Who am I?
Posted by Dave Bull at 8:47 PM, July 23, 2014 [Permalink]
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.
Bird's Eye ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 11:57 PM, July 21, 2014 [Permalink]
Just like most people, I've become used to using Google for most image and map searches, but they aren't the only game in town. Here's imagery from Bing (slightly modified in my Photoshop), which gives a very nice perspective on my new neighbourhood!
As you can see, the route to get to our place from the Kaminarimon gate is simple: straight up the Nakamise row of shops, turn left on Denpo-In Street, and you'll see us on the left side in the fourth block. (Or I mean, you will in a few months from now!)
Posted by Dave Bull at 3:37 PM, July 19, 2014 [Permalink]
A very big day for us yesterday - it was our first face-to-face meeting with our new landlord, and the official 'go ahead' from her that we will be her new tenant. Two of the staff members and I were waiting outside the door at ten in the morning, as pre-arranged.
After she arrived and let us in, we all gathered in one of the tatami rooms, kneeling there amidst the many many years accumulation of dust, and we made our formal self-introductions. I gave her the present we had brought, as custom dictates, we passed some pleasantries, and she then handed over the keys.
This isn't the legal beginning of everything; I will be meeting with her real estate agent later to put my seal on the lease, arrange the final details about key money, insurance matters, and many other things, but ... we're in.
After chatting with us for a while about the history of the building and how she came to own it, she dusted herself off, and left us to our own devices. (That history is actually a bit interesting. It won't mean anything at all to our foreign readers, but to Japanese people of a certain age ... to hear that this was the location of 'Noguchi Shokudo' will certainly raise their eyebrows. And indeed, the interior 'decorations' that we are about to begin re-arranging, were built by them when they converted this place to a restaurant.)
Are you ready for a short guided tour?
Before we begin, a couple of notes: I only had a point-and-shoot camera with me, and these rooms are extremely cramped and small (the entire building is only 3 metres wide), so it was very difficult to get understandable photos. (And it was also quite dark in there ...). The other thing to keep in mind is that what you see here is certainly not what you will see when you come in the door on Opening Day. We are going to gut this place!
Anyway, let's go. The doorway from outside is quite narrow, but once you step inside you find that the stairs are neither narrow nor steep - very unusual for Japan. The restaurant people created a Showa 'retro' feeling, and once this is cleaned up, it's going to be beautiful!
I said a Showa 'retro feel', but that's incorrect. They didn't build retro - they were building modern - that's how long this place has been unused!
Before we explore the second floor, here's the plan that I drew this morning, showing the current state of the building based on our measurements from yesterday. (If you're interested, you might open the enlargement in another window, to better understand where these next photos were taken ...)
After you come up to the landing, turn right, and then step inside, here's a shot looking back down the stairs. The window you see there actually just looks at the stairs ... not quite sure why they would do that ...
(Many of these photos show various junk that is cluttering the space, and which we'll have to dispose of ...)
Looking down the hallway to the right - towards the front of the building - you see some glass shoji doors. They are the entrance to the Print Party room. Where that junk on the right is stacked will be a place to hang coats, grab an apron, and slip your shoes off, before stepping into the room itself for your Print Party™ experience! :-)
And here we are inside that room. We have a 'little bit' of replastering to do ... (The white 'drapery' you see outside is where some construction is taking place across the street ...)
Young Teiko-san was with me doing the measuring, and while she tested out the strength of the balcony, I ran outside for a quick souvenir snapshot:
She then pointed off to her right, and when I joined her up there, I saw what she had been excited about!
Turning around, and ready to leave that room ...
Moving back past the junk on the left, we see a most uninviting aspect:
Look at this! Who would design the place with such wasted space as long hallways? We are going to have to do something about this, and ...
... this next photo shows where the axe will fall. We're going to tear off the top two thirds of that wall, leaving it only waist-high:
This is the same corner from the other side. We can see why they built a wall there - they wanted to have an enclosed room.
