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What are we doing ...
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 9:54 PM, August 22, 2016
I don't know ... should I post about this, or just let it go ...
Anyway, a bit of news came over the 'net today; another of those 'enterprising' publishers here who have jumped onto the 'Pop Culture as Ukiyo-e' bandwagon announced their latest issue ...
It's this design of the Vocaloid character Hatsune Miku:
OK ... but let's take a look at one of the closeups they also include on their page:
Good grief. Childish carving, childish colouring, ridiculously bad registration ... Is this where we've got to?
And then, at the bottom of their order page, they include this:
Shall we translate?
Need I add that they are limiting the production to 100 copies, with a price of 45,000 yen each (around $450 US).
They sold out on the first day ...
There's a bunch more I could write about this ... but I think I had just better let it go, and get back to work ...
Doi collaboration video - Part 8
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 11:29 PM, August 12, 2016
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 11:57 PM, July 26, 2016
A fan from Germany dropped by the shop yesterday afternoon (on his once-a-year trip to Japan), and one of the first things he asked me was "How's the paper situation?"
It’s been a few months since I made a couple of blog posts talking about the problems we have been having with both woodblocks and paper. The woodblock situation is basically under control at the moment, after working out a way to make our own blocks using some cherry I found in the wholesale lumber market. We’re not out of the woods yet, as there is still no stable source of supply, but at least we now have the technology here to make the blocks, given a basically decent raw material.
Paper has been more difficult. As I posted last month, I have been experimenting with a ‘machine’ to do the sizing - allowing me to get a deeper, smoother size coating than by using a brush. This has helped in two ways: 1) some of the unusable paper has turned out to be printable, after sizing with this new method, and 2) if I can develop a more stable version of my little machine (Mark II), sizing should be doable by any of our staff members. This will give us a huge advantage as we move forward to the future; we wouldn’t have this very tight bottleneck in our process, where a specific step can only be done by one specific (and highly-trained) person here … (me). If other staff members can do a decent job on the sizing, it will be a major advance.
But. As I mentioned, only some of the bad paper responded to this treatment. The papermakers finally responded to my request to open discussion on this, and agreed to exchange 500 sheets of the ‘bad’ paper (they still don’t admit there is anything wrong with it). They sent 500 new sheets; I returned the previous batch. That paper is useable, and we’ve been working through it now for the past month or so.
We’re still sitting on over 500 sheets of the larger takenaga size paper, which they have made no similar offer on. But I haven’t yet paid for those either, so it’s a kind of stalemate at the moment …
Anyway, while all this has been going on, I have been contacting workshops up and down the country, asking for samples of their paper. Most of these have - as expected - not even been remotely useable for printmaking, but a couple have seemed promising.
But something happened last Monday to put this whole adventure suddenly onto a faster track. My Facebook feed showed a link from one of our ‘friends’ to the page belonging to a paper making workshop, and the particular post in question (it's in Japanese) had an interesting content.
The young man who is the master of the workshop had been awarded a designation as a ‘Master Traditional Craftsman’ by some government group a few years back. That wasn’t the content of the Facebook post; the content was more surprising - he was returning the award, and no longer wished to be associated with such a group. Some of our long-time fans will understand why at this point my ears perked up, but there will probably be newer fans who need a bit of background.
I myself have absolutely no interest in preserving traditions. This is sometimes a surprise to people, many of whom seem to think that this is the purpose of my life. Rather than get into an extended discussion here on this page now - because I want to talk about this papermaker - you can read to the bottom of this page, which I see from my files has been up on my website since 1997! :-)
For now, let's get back to the papermaker. To make a long story at least a little bit shorter, I dug deeper into this man’s information and activities - from his website and Facebook - and what I learned sent me straight to my phone. "I’m coming from Tokyo to see you. Is next Tuesday OK? Good. See you then!"
"Next Tuesday" was today, and I am now back in Asakusa digesting the day’s activities. This guy is nuts. Nothing else to say; he’s as crazy as I am.
Why did he break free from the ‘Master Craftsman’ group? "That’s not the way it’s done." "You don’t need to have your equipment so clean; we’re just making paper …" "You can’t grow your own mulberry …" This is the kind of thing ‘they’ told him; and the more he heard this kind of talk, the stronger his resolve became. His resolve to make paper like none that has been made before.
He’s now 36, and in his very clean and well-organised workspace he’s producing a very beautiful - and extremely ‘neat’ and clean - paper. No formaldehydes and preservatives. No additives. Just 100% mulberry and hibiscus root, just as in the old days. No dust, no dirt, no rust; all the bark scraps removed. Beautifully rocked to a perfectly smooth and even surface. It’s gorgeous stuff.
