Senshafuda Project - just a couple of days now!
Posted by Dave Bull at 8:04 AM, April 15, 2011 [Permalink]
Some important progress to report today - Sato-san has completed the block set, and we're ready to begin proofing.
There are a number of interesting 'twists' involved here. Way back in the old (ukiyo-e) days, this kind of work would have been done by the printers themselves (under general supervision of the publisher). For most 'common garden' work, it wouldn't have been necessary for the designers to be involved. The printer knew to make the water 'blue', and etc. etc. and he would perhaps have been given some notes as to general colour breakdowns, for things such as kimono colours.
Back then, the original documents were of course tossed aside at the completion of the process, but a (very) few have survived, and this one seems to be typical. It is a kyogo (colour separation sheet printed from the keyblock) for an Utamaro print:
The small squiggles here and there on the sheet are notations about colour, in very general terms: 'blue', 'light yellow', etc. etc., and are assumed to be by Utamaro. Given this, and their knowledge gained from experience about what a 'typical' Utamaro print was like, the printing team could easily go ahead and produce the edition.
When we move ahead to the Meiji era, the process evolved, and many prints were created a different way - the designer turned in a 'completed' water colour image: an art work in its own right actually. The carvers and printers simply reproduced in woodblock what they saw on this 'master'. The subsequent presence of the designer would have been completely unnecessary, and such people probably never went near the workshops.
But by the early-mid-20th century, the shin-hanga days, we see a more active input from the designers. A designer like Kawase Hasui turned in a completed water-colour, and this was used as the basis for a set of blocks to be prepared, but he also played a part, both at the time of making colour separations, and at the time of test printing. Hasui would sit down next to the printer, and the two of them - with plenty of input from both - would work on it until either they 'found' the image they were happy with, or the publisher told them to knock off and get busy with the edition.
Now. Here we are in 2011, and we're actually going to be working with a kind of blend of all three methods. We cut the blocks based on the traditional ukiyo-e method, working from the outlines first, and then working out colour blocks in what we thought to be a sensible way to produce prints relatively close to Seki-san's samples. But because she actually has no 'real' experience at designing for printmaking, her samples didn't 'translate' directly, and we had to adapt and edit while we were doing that. So it is not going to be all that simple for Tetsui-san to sit down and start 'running them off ...'
And it's a little more complex than even that, because - something I hadn't realized at all - most modern printers working here these days, especially the younger ones, have absolutely no experience at doing this! Tetsui-san has never 'proofed' a new print! How could he? All he has ever done is make Hiroshige reproductions and other similar things, and those colour schemes were decided more than 150 years ago! They pass him the blocks, along with a set of colour strips, and he prints to match. No 'decisions' necessary.
I myself, who has 'proofed' every single print that I have made in my career - 'reverse engineering' all those reproductions, and creating any number of adaptations and originals - have far more experience at this than almost anybody else around these days!
So at this point you are probably thinking, "OK no problem. Dave sits down with Seki-san and Tetsui-san, and they work it out together." We're not going to do that. Proofing is set to begin Sunday morning at Tetsui-san's place, and I'm not going.
The three of them - designer Seki-san, carver Sato-san, and printer Tetsui-san - are going to work it out together. Of course, I am going to be involved - inspecting the results, and giving the go-ahead before editioning (or calling for more tests) - but I think it important that these three try to work it out by themselves. They are young, I am 'senior', they have no experience, I have a great deal ... and this is Japan. If I were there, it would all have to come from me, as it would be very difficult for them to step forward.
I really want to be there, but it is better that I keep out of the way. So I've told them to get on with it, and I'll show up later in the afternoon.
Perhaps when I get there I'll arrive to find three people who never want to speak to each other ever again. Perhaps I'll find them raising a glass to the wonderful new print they have on the table in front of them.
Most likely, there will be a pile of different samples scattered across the table, and a bunch of problems still to be worked out. No problem. At that point, I'll roll up my sleeves too, and we'll figure it out.
This thread continues here ...
Added by: Dave on April 15, 2011 8:20 PM
Mokuhankan made progress in another area too today, although not really worth a post of its own, so I'll just note it here in passing.
I had an appointment with my tax accountant this morning. I do my own bookkeeping, but at the end of each year I pass over the completed set of books to these guys for preparing the tax returns. I learned long ago that their expertise is essential, and that the relatively small fee they charge is more than covered by the time saved (not to mention the benefit from having it done 'properly' with all correct deductions taken, etc.)
I had called them to make this appointment because I wanted their advice on the possible structure that the 'future' Mokuhankan can/should take. I have only a basic layman's knowledge of corporate structures, and as the laws on this here have changed dramatically over the past few years (to encourage entrepreneurship, something very difficult in 'traditional' Japan), I need advice.