Well, we want it all opened up, so that same axe mark will show the section that will be removed:
This will later become the central shop area, although you might find that a bit hard to believe at present!
Back in the narrow hallway, past that room on the left, we come across a small door. Inside is ... well, we all know about these, don't we.
This kind of Showa Retro we can do without, so of course we'll be gutting this entire corner of the space, re-framing a wider area, and installing a completely modern toilet and vanity ...
Moving even further past that, towards the back end of the building, we find another tatami room. (The people who built this did some creative fitting there, and that missing corner of the mat is going to make tatami renovation considerably more expensive than it already is ...)
When you visit, you'll find two printers working away here, and as long as you don't mind taking your shoes off yet one more time, you'll be welcome to step up into the room and watch what they are doing ...
And look at this. They'll be working under a giant recreation of a wa-gasa, a Japanese umbrella. Whether or not this is a portent of possible roof leaks I don't know, but for our first pass at these renovations, we'll probably be leaving this as it is ...
So there you have a (very) rough overview of the space. As I mentioned in the previous post, I've had a bit of difficulty getting some nice illustrations of our plans ready for you to see, so for now, you'll have to make do with the prospective floor plan ...
More later, but for now, I have to get back to my bench ...
Grab Bag ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 12:05 AM, July 14, 2014 [Permalink]
Here's a random catch-up on a few of the activities on (and around) my desk this past week or so ...
You might remember that I mentioned a recent 'flood' of orders stemming from a video blogger chatting about the Portraits series a few weeks back ... Well, having a bunch of new orders is nice, but this is where the rubber hits the road ... one by one by one ...
We're now caught up with the first three prints in the series for these new collectors, and are ready to start work on #4 - working in tandem with our current carving and printing of the newest one, of course.
But the Demon King isn't the only SuperHero on my bench this week; I'm also doing a batch of 120 copies or so of one of the reward prints from Jed's Edo Superstar video game Kickstarter project.
This should have been mailed some weeks back, but there was just no way to fit it in. But I hope the collectors won't be too disappointed when they receive it; at least they're getting a copy hand-printed by the workshop master here! :-)
While I was printing those this morning, I was 'interrupted' by something walking along in the river below, so I grabbed a quick snapshot of the visitor ...
These are called ao-sagi in Japanese, so I guess this must be a Blue Heron? He comes and goes quite frequently, but he's very difficult to get photos of. If I crack the door just a smidgeon, to try and get out on to the balcony to get a better photo, he's off in a flash ...
And for our last photo today, I'm just in time, because the staff here has got to the bottom of the box on this one very quickly, and there are only two left ...
This one was funny actually. I spent the best part of two days working with the NHK crew last week, far more than I should have. (The program in question doesn't feature me much at all; simply I am one of the people they contacted to add 'colour' to their main plot ... the program is about the Japanese art genre bijin-ga, and as there is an overlap there with my world, they asked me to contribute.)
The NHK people have my financial information on file, and at the end of any given session of filming (for the recent Journeys in Japan episodes, etc.) the producer simply asks me if there have been any changes, and when I tell him 'none', a deposit will arrive in my account sometime in the following month. They're a public broadcaster, and don't pay 'top' rates, but they do take care of you ..
But this time was different. As they were packing their truck at the end of the final session, the producer approached me, and I noticed with some trepidation that he was carrying a small shopping bag. No! But ... yes ... he gave me the bag, thanking me profusely for my time and trouble, and a minute later, off they went.
Well, at least they were tasty ...
The original meaning of 'browsing' ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 4:01 AM, July 9, 2014 [Permalink]
Some sketches of our plans for the shop layout ...
Thank you everybody! What a wonderful response to the previous post - about the price labels - with plenty of interesting suggestions about how we should proceed!
I'm not so perfectly happy that nobody seems to like my idea for displaying the price breakdown - not as it stands, anyway - but this is what you get when you ask for feedback ... Anyway, I'll get 'back to the drawing board', and will sit and think about this for a while, coming back a bit later with Mark II ...