Can I use this beautiful paper? No. It’s far too thin, and has nowhere near the strength that we require for printmaking. His customers are people making lampshades, and shoji screens, etc. etc.
I had with me a number of paper samples:
- our current paper
- samples showing the current ‘feathering’ problems
- samples showing the current huge problems with bark scraps
- a stack of our prints; some nice ones, others spoiled by poor paper quality
And I also took with me a few sheets of paper from my storage shelves; rare paper from nearly 30 years ago. There was the model for his new experiments.
Nothing is going to change for me overnight. He’s a busy man, and of course he has to take care of his current business. He can’t just drop everything to play with me. But is he interested in trying to produce a paper that we could use? Yes, yes, and yes again.
* * *
Here are a few photos of the place, and of the work …
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 9:19 AM, July 1, 2016
Today - July 1 - is an anniversary day for me ... it's been exactly 30 years since I arrived in Japan! Here's the stamp they put in my passport that day ... they gave me permission for a 90 day stay!
I had visited the country a few times before that, but the summer of 1986 was when the four of us (my then-wife and our two little girls) pulled up roots in Vancouver and took the plunge to start a new life here in Japan.
Here's a collection of the subsequent passport stamps I got over the next few years; you can see the term getting longer bit-by-bit as I became more established:
... culminating with the 'last' one in the sequence - the permission for Permanent Residence:
And it's been 'happy ever after' since then ... :-)
There is an interesting note to this however; although the Permanent Residence status puts me pretty much on the same 'level' as all Japanese people - I pay taxes the same as everybody else, have health insurance, etc. etc. - I cannot vote. Not nationally, nor at the prefecture level, nor locally.
And because I have been out of Canada for so long, I no longer have any voting rights over there either. And ditto for the UK - although I was born in England, I am not considered a 'resident' and cannot vote. I could not participate in the recent referendum on remaining in the EU, for example.
So as it happens, I have no voice in any of 'my' three countries; I am totally disenfranchised.
"Taxation without Representation!" (Let's have a revolution! :-)
Doi collaboration video - Part 7
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 9:02 PM, June 30, 2016
The Matsushima print is ready!
Doi collaboration video - Part 6
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 8:58 PM, June 21, 2016
Next video showing the printing progress on Matsushima is ready!
Our first blocks!
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 1:04 PM, June 18, 2016
... preparing our first self-made woodblocks ...
I posted a couple of weeks ago about hunting for cherry wood for making blocks, and that project has moved forward well recently. In fact, as I write this our young carver Kawasaki Noriko is using new 'Mokuhankan' woodblocks for the print she is working on this week - the September issue of this years Portraits subscription series.
Let's have an overview of how the colour separation process works for these prints ...
Kawasaki-san finished up the key block a few days ago, and I pulled a few test impressions; it's pretty black, so doesn't show well in a photo, sorry ...
And here's the special 'double layer' paper I use to make the colour transfer sheets - they are made from a layer of very thin gampi paper tacked to a backing sheet of stiffer paper:
The transfer sheets ('kyogo-zuri') are printed the same way as normal print impressions, with the paper carefully placed in the registration marks, and the impression pulled as normal:
I take as many of them as I think will be required for colour blocks. (Can you tell what game characters are appearing in this print?)
I use a yellow highlight marker to mark off the areas I want to be retained on each blocks (the reddish one is for corrections ...):
Working from Jed's Photoshop master image, I carefully colour in one sheet for each colour block:
And here are the first three blank blocks fresh from my new 'press', and scraped smooth, ready for carving:
The blocks are of course not 'perfect', and have small knots or imperfections here and there. So it's important to try and match them up with the colour transfer sheets, arranging things so that imperfections will fall in areas that will be cut away. It's a bit of a puzzle to find the 'best' orientation ...
The sheets get pasted down into freshly-carved registration marks ...
... and the back paper gets peeled off ...
... to expose the design ready for carving:
Here are three faces ...
... and flipped over to show the other sides:
At this point, the carver will get busy, but she of course knows nothing at all about what colours will be applied to these blocks once they are finished. And indeed, we may change our mind once printing starts. She is simply carving 'shapes' ...
Just to finish off this post, here's a quick shot of some paper hanging to dry after being sized ...
... in our new sizing 'machine'! (More about this later ...)
Doi collaboration video - Part 5
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 2:33 PM, June 8, 2016
The next YouTube video is ready ...
Sizing machine - proof of concept?
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 9:14 PM, June 7, 2016
An attempt to help solve our paper problems ... we try to make a sizing machine!
