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Woody mystery - the solution
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 11:43 AM, December 5, 2013
We have a solution to our mystery!
It's not so complicated actually. Looking through the stack of prints, and looking at the reverse side, I found one that showed a small 'patch' on the back. Looking closely I could see that there was a scrap of torn paper peeling off. It seems that the prints - although they look like wood from both front and back, are actually laid down on a thin paper.
So to test this, I took the 'sample' print that had been used for wrapping one set of blocks, and which was damaged in a few places anyway, put it into a shallow tray, and soaked in it warm water. Nothing happened at first, but after an hour or so, the glue had softened up, the paper backing came off, and the pieces floated apart. Here they are after drying:
The wood is insanely thin; my micrometer gives about .05~.06mm depending on the location.
I can't really claim that 'you can read a newspaper through it!', but it's close!
You can see that the wood is actually full of holes and gaps, where the softest part of each cell has just dissolved away.
So I guess the process went something like this:
- prepare a stack of the thin paper sheets
- brush glue over the top sheet
- shave off four or five thin strips of wood with the plane
- lay them one by one on the glue
- take that sheet aside and press it
- repeat ...
- make a batch of prints with the glued-up sheets
Normal pigments are transparent and end up being driven deep into the paper, but these prints are done with thickish opaque pigments, applied with a gentle flat baren, which sit up 'on top' of the surface (this is typical of most 'Kyoto' printing).
So now that we've got it all sorted out, what to do with the multiples that I have here? I'm going to keep a little stack of each design in our 'archive', but I see no reason not spread the joy a little bit, and there is certainly no sense in just hiding them all in a drawer forever, so I'll put them into our catalogue.
Please go and have a look!
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 10:06 PM, November 30, 2013
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 11:12 PM, November 29, 2013
Let's have a mystery this evening - I hope some of the readers of this blog can help solve it!
Japanese woodwork techniques are world-famous, and among these is the ability of some craftsmen to peel very fine shavings with a plane. Some men are so adept at this that they can peel a shaving so wide and long that it seems like a sheet of paper.
A sheet of paper ... now what might such a wide and thin wood shaving be useful for?
How about something like this?
... or this ...
... or this ...
Yes indeed, such shavings can be so thin - my micrometer gives .12mm - that they are able to be used as the base for making woodblock prints! I obtained multiple copies of these three little prints on a Yahoo Auction the other day. They were uploaded to the auction site together with the blocks from which they were printed. I bid on the three lots, and won them.
The blocks are wrapped in newspaper dating from 1973, and that seems about right for these; I would guess they are from a Kyoto workshop, and the prints were probably aimed at the tourist market there (both domestic and foreign tourists). The workshop must have felt that by printing these on the ultra-thin wood shavings, it would give then an appeal over and above a more typical print.
They certainly caught my eye!
But as I said, there is a mystery. Have a look at this image of the third print:
I have marked areas where the wood grain repeats. If you click the enlargement and look carefully, you will see that the grain repeats, but not in exactly the same pattern, like modern furniture that has a fake woodgrain pattern photographically reproduced on it. This is real wood, and the grain varies ever-so-slightly from one section to the next, just as though the four pieces had been sliced one-by-one from a single block of wood.
But this doesn't seem possible. I could easily understand the craftsman gluing a few smaller pieces of wood together to make a larger block which he would then plane down to create the thin sheets for the printmakers to use. But this was clearly not done that way - these were planed off and then edge-jointed together, and I simply can't wrap my head around how .12mm pieces of wood could be edge-jointed.
Anybody have any insights to how these might have been made?
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 12:50 PM, November 14, 2013
The other day in my 'A Story A Week' series, I wrote that I would be making a kind of 'proposal' to a young lady ... well, don't panic! The title of this blog post is not related to that particular venture ... (she's visiting here from tomorrow, so that rejection may come over the weekend, we'll see. :-)
Here at Mokuhankan we now have quite a number of projects running side-by-side. The new Portraits series is well into production, and we already have more than enough subscribers to ensure a full year's production, so that will keep our staff busy right through until late autumn of next year.
The main Ukiyoe Heroes project is still with us too. Even though the Kickstarter fullfillment is now complete, there is a steady stream of orders for the 'back number' prints coming in, and we have arranged with Jed to have him supply a new image every two months over at least another year. That will keep me as a carver busy, but won't have much impact on our printers here as most of the Heroes prints will be done for us by our 'gang' of three outside professional printers.
