Posted by Dave Bull at 8:24 AM, May 19, 2013 [Permalink]
Another one bites the dust! The first batch of the Infestation print - 175 copies - is now done and on the way to Jed, for distribution to the waiting collectors.
Here's a shot of the stack part-way through the process of doing the final trimming:
And we couldn't not show you the hair!
(In case you missed it a few weeks ago, I uploaded a video to YouTube showing the hair being cut ...}
With this one now 'out of the way' for now (we'll be printing more copies of course, because orders are still flowing in), I am now very busy with carving work on the next one, which Jed has dubbed 'Soul Eater'. Here's a shot of the key block so far:
More soon ...
Busy weekend ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 8:28 AM, May 13, 2013 [Permalink]
Although there was no printing staff here over the weekend, a lot of progress was made. The construction guys were here for a day on Saturday, and got the ceiling basically done (all but the final covering):
And for my part, with the monthly Chibi Heroes done, the Infestation print out of the way, and the 'secret' test print for Jed's new project finished, I was able to spend the time in the woodwork shop, getting ready for the upcoming move into the new workroom. I built two new workstations:
With all their compound angles, these benches are not trivial to construct. The top surface has to be sloped to match the printer's arm angle, and the legs are angled inwards for the best stability. And if everything isn't perfectly tight, the thing would just be too wobbly ...
Together with the current two, this will give us room for four printers to work at the same time (not counting my own workbench, which 'rotates' between carving and printing as required).
I'm looking forward to the upcoming photo showing them all in place together, and then the next photo, showing four printers busy at work together!
Workroom construction ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 8:39 AM, May 4, 2013 [Permalink]
We're on a mixed schedule here right now, as this is 'Golden Week', a time when a number of national holidays cluster together, resulting in many companies closing for the week, or part of it. So a number of our staff will be off this week due to family commitments.
But while they are away, it means we can make a mess, and that's exactly what has been going on here for the past few days. Finally, we're moving forward again on the workshop construction in the room next door.
The next major step is to get the ceiling insulated, and for that we need a light 'frame' for the fiberglas batts, just the same as the one in the current workroom:
We're using a super-strong wood/concrete bond, with concrete screws to hold each 'beam' at the ends. The 'go-bars' are sprung to squeeze each piece up in place while the bond dries.
It makes a very clean layout, into which we will easily staple the fiberglass ...
(Just who are all these people? That's going to be the topic of tomorrow's 'A Story A Week' ...)
The 'Infestation' video is ready ...
Posted by Dave Bull at12:33 AM, May 2, 2013 [Permalink]
The 4th print in the Ukiyoe Heroes series is now done. Or at least my part in it is done. I finished all the carving a week or so ago, and after running up a few proof sheets, I delivered everything to Numabe-san for pulling the first batch.
I took plenty of video all the way through of course, and here's the resulting 15 minute 'movie' showing the overall process:
Infestation - block set
The blocks for the next Ukiyoe Heroes print are ready!
A whole lot of people (nearly 9,000!) have now seen the video of carving the hair on this print, but things have moved on steadily since then, and the block set is ready:
Flip them over ...
The overall count of colour is remaining pretty consistent over the course of this series, at around 15~16 impressions for each one.
As I write, proof printing is done, and the block set has been taken over to Numabe-san's place. He'll do his own proof to compare with mine, and we'll then make our final decisions on the details, and he'll get busy. The first batch (we're running around 180 sheets) should be ready in just about two weeks ...
A most interesting year!
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 1:56 AM, April 25, 2013
The 1st anniversary of our Heroes project is here!
I had occasion the other day to check on some emails from last year, and while doing so I noticed something interesting. It was one year ago this week (today the 25th, actually) that I received an email from a young man over in the US in which he brought up an interesting proposal.
Here's how it began:
It's Jed Henry – I'm that illustrator guy who was supposed to visit your studio last summer. But things didn't work out. I apologize for that.
Anyway, I had a crazy idea for a creative side project.
