Signing in ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 9:25 PM, September 20, 2014 [Permalink]
Just a quick note this evening ... a couple of photos taken back in the Ome place ...
Here's Sadako-san busy with her sewing machine, on perhaps the largest hemming job she has ever done!
Construction continues ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 10:20 PM, September 19, 2014 [Permalink]
Bit by bit we're getting this place together. Ioan has finished the drywalling on all the walls in the shop area, and Lee-san's counter is now 'topped' and waiting for the shelf section. This will be the 'Living with woodblock prints' corner, where people can sit and browse our print sets and desk stands, and get a feel for how the prints will look in their own home ...
Do you see the darker space to the left of Ioan in this next photo? It's actually a hole in the concrete side of the building where there used to be a window. That must have been many many years ago, because the building next door - which is built right flat against ours - is easily fifty years old. It must have been a sad day ... the people who used this room would have seen the new concrete wall come up and obscure their view ...
How would you suggest we use that 'empty' window space? We think we have a good plan for it ...
This next photo shows something we expected to come across on the first day we began tearing walls down, but didn't see until just yesterday, when I lifted these floorboards to run some new electrical wiring - a sizeable mouse nest!
The inhabitants have scattered (presumably to upstairs I think). We're not anticipating a major problem with vermin; in all our time here so far, we have seen absolutely no traces of mouse droppings, or roaches, or anything else in that department. They are certainly in the building, because the guy upstairs does have trouble with them, but I think that if we keep our place clean - and aired and active - we should be OK.
The smallest room in the shop is also coming along nicely - although we are perhaps running a bit ahead of ourselves by putting the vanity in place before we get that column re-painted ...
Meanwhile, out on the neighbourhood streets ...
The other afternoon we heard the sound of somebody playing an accordion drifting in the front window, and when I peeked out, I saw this lady strolling along ...
And Lee-san captured this shot of a procession of rickshaw carts taking a wedding party from a local shrine back to their hotel ...
Rickshaw carts ... Hmm ... does that give anybody any ideas about how we might promote some of our Ukiyoe Heroes prints? :-)
Construction progress ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 9:04 AM, September 13, 2014 [Permalink]
It's been over a week since the previous update, and I thought by this time we would have a lot more to report ... But a lot of the work we are doing isn't particularly visible - trying to figure out how to run all the new wiring through, under, and over the walls ...
We got fairly lucky at the beginning, in that all the demolition garbage fit into a single truck load. This saved us a ton of money, as removing this sort of waste here in (very strict) Tokyo is a very expensive proposition, and we needed to file quite a stack of paperwork to get this stuff removed. I have no complaint about that at all - many of the small mountain roads near my home used to be lined with construction waste dumped illegally, and the current system of trying to track it from source is something that I will happily comply with.
One part of the building does show progress clearly - the new bathroom:
Ioan is right at home on this part of the job, having done this sort of thing before ...
The previous walls were covered with horse-hair plaster; we're sticking with standard drywall. And considering that this toilet abuts the shop space, we've stuffed the inside of the walls with sound-absorbing insulation, even around the switch boxes and other gaps.
The building itself is steel-reinforced concrete, and as we have no way to run conduit inside the concrete for our new wiring, we're having to go around various pillars with visible trunking.
And given that I am labelling all the wiring carefully, whoever does the next reform job in this building will have a much easier time of it!
Here is an overview before we knocked off last night: Ioan is re-build the bathroom floor, putting in new joists on closer centers than before, and Lee-san is putting in the base section of the first shop cabinets ...
Oh, and one more thing ... on Wednesday afternoon, we were witness to the 'Great Flood of 2014' ... at least that's how our neighbours are already describing it ...
This is late summer, and sudden rainstorms are not uncommon, but this ...
... is probably not what the owners of the new hotel across the street from us bargained for when they put up their building. Their architect has a lot to answer for - just why he decided to put the first floor at a level around a meter below street level ...
