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'Hyakunin Issho'
Newsletter for fans of David Bull's printmaking activities
Issue #4 - Summer 1991
Contents of this Issue:


So here I am with 25 of the prints finished! A quarter of the way already! It seems like I started just yesterday! (Still not making a living at this yet, but perhaps by the time I get to 100 ....)

It is impossible for anyone to learn very much about a traditional craft like woodblock printmaking without contact and communication with people working in the field. Luckily for me, there are printmakers around who are not only willing to share their experiences and secrets with me, but are eager to do so. Our guest craftsman this issue is one of them, someone very special for me. We are going to meet a man who has acted as one of my 'teachers' over the past couple of years.

You'll also find the regular features - the customer profile, the continuing saga of how I got started in this, and oh yes, I've got a bit of egg to wipe off my face. Now I hope that doesn't become a regular feature!

Project History

I was so pleased with the way that Tenji Tenno turned out that I immediately made plans for making another print from Shunsho's book, putting in an order with Shimano-san for some more woodblocks, and starting to prepare the tracing to guide the carving. This would be more difficult this time. The source that I had used for making the first print was that full-page illustration in the Heibonsha book 'Karuta', but as no other pictures in the book were 'large size', I would have to find a different method. The only solution, it seemed to me, was to head down to the Toyo Bunko again and see if they would permit me to photograph the original book. I didn't have much hope that they would. They had certainly been friendly enough when I wanted to look at it, but I couldn't imagine them allowing reproduction.

When Michiyo and I got down there one morning that week, the place was closed. They had changed their hours with the new year, and my old pamphlet had led me astray. Two hours getting there, and two back .... Michiyo wasn't about to take it lying down. We could see lights on in some of the rooms, so she banged on a door, gave our sob story to the guard, and got us in! Koyama-san was working in the reading room upstairs. We apologized for disturbing him and hesitantly asked about reproductions from the book. I needn't have been so pessimistic - he smiled and pushed a standard 'Request for Reproduction' form across the counter. There was going to be no problem! I ordered 'bromide' photographs of the first 10 pages of the book.

Why 10 pages? Why the first ten pages? I'm not really sure. My first impulse had been to order the whole thing. I liked it so much, I wanted to have the entire set for study. Perhaps it was the little bit of arithmetic on my fingers, or maybe it was something in Michiyo's eyes when she finished the sum on her mental abacus, that told me I had better reduce it to a relatively inexpensive 10. As for which 10, it didn't really matter. I hadn't spent enough time with the book at this point to have chosen any favorites. I just wanted to get involved with it.

Back at home, I started planning. I bought some supplies from a local art store, and made up samples of a variety of possible packages for the prints. I spoke to Yamaguchi-san about ordering some of his beautiful paper. I bought some pieces of metal type for embossing my name on the prints. But mostly I sat and thought... If I could get my printing skills in better shape ... If I could put together an attractive concept: prints, packaging, and explanation ... If I could find the time between English classes ... If ...

Was I thinking of making 100 prints? No (at least not out loud). I found the idea of embarking on the job of making the entire set so fearsome, that I avoided thinking about it. I would focus on a smaller, more reachable goal. The basic idea was to make a selection of 10 images from the book, carve and print them, and make them available to collectors interested in the poetry. What would follow, would follow ....

What followed immediately of course, was 18 English classes per week starting up for the new term. Surely, those blocks from Shimano-san would be here any day now ... wouldn't they?

Collector Profile

Tomoko Kawanaka

This little series has so far profiled a couple of local business people, a company president, and a foreign university teacher. What other kind of people are interested in my prints? How about Tomoko Kawanaka, a grade six student from Saitama Prefecture!

I first came in touch with Tomoko when she sent me a New Year's card for 1990. Her family had been subscribers to my print series for the previous few months, and had just received the print of the blind poet Semi Maru. Tomoko was puzzled as to why he was depicted bare-headed, when all other illustrations she had seen showed him with some kind of head covering. I answered her as best I could (mmmmm ... I don't know ... mmmmm), and we corresponded further. She sent a print she had made in school, and I sent some other prints I had made a few years ago. She is not only interested in printmaking, and of course is busy with schoolwork, but also cooks, plays violin, and rides a mean unicycle!

