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Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 9:10 PM, January 31, 2016
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!
Doi Hanga collaboration - Episode #2 video ...
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 1:06 PM, January 28, 2016
Next YouTube is up!
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 12:09 AM, January 22, 2016
Ukiyoe Heroes Portraits - update video
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 4:37 PM, December 21, 2015
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 7:38 PM, December 12, 2015
A quick peek into our printers' room ...
Back in the summer of 2012 when we started the Ukiyoe Heroes Kickstarter campaign, our Mokuhankan venture was just at the very beginning. The two women who were here training as printers at the time were only capable of doing very simple work. Long-time blog readers might remember that we were even printing such simple things as packaging for cookies!
I started the Kickstarter campaign knowing full well that all the carving and printing work would be falling on my shoulders alone. I was ready to take that on, and organized the schedule - a new Heroes print every two months or so - around that plan. It didn't take long though before it became very obvious that the project was going to explode. Ukiyoe Heroes was clearly not a 'one man' job, and yet my 'immature' staff was simply incapable of doing that level of work. So I began to use a few outside craftsmen, and over the next three years, Shinkichi Numabe, Hirokazu Tetsui, and then Kenichi Kubota all came on board to produce beautiful editions of the prints for us (and are still doing so).
So why make a post about this now? Because look at this set of photographs, taken in the printers' room of our Asakusa shop! Two of the most difficult designs in the Heroes series, now being done right here 'in-house', by two young ladies, neither of whom has yet reached four years of experience. And the work is being done at a 'no compromises' level of quality ...
This is Ayumi Miyashita, who we have seen many times on this blog. She's doing the 'Hero Rests' design ...
Rich and deep colours; perfectly smooth grainless gradations ... Jed-san, are you watching?
Straight out of high school four years ago ... to this level ...
She has about 60 sheets in the batch, and I suspect we'll be sending around 59 of them to Jed for signing ... Here she is putting them out to shed most of their moisture before she puts them into the heavy drying boards.
On the other printing bench is Chiharu Kanai, who also has four years experience, although not starting here. She worked at another workshop first, then after leaving there was away from printing for a couple of years before we enticed her back.
She's working on the design Jed calls 'Flight of Fantasy' ...
In this next photo we can see the 'model' sample at the left, and her (still incomplete) version ... again, good rich deep colouring and wonderfully smooth gradations!
Here's her finished version ...
Ain't we got fun!
I posted the other day about the expansion into the 3rd floor of our building, and these two were 'bothered' all week by the banging and crashing from above as work got going. But they're not complaining, because the new workroom is coming along well.
And it has room for four printers ... We'll keep you posted!
Feeling worn down? Prematurely old?
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 2:22 PM, November 28, 2015
Looking at some prematurely 'old' blocks!
One of the most common questions we get asked here is about block wear ... "How many prints can you make from a block before it gets worn out?"
We hear this all the time, and really have no single clear answer. "It depends." We ourselves are very careful with the blocks, treat them gently, and of course try to maximize their life. And until very recently, we (I) simply had no experience with well-worn blocks. I myself usually only made around 200 copies or so of each of the prints I published - not because of a 'Limited Edition' consideration, but simply because I got on with making the next print each time …
But now that we are in a whole new level of popularity, some of our prints are selling very well, and block wear has become a reality for us. Our current Ukiyoe Heroes prints are nowhere near that point yet - blocks typically last for many hundreds of copies, and usually well into the thousands - but the blocks in our Print Party room are in trouble. Take a look at this ...
… and a closeup:
This is the 'red' block for the print we have been using in the Print Parties for nearly a year. It has been clear for some weeks that it has reached the end of life. It has become so worn that the carved areas no longer reach to the black outlines, and people have been thinking that their registration is off.
This block has worn so badly because of a few factors: one is that red is a particularly abrasive pigment, and red (and) brown blocks always wear first. The second is that this is the first block in the sequence, and the beginners who use it to make prints almost invariably rub the brush over the surface too strongly. We of course tell them "Lightly … lightly!" … but what can you do! :-) And adding to this is that the brush is frequently a bit too hard, because it 'waits' between visitors and sometimes dries out a bit too much.
This combination of factors has just killed that block stone dead. But no problem … it's just a matter of a couple of hours work (on the back side of the same piece!) to recut it:
Here's another 'before/after' pair for comparison:
And another …
The one I'm dreading is of course the day when the key block for our Great Wave print becomes unusable. We're a long way off that day yet, but given how long it will take to get a fresh set up and running, we had better start planning soon!