First of all, have you heard of Kickstarter.com? It's a creative entrepreneurial site, where people pitch projects and request funds. If a project's funding goal gets met, then and only then does the site withdraw the donators' pledges. If the required fund amount isn't met, nobody pays, and the project doesn't happen.
Most commonly, people use the site to make advanced orders on unique projects. So if a project gets funded, the artist gets paid up front. If the project doesn't get funded, the artist is off the hook, and hasn't lost any money.
I had an idea to team up with you, and sell a woodblock print on there. We would only have to actually make the print if we received the required funds. If the funding doesn't come, then you're off the hook. I would need to paint the design up front, so that customers would know what they're getting.
Here's my idea: a print featuring a pitched battle between samurai and demons. Kind of a gothic thing, like Kuniyoshi or Yoshitoshi. Upon closer inspection, the viewer would realize that each character bears an uncanny resemblance to a classic Japanese video game character. However, the style is still VERY Kuniyoshi. (I'm attaching a quick sketch to show you what I mean.)
Jed went on to outline the type of print he was thinking of (dimensions, etc.) and asked me to think about what such a project would cost, so that he could work out a budget for the Kickstarter.
So was this 'the start of something big'?
No. At least, not directly. Because I turned him down.
I really didn't see much potential in this. The image he sent wasn't something I found particularly interesting, and at that time we were coming to the point where I was running out of money to pay the staff, and taking on yet another pie in the sky project just seemed completely impossible.
So I replied to Jed that although we couldn't help him with his potential project, I would introduce him to a place here in Tokyo where he might be able to get such work commissioned, and over the next few weeks, I helped him establish contact with them, so that he could get a quote on the work.
So what happened to change my mind? How did we come to get involved? It was a combination of circumstances: 1) the quote Jed received from that workshop - for full-size o-ban prints - was pretty high, and it seemed that the resulting prints would be simply too expensive for his prospective Kickstarter backers to afford. 2) Jed continued to refine the image concepts, and began to produce some very interesting work:
3) over the course of the next few weeks, Jed continued to upload more of these prospective images to his Facebook page, and they began to attract wide internet attention. He began to go viral ...
Looking back over those old emails now, I see that it was May 31st, more than a month after our original contact, that I wrote to him offering to get involved. I proposed that our workshop could produce prints in a smaller size than the large o-ban that he had been considering, and that these might be a more realistic goal for his Kickstarter project.
And then I took the plunge; given that we were then at the point of running out of money completely, and pretty much at the end of our rope, I told Jed that we wouldn't (couldn't!) wait for a Kickstarter campaign to run its course - we would begin the production of one of the prints immediately. Hopefully, the videos/photos that we would produce along the way would help make the campaign successful, and we would thus (eventually) get paid for the work.
Jed of course jumped at this opportunity, and away we went. The rest - as they say - is history. Or perhaps will be one day, when they come to write the history of the Japanese woodblock print in the early 21st century!
The Kickstarter campaign was wildly successful, raising over $300,000 for our work (both woodblock prints and ink-jet versions that Jed publishes himself). As I write this, we are just completing the fourth of the seven prints that were commissioned during the campaign, our work is laid out until at least the end of this year, and it seems pretty certain that the Ukiyoe Heroes project will continue into the future indefinitely, presumably evolving as it goes along. There are now eight people working here as printers or printer trainees, and I have had to hire two 'outside' professional printers as well.
We have spun off the Chibi Heroes series - also hugely successful - and are presently working on plans for yet other related projects to be introduced in the coming months/years.
Things are looking very very good for us here these days ... and of course this is to a huge extent because so many people are attracted to the combination of Jed's interesting designs and our beautiful traditional craftsmanship.
But to think that I said 'no'! Obviously I'm a man with a very quick grasp of the situation ... Not!
Samus gets her hair cut
I'm still busy with the production of the next print in the Ukiyoe Heroes series - Infestation - so the main process video is still some time away. But I thought it would be interesting to do another short video introducing just one part of the process - cutting the fine hair lines.
Infestation key block is nearly done
Infestation key block carving continues ...
