--- Go to the Opening Page of this website ---

'Hyakunin Issho'
Newsletter for fans of David Bull's printmaking activities
Issue #83 - Spring 2011
Contents of this Issue:

It has been a very difficult spring for Japan the country, and for many people who live up north. Many friends and family members have been of course very worried about whether I was affected by the natural disasters, but fortunately, I have for the most part been untouched by any problems.

As it happened, I was in downtown Tokyo at the time of the initial earthquake, and with the train system out of commission, was unable to return home. But my 'network' of printmaking contacts came to the rescue, and I stayed at the home of collector Toshikazu Doi-san that evening, before making my way safely home the next morning.

Since then, I have been quietly continuing with my work, while hearing and watching the terrible news reports from the north. I have every confidence that our country will pull through this disaster, but it is heart-rending to hear the stories of so many shattered lives in the affected area.

None of us here are completely safe from the prospect of a major earthquake, although in my case, living in a strong concrete building far away from the sea, I feel relatively secure.

Time will tell!

Annual Report - 2010

When it comes to media exposure of my work, recent years have been kind of feast or famine (mostly famine actually!) This past year was somewhere in the middle - not many chances overall, but some interesting ones!

Edo-Gaku, November 2010

This is a relatively new magazine, very beautifully printed, which highlights products, places, and activities in and around Tokyo which are relevant to people with an interest in the history of this place - the Edo days. Well that certainly includes me, so I of course agreed without hesitation to their interview request.

In his workshop surrounded by greenery, he works, thinking about the people 300 years from now. "Most of the products built in large factories today will actually end up becoming garbage in the end. My prints will not. In the same way that the prints made back in the Edo era have lasted 2~300 years - with the paper becoming soft and beautifully aged - my work will be enjoyed by generations of people yet unborn!"

Playboy, September 2010

Yes, look at that, I made it into Playboy! But before western readers get all excited and ask me for extra copies of this one, I have to tell them that my part in the show was of no 'particular' interest to most readers of the magazine.

Simply the editors have a regular feature where they select a particular field and interview a group of people about their working life. Their choice this time was 'artist', which is why they called me.

There is no special content to report, but doesn't this make a nice entry on my résumé!

That was it for print items, but the undeniable highlight of last year's media attention was the program I did for NHK in September.

Japanophiles, NHK World

I talked about this program in the previous newsletter, but there is more to report about it now, six months later.

And what needs to be reported is that it has turned out to be the most successful TV presentation I have ever been involved with - introducing more than two dozen new collectors to my work.

This is a result that quite honestly I had not foreseen. Being on TV - even very widely broadcast programs - is not a new experience for me, and I have learned that although it can be fun and interesting to do, the exposure usually doesn't help the business side of my activities at all. This time was different though, and I think there were two main reasons for that: first is that the viewers were not a 'random' audience - these were people who already had an interest in Japan and Japanese culture; that's why they were watching that channel. So of course they were 'primed' to be receptive to the content of the program.

The second reason was the content itself; the producers not only introduced my work in general terms, they got very specific - putting my Mystique set on a table right in front of the camera and asking me to talk about it with host Peter Barakan. That scene was almost an 'infomercial', something we don't see on NHK very often!

All those new collectors are reading this newsletter now, and I hope they will join me in a 'thank you!' to NHK for introducing us to each other!

That's pretty much it for the media side of this yearly roundup. Long-time collectors know what comes next - it's time for the bookkeeping part of this 'Annual Report'!

Do I sound cheerful? You bet! Actually, given the tenor of the news that has filled this particular slot for the past few years, almost anything would be an improvement!

The news is simple to report: after a number of years of steadily decreasing income, and last time actually being in the red, I have managed to turn things around, as you can see from the accompanying spreadsheet. There is no mystery about this, as the Mystique series is turning out to be very popular. The prints are quite attractive, and given that they are also very inexpensive, orders have been good.

Producing the series is turning out to be 'somewhat' more work than I anticipated, but with my mortgage now being history - as I reported a couple of months ago - I am able to spend more time on each print without having to worry about whether I can get it out the door in time to make a bank payment.

So for the first time in quite a few years I now have a positive bank balance, and instead of living hand-to-mouth, am even adding to a savings account bit by bit. And I have done this over the past year, despite the fact that we are in the worst economic climate of our lifetimes.

This now brings up an interesting question - where do we go from here? The current Mystique series will come to an end sometime later this year, and my income will of course drop back to zero at that time. The obvious course of action will be to come up with an idea for a new series, and I guess I will probably do that. Some collectors will then leave, some will stay, and some new ones will join, attracted by whatever it will be.

But in recent years - as some of you who have chatted with me personally can attest - I have started to give some thought to a 'bigger picture'.

Let me put down some 'random' data points here:

- The other day, I attended the kanreki party of one of the collectors, Mrs. Jeannette Ohmae (who was introduced in this newsletter back in the summer of 2005.) It was a wonderful party, and focussed on her many achievements - musical and family. But before we left, she made a speech and told us about her plans for the future; she is setting up an organization to host concerts for up-and-coming musicians, with an emphasis on performers from developing countries. She has plans!