Back on our side of the street, the water came up just to the edge of the sill - that's the owner of the jewelry shop downstairs standing in his entranceway:
It began to subside a few minutes later, and - with the exception of the hotel people - we all got back to our work ...
And just one more thing!
The big sign isn't ready yet, but until it arrives, this will have to do! See you here soon, I hope!
Construction begins ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 7:55 PM, September 3, 2014 [Permalink]
Or should I say ... 'deconstruction' ... because smashing stuff up is mostly what our work for the past two days has been about!
The wall we want to remove has turned out to be much stronger than we had expected, and it took us the best part of two days to get it down. Or at least, get the body of it down; we aren't going to be able to remove it entirely.
It has turned out that this wall is not 'load-bearing' in the sense of holding up a structure, but it is holding up all the suspended ceilings in the central area of the building. And there are two of these, one visible, and one more hidden above it. It's far beyond our time/money budget to strip the entire area - roof and stepped floor - back to the bare concrete, so we've decided to leave a few of those posts in place, and work within the space that is left.
We have figured out a much better plan for the space that what we previously posted here, and will update as we move along. For now, here are a few snaps of the scene of the crime, over the past two days ...
We're not only replacing the toilet unit itself, we're also widening the room, which will come forward another half-meter or so ...
This is the Print Party room - the walls sustained water damage many years ago, before the upstairs roof was repaired, so all the 'rotted' stuff has to come off. This place used to be quite a high-class restaurant, and the previous reform was done quite well. We're going to leave that arched roof in place, but will of course be getting rid of the pendant lighting ...
Life of the Party!
Posted by Dave Bull at 7:40 PM, August 21, 2014 [Permalink]
Feedback on the Print Party concept ...
A nice bit of news yesterday - the Kickstarter people have made us a 'Staff Pick' feature on their website!
Now that news about our planned Print Parties has been floating around the internet for a few weeks, and especially with the opening of the Kickstarter campaign, we're beginning to get feedback on the concept.
We ourselves feel that these Parties are going to be interesting and fun, and that they have the potential to become a 'must see, must do' item on many people's list when they visit Tokyo, but what are other people saying?
Well, here's a selection from comments over the past couple of days ...
- Awesome! Just wrapped up a two-week Japan trip on the 31st, wish this were there then! (Just another excuse for the next trip!)
- This is mucho awesome. We'll be sure to visit next year!
- We need to go to this when we finally go to Japan!
- Cool! I'm hoping it will be ready next time I go there
- Adding to my list of things to do on one of my short trips to Tokyo on holiday weekends or what-have-you. Excited that I'll be living so close!
- Cheering for you guys! I'll support and visit the shop.
- This is great, another place to visit!
- Great news! I always spend a day in Asakusa whenever I visit Tokyo. I will surely visit the shop when I have the chance!
- Oh man...this is the best. I'm obligated to go when I get to Japan
- I'm looking forward to joining your Print Party !
- here's to hoping that I can arrange a work trip to Japan sometime in the future, haha....
I'm beginning to think that we might be onto something here!
Once we get the main core of our construction done, and have something physical to show people, we're going to be starting a major P/R blast among travel websites (and of course the general media).
(Are we going to need crowd-control outside the front door once we get up and running?)
Kickstarter is open!
Posted by Dave Bull at 6:28 PM, August 18, 2014 [Permalink]
The Autumn 2012 Kickstarter campaign is now up and running!
Kickstarter campaign announcement ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 5:29 PM, August 16, 2014 [Permalink]
Announcing the timing of the Kickstarter campaign
The Kickstarter preparation is now pretty much done. I had intended to open it up tonight, but I received a couple of emails that made me change my mind. They both asked me about the 'edition numbers' on the print that we will be making for the campaign backers.
As any of my long-time fans/collectors know, I never make Limited Editions; it goes against the main thing that Japanese prints stand for, which might be most simply described as 'widespread appreciation of the image content, in a physical form that adds even more to the beauty ...'