In the meantime, there are plenty of other parts of our planning that are also moving forward slowly bit by bit. Among these is the design/layout for the core part of the shop, the area where people will browse our selection of prints. We're struggling a bit with this, again for the same reason - trying to turn the vague 'cloudy' idea inside my head into something that can actually be built and put together.
Here's a rough sketch of the browsing corner of the proposed shop:
A few notes:
- We don't have a vast catalogue to offer, so this will definitely not be one of those 'old' print shops crammed from floor to ceiling with racks and shelves of books and prints.
- We're going to try to keep it as clean and non-dusty as possible.
- Why a computer?
- Short term plan: simply this will be used to show things like videos of the carving/printing process, etc. etc.
- Long term plan: pickup a print from the rack, hold it in front of the computer camera. The camera reads the barcode, and automatically starts a video cued to that particular print - perhaps scenes of the print itself being carved, perhaps a little video snippet from Dave explaining why he selected that particular design, etc. etc.
- You see an angled 'stand' in the center of the cabinet; the idea is that people will pull a print package out of the bins, lay it on this stand, and enjoy it under raking light (from a light source hidden under the computer stand ...)
So this is the plan for the 'left side' of the shop space as you come up the stairs from street level. The 'right side' will be completely different ... I'll post the sketches for that a bit later, and you can 'pull up a chair' to see them. Following that, we'll take a peek at the printer's workshop space, and perhaps also the 'PP' room ...
Wanna buy a new car?
Posted by Dave Bull at 4:17 PM, July 6, 2014 [Permalink]
Samples of the proposed price tags for the new shop ...
We're very busy here in the planning for the giant step we want to take this autumn - opening the new shop down in Asakusa. We still haven't got a lease yet, but we're working on that, and in the meantime we're trying to work out as many other details as possible.
Up to now, because pretty much all of our sales have been made online - people browse the site, select items, and go through the shopping cart - it hasn't been necessary to think about such things as price tags. But now that the prints will be on display in a retail environment, we have to work out how to package them, arrange them, and of course let people know what the prices are. And we have to do it in an attractive and easy-to-understand way.
When I wrote the long 'vision' piece - Mokuhankan in the Year 201X - some time back, I proposed a system something like this:
... as good a time as any to suggest that you take a look at the price label for one of these prints. Not your typical price tag, I think!
The guest pulls a print from the browser bin in front of them, and turns it over to inspect the price label on the back. It is indeed 'different', being quite long. One's first impression is that it looks like one of those price 'labels' you see in the window of a new car in the showroom.
At the top is the price, in large type so that it is clearly visible to the shop customers. Below that, in list form, are figures showing the amount (and percentage) that will be paid to the various craftsmen who worked on this print, along with their names. This particular print has an entry for a carver, who is being paid 10% of the retail price, and a printer, who in this case is receiving 20%.
Well, it's now time to work out the dirty details, so I made a rough Photoshop mockup this afternoon, trying to get down on paper that admittedly vague image that I have been carrying in my head:
Before I make much further explanation about this (I'll post more into the comments section below), I would like to ask our regular fans and readers about their reaction to this. My staff here is almost totally against showing these details, but I myself find it a compelling idea.
If you saw this sort of thing in a shop, what would you think about it?
A 'spot' of trouble ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 5:11 PM, June 24, 2014 [Permalink]
We _desperately_ need more (capable) printers...
About six weeks back, I made a few posts in a row about Raining and Pouring, in which I mentioned that because of some recent wonderful publicity tossed our way in the gaming world, we have had a dramatic boost in subscribers to our Heroes Portraits series. To handle this, we need more printers, and I talked about how I had been given an introduction to a workshop down in Kyoto - a place that was highly recommended as being completely capable of handing our level of work.