A few weeks ago I made some posts on this blog outlining problems we were having with both our wood supply, and the paper supply.
As you have seen, we are on the road to working out a completely new supply of wood for ourselves (I'll be reporting more on that in a few days ...); today, I can show you something that we have been working on that might help with the paper situation.
Through comparison of our own experiences with that of other workshops, it has become clear to everybody here that the problems we are all having with the paper recently (heavy feathering, etc.) are inherent in the paper itself, and can thus be completely solved only through action by the papermakers. But during the time over the past few months when suspicion was falling mostly on the sizing, I experimented with dozens of different formulations for applying size to the paper - stronger/weaker mixtures, different ratios of glue/alum, different brushing methods, etc. etc.
Among the things I tried was an attempt one day to dip the sheets of paper into a tub of size, instead of brushing it on. The results were interesting - although I ended up with sizing that was a bit on the 'heavy' side, the application was much more even across the sheets. I didn't push the idea too much, because I found it next to impossible to hold and dip the paper without destroying it in the process (paper that wet is of course very difficult to handle).
But the other day, as I got the system for our new woodblocks up and running, I began to think about a setup for 'dip' sizing, and began to gather some materials together.
Here's a photo I showed a few days ago, while laying out the wood for cutting. Do you see the items scattered at the back of the bench?
Let's take a closer look ...
I had an old Epson laser printer in the Ome workshop, one that had come to the end of its life and which had been replaced by a newer model. Luckily, the city garbage collection won't pick up those things, so it had just been stuck in the back of a closet. I hacked it apart and found a few interesting rollers inside. I also took apart the last toner cartridge we had used with it, and found more rollers in there.
Two of them seemed particularly interesting:
The top one there has a firm spongy texture, and is mounted on springs, while the other one has a smooth and hard surface. Although they are from different parts of the printer, there are gears that match up ... Hmm ...
So, let's give this a go! Today is Tuesday here in Tokyo, and that means I can lock the shop door and spend the entire day upstairs in the workshop playing around with this. Can I actually figure out a way to make this happen?
To start with, I prepared a 'base' piece, and cut notches and holes that matched protrusions on the sponge roller:
Here's the roller 'plugged in' to the base plate:
I then made two end pieces for the assembly. Here's the one at the left end, with a plastic socket (of course also scavenged from the laser printer) that is ready to receive the blue roller:
I can't use a similar socket at the other end, because - as we will see in a minute - the blue roller has to be removable. You can see here the 'pin' that will hold it in place:
Putting it together ... the blue roller slides smoothly into its socket on the left, and its gear meshes with the one on the sponge roller:
With the other end in position, the wooden pin is advanced to lock it in place:
There is a slot cut into the pin, and this is to allow a metal pin attached to a lever handle to do the opening and closing ...
Here is the setup in the 'open' position:
With the lever pushed, the pin advances, holding the blue roller in place:
Let's see how this is going to work ...
The base unit goes into the sizing tank. Liquid size will be poured in just deep enough to cover about half of the sponge roller.
Each sheet of paper to be sized is held by a carrier (made from a stick of wood with four clothespins):
The paper goes in place on top of the sponge roller, with the rest of it dipping down into the liquid:
The blue roller is then placed into its mounting; this will be about half-in, half-out of the liquid ...
The locking pin is then advanced into position with its lever:
With everything ready, 'all' that is left is to pull the paper through the system, keeping a steady movement. The two rollers mesh together, with the smooth blue one (against the front surface of the paper sheet) lightly pressing against the sponge roller on its springs.
The paper dips down into the size, and passes up between the rollers, where - in theory - it has the excess moisture lightly squeezed out. It is then taken directly to the hanging strings stretched across the ceiling.
The lever is then flipped, the blue roller comes out, and the next sheet is laid into place. Our sizing station has two of these deep trays, so I'll keep the other one also full of warm size, and pour it bit by bit into this one to keep the liquid depth at the correct level as it gets used up sheet by sheet.
So there we have it ... 'Sizing Machine Mark I' is ready for testing! The next couple of days are pretty tightly scheduled (new video coming tomorrow!), so I'm not sure when I can get back to this, but I'll report back as soon as I've had a chance to give it a try!
Love child of Bob Ross and Jim Henson ...
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 12:55 PM, May 29, 2016
Comments about video comments ...
That video a week ago has really turned out to be something special. At 28 minutes long, I hesitated before uploading it; I couldn't imagine that people would actually sit there and watch the whole thing. Break it into two parts? I considered that, but thought that this would be worse, that people just wouldn't move on to Part 2.
So, I just uploaded it and sat back to see what would happen ...