They were never about 'money', and never about 'collecting'. They were just beautiful objects. I have always stuck to that philosophy, and won't be changing now. But of course I also understand that backers of a project like this upcoming Kickstarter want to have a print that serves as a physical confirmation of the support they have given.
So after thinking about it for a while, here's what I'm proposing - each print will be embossed/printed in the lower right margin with the following information (this will probably be in Japanese, so that we can get it into the required vertical format):
'XX' will be a number assigned in the order that backers join the project, beginning with #2 (#1 will stay in our archives). Once the Kickstarter campaign closes, that'll be it for those numbers, and future prints that we make from the blocks (over the years, plenty of them, hopefully) will omit the Kickstarter Campaign line and numbering, leaving just the maker's information. We'll also include bilingual documentation together with the print giving full information on the project, and this will incorporate a full list of backer names (omitting those who wish to remain anonymous), letting everybody know how many were produced for the campaign.
Does this make sense as a sensible compromise between the two requirements? We are not promising in any way that the prints will have some 'investment' value, like many galleries do with their "It's sure to go up in value!" kind of spiel. And yet the numbers and embossment will be there, to serve as permanent record of the support of this campaign. As for how we will distribute the numbers, we will simply follow the timestamps in the backer spreadsheet that Kickstarter will give us at the end of the campaign (assuming we reach the goal.)
To make a long story short, the people who wrote to me about this want to make sure they get an 'early' number, and the only way for me to cooperate with those requests is to announce in advance the opening time of the campaign and then stand back; those people who find the number important can go for an early one if they so choose.
So here we go - the 'David Bull is building a new shop in Tokyo' campaign, as it will be entitled on Kickstarter, will open on Monday 18th August, a few minutes before the end of the day here in Tokyo. Some sample times around the planet (all Monday the 18th except the Australian east coast and New Zealand):
- 8:00 AM US West Coast
- 11:00 AM US East Coast
- 4:00 PM Britain
- 5:00 PM Western Europe
- 11:00 PM Australia, west coast
- Midnight Tokyo
- 1:00 AM (next morning) Australia, east coast
I'll hit the 'Start' button a few minutes before midnight, and will then immediately make a post here on this blog and also over on our Mokuhankan Facebook page, giving the Kickstarter URL (which we ourselves won't know until we actually have gone 'live').
Thank you again for the support and encouragement everybody! I'm sure we'll be able to get our new place open whatever it takes, but it really is going to be very tight, and even a moderately successful Kickstarter campaign would take a lot of the pressure off ...
Video preparation ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 9:42 AM, August 13, 2014 [Permalink]
Working on the Kickstarter video ...
I spent the entire day downtown yesterday- the mission? Getting a ton of raw video footage for preparing the Kickstarter introduction video. Young Teiko-san - who is printing for us, and will also be a Print Party 'hostess' - did the work behind the camera, trying to balance an umbrella and do all the panning/zooming at the same time.
Here are a few screen shots - the actual video itself will take a bit of time to edit ...
In front of Sensoji:
A shot from up on the Sensoji balconies:
Introducing the shop location:
And we had to end this way!
The Big Day
Posted by Dave Bull at 9:36 AM, August 8, 2014 [Permalink]
While you were reading yesterday's post, I'm sure it didn't take too much effort to figure out the basic idea of what was going on - yes, today was the day we formally closed all the paperwork on the lease arrangements. The envelopes full of money that I showed yesterday have been exchanged for ... a pair of keys.
Mokuhankan - actually 'David Bull' personally - now has a lease on the second floor of the building at Asakusa 1-41-8, Taito-ku, Tokyo. The term - three years, extendable at our option - begins September 1st. For the first year, there will be tenants present up on the third floor, but we have an option to take that space too once it becomes available.
While talking about this project over the past couple of months, I have been using the word 'shop' for convenience, but my plan for the new place involves far more than just a place to buy woodblock prints. Only 1/3 of the space in the new building will be the store, with another third being a workroom for a couple of our printers (where visitors will of course be welcome to watch them work). It is the remainder of the space that will be the most important part of the project - the Print Party room.