I've been grabbing whatever time I can to work on the 'Infestation' carving (I'm the 'head' printer on the Chibi Heroes batch this month, due to scheduling conflicts with the other printers here), and the key block is almost done!
Here's a closeup of the head, as seen an hour or so after that previous photo:
This is so much fun!
Infestation - carving is under way
Carving on Jed Henry's 'Infestation' print gets under way ...
Among all the excitement with the recent auction action, we haven't had much chance to talk about the regular work going on here, so let's have a look at the current carving work:
What has that scene got to do with carving?
It's what I see from my window!
Now that spring is finally here, the river is back up to a normal level, and there is greenery bursting out everywhere. The rainy season isn't far off, but until it arrives, we're going to enjoy our best time of year ...
Getting a bit closer to the block, here's the view:
And the progress so far - Metroids everywhere!
And if the aspect ratio of these photos is any guide ... I think you can tell what will be up on YouTube in a few weeks from now ... :-)
The boxes of auction goods arrive ...
After all the excitement of the bidding the other night, it was a relief to finally receive the boxes today. But this moment too has plenty of tension ... will the contents be useful enough to justify the high price?
We received two boxes - as expected - and I had a look at the one marked 'woodblocks' first:
And we got our first shock within seconds of opening it up.
Prints. A stack of prints ... perhaps around a hundred of them. Beautiful early/mid-Showa period senshafuda prints, some small and simple, others large and complex.
And all beautifully printed ...
Well, this was a nice bonus, right off the bat!
Below the stack of prints were blocks and more blocks. Many of them seem to be for printing single small senshafuda, but others are more complex, with both key and colour blocks:
Very nicely carved ...
This print shop also seems to have taken orders for Ex Libris, as there are blocks for those small prints too:
We'll have to go through all these blocks one by one when we get a bit of time, and see just what we have, but for now, the other box is calling pretty loudly ... 'Open me, please!'
And no sooner is the top pulled back than the first treasure comes to light:
It's a baren ('shin' coil and 'ategawa' backing disc) made by the famous Murata Katsumaro. And it seems to have barely been used, as the ategawa is only slightly dimpled, and the coil is completely unworn.
Let's get some of that stuff out of there and spread it on my workbench to see what we have ...
There are five 'complete' hon barens: the one by Murata, one that appears to be made by Kubota-san (one of Adachi's printers who makes barens as a side business) and three of a 'generic' style common among printers making barens for themselves.
In addition to these five there are two completed coils ready for matching up with a backing disc, and a length of partially woven coil (the first stage of the process). At the top right of this photo is a stack of the very thin washi that is used for making the backing discs. This is stained a deep tone by the persimmon juice used to strengthen it. Each ategawa needs around 45~50 of these sheets, and there are many hundreds of them here ...
And as you can see, we also have a small selection of brushes (mostly unused) all branded with the 'Kintaro' mark - a long-gone maker of very high reputation.
(This still doesn't bring us within sight of the bottom of the box - but it's getting very late this evening, and I need to call it a day. I'll try and get back and extend this post sometime tomorrow ...)
But anyway ... ... Yippee!
Good morning ... time to get a few more of the photos onto this page ...
The dark brown paper is an extremely thin washi, coated with persimmon juice. Around 50 or so of these sheets are what form the black circular backing disc of a baren, laid up one per day with a thin layer of glue.
There are enough sheets here for quite a few new discs.
I myself certainly don't have time to 'play' with this just now, but our young printer Ayumi-san, who we met in the video I uploaded the other day, is currently learning how to make barens, and she is going to find this stuff very useful, I suspect!
And here's the main event - the four barens visible in the original photo. After their long vacation, these are going into service this afternoon! (And I'm sure they will be very happy to do so!)
This next one is the 'bonus' baren; not visible in the original auction photo, it is actually the most rare of the batch. It carries a stamp verifying that it was made by Katsumaro Murata, far and away the most respected baren maker of the 20th century.