But although our plates are quite full, we can't just 'sit there'. It's my job to make sure that we not only continue to have a steady supply of work for these people, but that we try and 'grow' this place, bit by bit. I intensely dislike the idea of growth for growth's sake, but the Mokuhankan venture is still a 'child'; we can't possibly ever get to a point where this business is stable unless we expand it to a wider base - to involve more designers, more craftsmen, and a wider base of collectors.
So I have been thinking about how to push this thing forward. If Kawasaki-san the young carver does agree to join us, we then have some 'open' carving time available. It's time to think of how to fill it!
Well, what about something like this?
We're well-established in the video game world now, why not move on to the anime world? And in truth, we have received frequent requests for exactly this type of print all during the past year.
We could perhaps create a 'Studio Ghibli' series - prints of a similar type to our Heroes prints in size and complexity. To make it clear - I don't mean that we should parody these images in the manner of our Ukiyoe Heroes; I would simply like to use the Ghibli characters and scenes to make beautiful prints. If we were to lay out (say) a set of 6 designs, to be produced one every two months for a year, and then arrange licensing with the Ghibli people, we could set up a Kickstarter project for a series like this that 'just might' have a chance at being successful, don't you think?
Well, I certainly think so, so yesterday I took a few hours off from my carving, looked up their address, and went over to knock on Ghibli's door to talk to their licensing division. Their studio complex is only about an hour from here ...
Now you can already tell from the title of this post how it turned out!
They are extremely secretive. It was difficult to find the front door, and when I did locate it, found that it was plastered with signs in both English and Japanese instructing everybody to keep out ("no visitors, no tours, no nothing ...") But it was unlocked, so I went in.
The girl at the first desk wanted nothing to do with me, but she got on the phone and called down somebody else. This young lady was also very clear, right from the first sentence. I had barely begun to state my request when she shook her head, and said clearly - very unusual for Japan - no.
I tried to explain my proposal a bit further, but didn't make any headway. She was friendly, but adamant; Ghibli doesn't licence their products, not to me, not to anybody. The character goods I see out on the market here in Japan are all produced by them directly. They don't licence. They didn't even licence to Disney when that company made a movie distribution deal with them. No. Sorry. No.
But I wasn't ready to give up that easily; after all, our project could be a bit 'special' for them! Surely if I were only able to make a short presentation to some of the people 'upstairs' I might convince them of the wonderful synergy we could bring to their brand, with our beautiful traditional prints ... etc. and etc.
No. Sorry. No.
I am perhaps giving the wrong impression; the young lady was wonderful to talk to. She was open and friendly, and we actually had a good laugh together as I tried everything I could think of to get past her. I even joked about going outside and then climbing in through one of the windows. But she wouldn't budge even a smidgeon; she said that no matter what 'window' I chose, it would be her who waited inside, bat in hand.
Finally, in order to get rid of me, she broke down and agreed to take my name card, saying that she would say a few words about my proposal to one of the product managers. She and I both recognized that this was said as a face-saving gesture for me, and that this was the point where I should retire gracefully.
So I did. Not much else to do really, other than make an unpleasant nuisance of myself, so I left, and trundled sadly home on the train.
But I'm still not quite so willing to give up! This would make such a fantastic series! And it would go absolutely nuts on Kickstarter ... we would have enough work to keep us busy for years, and I think there would be enough 'guaranteed' revenue to let me think about starting to scout out potential locations for our - (very) far in the future - workshop/shop/gallery somewhere downtown. That cat bus could be our meal ticket! With anime designs like this on board - in addition to the popular video game designs we get from Jed - we would be unstoppable!
But what to do? She clearly, and firmly, and unequivocally said 'no'.
I can think of a few ways forward:
- prepare a written proposal - including some beautiful prints - and try and get it into Mr. Miyazaki's hands directly. Surely, if we could bring him to see what a wonderful project this could be, he would direct his staff to go along ... But I have no idea how to get such access; it is this lady and her compatriots who are his 'gatekeepers'.
- start a web campaign to convince them that this should be done. Maybe I should register ghiblisayyes.com and get all our fans to send in their comments, etc. on this proposal. I could then print a giant stack of them - like a petition - and take it back to her. (I wouldn't want to start mail bombing the Ghibli people directly; that could get ugly, I think ...)
