Entry of the Demon King!
Posted by Dave Bull at 9:58 AM, December 8, 2013 [Permalink]
After the last printer leaves here on Friday afternoon, it's then Dave's 'private time' for a couple of days.
With nobody around to supervise, and no need for spending time in the printer's room, I can get to my carving bench and get some work done!
I printed out Jed's design for the second print in the Portraits series, pasted it down for carving, and got going!
I'm going to keep track of the time I spend on this, from start to finish. I was a bit hamstrung during the discussions with the young carver the other week, because I myself had no clear idea - in hard numbers - just how long it should take to cut one of these block sets.
Come late Saturday evening, it was done. Elapsed time, almost exactly 12 hours ...
You can see an image of Jed's design (Photoshop mockup) over on the Portraits website. The block count for this one won't be too high I think, but I'm still not sure how I'll be handling the hairlines at the edge of the face ...
Woody mystery - the solution
Posted by Dave Bull at 11:43 AM, December 5, 2013 [Permalink]
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 by Dave Bull at 10:06 PM, November 30, 2013 [Permalink]
Posted by Dave Bull at 11:12 PM, November 29, 2013 [Permalink]
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?
Trouble Afoot ... more about colour separations
Posted by Dave Bull at 11:22 PM, November 27, 2013 [Permalink]
Colour block carving continues ...
Some parts of the print-making process are pretty simple and straight-forward; other parts less so.
In response to a question from friend/collector Marc Kahn the other day, I tried to explain how the colour separation sheets were produced. I say 'tried', because it seems - based on emails I received - that the explanation was over-wordy and not so clear.
So perhaps a couple of images might help. The carving has proceeded smoothly, and quite quickly. Five of the six blocks are now carved to the 'first stage', meaning that the overall areas are now cut out and the waste cleared, but the detailed patterns are yet to be done.
Let's look at a couple of them ... first, one of the blocks that will print bamboo leaves. This is the one that will print the 'middle' of the three leaf layers:
Here's Jed's master for reference - do you see how I have prepared the area in which those middle leaves will appear? (Remember that my blocks are left/right reversed from this image ...)
And here is the next step - I will print out the actual leaf pattern from Photoshop, and paste it down directly onto the wood, where it will stick only to the 'raised' areas ... (I haven't done this yet - I'm showing you a mockup here ...)
... then carve off the unwanted wood.
I may not be able to paste it down all in one piece, but will probably have to cut it into two or three pieces, and arrange them separately - carefully matching the portions that are already carved. This is because my blocks (may) no longer line up perfectly with the Photoshop data, because of the adjustments I made to the original key block printout while trying to compensate for the laser printer distortion (as I tried to explain in the previous post).
Here is another pair - the colour block that will print the head scarves, some weapons, and the patterns on the shells:
And with the Photoshop data overlaid (the shell patterns might be a bit difficult to make out):
Half of my 12 block faces will need this treatment: the three for the banboo leaves, the background, the shell patterns, and one for the patterning on their skin (which will ride along with one of the bamboo stem tones).
All clear now? :-)
Trouble Afoot ... colour separations
Posted by Dave Bull at 1:39 PM, November 23, 2013 [Permalink]
The colour blocks for the Trouble Afoot design are now under way ...
A ton of work done yesterday ... both the final decisions on the colour separations, then making the actual transfer sheets (the kyogo-zuri) and then getting them all pasted down onto bare wood!
Here is the set of 12 kyogo-zuri, after they have all been 'coloured-in':
After checking and double checking - looking for forgotten places, or areas coloured in error, I spent most of Saturday morning matching them up with pieces of wood, and getting them pasted down. (Six blocks, using both sides):
It's certainly going to take a day or two to get this all carved, and while I'm doing that, I will of course be pondering the approach I will be taking to the proofing session - what sort of greens to mix, and how the layers might build up ... This one is going to be 'fun' to print ... in both senses of the term!
Another Ukiyoe Heroes process video!
Posted by Dave Bull at 7:28 AM, November 22, 2013 [Permalink]
Another process video is ready ...
This one is late, but (hopefully) will be worth while - it's the video showing the proof printing of the 'I Choose You' print in the Ukiyoe Heroes series:
As always, this video is (very!) HD, and if you have the bandwidth, it looks just great seen full screen!
Jed is of course still taking orders for this one over on his UkiyoeHeroes.com website!
I also posted this one to our Kickstarter project update page, and this is what I wrote:
And with this video, my part of this Kickstarter project is done! We have now shipped to Jed all the prints that were ordered during the campaign (and a whole lot more too). It has been a very long road, but extremely satisfying.
We here in Tokyo offer our most sincere 'thank you' to the backers; your support of this project has made a huge difference in our lives, and to the careers of a number of people here. Our workshop is now on a strong foundation, and we are looking forward to building it from here, small step by step, and making many more beautiful prints over the years to come.
Thank you once more and ... (see you again here on Kickstarter, I'm sure!)
Trouble Afoot ... three key blocks done
Posted by Dave Bull at 5:13 PM, November 21, 2013 [Permalink]
Carving of 'Trouble Afoot' is coming along well ...
All three of the key blocks for the Trouble Afoot print are now done. We saw the main one a few days back; here is the second one - the outlines of the bamboo stems:
And the third one - the lines of the procession in the background:
With these three now done (although not yet tested together), the next main step in the process will be carving the colour blocks. To do that I of course have to study Jed's image and break it down into a set of separations. In Photoshop, that's easy; just hit the CMYK settings and you're done. For me, it is a bit more complicated!
A rudimentary woodblock is straight-forward - just cut a piece of wood for each flat colour zone ... blue, red, etc. etc. ... but real prints like this are done with multiple overlays everywhere. In most of the prints in this series (with the notable exception of the I Choose You design we just finished) nearly every 'colour' appearing in the finished print is actually made up of other tones overlaid on each other. This gives a much richer tone to the entire thing, and also goes a long way to making it all 'blend' properly.
Jed's image has a lot of greens. How many of them, and in what order, will be made up of such overlays?
Well, I've had a stab at it, and think that I'll need six pieces of wood for the colour blocks, using both sides. Perhaps something like this:
I'm going to study this for a while tonight and tomorrow, and if I can't find any problems with it - trying to imagine the printing in my head - I'll get started with the transfers and carving.
Posted by Dave Bull at 12:50 PM, November 14, 2013 [Permalink]
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!]
Trouble Afoot ... key block
Posted by Dave Bull at 10:28 PM, November 11, 2013 [Permalink]
The first block for the Trouble Afoot print is ready.
Just a quickie update ... the first of the (3) key blocks for the Trouble Afoot print is done:
I don't remember if I mentioned it earlier, but we're splitting the 'key' up into three sections for this print: these outlines will be black/grey, the outlines of the bamboo will be in a dark green, and the distant scenery/characters will be in a pale shade of yellow/brown.
Getting them all lined up is going to be critical, as many of the colour zones are defined by lines on more than one of these blocks, and in some cases, all three.
Ukiyoe Heroes Signing bonus ...
Posted by Dave Bull at 11:33 PM, November 5, 2013 [Permalink]
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!
Posted by Dave Bull at 9:39 PM, November 4, 2013 [Permalink]
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!
For more entries, please make a selection from the 'Table of Contents' section of the SideBar on the right ...