Early this morning I spoke to Goto-san (the current top baren maker) about this auction find, and he was naturally impressed and pleased by it all, but it was when he saw my photo of this item, that he really began to turn green. He has one himself, and considers it the pride of his collection ...
And then of course, we have the makings of two more barens, the internal woven bamboo coils, pretty much complete and ready to go:
Here's a closeup. Making one of these is a staggeringly complicated job, and takes many many weeks, which is why these things are so rare and expensive ...
OK, it wasn't only tools in the box, there are some supplies as well - particularly pigments:
These are perfect for us, matching our own studio palette almost exactly. The quality seems very high, and they are very finely ground.
But one of them in particular is going to pose a bit of a problem for us:
This is the pigment known as 'seki-o' - a lovely rich yellow that is perfect for ukiyo-e work. The problem is the composition: 50% sulphur, and 50% [redacted]. The reason for not naming the particular substance - a favourite of Agatha Christie - is that I do not want this page showing up on a Google search for it. Here in Japan, you must have a license - and a very good reason - for having it in your possession, and I have neither ('traditional' might be something we could get away with, but it's not a point I would wish to argue with the policemen who would come here to seize it, if they should ever learn I have some.)
Back when I worked alone, I did use this pigment in my prints (I have a package bequeathed to me by a older - now dead - printer), but since opening up the workshop to other people - notably younger women, one of whom is breast-feeding - I will not allow this to be used here.
Moving right along ... there are also a few pigments of a type that we do not use here:
This green is a semi-opaque type, and would soon 'kill' the beauty of any print on which we used it.
And one of those jars contains a substance completely unknown to me:
I haven't a clue what this is, and will take it to one of the older printers when I get a chance, to see if he knows what it is.
But as we dug further into the box, we found yet another layer of stuff - bags and bags of assorted pigments:
We took a peek in a few of the packs; some of them are pigments of a type that are still available, but others now can't be had (in decent quality) for love or money. This part of the box is very real treasure - just as much as the barens!
This is a little bag of ore-zumi - broken sumi sticks. These are not expensive at all. We use stuff like this to make our main supply of bokuju (liquid sumi). Smash 'em up, let them soak for a few months, then strain out the glue. It makes a wonderfully rich and thick black 'juice' ...
The last item in the pigment corner was this bag of warabi-ko (a starch made from bracken roots). It is an essential ingredient in making the baren. Those 45~ thin sheets are glued together with a paste made from this - the main attraction is that it has very little 'body' of its own, and the 44~ layers of glue don't add much to the thickness of the disc.
This stuff also is very difficult to find these days - most of the products marketed as 'warabi flour' are simply cornstarch.
That's about it for the useful stuff from this second box. There are a few miscellaneous items in there:
These are wooden spatulas used when laying down those thin sheets of paper one by one.
These river stones are used by the printer when tying a new cover on the baren - we use them to 'kill' the strong fibres of the bamboo skin, so that it will not tear the paper when printing.
And last and least we have a couple of the 'jigs' used by the baren maker when forming the coil. I don't know how these are used, and will post something down below after I've asked Goto-san to explain a bit ...
All in all ... quite a treasure box. And now back to perusing Yahoo Auctions each day to see what might be coming next! :-)
[Update: I have prepared an 'Unboxing' video ...]
Jed Henry and I set forth a set of seven prints in the Ukiyoe Heroes series during the course of last year's Kickstarter campaign.
It'll take me until late this year (October/November) to finish making the work we promised, but Jed himself hasn't stopped producing designs for the set. Some weeks back he finished a design featuring a group of ninja reptiles (entitled 'Trouble Afoot'), and put up a sample for people to see:
There was a lot of interest, right off the bat. So he and I discussed the possibilities, and we decided to add this to our list of his designs that would become woodblock prints, and he put it up into his webshop, even though I won't be able to get started on it until the other commitments are taken care of.
Jed let me know this morning that pre-orders have reached 100 copies ...
I can't wait to get started carving this one!
An exciting internet auction!
