmA Update ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 8:44 PM, February 8, 2014 [Permalink]
So we're done! The Reddit event came off pretty much as planned, although as it wasn't promoted on the Reddit Sidebar, there weren't all that many people 'present'.
I don't have any kind of image or photo to show you - I was pretty busy start to finish with print-making, answering questions, updating the thread, and generally having a good time, to take any ...
Nor was the - 3-hour! - video stream preserved ... All that remains is a long Reddit thread with any number of over-blown replies from Dave!
IAmA woodblock printmaker!
Posted by Dave Bull at 3:52 PM, February 6, 2014 [Permalink]
The Reddit event is now scheduled!
Are there many Reddit readers here on this blog? Perhaps not too many I think ...
For those of you who don't know what the IAmA designation refers to, it is "I am a (fill in the blank) - ask me anything," and is a very popular section of the vast website known as Reddit.com. (It is also known as "AMA" ... "Ask me Anything ...")
The concept is simple - a web page is opened, with an opening statement created by a person who is either famous, noted for some reason, or - and this is where I come in - doing something particularly interesting to the community at large.
Readers of the page submit questions in the hope that the person will answer them, and other readers vote these questions up and down. Questions that rise to the top are usually answered by the person, and these answers then generate a threaded discussion.
If the target person takes the time to create thoughtful answers the discussion can become quite interesting, and the IAmA concept has certainly taken off, with people from all walks of life hosting discussions on the site.
Jed and I are going to give it a try, and we've scheduled an IAmA for later this week. Our event though, will be an IAmA with a difference - we are going to coordinate it with a live Webcam session, and I will make a print - start to finish - while people watch (and hopefully ask interesting questions).
You might ask how I will possibly type my replies while printing, but don't worry, I have hired a transcriber - a young lady in the US - who is going to type madly in the background while I speak on the camera, and we'll put the text into the thread at the appropriate places.
Jed himself will answer whatever questions are directed to him ...
AND ... we have a bonus. I will make around 10 or so copies of the print (from our Portraits series), and after the session is over, will give these out to the contributors whose comments reach the top section of the page (voted by the contributors, of course)!
Don't miss this one! It will start at:
- 2pm Friday afternoon (US West coast)
- 5pm (US East coast)
- 10pm - or so (Europe)
- 7am Saturday (Tokyo)
... and will run at least until the prints are finished.
Note: we don't have a exact URL to send you yet, as that will not be known until a few minutes before the scheduled starting time, at the moment I initiate the thread. But if you watch the Reddit IAmA page around that time, you should find it with no problem ...
I hope to see you (and your questions) there! And tell your friends!
Portraits series cases arrive!
Posted by Dave Bull at 9:16 PM, January 31, 2014 [Permalink]
We finally have some cases available for our Portraits print series ...
At last! The long-awaited display/storage cases for our Portraits prints have started to arrive ...
And when I say 'cases' in plural, that's exactly what I mean - we have two types of case available! I have one type right here in my workroom, so am able to take some photos:
As for the other type, that is over at Jed's place, and I'll be able to show a photo as soon as he sends me some. For now, please visit the case page of the website for more information!
Wrapping things up!
Posted by Dave Bull at 1:18 AM, January 31, 2014 [Permalink]
Where are our packages going?
As you might expect, among the subscribers to our new Ukiyoe Heroes Portraits series are many people with an interest in computer gaming. They are - of course - our 'target market' if you think in such terms. So it shouldn't come as any surprise to learn that we have subscribers who actually work in the game industry:
Here's another one:
But it's not just game companies that provide refuge for our subscribers. We also have prints going out each month to some top companies in the tech field, like this:
... and this very nice address:
I always get a smile when I see this package going through our system, imagining that the name is a 'cover', and the package is actually going to the CEO's office ... :~)
But speaking of that last one - to the Cupertino address - I got an advertising email from Apple just yesterday, with an image that made me look twice. Our subscriber working there must have received his first Portraits print a couple of weeks ago, and when he opened the envelope, found our ribbon-wrapped package inside:
And I now suspect that he doesn't work in the CEO's office, but in the advertising department, because look at this photo from the Apple ad in my email!
Hey! That was our totally original and completely unique - never done by anybody else - idea!
(Not! But we're happy to be in such classy company!)
Next Portraits print gets under way
Posted by Dave Bull at 12:54 AM, January 31, 2014 [Permalink]
Portraits #4 gets under way ...
With the very large number of people now signed up for the new Portraits series, we have to be very careful to keep our production well organized. If we start to slip on our schedule, we'll be in big trouble. So although this is still 'only' January, we're working on prints #2, #3 and #4 simultaneously.
#2 (Demon King) has been printing for a couple of weeks now, and our packing lady Mrs. Ishigami has now got a big pile of those wrapped and packed, waiting for the invoicing to get started on the 1st of the month, in a couple of days. The first batch of them will then head out to the Post Office on Monday morning.
Carving on #3 (The Lunatic) was finished a couple of weeks back, and it is now being printed - by our 'outside' team of Numabe-san and Tetsui-san. Jed gave us a pretty complex and difficult image for this one, and we decided to send it 'out' rather than have our in-house printers struggle with it. That makes it much more expensive for us, and we'll lose money on this one for sure, but hopefully we'll get back on an even keel from here on.
As for #4, the key block is done, as are all the colour blocks but one. Here's the key:
Is that enough for you to figure out who this is? Perhaps ...
I said 'all but one' and here's that one that is still to be carved - it might need a bit of explanation ... what's the yellow circle?
It's boxwood. I've inlaid a circle of that harder wood to make the hair carving go more smoothly and to ensure that the block will last longer. Now that we are committed to making many hundreds of each of these prints, it's very important to ensure good block longevity, and using boxwood will certainly do that!
Flight of Fantasy - key block progress II
Posted by Dave Bull at 12:50 AM, January 31, 2014 [Permalink]
There has been a ton of work done here over the past few days, and it's going to take more than one blog post to catch up ...
Here's how the key block for the 'Flight of Fantasy' print has been coming along; this scan is from a couple of days ago:
And after this morning's work:
Why did it take two days just to get that small amount of progress made? As usual, something got in the way ... let's save that for the next post!
For more entries, please make a selection from the 'Table of Contents' section of the SideBar on the right ...