Remembering traditional woodblock carver Susumu Ito
Posted by Dave Bull at 7:08 PM, May 23, 2016 [Permalink]
Print Party video!
Posted by Dave Bull at 8:29 PM, May 6, 2016 [Permalink]
A travel guide company here in Tokyo recently came over and made a short little video showing one of our Print Parties ...
The Wood Question ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 11:34 AM, May 4, 2016 [Permalink]
Lots of people offering assistance here ... there's not much our overseas friends can do about paper, but a few people have suggestions about the wood supply ...
Let me give a bit more background about our wood. Modern printmakers - trying to get different effects in their prints - can of course use 'any' wood, but for us, it would only be as an absolute last resort that we would use something else. Given that we are trying to make prints equivalent to what was produced in the Meiji-era, the 'best' approach is to try and use tools/materials that are as close as possible to the original materials.
From our point of view here, there are a few things about the wood that are absolutely critical:
- it must be yamazakura; simply no other species gives the same effect when printing (more about this below)
- it must be selected ... some wood is of a suitable density and grain, some is not ...
- the way that the raw material is cut from the log is very important to the results
- it must be very carefully and properly dried
- it must be planed and dressed to an absolutely smooth mirror finish
These days, it's very common to hear of some resource that has been 'fished out' (whether fish, or whatever ...) ... and the product is simply unobtainable. Somebody who wants to utilize that resource simply has no choice; they have to find an alternative. In our case - the yamazakura - it's exactly the other way around. It's not that all the 'good' trees are gone; there are plenty of them up in the mountains, living out their normal life-span, and falling over when they get to the end of life. The problem is that with so little demand for the blocks for traditional woodblock printmaking, the supply chain has disappeared.
In the previous post, I wrote about making a trip to the lumber markets back in 1999 after Shimano-san passed away. I was looking for some yamazakura, and I came across this pile of wood in one of the wholesaler's warehouses (it's hard to get the scale of this photo; these things are big - about 4 meters long ...):
He said it was yamazakura, and that it had been there for 'at least a couple of years'. I paid him 400,000 yen (around $3500) for the plank at the bottom of the pile (the widest one), and he ran it around to a local re-saw shop and had it sliced into 4 planks.
We trucked it out to my home in Hamura (moving it to Ome later), and there it sat, being occasionally turned and re-stacked. There was no 'panic' to start using it, because by then Matsumura-san had jumped into the wood business, and we began to use his products.
But as I wrote in the previous post, the quality of his products over the years really began to decay steeply, and sometime around 2014, one of the batches of wood we received was so bad that we decided to go ahead and use one of these planks, now very nicely aged indeed. We chopped it up into manageable pieces, and sent them out to a carpenter who had good skill with a plane, who could dress them for us.
He returned them to us a few days later, "I don't know where you got this stuff, but you do know that it isn't yamazakura, right?"
Umm. It was clearly cherry, but the grain patterns were a bit different, now that they were visible. We tried it anyway ... and no, it was unusable. The pores in this sub-species were so large and fat that each of the planed pieces had a palpable series of grooves on the dressed surface, and these grooves showed in our test printing.
400,000 yen ... and nearly 15 years of drying time ... wasted. Whether that dealer knew it wasn't yamazakura - and took me for a ride - or whether he too didn't understand, I'll never know. Anyway, back to square one.
Before I move on, to talk about what we are going to try next, let me show you an image I have copied from a book on traditional printmaking techniques published in about 1929. It shows the proper way of cutting slabs for making ukiyo-e prints from a large cherry log:
This cutting pattern gives the maximum amount of wood with a 'flat' grain. These days, of course, no lumber dealer in their right mind would cut a log this way. These boards tend to warp a lot (immediately after being 'released from the log), and their customers - furniture makers for the most part - want straight grain, which is more stable and more decorative. They want wood that has been quarter sawn - like this (image borrowed from an Australian lumber dealer here):
Great for furniture, awful for us. What we need are the wide areas of smooth clear wood that result from flat-sawn boards. We deal with the warping by cutting them fairly thick to begin with, then dressing them down to requirements after they have dried and stabilised.
So do I have to try and find an entire cherry log, then saw it up in the old way? There is absolutely no way that I can invest the many thousands of dollars that would be required to do such a thing - even if we could find such a log on the market.