Great Wave video … part fourteen
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 12:08 AM, November 14, 2015
The next Great Wave video is ready ...
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 8:04 PM, November 4, 2015
How Mokuhankan got started ...
There isn't really time tonight to do a 'proper' blog post - at least not what needs to be done - but the calendar is demanding that I put something on record this week, so the carving bench will have to wait a few minutes …
It was another crazy day in the shop today, with Print Parties, a visit from a TV producer setting up a shoot next week, a travel agent visiting to confirm plans for a 20-person Print Party next Monday (we'll use an outside rented room for that …), fun visits from supporters/customers (who did more shopping than we have any right to expect!), a Skype consultation with Jed to confirm details of the February print in next year's subscription set (yes, already under 'construction') ... all accompanied by a steady stream of emails/orders/confirmations/questions about the Great Wave project, which is now within a couple of days of wrapping up at last!
But I said that the calendar is demanding a blog post, so let me try to get a few things down here … The Mokuhankan staff and I had a little dinner get-together the other day, on November 1st. As I mentioned the other day in a Facebook item, this was our 1st anniversary - we opened the doors of the Asakusa shop on Oct 31st last year (one day earlier than planned, to fit a request from a backer). The dinner actually didn't go quite as planned; the first hour or so was OK, but a group of asinine young students then came into the room next to us, and made so much noise that we couldn't continue - we quite literally couldn't hear each other speak. I really got upset with the manager, who refused to make any attempt to quieten them down, and I ended up refusing to pay our full bill … Next time, we'll do a bit more research to ensure a nice environment for our meeting …
It was probably just as well though, because all the other members around the table had had a chance to say their words about the occasion, and it was just as it came to my turn that the noise began. (The staff all had a good laugh about that of course, suggesting that the students had been 'sent' by some outside agency …)
I hadn't intended to make a long speech, just give the staff an outline of a few things that they (for the most part) didn't know.
They mostly know Mokuhankan as it exists at present, our little shop in Asakusa, and the workroom in my home back in Ome. They think it's a few years old. They are wrong.
It began in 1998~1999, just as I was finishing up the long ten-year Hyakunin Isshu poets series. The word 'Mokuhankan' hadn't come to mind yet; I didn't have a name for the project I was cooking up. The concept was quite vague at first. I had been doing well with making/selling reproductions of traditional prints via private subscription, but felt that I wanted to 'modernize' things a little. It didn't seem to be so useful to simply keep making reproductions.
Rather than try to explain more here, let me link to an archive copy of a web page that I put up at that time. This was before Facebook, before YouTube, before Google … and I don't remember how I imagined that I would actually reach many people, but there it was.
Please go take a look at the page.
So how did the experiment turn out? Did I get a flood of response from eager and willing designers?
Well, no. I ended up having conversations with two people, both friends from the (then flourishing) Baren Forum I had started a few years earlier, John Amoss and Gary Luedke. Without a strong showing from interested designers, I hesitated to push the project forward, and ended up letting it slide. I did work with both those two friends, incorporating their designs into two of my Surimono Albums. The wider vision of a 'publishing house' was set aside.
We move ahead to 2005. My project that year had been the - very successful - Hanga Treasure Chest, a set of 24 prints that I had issued every two weeks during the course of the year. There were a lot of subscribers, and the bank account was looking quite nice. The 'publisher' idea reared its head again, but this time with a different cast. Instead of trying to set up a subscription series based on contemporary designs, I would take a different approach - I would simply begin to issue prints one at a time as my resources permitted, putting them into an online shop, using both traditional designs, and - if I could find designers - modern work as well. (The internet was now much more advanced, and shopping online was clearly a 'thing' at this point.)
I needed a 'brand', and after some thought, came up with the word Mokuhankan, which can be translated as 'The place for woodblock prints!' I am able to tell the very day when I came up with that, because the domain registration - which I must have done straight away - is a matter of public record: November 5th, 2005.
So that is why I am making this post today. Early November is clearly the most important time in the calendar for us - our Asakusa shop was one year old this week, and I myself will be 64 next week, but Mokuhankan got its start exactly ten years ago tonight.
The first item - catalogue #1 - was a print made from blocks I had carved some years earlier, to make a Gift Print for the collectors of the Hyakunin Isshu poets series. We've come a very long way in that ten years, of course not entirely in a direction I had intended, but that's irrelevant; we are now well and truly established, I think!
