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Aspen Grove [1] - Genesis

Posted by Dave Bull at 12:57 PM, April 18, 2006

These Mokuhankan 'Conversations' had not yet started at the time that I first talked to Mike Lyon about using one of his designs for Mokuhankan, but in the interests of having the entire process documented, he has kindly agreed to let me cut/paste portions from our series of email exchanges in which we discussed the idea.

I should mention at this point that as I write, it is far from certain that this print will be made as 'planned'. Mike is certainly confident of his ability to produce 'something' interesting, but please understand that the project we are about to undertake is an experiment. We know where we are starting, but just where we'll get to, what sort of roadblocks will present themselves, and what sort of detours we'll be forced into, are unknown.

But that - of course - is the point!

From: Dave  |  Date: February 23, 2006

Well, almost ready to take it live ... although it's kind of embarrassing to be starting this off on such a small scale: http://mokuhankan.com

From: Mike  |  Date: February 23, 2006

What a wonderful new venture! Your write up is terrific! How exciting! I'd LOVE to be included, of course, but perhaps my work isn't up to standard... Let me know if it's a possibility -- I do still plan to produce some smaller treasures, you know...

From: Dave  |  Date: February 23, 2006

I'd love to be able to include some 'Lyon' designs. But would you be willing to:

  • - have other people print your blocks (or even carve them)?
  • - work with 'no edition numbers'?
  • - work at (for now anyway) a 'low end' of the market? (meaning simply I want to keep prices quite low and send out a lot of prints ...

What kind of thing would you like to do/try?

From: Mike  |  Date: February 23, 2006

- have other people print your blocks (or even carve them)?

Print? sure! carve? might be more cost effective and accurate if I simply supply ready-to-print blocks and color plan?

- work with 'no edition numbers'?

Open edition of my image? sure! any image for Mokuhankan would be 'unique' anyway, so not a problem

- work at (for now anyway) a 'low end' of the market? (meaning simply I want to keep prices quite low and send out a lot of prints ...

Pricing up for discussion, of course, but -- why not? Be very fun to be involved in such a joint venture.

Would you want to reproduce (on a smaller scale) any of my previous work -- that might be a hoot (not that ANY of it has been particularly popular)! I've got a yen to make some more [abstract work] -- but am happy designing 'more of the same' figures as in recent years... I'll give some thought to what might work (and sell) in a smaller format

From: Dave  |  Date: February 24, 2006

Thinking about this some more ... and yes, I really would like to put something from you in there. As you can see, there is no contemporary work in the list yet, so it gives the people who will be visiting it when I open up next month a totally wrong impression of what the intention is ...

Would you be game for including a design something on the lines of your new Aspen? (or even a mini version of the same image, if you would do that ...)

It wouldn't make visual sense to do that too small, so maybe around o-ban size? If it were around 10~12 impressions it would cost me around 3,000 per sheet to have printed.

I've got the first rough spreadsheets on the $ stuff for this project kind of worked out, although it is all provisional, and many changes are sure to come .... Printer's fee - the largest single item - sets the basic pricing level for each print, and it seems to work scaling up from setting that at around 17 ~ 20% of the final target price. The carver sits at half the printer, as does the designer. Printing paper and packaging add another 10%, bringing basic production costs to 50% of target price.

So - projecting this on a print like that, for which you acted as both designer and carver (sending us a set of blocks from your machine), it would maybe be:

  • Target price: $150
  • Printer: $30
  • Carver: $15
  • Designer: $15
  • Paper/packaging: $15

Giving a raw production cost of $75. Singles sold from the website at $150 would give a nice margin at this end, but actually, I'm expecting that there will be more action on the wholesale end here in Japan. I'm going to try and get these things into quite a variety of places: of course obvious stuff like print shops and hotel arcades, but also into boutiques/shops in the 'interior design' world. They aren't going to be overwhelmingly excited about the 30% I'll be able to offer them, leaving the final 20% for me, but we'll see ...

as your own taste may be a bit 'provincial' or eclectic judging by the upcoming print ideas

Well, my taste is what it is ... and this thing will fly or fall based on that. I'm not so interested in sharing the responsibility. But what I will do (and there is a web page discussing this in preparation) is be open to suggestions/input from 'out there'. Just as I am being right now ... I wouldn't have considered asking you - I thought you were targeting yourself into the 'upper' art market (not being sarcastic) ... But if you're game, then let's do this! (Assuming the numbers are something you could live with ...)

Carving is going to be the biggest stumbling block to getting material into Mokuhankan for quite a while. Up to now, carvers have always been paid on a single lump payment for a set of blocks. Cash on the barrel, and no extended royalties. I want to do it the other way, small advance on a royalty which will continue as long as the print stays in production. But with no track record, and only vague promises of sales for 'years to come', it's going to be a hard sell ...