- accept that they don't want to licence the products, but get their permission to go ahead anyway, with our agreement to pay (say) 10% of all receipts into a charity of their choice (perhaps something to do with their forest protection activities ...)
- instead of getting properly licenced, do it the 'Jed' way with parodied images ... (I don't want to take that route with these images - we'd like, make a Dog Bus?)
Any other suggestions? Or should I just roll over ...
But I can't stop thinking about the prints! Think of this image from the Totoro film:
Can't you just see this done in shin-hanga style? Like the famous Yoshida 'Sacred Grove' design?
Please help me convince them!
[Update: OK, I've done it. You can register your input at http://ghiblisayyes.com! At this point, I'm not quite sure how I will use that input, but anyway ... I don't just want to give up, so let's see if we can find a way to make this happen! Thank you for your support!]
Ukiyoe Heroes Signing bonus ...
A Signup Bonus is available for our new Portraits series!
Work on our Ukiyoe Heroes Portraits series is now well under way, and the first print is carved and proofed. Young printer Fujii-san is already at work on the first batch of the subscriber edition!
There is still plenty of time to get involved, as the first print won't be sent out to subscribers until January. But to keep things cooking until then, Jed and I are announcing a 'Signup Bonus' for all subscribers.
Did I hear somebody talk about a million dollars? Really?
Visit this page to find out!
It's over ... let's get started!
Carving of the next Ukiyoe Heroes print gets under way ...
Here's one of the least interesting photos to ever appear on this blog:
Not very interesting .. but documenting a very important moment. This is a snap from a few days ago, and the small box on packing lady Yasui-san's desk contained 116 copies of the 'I Choose You' print, ready for shipping to Jed.
Why is this an important moment? Because we're done! This is the final fullfillment of the obligations we took on during last year's hugely successful Kickstarter campaign!
We started the campaign with just one print design available, but the demand was so strong that we ended up adding another six designs before it was over, and the orders just kept rolling in, even though we clearly stated that we wouldn't be able to ship the final ones for well over a year.
Well, here we are, over a year later, now delivering these final prints, pretty much on schedule. I can't claim 'exactly' on schedule, because we promised that these I Choose You prints would be delivered in October of 2013, and although we here in Tokyo managed to get them done by that time, they still have to go to Jed for signing, and shipping out to the waiting collectors, which will push it into November for them. But we got close! (And considering the history of a great many Kickstarter campaigns, I think to be a couple of weeks 'late' over the course of a campaign this long is no mean feat ...)
Is this then, the end of the Heroes series? Of course not, as we have mentioned many times. The next four designs are already selected, and indeed have pulled in quite a few orders already.
And as these next few photos show, I'm already hard at it - carving of 'Trouble Afoot' has now begun!
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 11:23 PM, October 15, 2013
A full house of printers was busy here this afternoon!
Here are some screen shots from a video currently in preparation here:
We had a 'full house' of printers here today, and they are all working on the same thing - each making a batch of 30 sheets of Jed's 'I Choose You' design.
Going clockwise around the room starting with the young lady on the left, these are Ayumi Shiba, Teiko Fujii, Yasue Tsushima, and Yoko Ishikawa. Our youngest printer - Ayumi Miyashita - isn't here today; Tuesday is her day for working on baren making over at Goto-san's workshop.
If we shift the camera view slightly to the left, we see that the ladies are working under the supervision of ...
Yes, Jed 'dropped in' for a while this afternoon to have a look at the work in progress.
I came out from behind the camera to chat with Jed for a while ... (That's Yasui-san, one of our two packing ladies, working at her bench at the left. She was packing up a couple of my Surimono Albums for two new subscribers who joined this week.)
Our mid-afternoon is of course the middle of the night for him, so he couldn't stay long. He signed off, and heard a 'good night' from the crew ...
Isn't it fun, living in the future!
Major update to 'Heroes' website
We have a nice new set of pages for the Heroes prints - from smartphone to giant desktop monitor ...
Once I completed the carving of the 'I Choose You' print a week or so ago, and then did a quick runup of a colour proof, ready to turn it all over to the printing crew for making the actual edition, I realized that this was quite a milestone for me - with that job now behind me, my part of the Kickstarter fullfillment is finished ...