But we are lucky in one respect that most of the work we are doing here at Mokuhankan these days is of a fairly small scale. We don't need the wide boards that are required when making typical ukiyo-e prints. Our current subscription prints need only 15 cm in width, Jed's Ukiyoe Heroes prints need boards of about 18 cm, and our HangaClub editions use wood just under 12cm wide.
So we have come up with an idea. I don't need a 'log', but if I can find a chunk of good-looking yamazakura of somewhere around 20 cm x 20 cm, and about 25 cm long (or longer) ... not an impossible task, I think, we could get it sliced in this pattern pretty easily (sorry, this quick sketch isn't scaled very well, but you get the idea ...):
This would give us a handful of thin flat-sawn boards, with no vertical grain at all. We could then dry these thoroughly in a fairly short time (as they are so thin), then bond them to a strong birch-ply base, and dress the surfaces ready for carving and printing.
Next step - as soon as I can get away from the shop for a day - over to the giant lumber market at Kiba and start searching!
How are we doing? Part three ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 5:13 PM, April 30, 2016 [Permalink]
OK, here we go with the next instalment of our update, and as I mentioned in the previous post, we are encountering some major problems with our materials.
Let's start with the easy one - woodblocks. The background is simple to lay out for you: up until late 1998, I (and all the other carvers in town) were using cherry blocks prepared for us by Shimano Shintaro, who was the last hangi shokunin (block craftsman) in town. Late that year he died unexpectedly of stomach cancer, much younger than anybody had expected, and we were all suddenly faced with a real crisis.
Within days of hearing that news I was on my way to the wholesale lumberyards in a search for some cherry wood. I knew that I wouldn't find any 'ready to use', but felt that I had to get started on finding some. (I wrote about this on this old web page years ago.) As it turned out, it wasn't necessary for me to use the planks I purchased that day, because Shigeru Matsumura (the man who runs 'Woodlike Matsumura') stepped up to the plate and began to sell blocks of a laminated construction pattern - cherry wood facing on a strong plywood core.
Since that time, we carvers have been using his blocks, but over time they have become less and less satisfactory. His main customers are people making prints as hobbyists, and they are using shina plywood. He gets very little in the way of business for cherrywood; it's a sideline for him.
Shimano-san had a pipeline through the lumberyards up to the guys in the countryside who could search out suitable trees for woodblock printmaking. Matsumura-san is not part of that world, and indeed, the pipeline - the supply chain - is now long gone. There are now no longer any men with the knowledge of what makes a particular tree suitable for this use. Matsumura-san is just using cherry milled for furniture makers, and their requirements (mostly quarter-sawn straight grain) is diametrically opposed to what the woodblock carver needs.
So I don't intend this as an insult to him or his business, but the wood we have been receiving from him in recent years has become unbearable. Our young carver Kawasaki-san thinks I've lost my marbles when she sees the blocks I send her to use for our Portraits prints; it's wood that would have been suitable for nothing but the stove back when Shimano-san was around.
And then when the carved blocks get to the printing staff, they too look at me ... "Is this the best you can find? Really?" The grain patterns show in the print, there are uneven spots here and there, it doesn't absorb the moisture in the proper way ... in a word, the stuff is just junk. There is no other suitable term. It makes their work so much more difficult! And what makes this whole situation worse is that they've recently seen such nice wood - the old blocks from Doi Hanga - so they have fresh experience of what this stuff should be like!
What to do? Staffer Lee-san and I need to get out to the wholesale lumberyards, dig around to try and find some raw material that looks like it might work, then figure out how to get it sawn in the orientation necessary for our needs (at 72 degree angles around the log - a pentagonal pattern that will be very difficult to persuade a lumberyard to take on), how to dry it properly (how many years will that take?), then how to dress it down to proper thickness, where/how to find a hydraulic press to bond it to a core, what kind of adhesive to use, how to get the resulting blocks basically planed, then how to get them surfaced to the proper mirror finish ...
And only then - only when one of these blocks is on my carving table ready to cut - will I know whether or not we have selected a good log! If not ... it's back to the beginning. And even if it does turn out to be suitable, we then have to find the next one, and the next one ...
It's a solvable problem ... given enough resources, namely time and money.
Hah! Like I have any of either of those two things left ...
Anyway, enough warmup, let's get to the main point of these recent posts. I have to bring you up-to-date with a situation that can really only be described as an existential crisis for our venture.
It's our printing paper. I'll try and tell the story as concisely as I can, but I do have to give you a fair amount of background too, so you can get a sense of how this has been playing out.