Backers of the previous Ukiyoe Heroes Kickstarter project may remember that one of the reward levels was: "PRINT PARTY! – Visit David Bull's studio and get a lesson in printmaking!" It was an instant hit, reaching the 'sold out' level in a matter of minutes, and the parties themselves, held at our Ome workroom over the following months, were very successful.
That experience only served to emphasize to me that an important part of our 'mission' to spread the word about the beauties of Japanese traditional woodblock prints should involve actual 'hands on' activities. The people who made their own prints during those Print Parties will never forget the experience, and will treasure the prints they made forever. So the new Mokuhankan 'shop' is actually going to be more of an 'event space' than a simple store. Come to Mokuhankan, join a Print Party, and make your own woodblock print!
The website for the Parties is still being put together, but please visit this (provisional) page which has a lot more information about what we are planning, along with access information.
And now, here's a quote from a document I began preparing last week:
The latest version of our budget for this project estimates $35,000 being paid out for lease and construction costs over the August/September period in the runup to the planned opening day in early October. Our cash reserve currently stands just slightly shy of that amount, and we'll of course have our normal income and expenses continuing through this period on top of all the new costs. It's too close. For the long-term, we are looking very good, as we have negotiated a very reasonable lease on the building, so our ongoing monthly expenses are going to be quite manageable (we're not getting in over our heads here, we believe). It's the start-up period that is going to be very, very tight.
Money a bit tight? Check. Need something to put us 'over the top'? Check. All in a worthwhile cause? Check.
What's a guy going to do, call his mother? Well, at my age, I don't think that's such an acceptable solution, but luckily, these days we have alternatives!
Yes indeed - Kickstarter, here we come!
There is a big sticking point with Kickstarter though - I am not eligible to run a campaign there. They have a very strict rule that you must be a resident of one of their 'active' countries, and that list does not include Japan. (The previous Ukiyoe Heroes Kickstarter project was actually Jed's project, from Kickstarter's point of view, and all the revenue went to him, from which he paid us bit by bit as we produced the actual prints.)
I am a Canadian citizen still, but when I checked with the Kickstarter people to see if this would qualify me, they apologized, but made it clear that because I do not live in Canada, I am not permitted to open a project. Period.
So that is what yesterday's picture was all about:
This is my son-in-law Ioan, who is a Canadian resident. Even before we thought about Kickstarter, he and I had made arrangements that he will come over here this fall to help me with the construction. So one thing has led to another, and the other day he and I created a company in Canada - Mokuhankan Woodblock Prints Ltd. Ioan is the owner - and President - and it is his company that will be the 'Project Creator' of the Kickstarter campaign, fitting in nicely with their residency rules.
I'm going to spend the next few days getting the campaign details worked out and making the introductory video (mostly down in Asakusa ... which might be a problem with weather, as we have another major typhoon coming this way this weekend ...).
You may well ask, "With Jed not being involved in this campaign, what will you be offering as rewards?"
You'll discover the answer to that when the campaign itself opens up (hopefully) on the 15th of this month, but for now all I can say is ... we will be asking for ... 'A Wave of Support' ...
Big day tomorrow ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 4:06 PM, August 7, 2014 [Permalink]
Getting ready for a big day tomorrow!
Just a short 'headsup' post today - a few points ... how are they related?
A few Japanese Post Office cash envelopes; the kind they put the money in when you ask for substantial withdrawals. You can't see it in the photo I guess, but they are fairly fat!
Who is this man, and why is he so happy? And no, it's not connected (directly) to those envelopes ... this is what you look like just after becoming President!
And last - but not least - the third part ...
More tomorrow, in what will be the most important post of the year!
Sweating the details!
Posted by Dave Bull at 8:20 PM, August 1, 2014 [Permalink]
Testing layouts for the new shop ...