During the course of that wonderful campaign in August of last year, we booked the production of seven Ukiyoe Heroes designs. I was to carve and proof them, and my staff (and outside printers) were to print them. As I write this, the ladies here are all busy each with a batch of this design (I'll post some photos of their work soon), but for me ... I'm done!
So I spent a big chunk of yesterday on a redesign of the Heroes website, so that everybody can have a chance to see what I can see here in our workshop - all of the Heroes prints together (seven completed, and three scheduled):
Don't bother clicking that for an enlargement, as there isn't one. Just go and visit the new page for yourself. If you have a nice large desktop monitor, drag the browser window open as wide as you can; it'll give you a fantastic view of the series:
... and you can popup each one for a 'larger than life' enlargement:
Each print links to a page with other photos and scans, and Jed and I this afternoon did an extensive Skype 'interview' from which I extracted comments from both of us giving some background to the concept and production of each one of the prints in the set:
In addition, I have collected on each page all the relevant videos from my YouTube channel, so that - for the first time all collected in one place - you can now get a convenient and comprehensive overview of how each print was made.
I mentioned that it looks great on a giant desktop monitor, but I have also programmed it so that even if you have nothing larger than a smartphone, it still all works properly, including the video views:
And I shouldn't fail to mention that the upcoming next three designs are also included, and ... let's see, did I forget anything ...? Oh yes, each page has a well-placed link to jump directly to the order form on Jed's shopping cart! :-)
Nice newspaper coverage ...
A nice present arrived for Jed and I this morning - our Ukiyoe Heroes project has been covered in a story in the Financial Times (UK).
I'm not quite sure how their registration system works, so this link to the story may or may not work for you, but if it doesn't, just head to their front page, then follow the menu bar to the Arts section, and then to Visual Arts, you will see the story 'Israel Goldman on popular Japanese prints', by Peter Leggatt.
Our portion follows the main story, in what is probably a sidebar in the actual printed newspaper version, and is short, but concise and accurate, and includes a direct link to Jed's webshop.
(Any British readers of this blog today? If you could pick me up a physical copy from your newsagent I'd happily pay your expenses to send it over to me for my clippings file ...)
Masaru-kun is beginning to ship!
Here we go ... over the next couple of days, we will be making the first shipments of the rewards to the backers of Jed's 'Edo Superstar' Kickstarter project.
He asked us to make a set of four woodblock prints depicting Masaru-kun, his main hero, and the first of these - the one entitled Hissho ('Certain Victory') - is now beginning to ship:
He specifically requested that we create a print with a good three-dimensional effect, so we used a blind printing technique to give a realistic fabric pattern (don't miss the enlargement):
These are pretty easy for us to ship; each print goes in an envelope with a stiff protective cover and a small introduction signed and sealed by Jed himself:
Add a commemorative stamp ... and away they go!
If you're interested in getting some of these Masaru-kun prints, they are still available, even though his Kickstarter is now done. You'll find them on this page of his web shop ...
Chibies done ... Portraits to start ...
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 12:19 AM, October 10, 2013
Announcing the new Portraits series.
Here we are, with the final pair of Chibi Heroes prints!
And now that the entire set of 24 is done, we can finally get them to all line up together for a family photo:
What a great little set of prints this is! (I mean, a great set of little prints ... :-) As I mentioned in the post a couple of days ago, the fact that we are now finished making the prints doesn't mean the set is no longer available. We intend to keep them in our catalogue for as long as there is interest, and they are available either as a monthly subscription (as they were over the past year), or in a single batch of 24. The Chibi website will stay in the same place as before ...
And now ... with that 'out of the way', let's get on to the next big thing ... announcing ... the 'Ukiyoe Heroes Portraits' series!
(As you read in the post a couple of days ago, we're still at the carving stage, so I can't show you a 'real' print yet; this digital Photoshop layout will have to suffice. The first proof is still a couple of weeks away.)
The series is simple in concept ... here's the intro text from the new website: "The Portraits - our subscription series for 2014 - will be a 'step up' from our earlier Chibi Heroes series. We're going to make the prints quite a bit larger (13.5 x 17 cm), giving us more 'room' to play with, and intend to use that space to create fully-featured print designs."
The emphasis through the course of the Chibi series was on the 'gags'. Jed took each character (or group of characters), put them into a 'situation', and drew them in a general ukiyoe style. It was all very light-hearted fun. As you can see from the initial two sample images here, with the Portraits we're going to take this to a bit of a 'higher' level, both in visual concept, and in the physical prints.