The paper we use is the washi known as Echizen Hosho and it comes from one small geographical area of the country, and indeed, one small village, up in Fukui Prefecture. They have specialized in this paper since way back in the Edo period (longer, actually), and it is this paper on which most of the classical high-quality ukiyo-e were printed. (Lesser quality paper was of course used for cheaper editions, but hosho was the unequivocal choice for good work.)
But with the gradual decline in traditional printmaking over the course of the 20th century, the number of workshops in that village declined steadily, and for the past couple of decades, there have been only two families specialising in this work.
One family, the acknowledged 'leader' in the field - and whose head member has been named a Living National Treasure (as was his father before him) - has supplied all my paper for the past 25+ years. We use no other.
Now the paper as it comes from their workshop can't be used directly for printmaking. It must first be sized with a glue mixture to give it enough strength to stand up to the vigorous treatment we give it during the printing process. That has traditionally been done by a specialised craftsman, and during the entire time that I myself have been active in this field here in Japan, all of this work has been done by a single person, as all the others retired as the volume of work decreased.
I had no complaint with his work, but sometime back between 5~10 years ago, the quality of the sizing declined. There were cases when an entire batch was badly done, and other times when the quality within a batch was extremely uneven, making the printer's work very difficult.
Given this trend, plus the fact that there was only one man doing it (and elderly, to boot) I decided to try and learn how to size the paper myself. I won't recap that entire project here, but there are a number of posts over on my Woodblock Roundtable that cover the progress I made. I wasn't very good at it at first of course, but did gradually get better, and in recent years sizing has no longer been an issue for us; I have become quite capable of producing decent results.
Until last fall.
My printers - all of them, both in-house and the professionals working at home - began to give me feedback that the recent paper I was providing to them was sized quite weakly, with the surface fibres easily pulling up while printing.
Everybody involved, all the printers as well as myself, assumed that the problem was me. Although I had been gradually getting better at this, applying size is an extremely complicated job; the amount of glue in the mix varies with the season and the humidity in the air, the depth of application needs to be different depending on the particular job at hand, and the glue itself varies from batch to batch. There is nothing trivial about the work at all, and my lack of experience seemed to be the problem.
I responded as well as I could to their suggestions, increasing the glue level and/or the saturation, but the problem continued. The more experienced among the printers could sometimes get the paper under control, but our in-house printers lost a huge number of prints to bad paper.
The situation became critical in January, when our most experienced printer, Kubota-san, lost two entire batches of the Great Wave (60 sheets in each batch) to 'poor sizing'. The publisher normally doesn't pay the printer for rejected sheets, but given the uncertainly about the roots of the problem - was it really my fault, or his? - I had to pay him for all those prints even though they are unusable.
But as we moved into spring, and the weather warmed up, making it easier to apply size to the paper, things didn't get better, they got worse. But there was an interesting development - we heard from our printers that they were encountering the same problem with paper from other publishers as well, paper from that same maker, but which they had either sized 'in house' or sent out to that same sizing craftsman.
I finally thought it might not be a bad idea to talk to the paper maker about this, so called them up, asking - not accusing - whether there had recently been any changes in their material or procedures. I explained that I was having a great deal of difficulty with the paper, and was starting to wonder what was different. The man I spoke to, the son of the 'national treasure', denied any change at all, and when I suggested that other people were encountering problems, he said that he had heard nothing at all from anybody ...
But no more than a day or so after that phone call, I was speaking to a young junior printer who works at another shop (perhaps Japan's most famous traditional publisher), and as we compared notes on this problem he mentioned that because they were having such trouble with the paper, his boss had taken a trip recently up to the paper maker's workshop to discuss the issue ...
So here's where things stand at the moment:
- something fundamentally structural has changed in the paper. It's not just a question of raising the 'strength' of the nikawa sizing to stop the fibres pulling up. With too much nikawa the size simply won't blend properly into the sheets, and they become impossible to print.
- we have now talked to a number of other people (printers/publishers). Without exception, all are having the same trouble. All fingers are pointing to the same place ... something has changed in the paper from that particular workshop ... Whether it's the raw materials, or their procedure, none of us can say.
- Ayumi-san has been sent home for a while; we have no paper on which she can make prints ...
- Kanai-san has been told to wait until we can find some paper for her ...