In and among all the printing work on the Portraits series, we're of course still moving forward on the Asakusa project. Ishikawa-san (who will be the shop manager) and I spent the morning at the real estate agent's office, going over the proposed lease. He had originally simply wanted to schedule a meeting to sign the thing, but we wanted time to study it somewhat, rather than just show up and press the seal on a document that we really didn't understand.
He thought our request was kind of a waste of time, but we pressed, and we're glad we did. During the course of the couple of hours, we turned up (literally) dozens of errors. A number of the clauses were even written having us leasing the wrong floor of the building (there was obviously a lot of stuff copy/pasted from other places, and not properly vetted.)
One of his girls tried to keep up with it, rushing back to her computer, entering changes and then printing us a fresh copy, but she eventually gave up, and they promised to have a completely 'clean' copy ready for us next week, when it does become time to sign everything.
In the meantime one thing that that we want to try and nail down is the shop layout. We've been tossing around various concepts, as blog readers know, and we really won't be able to make final decisions until we start demolition and find what is under/inside the walls and floors, but as far as possible, we want to go in with a pretty clear idea of what we want to do.
So ... time to clear some space in our current workshop, get the tape measure out, and make some sample layouts with tape on the floor!
When it came time to figure out the dimensions of the smallest room in the building, I thought I would give it the 'newspaper test', but the other staff thought I was overdoing it; nowadays people take their phones in there!
We're going to cut no corners in our quest to make sure that you will be comfortable here! :-)
Who am I?
Posted by Dave Bull at 8:47 PM, July 23, 2014 [Permalink]
A request for feedback and advice from the fans ...
Here's an entire blog post with no images ... can you stand it?
Let's have a break from posts about the upcoming new shop, and deal with an issue that I have been postponing for a long time, but which I can't put off for much longer ... the question of 'identity'. Who am I? (publicly, that is)
A quick recap of the background, for those who aren't familiar with it:
- after some years of training and preparation, I sent my first prints out into the world in 1989, coincidentally the first year of the Heisei era here in Japan. There was no internet; I held an exhibition in Tokyo each January under my own name - 'woodblock prints by David Bull', taking subscription orders from the attendees (mostly Japanese, with a smattering of foreign residents of Tokyo also becoming subscribers). These were the days of making the Hyakunin Isshu series, and the prints I sent out had my signature, along with an embossing showing: Design - Katsukawa Shunsho / Carving-Printing - David Bull.
- in the summer of 1997, I got connected to the internet, and created a 'home page' for my prints, using the space provided for me by my ISP - Asahi-net - here in Tokyo.
- in May of 1998, I registered the domain name woodblock.com, and moved my website to that location, using servers in the US (far cheaper than the Japanese services at that time). 'Woodblock.com' kind of became my 'brand'.
- in 2000/01 I moved my residence to Ome, and because the building had a separate room for a workshop, and also bordered a small river, I began using the term 'Seseragi Studio' ('Studio of the Rippling Brook' might be a literal translation ...) in the materials that accompanied the prints going out. The poets series was now over, and I was making the Surimono Albums series of reproductions. On these prints I embossed a 'baren' mark, and also added my signature. All the work - carving and printing - was done by me personally. There were no assistants of any kind.
- in the spring of 2006, I decided to widen my world a bit, and began issuing some prints made in cooperation with other people (the first printer I worked with was Shinkichi Numabe, and the first outside designer was Gary Luedke). In order to differentiate these prints from my personal (100% self-produced work) I sold them under the brand name Mokuhankan. 'moku han' is literally 'wood block', and the 'kan' is a term implying a (rather substantial) place where that activity takes place. ('Bijutsukan' - Art Museum - is thus 'place of the arts' ... 'Toshokan' - Library - is 'place of reading materials' ... etc. etc.). I registered the domain name mokuhankan.com, and later the Japanese version mokuhankan.jp.