During Golden Week this year, Tomoko and her family dropped by for a day, and we got to know one another a bit better. We all had fun playing with my collection of wooden puzzles and games, and then taking turns making prints from some of my woodblocks. I think that everybody (Mom and Dad included) was surprised to find how easy it was to make good looking prints!

I get just as much pleasure out of a day like this as I do from making my own prints. If through my efforts, I can get more people hooked on this interesting, enjoyable, creative, fascinating, relaxing, delightful and gratifying work, then I am happy. Next year Tomoko will become a very busy middle school student, but I hope that she will continue print making, and that when she grows up and perhaps has a family of her own, it will remain part of her life.

I was glad to have been able to spend this time with the Kawanaka family, and am happy that Mr. and Mrs. Kawanaka have encouraged their daughter to be an active participant in this print project. With their support, she will go far ....

Thank you Tomoko, and I'm waiting to see that next print!

Visit to a Craftsman

Mr. Keizaburo Matsuzaki, printer

Up to now, this column on visiting craftsmen has dealt with people who are actually working with me on my printmaking project: Shimano-san the block supplier, Usui-san the knife maker, and Gosho-san the baren maker. Today's 'guest' is a little bit different. He contributes nothing to the work. Nothing physical, that is. Yet, the part he has played is so important that without it, there would be no 'Hyaku-nin Isshu Hanga Series'. Let's drop in on him .....


The sound is what first catches your attention as you are climbing the narrow stairs to the workroom. A vigorous swirling, brushing sound (is somebody cleaning his shoes?) .... a slight rustle of paper .... a pause, and then another vigorous sound, this time a scratchy kind of rubbing .... another pause, another rustle of paper. What are these people doing? Of course, they are making woodblock prints - rubbing brushes over woodblocks, and barens over sheets of paper, the sequence repeated anew every few seconds as they work their way down the stacks of paper. Master printer Mr. Keizaburo Matsuzaki and his son Hiroshige are at work in their home in Tokyo's shitamachi district.

On this particular visit, one of many I have made to this room, the windows are closed to keep out the winter cold, muting the traffic noise and leaving the soft sounds of the printmaking work clearly audible. They are as familiar to Matsuzaki-san as his own heartbeat and breathing, for he has been hearing them now for 39 years, ever since taking his place at an apprentice's bench at 15.

Every time I watch him work, I am struck by the grace and ease with which he handles his tools. The baren seems to be an outgrowth of his massive hand, and when he reaches for the brush his eyes do not even bother to follow the movement, for after 10,000,000 repetitions he has no need to 'look' at what he is doing. He sits crosslegged at the low printing bench, and as his baren presses the paper onto the wood, the strength flows visibly in a circular path up his body, through his shoulders, down his arms, and out into the work. This energy remains visible in the print itself when it is peeled off the wood - with colours rich and deep - a permanent expression of the vitality that created it. Watching him at work, I think I begin to understand what ballet is all about ....

Right from the very beginning of my relationship with Matsuzaki-san, he has been as open, warm and friendly as anyone could possibly be. With some craftsmen that I have visited, a wall of 'reserve' has stood between us, blocking real communication, but in this room I have been made to feel like a partner rather than a guest. Each time I show him my latest printing efforts, he is willing to move beyond ritual politeness and offer me constructive help on improving my work. On one occasion he had me sit at his bench and show him with his tools what I was trying to do. Never had I ever felt so inept. My awkward movements, feeble attempts to make smooth colour, wasted energy - I tried to accomplish with brute force what he achieved with a wave of the hand. He laughed, demonstrated yet again, and offered more words of encouragement. How I envy Hiroshige - his chance to sit and work in this room, to drink in the movements, the rhythm of the work, the sounds ....

In the heyday of Ukiyo-e printmaking, men like Matsuzaki-san were common. Hundreds of printers lived in these streets, turning out stack after stack of the beautiful prints that now grace museums around the world. The highly critical eyes of the public, the demands of the publishers, and the ever increasing technical challenges put forward by the designers, all combined to push these men to ever higher standards of achievement. They were, and remain now, fiercely proud of their abilities. All their skills and resources were called for with each job.