- I am the same age - this is my kanreki year too - and have been trying to peer into the 'distant' future for myself. The daily life I have at present is very pleasant indeed - long peaceful days spent by myself down in my riverside workroom, producing objects that people are happy to make their own. But could/should I still be doing that when I am (say) 80? 90? Would it be sensible for an elderly man to continue to live like such a hermit?

- Because of the lack of business in this field, it is getting more and more difficult every year to obtain the supplies I need for this work. As just one example, I learned last month that the only company in Japan still providing traditional nikawa glue (used by not only printmakers, but nihonga painters too) has gone out of business. At present, the product is completely unavailable and nobody can see where a solution will be found.

- The country that I have made my home - modern Japan - is in a very strange condition recently. Traditional patterns of life and employment have been fractured, and a great many young people are finding themselves without any kind of clear direction for their future employment. (Just how the recent natural disasters will exacerbate this I cannot foresee at this point.)

- As I mentioned in the previous issue of this newsletter, I have come to the end of my mortgage, and am now the free-and-clear owner of this building. I must still pay taxes and maintenance of course, but there is no longer a 'big hit' every month. Suddenly, I have financial resources 'available' ...

Perhaps that's enough. I said 'random' points, but of course that was not really true; when seen together a picture does start to develop. But before I show you that picture, there is something else that I should touch on.

Let's go back in time for a minute - to the spring of 1994. I had just come to the end of the first half of the long Hyakunin Isshu series, which was a nice accomplishment, but over and above that, I had also finally become stable as a printmaker, having enough collectors to make a living at it. A dream had come true. I wrote this in Issue #15 of this newsletter back then:

"There is an interesting quotation left by George Bernard Shaw to the effect that there are two tragedies that can befall a man in his life. The first, is to never attain your dream. The second ... is to attain your dream. The implication of course, is that once you have got what you wanted, you find you are still unhappy."

I mention this again now - more than 15 years on - because there may be readers thinking "Why is Dave talking about perhaps changing his way of working? He's very successful. Isn't that enough?"

I can reply to that with another quote from what I wrote in that same newsletter story:

"I really believe Mr. Shaw's dictum is true. But I'm not worried about it. Neither about the first part, nor the second. Because I've learned a way to escape the paradox. Simply have multiple dreams: reachable ones ... but also ones that will forever remain outside your grasp."

I think you can see where we are going with this. It's time to get some serious work done on the next 'dream'!

Most of you who have been reading this newsletter for a few years know what that is. About three years ago I started up the Mokuhankan venture. The idea was simple - to work together with other craftsmen to create a number of interesting woodblock prints. I managed to publish a few designs, but over the next few years, due to the very tight financial situation I was in, was not able to carry the concept very far.

But I didn't forget about it completely, and actually, even though there are very few prints in the Mokuhankan catalogue, it has provided a not-inconsiderable part of my income since then. The idea is clearly viable. What has been missing is investment - in both time, and money.

So let's go! Over the next couple of pages, we'll have a peek at how Mokuhankan will be taking its next few baby steps!


On the face of it, becoming involved in a venture to publish woodblock prints in the traditional manner is complete insanity. Supplies and tools are very difficult to come by, and extremely expensive. There is no 'pool' of labour to draw on for producing the products, and costs here too are very high. And the market - as much as there ever was one - has pretty much disappeared.

So why bother? It's quite simple really. I myself like prints very much, and many people who come in contact with the prints I have made seem to agree that there is 'something' there that makes the effort worthwhile. Although we are surrounded by many wonderful modern technologies, and cannot in any way state that we 'need' to preserve this old way of making things, I'm having too much fun with this to give up so easily. And look at this photo ... it's not just me!

Let me introduce you to some of the 'crew' now working on Mokuhankan projects. (These people are not my 'employees' of course; they are independent craftsmen.) In that photo, we have Tsunehisa Sato, a young trainee carver, and printer Hirokazu Tetsui. On the table in front of us are the colour separations for the first set of prints in the new Mokuhankan Senshafuda project - small sets of colourful and attractive prints in the pattern of the old senshafuda, a type that was common among enthusiasts about 100 years ago, who would collect and exchange them. [Information page here.]

I am very happy that they have agreed to cooperate in this venture, although they have both had mixed feelings about it. They know that I am quite capable of doing their job on my own, so why would I hire other people to do it?

Well one obvious reason is that by working with other people I can produce a lot more work than would be possible alone, but another is related to something I mentioned a couple of pages back, when thinking about my own future as a printmaker. Which would make more sense: for 80-year-old Dave to be down there in his workshop alone, sending out just a few prints at a time, or for that 'old guy' to be using his knowledge and experience to 'direct the orchestra', in the production of reams of wonderful prints? And in the process providing employment for these young and enthusiastic workers.

I think I know which one will be a lot more fun! And if that's the kind of future I would like to have for myself, then I had better get busy, because nothing like that will just 'happen'; it has to be conceived ... and then built ...