What happened was that within a few minutes of it being online, somebody posted it to the 'Documentaries' section of Reddit. And I sat there and watched the 'as it happens' information on the YouTube page, as the viewer count began to climb and climb.
By the end of the first day it had climbed to over 30,000 ...
... and it's still climbing as I write this, a week later.
But what has really turned out to be fun about this one are the comments!
There have been literally hundreds of them posted, both to the original YouTube page, and to the thread on Reddit. Now Reddit comments can sometimes be ... shall we say, 'difficult' ... but this has not been my experience there. A number of my videos have been posted on Reddit over recent years, and the comments are usually quite polite.
Here are a few goodies from this recent video:
- Hello David, Thank you so much for the story. I'm having trouble at work and the words ' It's just a hobby for you' hit my heart. I see the light now and will go back and do what I should! :)
- I've never commented on a Youtube video ever in my entire life. I just want you to know that I feel my life has been enriched now that I've heard this story. Thank you for taking the time to share. That was truly wonderful.
- You need to do a whole story series, you're an exceptional narrator and the stories you've told just in this one part kept me hooked until the end.
- I don't know how I got to this video, I don't know what woodblock carving is, and I had no intention of watching a 28-minute video when I sat down; I thought I'd spend 30 seconds on this, max. Watched the whole thing. What a great story.
- I don't normally comment on such things, but you are a WONDERFUL speaker. I skipped through the video for the "gist" and had to go back and re-watch everything from the start because your story-telling was so engaging.
- Thank you for sharing this with the world. I can only hope to live as skillfully.
- ... love child of Bob Ross and Jim Henson.
And hundreds more ... This is so much fun; thank you very much to all those who are enjoying this as much as I am!
(But now I'm nervous about the next one ... What do I do next?)
New woodblocks ...
Posted in General Interest by Dave Bull at 10:38 AM, May 27, 2016
The wood block adventures continue ... and seem to be moving along well!
In a previous post, I described a trip to a lumberyard in the Shin-Kiba district of Tokyo, and we have now had a chance to move ahead with the wood we found there. They hadn't had free time for it that day, but the other day (by appointment) we went back there again, to work with them on getting the plank re-sawn.
They have an ancient band saw with a carriage that holds the logs in place and moves them past the blade.
The carriage is guided by a laser system shining down from above, and you can see the green light on the back of his shirt ...
He had prepared a freshly sharpened (and thin) blade for us, in order that we would have as little waste as possible, and this was greatly appreciated. The cuts were quite thin, and the face of each plank as it came off the saw was not too badly gouged up.
Once we got them home, I tied them up tightly for the final drying:
The main plank had been dried quite well, and it didn't take more than a couple of days for these thin boards to dry quite thoroughly. I then grabbed one, and started to lay out a good way to chop it up.
I had to avoid bad places, and tried to maximize the useable area, laying out the standard sizes that we need in our work:
I got ten useable pieces, in three different sizes.
Lee-san had previously ordered up some high-quality shina plywood (precut in the dimensions we need):
For our initial experiments with this, we're trying a very strong epoxy glue, and here I am measuring it out in equal amounts.
OK, with the sandwich now glued up, how are we going to get it firmly clamped together? A couple of weeks back, I took a look around the 3rd floor of our Asakusa shop, trying to figure out a way to do this, and I noticed this little unused space under the stairs that lead to the roof. Concrete stairs. Hmm ...
After ripping out the floor in that spot, I found that there was only a single (and not so strong) joist in that space, but a couple of hours work left me with two good strong 'joists' bedded onto the concrete floor. Here will be the base for our 'press':
I next prepared two plates - base and top - each one made out of two pieces of 18mm ply bonded and (heavily) screwed together:
To help keep things lined up, I built partial 'walls' around the base plate ...
... and then solidly screwed it down onto the joists.
So here we go - the epoxy sandwich goes dead centre over the base plate:
The top plate goes in place:
And you can now see how this is going to work - a 4-ton bottle jack!
A heavy brace takes the pressure up to the concrete stairs, and a few pumps on the handle force that sandwich flat!
After the epoxy set, and the sandwich came out, I could see that I had clearly used too much glue, as there was a lot of squeeze-out, but a bit of experience will show me how to handle this.
As the band-saw marks were very shallow, it needed only the very slightest pass through a small desk-top planer to leave the surface flat.
A bit of touch-up with a cabinet scraper left the surface very smooth, and ready for carving.
So there we are, our first 'in house' woodblock. I think I'll keep this one untouched (and I also am not perfectly confident about the glue bond just yet), but over the next few days will make some more, and those will go to Kawasaki-san our carver ready for use in the next Ukiyoe Heroes Portraits print!