I followed up on the introduction, made a quick Shinkansen trip to Kyoto for a day, and set things up with the workshop master. He is about my age, has been running the workshop for most of his life, and (I understand) inherited the thing from his father (and perhaps previous generations; I'm not sure about the exact history of the place.)
At the time I visited, his own workbench was bare, but three printers were busy beavering away on a variety of different prints; one was making some kind of buddhist image on commission from a temple (he told me), a young girl was making some kind of small tourist-type prints, and a young man was working on quite a large stack of Hiroshige ukiyoe prints. These guys seem to be covering a lot of bases!
I discussed my requirements with the master, showed my sample image, the blocks, and my stack of paper (enough for 150 copies of the design). He inspected it all carefully, we discussed details of the work, talked a bit about price and deadlines, etc. etc. and agreed that they would take on this job.
While I was sitting there, a phone call came in - it was from the carver back in Tokyo who did the introduction. He was a tad worried that I would not be able to properly explain my requirements, so was adding his voice to the mix. He explained to the workroom master just what kind of printing job I was expecting to have done - specifically mentioning that this was traditional 'ukiyo-e' type work, with rich smooth colour, printed with transparent pigments, fitted properly into strong outlines. (It was worth emphasizing this, because a lot of work done in the Kyoto tradition is different, utilizing opaque pigments gently applied on 'top' of thick hard paper.)
But the communication seemed to all go well, so I left the job there and returned to Tokyo. I guess you can perhaps guess why I am blogging about this today ...
Yes indeed. We received the package of 150 prints the other day, and they are all unusable. Here are a few images; first, the sample we gave him (printed by one of the ladies working here):
Here is one of their prints (a random choice, not specifically 'bad' or 'good'):
All 150 of these prints have not been sold in advance, 'just' around 80 of them, so we hit the Action Stations button right away, cut and moistened a stack of paper, and I myself printed up enough to cover the immediate requirements for this week. Here's one from my just-completed stack:
At this small scale they don't look so different, but popup the three enlargements and compare: the overall colour tone (theirs is speckled and ugly all over the print), the registration (their red block is completely off register, including the eye!), the beard ... the hairlines ... It's an absolute mess, and if this was presented to me by one of the apprentices here, I would just look back at them in astonishment ... "Are you kidding me?"
So now we're in a jam, a real jam. Our three outside pros are all tightly booked up for at least the next few months (both with work from us - Ukiyoe Heroes - and from other publishers). The ladies here are all working at the limits of the amount of time that they have available, and it gets worse: Ayumi-san is heading back to her parents' place in the country for the month of August, Shiba-san is off for three weeks now, and Teiko-san has been assigned to working on the planning for the Asakusa project.
As to why this has happened, why they would turn in such obviously bad work, I have no clue. The price I offered was very fair, my deadline was not tight, and I provided the best paper in the country, cleanly carved blocks, and a clear sample. There is absolutely no excuse for what happened. And it wasn't that they had decided that they didn't want our work, because during the (very difficult) conversation that I had by phone with the workshop master earlier today, he actually asked when I would be sending the next job ...
Quarter century ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 6:16 PM, June 18, 2014 [Permalink]
Well, I can't quite believe it, but a couple of months back, I forgot about something that I had been thinking of - and looking forward to - for quite some time before. (I can't think of what might have pushed it out of my mind ... :-)
Long story short, this past April - I don't know the actual day - marked 25 years since I sold my first woodblock print here in Japan. I've now been an honest-to-goodness professional woodblock printmaker for a quarter of a century.
Thank you, thank you! :-)
Here I was, one day early that year, with one of the first tests of the first print in the long Hyakunin Isshu series. At this point, I had of course not sold any of those prints; I was feeding my family by teaching English classes (in that same room) four evenings a week.
We took this photo, had a bunch of copies run off, and sent it out, along with a short announcement - "Canadian woodblock printmaker David Bull announces a ten-year project to re-create the entire Hyakunin Isshu series of woodblock prints designed over 200 years ago by Katsukawa Shunsho ... etc. etc.", in the hope that somebody somewhere in the media just might possibly be interested ...