- Kubota-san - with whom I have a gentleman's agreement to guarantee at least $3000 worth of printing work every month - has had nothing from me for months ...
- our other printers have been working on whatever scraps we can scrape up from older stock ...
- the Doi Hanga project is of course completely on hold; YouTube subscribers are emailing ... "When is your next video going to be ready?"
- we have the May and June subscription prints in the Portraits series ready, but no paper for more ...
- I am sitting on more than 1,300 sheets of unusable paper, for which I have paid well over $17,000 ...
- the papermaker denies any problem ...
The workroom upstairs is strewn with all the samples and test batches that I have made over the past couple of months, as I repeatedly try to find a particular 'recipe' that will bring this paper to useable condition.
We even sent a batch of paper - anonymously via a third party - over to that same sizing craftsman I used years ago; minutes after it came back, two of our printers eagerly tested a few of the sheets ... feathering everywhere.
All this has been taking place in the environment of the Asakusa madness of the past couple of months. I've done X number of Print Parties and dealt with all the visitors each day, then headed upstairs in the evenings for more sizing tests.
So. What I am going to do?
Well, long term, I know what to do. Paper making per se is practiced all up and down the length of this country. Very few of those papers are suitable for the physically intense procedures of traditional printmaking, but it seems to me that if I could find the right workshop/person, I could work with them to adapt one of their papers to our requirements, or even better - convince some eager young person to take on the challenge of re-creating the wonderful kind of paper we used to have back in the old days. It wouldn't be easy, and it would take years, but it would be doable I think.
That doesn't help me though, in the here and now. I have collectors around the world waiting for our prints. I have printers who need work to pay their bills. I have blocks galore ...
But I have no paper, and no prospects of getting any.
It has been a long time indeed since I found myself in a situation where I simply don't know what to do. Whatever problems have arisen in recent years were all solvable with a 'Plan B' approach, or the application of enough hard work.
Anyway, enough for tonight; I have to get back upstairs ... I'm going to try some tests this evening by dipping the paper sheets into the sizing mixture, rather than brushing it on. Perhaps that will give this defective paper enough 'body' to print properly without feathering.
I'll keep you updated ...
How are we doing? Part two ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 1:16 PM, April 30, 2016 [Permalink]
Today's post is more difficult than yesterday's. We've got some problems here at Mokuhankan, and one of them in particular is pretty serious ...
Today's post is more difficult than yesterday's. We've got some problems here at Mokuhankan, and one of them in particular is pretty serious. At the moment that I sit here and write this, I can't see a way clear, and whether or not we will find one is still an open question.
So let's get to it! Let's start with lesser issues ... the ones I know we can deal with.
Ever since I sent my first print out into the world - back in 1989 - I have made a living based on a subscription model. Making prints - especially the complex and detailed kind that I love - is a very time-consuming and intensive process, and it is just not possible to spend one day carving, interrupt that for exhibiting, then back to printing, etc etc. So I separated the making from the distribution. For over 20 years, I held an exhibition once a year to collect subscribers for the coming 12-month period. The remaining 11 1/2 months were devoted to intensive printmaking work. Sticking to this system turned out to be a very good idea, and I was able to raise my family, keep food on the table, and even purchase a home, all by woodblock printmaking.
So when I 'opened up' a few years ago, and initiated this Mokuhankan venture, I was determined to make subscriptions an important part of our affairs. We began with a set of 'Chibi Heroes' designs from Jed Henry, as part of the Ukiyoe Heroes prints he and I make in collaboration, and have continued since then with other designs.
Here's a graph (at the same scale as yesterday's graph) of our revenue from the Mokuhankan subscriptions:
The Chibi Heroes did well - as a kind of trial balloon - and then when we began the Portraits set the following year, things just took off. This is what gave us the revenue to get the Asakusa project under way (which we 'topped off' later with the Great Wave Kickstarter campaign.)
But as you can see from the graph, we haven't been able to sustain that level of subscription income. The current Portraits series (the 2nd set) are coming out very nicely, and the set has well over 100 subscribers, but we're not even at 1/2 the level of popularity that the 1st set reached.
This is quite a big problem for me as the owner of this place, because having a good strong 'base' of subscription income lets me cover the payroll at the end of each month. As you saw from the previous graph yesterday, other income can be wildly variable, and it is very difficult to find cash to pay the staff sometimes. A healthy subscription base makes it possible for me to do that.