- I added a few prints to the Mokuhankan catalogue, but over the next couple of years, as my personal printmaking didn't go so well (both the scroll project and the My Solitudes project were minimally subscribed, and also took far longer to produce than anticipated), I was in the red for quite a long while, and the Mokuhankan project languished.
- My 'Mystique of the Japanese Print' series (2010-11) was far more successful, and put my bank account back into a more healthy situation. In addition to this, I was facing an oncoming 'milestone' in my personal life. I was about to become 60. That's no big deal these days of course, but it did seem to be that it was time to make some decisions. Namely decide between two possible majorly different life streams:
- keep going as a 'solo' craftsman. Some years the earnings would be good, some years bad ... no pension ... and an inevitable slow degradation in the ability to produce work.
- try and take the whole venture to a different 'level'. Hire people; train people; publish prints produced by other workers; build a structure that would (hopefully) be able to continue operating once I was no longer able to be productive myself. Within that (stable) structure, I could 'run my time out' peacefully, and the degradation of my own personal skills wouldn't matter so much, as I would be surrounded by capable people.
- So in the spring/summer of 2011 I decided to give it a go, and hired the first trainees for Mokuhankan. (These events are all covered in a lot of detail in the back postings on the Mokuhankan Conversations blog, accessible from the 'Table of Contents').
- At this point we don't need to get into the dramatic ups and downs of the next few years; we nearly hit bottom, but came up to the surface again after meeting Jed Henry, and are now doing quite well. If you have seen recent posts here, you know that we are now about to open a retail space / event space / workshop down in the Asakusa district of Tokyo.
But - to finally get to the point - we have to decide 'who' we are. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the brand name 'Mokuhankan' that I created a few years back has some major problems:
- it's meaningless to people who don't know what it means (if you see what I mean ...)
- even for people who do have some idea of what it means, it's an overly long word, and difficult to remember.
- the symbol I chose for our logo mark (the baren you see at the top of every page of our site) is meaningless to people who don't know what it is. I showed a Photoshop mockup of a proposed sign for our building a while back, but more than a couple of people have suggested quite strongly that I not do that, because most passers-by won't have a clue what's behind it. People have suggested I use a large illustration of some famous Hokusai print ... something recognizable by everybody who comes by. (NO! Not in thousand years will I do _that_!)
Should I abandon 'Mokuhankan' and go back to using my own name? I really don't want to do that, for a couple of reasons:
1) I have kept my own name (and signature) strictly for prints that I myself produced (all carving and all printing). I don't want to confuse that issue ... I am very proud of that work, and am terrified that future viewers will be saying, "Oh, that Dave Bull guy ... you know of course that he didn't do the work himself. He hired people to work for him ..." To avoid this, I intend to maintain an absolute separation between the 'Seseragi Studio' work - with my signature and baren embossment, and which I produce totally alone - and the Mokuhankan work, which is 'all hands on deck' ...
2) what happens later, when I'm no longer part of the picture?
So there we have the conundrum - what identity to use for this venture moving forward. It's clearly a decision that has to be made as soon as possible. What should the sign say; how should we identify ourselves; what web address should we use ... who are we?
1) Mokuhankan - home of fine woodblock prints. (URL: mokuhankan.com)
2) David Bull, woodblock printmaker (URL: woodblock.com)
3) Maybe we could even use the domain as the business name - a large sign reading [WOODBLOCK.COM] - surely people could remember that one.
4) Starting just yesterday, a new option became available: [WOODBLOCK.TOKYO] That's also easy to remember, although I have no idea if the use of .tokyo as the domain name would just be too confusing, as everybody is used to the standardized .com style ... (Try typing the words woodblock.tokyo into your browser location bar ... I think it should have propagated through the DNS system by now ...)
Anyway, I would very much like to hear your thoughts and advice on this question. I myself really have affection for the Mokuhankan brand that I have created over the past eight years or so, and am resisting the idea of abandoning it. But if it won't work in the marketplace, then I should clearly bite the bullet and move on.
For more entries, please make a selection from the 'Table of Contents' section of the SideBar on the right ...