I learned a lot. The 'take away' message from the meeting is that it will not be necessary for me to incorporate in the short term. The things I want to do over the next year or so can indeed be handled under the 'sole proprietorship' structure that I have at present. A 'proprietor' can indeed have employees, etc., something I had not thought possible. As for the future, the 'employee shareholder' concept that I am proposing would also be possible, and they are ready to advise me on how to set that up when the time comes (if).
One thing I learned was a bit disappointing. This might need a bit of explanation ... The music company I worked for back in Canada, was a limited company owned by one man (perhaps his family were shareholders, I don't know). As the years went by, the company grew, he started to get a bit older, and he found himself in a difficult situation. Although there were many employees, it was very much a 'key man' business - he was the 'face' of the company to the world (and to the bank too, holding all the loans). He had no obvious successor, so the question of 'what do we do with this thing?' began to loom large. Nobody could buy the company from him, because without the 'key man' in place, the future wasn't secure. But we employees couldn't buy it, because we had nowhere near enough money to pay what the shares were (nominally) worth. He couldn't even retire, without taking the whole thing down.
Now as it happened, his son did eventually turn out to be the kind of person who was capable of taking over, and (as far as I know), that's the route they took.
Why do I bring this up? Well, I'm going to be 60 this year. If I were to be the owner/boss of this place, I too would face the same situation, and I would face it in the not-very-distant future. So what I told the accountant today was something like this:
"When it comes time to set up Mokuhankan as a 'company' I don't want to be the owner. I'll take a 'piece' sure, but I want to do everything I can to avoid this becoming a 'key man' business. As each employee gradually gains our trust in their abilities and enthusiasm, the 'ownership shares' will be re-adjusted to include them as a shareholder. I want this thing to have at least a chance of surviving after I check out. And what's more, I don't want a salary. I intend to contribute as a carver, for which I want to receive the same block royalty as the other carvers. In addition, I'll be renting my building to the company, and I'll also be 'renting' them some of my older blocks, which they will re-print. That's how I will earn my living."
The accountant shot some of this down instantly. Not legally possible. The building rental, no problem. The block rental, no problem. Even the employee shareholder concept could be worked out. But the dai hyo (prime shareholder) cannot be paid in the manner in which I described. I didn't clearly understand the reason why, but I guess it was because of tax laws related to tax evasion, etc. I cannot - and he was adamant about this - be paid piece-work while also being one of the owners.
Well ... we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Something else I learned was the fact that - completely unknown to me - I should have been keeping 'withholding taxes' for payments I have made (and will make next week!) to outside printers and carvers. (The three kids are not going to be happy campers when they hear that in a couple of days, I'm sure!) It actually makes no difference to me, as I simply keep some money back from them, and send it to the tax office instead, but my guess is that other publishers have not been doing this, as a lot of this work is done with cash payments, and may be sort of under the radar. If I keep back 10% of the money I will pay these workers this week, the only way for them to recover it will be by making a full tax declaration next spring, and that may not be something that they are doing ...
Other questions I put to him were related to such things as the management of the Trainee Premium I wish to implement, and how to handle the plans for the upcoming [redacted] project with Ueda-san. I came away with plenty of notes on how to handle these things too.
Anyway, as I said, the news was mostly good - I can indeed proceed with these plans under my current legal/tax status of 個人事業 (kojin jigyo - sole proprietorship). I am to keep the books completely separate from my own Seseragi Studio work (which I have been doing anyway, ever since Mokuhankan started up a few years ago), and we'll tackle the incorporation question some time from now, if the growth is there to warrant it.
Onward and upward!
Added by: Marc Kahn on April 16, 2011 1:07 AM
Given the Japanese tendency to define relationships with titles, I'm curious about something. Do your young protegees address you as Bull-san, Bull-sensei, David-san, David-sensei, "hey-you", or what?
Added by: Dave on April 16, 2011 1:29 AM
No 'sensei'. Absolutely no sensei. I haven't heard that from any of them, but if I did, I would stomp on it instantly. The term simply has too much baggage.
When we have been face to face, it seems to me that they haven't actually used any particular name format. It's not really necessary in Japanese, as the pronouns ('you', 'me', 'I', etc.) can all be omitted in speech, as long as the context shows who is being referred to. This is not really possible in English, where every sentence requires a subject.
But on Sunday for example (when I'm not there and they need to refer to me in their conversation), they will use David-san, or Bull-san, probably with no particular preference for either. And it's quite possible that they aren't actually certain which is my first name and which is my last, because we foreigners in Japan don't fall into any easily understandable pattern in that respect.
They'll never be calling me 'Dave' though, like you do (perfectly naturally); it's just not done here. As for the other way around, I'll probably never have occasion to use the boys' first names, although I have already started to call our designer 'Kaori-san' when speaking to her. It seems easier to become a bit more casual with girls/ladies, but that may be a prejudice/quirk of mine (perhaps because I had two girls ...), not sure.
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