With this in mind, we've now begun to add some more arrows to our quiver. Beginning next week, the series of prints that I created a few years ago, but which has been out of print for some time - the Mystique of the Japanese Print - will be available in a brand new Mokuhankan edition, printed using my original blocks by our most senior staff printer Mr. Kenichi Kubota.
We've got the first four prints done and on the shelf, and are now in the final stages of getting the packaging ready. We expect to be ready to begin sending out the first print (and paulownia case) once our two shipping ladies return from the Golden Week holiday period next week.
Kubota-san is going to work using my original version as a reference, and the prints should be visually identical. These new ones will be distinguished from my older version by the new 'Mokuhankan Baren' seal impressed on each one:
There is more information on the web page here, for anybody interested.
I'm quite hopeful that this 'new' series will help us close the gap in our revenues; there have been dozens of people asking me for it in recent years, and I'm very proud of the set. It provides a wonderful survey of the traditional Japanese print over the years, and I'm very happy to have it come back to life like this.
As many of our followers of course know, just at the end of last year we took a lease on the 3rd floor of the Asakusa building, and began building a new workroom for our printers up there. Staffer Lee-san worked hard on this through December, and got it ready for action just as everybody was off for the year-end break.
The two main benches near the window were prepared for our two full time 'in-house' young printers - Kanai Chiharu and Ayumi Miyashita - and the other two spaces were available for other staff members to use when and as they had time.
It hasn't turned out that way. Kanai-san came to me on the morning of the first day back after the break with the news that she was expecting a baby. A half hour later she was gone, something I should emphasise right up front was not my idea, but hers. We haven't lost her completely, as she will be doing work from home when she is able, (and we saw her here recently for a one-day 'drop in' to do some proofing work) but as far as intensive daily work on stacks of prints go, it's game over. It has been very frustrating to have this happen just at the same time that we took on the project of reprinting many of the old Doi Hanga Company blocks.
And it gets worse. (Although I have to apologize to Ayumi-san for putting it that way.) Just a couple of weeks after that, Ayumi-san came to me with her news. Not a baby ... at least I don't think that's happening just yet. She's at the first step ... she'll be getting married in June. She says she intends to stay and work for the immediate future; but she can't promise how long. Her new husband is a junior policeman, and is likely to be posted here and there over the coming years ...
So our two main in-house printers - both of them after years of training finally able to do top-level complex work - dropping out of the game is a huge blow for us. I suppose I should have been ready for this; when hiring young women this is the sort of thing that comes with the territory, but I simply didn't expect it to happen this way, and so soon. (Kanai-san is in her late thirties, and Ayumi-san only 22.)
It gets worse. For the past few years, we have been using the services of three professional printers who work in their own homes: Kenichi Kubota, Shinkichi Numabe, and young Hirokazu Tetsui. Kubota-san is still around, standing by waiting for work (more about this below). Tetsui-san has told me he will be unavailable to us for the foreseeable future, and the reason behind this is particularly painful for me.
Many of you have perhaps seen publicity about various new 'Ukiyoe Pop Culture' work now on the market. Not quite sure where they could have got the idea from, but a number of enterprising publishers have jumped into the field to put out hand-made woodblock prints based on popular culture themes: famous rock bands (Kiss, Iron Maiden), manga/anime (Lupin, Naruto, Doraemon), manga/movie (Ghost in the Shell), and iconic movies (Star Wars). The field has exploded, and carvers and printers all over town are working overtime. Tetsui-san ... is busy.
As for Numabe-san, he is also 'off' our work for a while. This is not because of the pop culture boom. Numabe-san's main work (other than what he has been doing for us) is for two publishers: Shobisha (who own a dozen or so Hasui block sets), and the Yoshida family (reprinting Toshi Yoshida's designs). Both of these sources have now put so much work on his desk, that he is booked through January next year. Why are they suddenly ordering so many prints from him? Because over the past year a certain little shop in Asakusa :-) has sold so many of their prints that inventory of their most popular designs has run out, far sooner than they had expected and prepared for.
Here's a shot of Numabe-san working on the Hasui print 'Shiba Benten Pond' from the Shobisha catalogue (we've sold dozens of these over the past year ...):
We'll be happy to have all those prints back in stock once they are available, but having Numabe-san unavailable for our own work is a tough blow ...
OK, that's enough for now. I'm not finished with this 'State of the Union' update, and there is yet some much more difficult news to bring you, but let's save that until tomorrow ... Right now, I have to get upstairs for some more dosa (paper sizing) testing ...