We're going to stay very much within our main remit - images of famous game characters drawn with a Japanese fude and edited into a form reminiscent of traditional Japanese ukiyoe designs - but are going to move away from gags, and present the 12 characters themselves as the focus.
The prints themselves, in addition to being much larger than the Chibies, will be more fully carved and printed. Even in these Photoshop mockups (made from scans of Jed's actual brushwork) the quality of the linework is immediately apparent, and when you see the actual prints, with their full colouring and multiple layering, you will understand just how far advanced over the Chibies these are.
We could not possibly have done this a year ago. It is only because of the practice and training that the women here have undergone over the past year while producing the Chibies, that we are able to propose this new series, especially at this price, which honestly speaking is far lower than what it 'should' be for work of this quality.
Anyway, enough talk from me. Please visit the new website to get all the details, and - if you wish - to sign up to receive these beautiful prints over the course of the coming year. Subscriptions are open as of right now, and the first print will be delivered in January, with the rest following at one month intervals.
We thank you very much for your support!
A close look at the new Chibi Heroes prototype box.
It's now the 8th of the month, and in just two days - on the 10th, as with every month this past year - we will be publishing the final pair of prints in the Chibi Heroes series. (At least the first set of Chibi Heroes. We'll almost certainly be back with another set in the not-too-distant future ...)
We've got everything prepared for the upcoming trip to the Post Office:
It's important to note that although we will have now made all 24 prints in the set, and shipped them out to the original group of subscribers, the series is not 'over' for us. Subscriptions are still available, and indeed, over the past few days a couple more people have signed on to collect the set, starting from the beginning, one pair a month. We'll be making and shipping these prints 'forever' it seems!
The other day I made a blog post about case making - specifically talking about the case for the upcoming Portraits series - but I also mentioned that I had been working on a case for these Chibies, and included a photo:
Let's investigate that case a bit closer. We're almost ready to begin production, and it wouldn't hurt to get a bit of feedback on the design before we start tooling up!
Here's how I think it might work (these are photos of that original prototype, so please excuse some of the roughness in the cutting, and the poor finish on the wood ...):
Here's the box in unopened form - just a simple little wooden box with a lid:
The lid is a friction fit, and just lifts off:
Not visible in these photos is the 'finger hole' in the base, through which you can push the contents upward, allowing you to lift off the top two items - a small board, and a matching piece of acrylic (these were sitting on a small shelf inside the box, and not pressing down on the prints below):
Nothing different in this photo, except that I have flipped over the lid ...
... which then goes back onto the box (after lifting out one of the prints, of course).
You know what happens next. The small board, the print, and the acrylic, all slide together into the slot in the lid:
And of course you can change the print on display any time you like:
Beautifully effective, and it couldn't be simpler, don't you think! I'm kicking myself for not thinking of this a year ago, back when the series was just getting under way.
I have already identified one problem with the system as you see it there. The prints - packed in the way that we have been shipping them for the past year - are a bit unprotected and free to slightly rub against each other in the bottom section of the box. So we're going to pack the individual prints in a slightly different way from now on, with a small folded paper, instead of the single loose sheet we have used so far. Each print will be protected against abrasion, and when it is needed for display, the paper just folds 'backwards' for going into the slot.
(For those of you who are panicking because you have already collected this series, will want this case, and yet don't have the 'correct' packaging, you can relax. The current thinking is that for any current collectors ordering this case we will of course include an 'empty set' of packages, and you can make the changeover yourself.)
As for the manufacture of these cases, I'm thinking that we will make them here in Ome (although not here in my workshop). We are currently having a sample of the Portraits case made for us by a friend of Jed's over in the States, but that series alone is probably going to be more than enough to keep him busy for the near future. For these boxes, we are talking to Tashiro-san - the retired gent who helped us get the workroom together over the past few months - about making them.
He 'stole' my sample a few days ago, and came back with his own version this morning. He hit it dead-on, and all we have to do is confirm the dimensions, and then give him the go-ahead to make some simple jigs, so that we can make a whole bunch of these in a batch.
I'm not ready to open up for orders yet, nor do I yet have a firm price, but it should be pretty reasonable, I think ... Watch this space for developments!