Such challenges are rare now. When I reach the top of the stairs and poke my head around the corner, I know what I will see on his printing bench - a stack of 3,000 tiny sheets of paper to be printed with snow falling on a temple roof - Christmas cards for next year. He makes no complaint about the work, simple though it may seem, and gives it the same attention that he would give a famous masterwork. He is a printer, and his job is to print. I am the one who feels frustrated to see this. I want to run into the streets and tell everybody what is happening here; that men such as Matsuzaki-san are sitting in their rooms - waiting. Waiting for society to realize what a treasure they have here; waiting for the artists and publishers to knock at the door with new, challenging designs to be printed; and waiting for the young generation to come, to watch, and to listen ....

And this of course is how I offer my thanks to Matsuzaki-san for the time and energy he expends on my behalf. I get better. Bit by bit, slowly but surely, I get better. How much of his skill I will eventually absorb remains to be seen, but when my work is going badly and the frustration builds, I stop for a moment and try to picture him sitting there at his scarred and battered old workbench. I try and visualize the energy flowing down through his arms and out into the paper. I try .... I try ....

Matsuzaki-san, to your willingness to help me, I owe everything. The words 'thank you very much' do not even come close.

From Readers

This little newsletter is now on its fourth issue, and recently I have been receiving some interesting feedback from readers. Most of it is quite general, expressing appreciation for my work, and encouragement to continue, but one interesting letter I received last month however, I think I should share with the rest of you ....


In early March of this year, the magazine SERAI printed a small feature on my print series. A couple of people who read the article called for information, (and became subscribers) and a couple of others wrote simply to encourage me to 'keep it up'. I replied to these letters, and sent some copies of the newsletter, thinking that they might be interested in reading a bit more about the work. Mr. Kamei of Toyama City was one of these people, and obviously gave more than a passing glance to the newsletters he received. In fact, I think he looked at pages 6 and 7 of Issue #1 with a magnifying glass! Let me quote from his subsequent letter ....

"Thank you for the 'Hyaku-nin Issho' newsletters ... Reading them makes me think of feelings that are not so often expressed nowadays ... I have to mention something that I noticed when I studied those photographs in the first issue that compare your print with the original. Looking at the shape of the characters in the poem, I think that you have captured well the variations in the 'strength' of the brush strokes. However, there is one place, in the fifth large character from the top, where you interpreted the character 'this' way, and I think that perhaps it should be 'this' way (he draws examples) ... "

When I read this letter I was astounded. I ran to my shelf, and dragged down my copy of the Kinto print, along with the enlarged photo that I used when I made the transfer sheet for carving. I didn't need a magnifying glass to see that he was right! I had completely misunderstood the direction of the brush stroke at that point. Usually when I sit down to carve each of the poems, I try to come to some kind of understanding of the direction and order of the strokes in each character before I start cutting. There is no way that kanji characters can be carved correctly without such comprehension. If I have problems, I consult with either Michiyo or Ashida-san, the lady running my packaging and shipping 'department'. Obviously, when I was cutting this particular character, I felt that I had it 'figured out', and didn't ask for advice. Oops.

Michiyo and I had a good laugh as we sat and looked at it. Of all the possible choices of prints to illustrate when putting that newsletter together, I had to choose that one .... I have written before about the mistakes that I have found at various places in the original book, and now it's my turn! Please don't think that I am upset at Mr. Kamei for pointing this out. His letter also included many kind comments about my work, and I am very glad that he is studying the prints so closely, and that he wrote to me about this. Most viewers of my prints are quite effusive in their praise - wonderful for my ego, but doing nothing for the improvement of my skills. The only possible way for me to ever get any better, is through study of my bad points.

So let's get with it out there. Of course, I love to hear your praise. But please do me a favour, and next time you write, don't hesitate to tell me where you think the prints can be improved. I may or may not agree with what you say, but I will certainly listen. You'd better believe that I was thinking of Mr. Kamei's comments when I started carving the next poem!


I guess that should about wrap it up for this time. I'm really enjoying putting this little newsletter togther, and am glad I started doing it. We're pretty 'low-tech' here - not exactly 'Desk Top Publishing' - more like 'Do It Yourself Publishing'. We hope that you find our work worthwhile and interesting, and we would love to get to meet more of you face to face. Come and see us sometime. Who knows, you might get your picture in the paper!