How are we doing? Part one ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 12:05 PM, April 30, 2016 [Permalink]
It’s time for me to try and bring our fans/community up-to-date with some very important things happening here.
Time for a catchup. The past few months have been ‘extreme’ for us here at Mokuhankan, and I use that word as a noun, not an adjective. We’ve posted a bit now and then over on our Facebook page, but it’s difficult to talk more deeply about any given topic on that platform. Facebook is for the quick update, not for anything approaching ‘analysis’. So it’s time for me to try and bring our fans/community up-to-date with some very important things happening here.
I have so much to include that I’m going to break the content up into more than one post here on the Conversations blog, and I’ll divide it by ‘thumb direction’ :-) Let’s begin with the ‘Thumb Up’ side … the positive news. Tomorrow (or when I can), I’ll look at the other side. Just which will be longer I can’t say just yet … :~)
Might be best to start with a little chart:
This shows the monthly volume of business in the Asakusa shop since opening day (October 31st 2014). And right there - in the rightmost two columns - you can see why we haven’t been posting much recently. We’ve been run off our feet this spring.
When you look at the pattern over the course of a calendar year, you can see that our shop is going to have a very clear seasonal pattern. Spring and Fall - cherries and maple leaves! - are going to be our peak times.
March 2016 was more than 5x March 2015, so as we moved into April we were terrified of what might be about to hit us. ‘Luckily’ things settled down a bit and the pattern this year was a bit different … April was only 1.5x the previous year.
What is coming up over the next few months is completely unknown to us, but it’s looking pretty good we think. We're getting huge benefit from the Lonely Planet coverage and from our ‘perfect’ rating on Trip Advisor, and with a general organic growth on top of that, we’re going to be steadily busy it seems.
Seen as an independent ‘line item’ in our overall financial structure, the Asakusa shop is still in the red, as employee costs and construction expenses are still substantial, but with this kind of growth, profitability is just a matter of time.
I mentioned Lonely Planet, but it’s not just overseas guidebooks that have paid attention to our venture. We’ve been picked up by various local guidebook publishers as well. “The Tokyo unknown by the Japanese” was one such book, and it features locations well-known to foreigners, but less so to the locals … which perfectly describes us!
All through 2015, we had very few domestic customers. The shop is up on the 2nd floor of the building, with a very small entrance, and although this street is extremely busy almost every day of the year, we get very little walk-by traffic in the shop. We’ve tried various combinations of signs down at the entrance, but those stairs are a huge barrier to potential visitors.
We knew that this would be the case when we started; indeed it’s the main reason why the rent is manageable (as compared to the 1st floor). But this is now beginning to change, and the main reason is that over the past months, we’ve had a very nice run of domestic TV coverage. We had been sending out letters and flyers to a lot of media outlets ever since we opened, and it only takes one or two of these to hit the target to start a steady ‘run’ of results. Once one TV program covers us, other channels see that and approach us in turn. We had seven programs cover us in 2015, and already this year there have been three or four, with more asking …
This has made a tremendous difference in our domestic traffic, with far more people now ‘venturing’ up the staircase than before. There is also another effect, in that when I sometimes go downstairs and stand on the sidewalk outside our front door, just to watch the flow go by, I frequently get recognised by passers-by, many of whom approach me … “We saw the program the other day … gambatte kudasai!” Fun!
So that’s an overview of how things are going in Asakusa these days … But there are a number of other parts to our business: subscriptions and online sales, not to mention the actual printmaking itself. Let’s talk about those tomorrow … :~)
Doi Hanga collaboration video - Part 4
Posted by Dave Bull at 11:51 PM, February 23, 2016 [Permalink]
Video part 4 ... a print comes to life!
Kamisuki proofing ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 3:37 PM, February 21, 2016 [Permalink]
Proofing the new 'Mashup' print ...
What are these three people so intently interested in?
This! It's proofing time for the 'new' set of blocks for the 'mashup' Hashiguchi Goyo / Hatsune Miku design!
Carver Chung-san, his partner and printer Rei-chan, and our staff printer Kanai-san (on the left) spent most of the day today going over the block set and testing different colour combinations, etc.
I said 'new' blocks, but what is that about? Didn't that couple bring a finished set of blocks a few weeks ago?