[Note: this is a story about an internet auction. For obvious reasons, I won't post it while the auction is in progress, so I am going to write it (bit by bit) and hold it back until the smoke has cleared. By the time you read this, it will all be over ...]
[Evening of the 19th]
I don't spend much time on internet auction sites these days; we don't have a whole lot of free money, nor is there much time for it. I suppose that I miss some treasures now and then because of my inattention, but that can't be helped.
But I'm not oblivious to auctions, and have a few alerts rigged up that let me know whenever some particular items come available. I'm not going to share all these, but it's not giving anything away to mention that we are of course always on the lookout for tools.
One of these alerts 'rang' this evening. Somebody here in Japan has come across a couple of boxes of old woodblocks, and put them up for auction. When I took a look to see what there was to see, I was presented with this image:
Seems like a box of woodblocks used for printing senshafuda and perhaps also for some kinds of wrapping paper. Interesting, but nothing to jump up and down about.
But there is a second image on the page, and this one is different:
This ... is the real McCoy. After years of checking auction alerts for tools, only to be presented every time with images of toy barens for school students, finally we have the real thing.
This person has come across a couple of boxes of 'stuff' from a professional printer's workshop. I can see four 'hon' (real) barens, a collection of parts from partially finished barens, a couple of brushes, some packages of pigments, and some tools for baren making.
I want this stuff. Badly.
Now I'm not being greedy when I say this. We have a huge problem with barens here these days - with three (sometimes four) people working here at any one time, we are always fighting each other for tools. Remember, none of these apprentices has yet obtained their own tools - all we have here are my own set.
Why don't we just buy some more barens? Well, take a look at the price list over on baren maker Goto-san's website. Even the least expensive model is over $800, and we need many barens of different strengths. To outfit all our workers with new barens would need an investment of three or four thousand dollars per person. And over and above the money question is the little 'detail' that Goto-san is around a year back-logged in orders. To order one from him means a year-long wait. Even if we won some kind of lottery and ordered a dozen from him, it would be literally years before he could deliver.
So we need these four barens. I can't tell from the photo which particular strength they are, but that doesn't matter. There will be a mix, I'm sure.
So to start, I instantly put in a low 'place-holder' bid, just to ensure that the auction couldn't be pulled down, and then set myself a number of alerts and reminders so that I would not forget when the auction approaches the close (as if!). The person has set it for a six day term, and it is going to be a very long six days, I can tell you!
[Morning of the 20th]
Two more people found it early this morning, and placed bids. I have no idea who they are, as Yahoo Auctions (partially) obfuscates IDs. If they are 'amateurs' then I am not worried, because come closing time, I am prepared to bid pretty fiercely on this one, and I think I can see them off easily.
My big concern is that some of the other people in our business might see it. I am specifically thinking of Goto-san the baren maker, Sato-san over at the Takumi workshop, or young Ueda-san, my friend the print and book dealer (who is also a printer). These people would see this auction in the same light as I do ... damn the torpedoes - full speed ahead!
[Evening of the 21st]
One more has jumped in. The price has risen only slightly, to just over 6,000 yen, but that doesn't really tell us anything yet. I myself only bid a few thousand at first.
[Evening of the 24th]
24 hours to go. It has been totally quiet; no sign of any new bidders. This tells me nothing though; if I myself were coming across it at this point, I would lay low too.
For those of you who have experience of eBay, these Yahoo Auctions have a very major difference. There is no sniping. You can try sniping, if you like, but the Yahoo system is programmed so that as the auction draws near to the closing time, any new bid will extend the closing time by five minutes. Yahoo then sends emails to all the participants, letting them know they still have a chance. The hammer only falls after five minutes of inactivity.
It's wonderful for sellers of course, but very frustrating for bidders. If more than one person is bidding, the value will thus usually rise to something approximating a natural market value. There are few true bargains on Yahoo Auctions, barring the very rare cases when nobody else has seen the item, and you are alone.
That's not the case here, and all I can hope at this point is that the other participants are casual amateur printmakers, who will scare easily. From where I sit, that box is worth $3,000 (at the very least, based on what I can see in the photo), and I am prepared to bid a pretty good chunk of that.