So if you can get me a set of blocks like this, I'm ready to start tomorrow!

From: Mike  |  Date: February 25, 2006

YES, I'm game to submit an oban design or three... I'll work up an Aspen Grove (not the big one) for your consideration and publication and send you an image when I have something presentable. Whatever pricing is fair to you is OK with me as you get this thing flying ... Seems well considered, and I completely trust you'll treat me fairly.

For monochromatic work on that scale, more blocks (16 to 24) is better, but these'll be relatively easy to print, requiring NO bokashi and only a light touch -- should go very fast even with more blocks, I think... For 'full color' work, it takes even more blocks (more like 24 to 48) to get something really impressive I think... Maybe consider down the road if simpler stuff winds up selling? I'll try to keep the initial design to as few blocks as I think we can get away with, though. It's also very easy for me to supply ready-to-carve block plans if you decide to have a pro do the carving for any reason... Otherwise, I think 1/2" plywood will work well, but I can just as easily carve 3/4" or heavier plank if I can find any wide enough (wide cherry is in fairly short local supply right now for some reason). Do you have any preference?

From: Dave  |  Date: February 25, 2006

Thanks! As you mentioned, because of the way you do your image 'organization', printing should be neither difficult nor too time-consuming, so it should be relatively easy to get something out there quite quickly, once we get the set of blocks.

For monochromatic work on that scale, more blocks (16 to 24) is better, but these'll be relatively easy to print, requiring NO bokashi and only a light touch -- should go very fast even with more blocks, I think... For 'full color' work, it takes even more blocks (more like 24 to 48) to get something really impressive I think... Maybe consider down the road if simpler stuff winds up selling? I'll try to keep the initial design to as few blocks as I think we can get away with, though.

Yes please ... we have to keep things relatively simple at first - I really don't have the resources for the more extended work (translation: I'm broke this year ...), but there is lots of time in front of us ...

It's also very easy for me to supply ready-to-carve block plans if you decide to have a pro do the carving for any reason..

As I mentioned, working with carvers is going to be the most difficult and expensive part of this project at first, so yes, a set of blocks from you would really help. This gets us into an area that I haven't clearly defined yet - 'ownership' of stuff. Under the 'normal' way of working: the blocks would be 'mine', image rights would be 'yours', right to publish the print would be 'mine', etc. etc. But these blocks would presumably be 'yours', and I would be using them on a 'rental' basis, something like that. I'm going to work out a written-up agreement to use between myself and the designers, and will get a draft off to you as soon as I get something down on paper.

Otherwise, I think 1/2" plywood will work well, but I can just as easily carve 3/4" or heavier plank if I can find any wide enough (wide cherry is in fairly short local supply right now for some reason). Do you have any preference?

Thinking about long editions - which is of course the way I want to go - I'm not so excited about using white wood of any kind. When you say 'plywood' are you talking about hardwood surface? Should I think about getting some cherry-face from Matsumura, and send it over?

Or for this first kick at the cat, just go with what you've been using there; if the print starts to fly out the door, then we could prepare a duplicate block set at our convenience, as I presume you keep all the image files ...

From: Mike  |  Date: February 26, 2006

I was thinking of hardwood veneer-core plywood (probably cherry for non-self-printed, but ash and birch have interesting grain characteristics in the print, so those might be suitable as well on occasion), but commercial thin veneer is what's available to me -- nothing here like the fancy 1/4" hardwood veneer stuff Matsumura supplies you -- but Matsumura's would be GREAT, I think, if you can tolerate some waste (carving machine very occasionally goes berserk -- for example, in "Leaves" on the 3rd or 4th block state I had to carve a new block instead of reducing the old, because I managed to carve a deep gouge right through the middle of the almost the whole block)... Doesn't happen very often, and I'm getting better and better as spotting this sort of error before carving, but still -- there would probably be some % of blocks ruined during carving -- no big deal with cherry plywood at $30 or $40 per 4x8 sheet, but I suspect the Matsumura blocks are just slightly more expensive! I don't know about Matsumura's 'flatness' -- for my use, any supplied blocks MUST have both faces exactly parallel -- that's probably how they come from Matsumura, but just stating the obvious, as usual.

Or for this first kick at the cat, just go with what you've been using there; if the print starts to fly out the door, then we could prepare a duplicate block set at our convenience, as I presume you keep all the image files ...

Started typing before I read the para above... That's fine, Dave -- if the blocks aren't suitable for large runs, then you can just send over a set of Matsumura blocks (with a couple extras which I will return uncarved with luck) and I'll carve and return those...

I hope to have a design or two for you early next week -- I'll want your approval before cutting any wood, of course!

How exciting!

This thread continues in Aspen Grove [2] ...

 

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