I can't leave a blog post this lengthy without putting some kind of image in, so here's a photo given to me by an amateur photographer who snapped me outside a few days ago, while I was preparing to take some video for the next upcoming YouTube episode.
Happy Anniversaries, Dave! :-)
Thanks for all the years of support!
quote - IT'S HERE! - unquote
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 8:16 PM, October 7, 2015
Yes, that's what I'm seeing in my email Inbox any number of times each day now … We've been shipping Great Wave prints bit by bit over the past couple of weeks, and they are now arriving at homes around the world.
Yes, that's what I'm seeing in my email Inbox any number of times each day now … We've been shipping Great Wave prints bit by bit over the past couple of weeks, and they are now arriving at homes around the world.
We're of course shipping in the same order that the backers joined the campaign. Our printer Mr. Kenichi Kubota is currently on his 3rd batch, bringing them round to our shop around once every ten days or so. At the rate he's going, we'll be finished the Kickstarter fulfillment (219 copies in all) within this calendar month.
Our two shipping ladies are of course ready and waiting for each batch, with all the packing prepared in advance, so each print heads out to the Post Office soon after we receive it (after being checked and numbered).
We're not sending the prints 'bare', but are mounting each one on archival support, packed just as if they were to be put into our shop. We've also written a small pamphlet to accompany the prints:
It's of course available for anybody to read, and you can use this link to download the pamphlet in .pdf format (about 5Mb).
We're so happy to finally be shipping this one; it's been quite the project, far more complex than I initially expected …
Many of you have been asking about the next video, and that's now in preparation. I have the outline worked out, and will be getting it into the can later tonight and tomorrow. Once it's edited - and the (very interesting) 'outside' episode attached - I'll be getting it up to YouTube.
Thank you to everybody once more for your patience with this project!
All the Print News that Fits ...
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 9:49 PM, August 6, 2015
Because our shop in Asakusa is somewhat off the beaten path - at least when it comes to woodblock print shops, which are for the most part clustered in the Jimbocho district - most of the people who visit us did not seek us out because we are a print shop; they either came to see the Ukiyoe Heroes prints, they came for a Print Party, or they just dropped in randomly.
We have thus learned over the past months since we opened, that very few of our visitors actually know much about woodblock prints. Is this a problem? Of course not at all; it's a wonderful opportunity!
But it does mean that quite a lot of the conversations we have with people here sometimes tend to veer into 'teaching' mode - we end up explaining not only such things as how the prints were made, but a great deal of background information on them as well.
The other day I came up with a way to help our staff deal with this situation. I am going to create - bit by bit over the coming months and years - a number of small pamphlets that we will pass out to visitors that will help them learn about the things that they see in the shop. Of course we will continue to explain as much as necessary, but I think having such material also on hand will help a great deal.
There is no reason that such material should be confined to the Asakusa shop, so we'll also post them online so that other people can 'read along' too. The first one - a small (4-page) pamphlet talking about one of the prints in our inventory, the well known 'Shinjuku' print by Toshi Yoshida, is now ready. This is an image of the first page ...
… or you can use this link to download the pamphlet in .pdf format.
Any feedback (or suggestions for future content) would be appreciated ...
In Good Company ...
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 1:12 PM, April 15, 2015
An interesting exhibition chance!
Jed-san sent over some interesting information the other day, letting me know about an exhibition featuring our work that is starting next week.
It's to be at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. The theme of the show is 'Samurai', and our woodblock prints will be displayed alongside other work inspired by that theme.
But what adds a real 'cachet' for us are the other exhibitions also taking place at the Museum at the same time, featuring some other artists/designers you may have heard of ...
Van Dyck ...
And here we are!
YouTube milestone ...
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 12:35 PM, March 3, 2015
We reached a small milestone last night, after uploading the most recent video in the series documenting the production of the Great Wave print - the cumulative views on the channel passed a half million ...
Now I know that in the wider world of YouTube that's no big deal; there are people who do that with every video they upload. But for us, I think it's pretty cool. We were talking about this in the shop yesterday - a day when not a single person came up the stairs. The staff member who was there with me was kind of going, "Dave, what are we going to do?", and I simply had to remind her that this was still 'early days', and that we have plenty of arrows in our quiver. That same day that 'nobody' came in - over 3,000 people watched one of our videos …
(And I'm very glad that they watched from a distance, and didn't all try to climb the stairs!)