[Morning of the final day ...]
Well, here we go ... no action now for a few days. Two of our printers will be here today, and it will be difficult to stop myself from telling them about this. But there is no way that I am going to leak - especially not to Ayumi-san, who will be here printing all day. She is working with baren-maker Goto-san on learning how to make barens, so for her this box would be a stupendous treasure. I of course want her to share the excitement, but I don't want to put her in the situation of having to keep it secret from her teacher, so she'll just have to stay in the dark for a bit longer. (Unless of course, she and Goto-san already know about it, and are desperately hoping that I don't!)
If I do win it, I'll have a bit of fun after the boxes get here. I'll set up the webcam so that it points to her desk, set it to 'record' mode, and then casually ask her to check and see what's in that box of 'stuff' that was just delivered. The results should be fun ...
[Update, still morning]
A new face, and a new high bidder. No idea who it might be. One promising point is that their auction history (shown in count only), is pretty small, which would seem to indicate not much experience at this.
[Couple of hours to go]
Another new name, jumping in to nudge the price up a bit. So it seems that there will be at least a few of us circling this one ...
[One hour to go]
I've restarted my browser, and cleared the desktop of anything that might interfere. (Safari does lock up on me occasionally, usually after playing Flash videos, so I'll just sit quietly and read my newspaper for the next little while ...) I've also confirmed my login at Yahoo (I changed my password a while back, and that's a recipe for disaster ... being unable to remember the new one with the clock ticking down the final seconds ...)
[30 minutes ...]
All quiet. No change. I dropped an email to Ueda-san, to confirm that I am 'here' and ready to bid. When we talked the other day, he had expressed concern that if I forgot or something, all would be lost, so we arranged that he would be ready to jump in if I didn't appear ...
[15 minutes, and counting ...]
I've opened the little window with the countdown clock that Yahoo provides for each auction. Given the Yahoo system - where the clock is extended after each winning bid - there really isn't much advantage to waiting until near the end before entering my bid, but I think that waiting until the latest possible time that doesn't trigger an extension (5 minutes and xx seconds before the end) might minimize the chances of casual bidders coming back against me.
Two of then have started to slug it out, and up we go ... pausing at 51,100 yen ...
[5 minutes +]
In I go. My bid of 1xx,000 yen puts me on top at 52,100 ... but I am sure one of these guys will now start chasing me.
58,100 ... and this pushed it out another five minutes. But as he only nudged it a few thousand yen, this could take a while. This is the new bidder who joined the party a couple of hours ago.
I'm so glad about the timing of this auction - that because of the Kickstarter revenue, I'm sitting here in a fairly strong position, without panicking that I am emptying my bank account.
76,100 ... and pushing it out another five minutes ... His increments are getting smaller.
Oops, spoke too soon! He has really doubled down and pushed in one jump up to 100,100 ...
124,500 ... he's getting too close; time to up my own bid in the background, before he hits me (unfortunately extending the time again ...)
131,500 ... this guy won't give up!
166,000 ... and he's topped me. Who the hell can this be? Have to think about this for a minute ...
OK, in goes 2xx,xxx ... putting it at 187,500 But I can't do that again ...
189,500 ... he hit by just a small increment, but it pushed out another five minutes, giving him time to think ...
199,500 ... small increments again. Is he running out of steam? Is the 200,000 level a barrier he can't cross?
Silence ... now inside the final 60 seconds ...
Done. The hammer falls, at 199,500 yen (around $2100 as of today's exchange rate).
That's a whole lot more than I would have liked to have paid, but I guess it can't be helped. Looking through the bid history now, I see that I would have got this stuff for 51,100 if that last guy hadn't joined in. I wonder if I'll ever find out who it was?
All that's left now is to do the paperwork and arrange for the shipping. I'll post a new entry once the box arrives and we can see what's really hiding in there!
For more entries, please make a selection from the 'Table of Contents' section of the SideBar on the right ...