I should make one point clear, my own prints - the ones in my Mystique of the Japanese Print series for example, and all the other prints I issue under my 'Seseragi Studio' mark - have been (and will always be) carved and printed absolutely by myself alone. People like Sato-san and Tetsui-san will play no part in their production. I am very proud of my skills, and nobody else is going to touch that stuff!

It's also time to introduce you to somebody else. Collectors of my Mystique series have already seen the work of young designer Kaori Seki (the print of Urashima Taro was her design), but the rest of you will have to wait until your set of Senshafuda arrive (you are going to order some, aren't you?) She has agreed to create the designs for the complete group of four seasonal sets for this year, with three prints in each.

Ever since she became interested in art, Kaori-san has been studying ukiyo-e, and her work reflects that interest. I have seen her portfolios; full of interesting designs that would make excellent woodblock prints, far more than I can possibly use, so I think we should have a good future together!

So that's the production 'staff' - all very young, and all very enthusiastic. They will be 'building' the new senshafuda prints backed up with assistance from Mrs. Yoko Tauchi, whom we met in this newsletter a few years ago, and who will be doing the special calligraphy for the project. As for the management side, that for now will consist of just me, although perhaps in the next issue of this newsletter it might be time to run a 'Help Wanted' ad. (I'm not actually joking there, as it is going to be very difficult for me to find time to run these projects in addition to my normal printing work - which has to continue without interruption, to help pay for this!)

So there you have a short introduction to a little bit of the 'who and what' coming up for Mokuhankan. Making a few sets of small senshafuda prints certainly isn't going to set the world on fire, but we have to start somewhere. If we manage to produce attractive prints, and if they find acceptance in the market, we'll take it from there. Watch this space for further developments!


I spoke about TV in the first story in this newsletter, and there is more video news to report. I recently opened a channel on the popular YouTube video website, and have uploaded a number of short video pieces that may be of interest to collectors and friends.

Included in the selections are a short video 'visit' to my workroom, an introduction to the current Mystique of the Japanese Print series, and a sample of the instructional videos that are part of my Your First Print eBook.

Over the next few months, there will be more appearing there, and young carver Sato-san, whom we met on an earlier page of this newsletter, is going to work together with me on preparing a video featuring the late Ito Susumu, a carver who helped me in the early stages of my printmaking career.

Please visit the page and have a look!

Sadako's Corner

The phrase 'nursing a parent' has been something only for other people to be concerned with, but I recently have felt it coming closer and closer. I'm not quite sure which side of it will impact me the most – doing the nursing, or being nursed - but both possibilities are undeniably becoming more likely! The recent experiences of two friends has forced me to think about how I myself will cope when similar situations arrive in my own life.

Both friends are not the kind of woman reliant on men, and have raised children as well as had an independent career. Both have had to deal with nursing an aged parent, but their way of approaching this critical situation has been quite different.

One of the women decided not to change her basic living pattern, and to continue working and enjoying her hobby while taking care of her parent. The balance between her career, the nursing and her hobby must have been a bit of a roller-coaster, but she managed to make the nursing obligations part of her daily life. She naturally became extremely busy, and I suppose there must have been times when she returned from her parent's house late at night, only to have to be up early for work the next day. She also asked her brothers for help. She confidently states that she was able to overcome the crisis because she tried to maintain her own activities.

On the contrary, the other woman tried to manage her mother's care by herself as much as she possibly could. Her only pleasure – walking early in the morning – gradually became out of reach, and the chaotic mix of work and nursing put her on the edge of losing control, sometimes even blaming her demented mother. She exhausted herself both mentally and physically, and her brother finally had to have the mother removed to a care home. The woman now feels guilty that she was not able to care for her mother by herself.

My own mother is now over 80 and still very healthy, both mentally and physically. I feel I am very blessed but I may be put in a similar situation any time. This has led me to realize that I don't have the kind of hobby in which I can 'immerse oneself to the extent that you can forget everything else.'

Having such a hobby expands your networks and widens your world. Having such a way to deepen your pleasure by your own efforts must be a big help when you face difficulties in your life.

When I mentioned such things to Dave he basically just shrugged. I forgot that this tough guy became a printmaker by falling in love with woodblock prints!

Family update ...

With our family being so widely spread around the world, it really is difficult to get the meetups organized. Sometime last autumn we were planning a get-together for February, and I went ahead and arranged my plane ticket, but it turned out that my brother wasn't able to get away from his work in Germany.

Well, I wasn't about to cancel, so headed over to Vancouver by myself. In any case, for me the main point wasn't to spend time with Uncle Simon, it was to see the two little guys! Alex and Andrei are of course at a stage where they are changing every day, let alone every year, so each time I see them, it is like meeting two new people!

The next few years are going to be more interesting though, because they are moving into the stage of life where little boys are able to play with complicated - and interesting - toys. Japan certainly has plenty of those on hand, so it's pretty obvious what my job is going to be over the next few years!

And oh, I almost forgot! Grandma and Grandad are doing fine too; look at that photo - they are the only ones who can sit up straight!