Well, yes they did, but those blocks had a huge problem. They are magnolia wood, not cherry, also very thin, and also carved on both sides. This 'triple punch' put us out of business. When I started to do a test session with the couple a while back, the key block started to 'dance' within a few seconds of being moistened for printing. This total lack of stability simply makes the block set useless.
But we had a way forward. Two of the blocks had nothing carved on the back, so I proposed that we get out some glue and laminate these to a sturdy piece of plywood. As for the two blocks that were carved on both sides, we could sacrifice one side each, and bond them to plywood in the same manner. Chung-san could get to work and re-carve the two sacrificed sides.
So we did ...
Because Kanai-san can't do a full day's work at present (we'll explain later) the proofing wasn't completed today. They'll be back at it sometime soon, and I'll update you then!
And just because it came out so nicely, here's a shot of Kanai-san during the work ...
Glimpse of the future?
Posted by Dave Bull at 8:57 PM, February 20, 2016 [Permalink]
An update on the 3rd floor renovations ...
Updates coming from Mokuhankan recently have been somewhat scattered in terms of the 'venue'; we've been putting posts on Facebook, videos on YouTube, and have somewhat neglected this quiet little blog.
That's not such a good policy actually, as some other social media platforms - Facebook in particular - are extremely ephemeral. Something I post on Facebook gets a ton of attention on the day, but will never be seen again ... ever. It is next to useless for 'documenting' what we are doing.
But the undeniable fact is that something I post here gets a couple of dozen viewers at most, and a Facebook post will flash round the world in minutes, gathering hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of views. It's difficult to balance these things.
Anyway, as I posted an update on our new printer's room on Facebook a short time ago, let's redress the unbalance, and do this one - an update on the 'kitchen' area of the new workroom - here on the blog ...
Here's where we left off ... a photo of the area shortly after we moved in a couple of months ago:
That's a 'modular' shower unit at the left, totally mold-ridden and infested. The flooring is sagging between the joists, and the sink units are ancient and decayed. The first step for Lee-san was simply to rip it all out:
The plan is simple - a new bathroom at left, a long table for sizing paper next to it, and a small 'kitchenette' at the far right. Lee-san now has the second and third parts of that starting to fall basically into place:
So, time to get sizing? Well ... yes, but maybe tomorrow! Before that, it's time to test out that little oven that is tucked away under the range. And what better way to do that, than with some of our patented 'nichi-bei' muffins!
In they go ...
And 25 minutes later, out they come, the first muffins ever from the Mokuhankan Kitchens!
The first Print Party today was scheduled at 1:00pm, so there was time for me to have lunch down there before the guests arrived ...
Long-time readers of this blog, and others who have followed our activities over the past few years, know that there is a 'back story' to this muffin episode. This is all part of our Master Plan ...
If you have time for it, there is an extended description of the concept in this blog post ...
The Henry Manga comes to life!
Posted by Dave Bull at 11:34 PM, February 17, 2016 [Permalink]
First photos of the new Henry Manga book ...
Here we go! We're finally getting to the end of the long process of getting the Henry Manga books out the door!
Here's a little 'photo story' showing the first copy done ...
I chose a vermillion washi for the thick covers; I think it sets off the inner white pages very nicely:
We carved and hand-printed - in pearl powder - a small floral pattern on one corner of the cover:
The characters are a phonetic rendering of 'Henry Manga':
All the body of the book was carved by our young carver Ms. Noriko Kawasaki, but we wanted the frontispiece - featuring her - to be a surprise, so Dave carved this part of the book:
There are six inner spreads ... with the 'action' moving from page to page ...
... crossing the borders from image to image ...
The final page is a kind of 'colophon', with information on the three people who created the book ... Designer: Jed Henry ... Carver: Kawasaki Noriko ... Printer: Chiharu Kanai.
The publisher's address and the copyright information are there, and inside the back cover is a printed label with other information on the project:
But those previous photos didn't really give much of a sense of the 'woodblockiness' of this book, so let's have a few more, with the book held under raking light (don't miss the enlargements!):
(If you noticed a couple of mis-registrations in those closeups, don't panic; the volume I had available for photographing today is the first one back from the binder, and this was made with proof sheets, not prints from the actual production run.)
Now that everything has finally got to this stage, the rest will be easy; we expect to start shipping in a week or so. Thank you to all the collectors for their long patient wait!
(The volume isn't completely sold out; we have printed 140 volumes, and so far about 120 of them have been spoken for (last year's subscribers). If you are interested, please visit this information page for details.)