Somebody was, and within a few short weeks of sending out that little pamphlet, I was featured in newspapers, magazines, and TV news programs, in a wave of attention that lasted the full ten years, right up until the end of the series in December of 1998:
And of course, the ride didn't stop there ...
Anyway, better late than never, I'll raise a small glass this evening ... to 25 incredible years ... Kampai!
First steps ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 4:52 AM, June 16, 2014 [Permalink]
Dave's 'tool set' for organizing the construction of the new shop ...
Some of the fans/followers have been asking in emails about the Asakusa project. I'm still not at the point where I can run up the flags and make the announcement of the plans and schedule; that will have to wait until I can see my vermillion 'signature' on the main lease contract. But you can bet that we're not sitting still while waiting until that happens!
Opening our new shop is going to require a huge amount of planning and preparation, and this is well under way. Something that I have struggled with in recent years is what sort of software to use for general project planning. I have tried various outlining and charting programs designed specifically for project planning, but have never been able to make any of them 'work'. This time, I'm going to try something else - something that I know will do the job for me!
Yes - index cards and a little binder for them ... very high tech, indeed!
Here's the basic tool set:
The 200+ cards of the initial set are now filed in a binder, separated into fifteen categories. There will be more cards - and perhaps more categories - to come later, I'm sure, but this will do for a start. A couple of other essential items visible here are the calculator and the little voice recorder. That item lives in my shirt pocket, and works for me far better than trying to make notes on paper. I sit down with it once a day or so, play back what I have memoed into it, and at that point put the information where it belongs.
Portraits progress ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 12:55 PM, June 4, 2014 [Permalink]
The key block for the Portraits #8 print is ready ...
We're all working away here, waiting for the rainy season to start. It's 'scheduled' for tomorrow afternoon (that's how things work here in Japan), and from then on for the next few months, it will be very muggy and damp here. We'll be on 'high alert' for mold, right through until the clear autumn weather arrives.
Among the jobs on the benches this week has been the carving of the key block for Portraits #8 - a very well-known character indeed. Here's the just finished key block (carving this time by Dave ...):
And here's the same thing, a few minutes after taking a test proof:
Jed has really upped his game on this one, and even though it is on a very small scale, has given us wonderfully tasteful brushwork. Look at this closeup of some of the fabric lines:
And the corresponding area of the print (this is a rough proof on cheap paper):
This is what is known as sabi-bori (literally, 'rusty carving') or sometimes as kasure-bori ('scratched carving'). The idea of course is to accurately show how the brush loses ink as it progresses along a line ... It adds a huge amount of 'touch' to the print ...
And the face is wonderfully expressive!
So here he is overall:
Now to get busy with the colour blocks!
Posted by Dave Bull at 6:56 AM, June 3, 2014 [Permalink]
An experience we don't want every day!
Something came up here the other day, and I've been thinking to make a post here about it. The women working here as printers don't think I should do this, but I think that as long as I don't mention any names, it shouldn't cause much problem for them. So ...
In (email) conversation with varous people over the past couple of months, more than one friend has brought up the question of whether or not we can maintain our 'standards' given the recent huge surge in orders for our prints ... It's a good question, one that needs to be addressed, and one that I have been thinking that I have addressed. We basically haven't changed anything here at present, simply we have taken on another group of printers to handle work for us, and these printers come very highly recommended and in any case, I'll be vetting their work very carefully.
So it was a bit of a surprise to me when I opened an email from one of our portraits collectors the other day, to find an image attachment - of the print he just received - along with this note:
Dear Mr. Bull,
I just received the “Bling” print. I just wanted to let you know that the carving looks impressive as always, however the printing doesn’t seems to have the usual quality. The black lines are a little too grey showing the underneath color and it seems that the grey key block was a little misaligned. On the whole this two problems gives a “blurry” feeling to the print.
