Hokusai's Great Wave
Background of this project ...
It began with a Kickstarter campaign ...
Woodblock printmaker Dave Bull has been living in Japan since the mid-1980s. For the first 25 or so years of that time, he worked as an independent craftsman, carving and printing in the traditional Japanese manner, and distributing his prints to private collectors. In the early 2010s he decided to 'open up' both his life and work a bit and created the Mokuhankan workshop, a place where a newer generation of people could learn the old techniques from him, and which would publish prints by modern designers as well as reproductions of traditional designs.
The venture had a fairly slow start ... until the beginning of the Ukiyoe Heroes print series - in collaboration with young designer Jed Henry - at which point things took off. The Kickstarter campaign run by Jed and Dave in the summer of 2012 was one of the most successful ever run (at that time), and put work on the table for Mokuhankan for the next few years. The increased business for Dave and his team of young craftsmen made it possible to consider another major step for their business - opening an actual shop in central Tokyo.
The story of that venture is outlined in this video, the one used to introduce Dave's second Kickstarter campaign, initiated in the autumn of 2014 to assist with financing the project:
As described in that video, the main 'reward' for the Kickstarter backers was to be a copy of Hokusai's iconic Great Wave. It was originally 'promised' to be ready in early 2015, but that schedule slipped, for a couple of reasons. One was that the new shop - which opened on November 1st 2014 - has been quite successful right from the beginning, and has taken up more of Dave's time that he could possibly have imagined during the preparation stage. But a second reason was that once he actually began work on the Hokusai print, it became immediately apparent to him that this was going to be no ordinary reproduction project. This is a design with a very complex history, and that history is strongly affecting the work.
How the Print has been made ...
The print pictured here is a copy collected many years back by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It is quite well preserved (although not perfectly) and is of a resolution allowing clear inspection of the carved lines. This is the 'master' which we have used to guide our own reproduction.
The full production process has been documented in an extended series of videos, but this is the outline of the basic process:
- Trace all the main lines of the design, as accurately as possible (working at 400+% enlargement in Photoshop)
- Print out the resulting tracing onto an extremely thin gampi paper, and paste this face down onto a new cherry block
- Carve this keyblock
- Proof the keyblock, and then transfer its lines to more fresh blocks, and carve the set needed to print all the colours of the image
- Proof-print the resulting block set, and then pull the edition of prints for the Kickstarter backers. All prints are being made on the famous Echizen Hosho paper from our primary supplier, the workshop of Living National Treasure Mr. Ichibei Iwano.
- After the Kickstarter commitments were fulfilled, make more copies of the print for general distribution (of course also on Mr. Iwano's paper).
Explanation from the Kickstarter campaign description: "Traditional Japanese prints were never made in 'limited editions' and this time will be no exception. Once carved, the blocks will be very carefully preserved, and used to pull prints for as long as they are capable. But we also understand that backers of a project like this want to have a print that serves as a physical confirmation of the support they have given. So each print will be embossed/printed in the lower right margin with the following information:
- Designer: Katsushika Hokusai / Carver: David Bull / Printer: (printer's name)
- Mokuhankan Kickstarter Campaign - Autumn 2014 - Print # XX
'XX' will be a number assigned in the order that backers join the project, beginning with #2 (#1 will stay in our archives). Once the Kickstarter campaign closes, that'll be it for those numbers, and any future prints that we make from the blocks will omit the Kickstarter Campaign line, leaving just the maker's information. We'll also include documentation with the print giving full information on the project."
Price / Delivery ...
Delivery of Kickstarter copies is now complete, and we are now in general production. The price of the print will be $135 (USD), which is very much in line with the standard price for nishiki-ban prints of this type here in Tokyo. Shipping will vary with location, but for most areas, $15 should cover it.
Update: We have also now cleared the waiting list that built up during the Kickstarter campaign, and are now ready to take general orders; if you are interested in this print, please visit this page of our catalogue. Thank you for your interest!