Doi Hanga collaboration - Part 3
Posted by Dave Bull at 11:10 PM, February 10, 2016 [Permalink]
Posted by Dave Bull at 9:10 PM, January 31, 2016 [Permalink]
A very interesting new 'shin-hanga' development!
I put 'mashup' as a title for this post, but I really had no idea what term to use ... Let me show you something that has happened here over the past couple of days, and you can then perhaps suggest something to me ...
First, here's a (bad) photo, snapped by one of our staffers this morning. Ayumi-san is in the background, doing you know what (!), and I was having an impromptu proofing session with a couple of guests from Hong Kong.
The session was pre-arranged. The couple had been here last week for a Print Party and after we had spent an hour or so together making that simple print, they let me know that they had brought some of their own prints with them.
Now I had known that they (a young couple from Hong Kong) were interested in woodblock printmaking, and knew that they were currently working with my friend Mr. Motoharu Asaka at his Takumi workshop. (He runs classes and teaches traditional printmaking, and we have sent quite a number of people over there over the past year or so ...)
But I wasn't prepared to see a comprehensive portfolio of prints that they had made together. They both work on each design, and once it's finalised, he carves a block set, and she then prints.
Most of the prints they showed me that day were quite nicely executed, but didn't really 'do' anything for me design-wise. But one item in their little stack of prints made me sit up and take notice ... and brought a huge smile to my face. I immediately started a conversation about getting this print into our shop, because I was sure that there would be other people interested in it too.
It turned out that they had only made one or two copies, and had then left the blocks back in Hong Kong, so there seemed no way to move forward, but I was really interested in this one, so pushed them to have the blocks sent here. "Let me know when they arrive, and let's have a proofing session together, to see how we might move this forward ..."
The blocks arrived the other day, so here we were this morning, having a go at it.
Here is the young couple - Chung and Rei - inspecting one of the sheets ...
... and here is a glimpse of the print ...
Any shin-hanga fans out there? Recognise the image?
OK, enough teasing. Here is the key block (before printing):
After printing ...
And the print itself (this is the copy from their portfolio that they showed me the other day ...)
Now the longer I look at this, the more I'm jumping up and down in my seat with excitement. I think this is so wonderfully executed. They have studied the original Hashiguchi Goyo print line by line, but haven't copied it mindlessly; they have drawn their own print in recognition of the original and adding - of course - the mashing up with the modern character. And Chung-san's carved lines are so beautifully done! Do you know the lady portrayed here? She actually doesn't exist (although she has given plenty of live concerts ...) It's the young 'lady' known as Hatsune Miku, 'born' in 2007.
So, what's our plan here? We're not exactly sure yet, because where we go on this depends on a few things:
- it turns out that their block set is unusable as it stands. Chung-san carved on very soft magnolia, on very thin wood, and as I tried to proof this morning, the key block warped out of control before I had pulled more than a few sheets. We've decided that I'm going to laminate them onto a plywood base, in the hope that we can stabilise them.
- but he has carved the colour blocks on both sides of the thin planks, so we're going to sacrifice one side of each, laminate them down to use the other side, and then re-cut the sacrificed sides on new wood.
- who will print? Chung and Rei are getting quite skilled, but they have no experience (or ability) to pull larger editions. So our thinking at present is that under our direction and advice, the two of them will (once the block set is stabilised and ready) pull a fairly small batch (a dozen or so) as a trial. They'll sign them together, and we'll put them into the Mokuhankan catalogue (and shop) as part of our 'Guest Corner'. If the reaction from our fans is as positive as I expect, those ten prints will fly away, and we'll then turn the blocks over to our staff printers for a 'regular' Mokuhankan edition (unsigned, etc., and less expensive).
In the meantime, I've asked them to get started on another one. They are now studying the famous Goyo image of a woman applying makeup, to see what they might do with it.
And there is yet another aspect to this that is really keeping me wiggling in my chair today. Look at these closeups of his carving!
... and ...
Woot! And he wants work! He has come this far being self taught, and is now working with Asaka-san to really hone his techniques, something I never had the patience to do. This is such great news!
So please hang on for a while ... it's perhaps going to take us a bit of time to get this print into production, because we've kind of got a 'few' things cooking all at once here, but please stay tuned!
For more entries, please make a selection from the 'Table of Contents' section of the SideBar on the right ...