It’s nothing to worry about, but I wanted to let you know this so that all future prints may retain the great quality and attention to details that is distinctive of your work.
Kind regards ... [name]
Here we are. No question about it, this is a print that should never have left this room. It is misregistered (look at his left leg), the keyblock is poorly printed, and the colours are mottled and weak. I myself check each and every print of the batches produced by our printers, and all I can guess about this is that when I was doing my yes ... yes ... no ... yes ... nope! ... yes .... I must have tossed it onto the wrong pile. The packing ladies then simply followed my instructions, and out it went. There is no one else here to blame for this but me.
Now we got very lucky here; the print ended up in the hands of a very enthusiastic collector of our work, a man who has everything we have produced - all the Ukiyoe Heroes, the Chibi Heroes, and now the Heroes Portraits. It could have gone to somebody as a 'first print' from us! And as you have read in his email, he understands who we are, what we are doing, and is gently concerned that we have headed down a wrong path.
Here is what I wrote back:
This is quite a surprise - that is an awful print, and should never have left this workshop. I'm the one who is supposed to check everything, and I have no excuse for that one getting through.
Our packing ladies are now preparing a replacement for you, and it will leave this morning (along with a little something else in the package). Once it gets there, please destroy the other one; it's not something anybody would want to keep.
If it's OK with you, I'll probably blog about this a bit later this week (I won't use your name, of course). We're having quite a difficult time keeping things together smoothly with the recent huge burst in popularity, and this is a perfect example of how not to move forward, and a very good reminder to us to pay more attention to our core mission - making beautiful prints!
My apologies again for this experience, and I certainly thank you very much for your reasoned response to receiving that defective print!
I'm not sure what else to add at this point. In one sense, it's not a bad thing that this is happening just now, early on in our growth spurt, when we can take the lesson to heart and try to make sure we do better. If people don't let us know about these things, it would be more dangerous, for sure.
Making stuff is difficult. Making good stuff is even more difficult. All we can do is try our best, and then on those occasions when we fall short of our goals, hope that we have built up enough 'merit points' with our supporters, that they will be patient with us.
About that 2nd floor ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 1:00 PM, May 25, 2014 [Permalink]
Still no formal news about our Asakusa workshop plans ...
I had hoped to bring an update on the Asakusa workshop situation this weekend, but as I still haven't been able to nail things down firmly yet, it's better if I hold back. A number of people have asked about my plans for the 2nd floor of the building, and I can certainly point you in the direction that my thoughts are moving.
Here's the headline from a news item in 'The Japan News' the other day:
... and a quote from the story (which is here):
The estimated number of visitors to Japan in April jumped 33.4 percent from a year earlier to a record 1,231,500, the Japan National Tourism Organization said Wednesday. The visitor total grew for the 15th straight month and marked a record monthly high for the second consecutive month.
The JNTO expects overall visitor numbers in May to reach a record high for the month on the back of Japan’s eased visa policy and the Haneda flight increase.
Here's another one, from the 'Japan Real Time' blog:
... and a quote:
Tokyo has triumphed over the Big Apple and the city of Gaudi as the best destination for travelers across the world in an online poll.
According to a survey of over 54,000 travelers conducted by Internet travel site TripAdvisor, Tokyo beat out New York and Barcelona as the city with “the best overall experience.”
Tokyo ranked among the top 10 in 13 out of the 16 sections in the survey, and topped five of them, including the categories “helpful locals,” “best taxi services,” and “cleanest streets.”
It seems pretty clear to me that having a presence in Asakusa - one of Tokyo's major attraction zones - is something that carries the potential to transform our business. As I mentioned the other day in a previous thread, it's not the 'tourist trinket' market that we are going to chase; simply we want to make good woodblock prints available to these people, and also - up on our 2nd floor - provide them with an enjoyable, entertaining, and instructive woodblock experience.
I can't wait to get started!
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