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

Introduction

I am an English-born Canadian, a resident of Tokyo, and make my living as a woodblock printmaker. The prints you see around me in this photograph are from my 'Hyakunin Isshu' series - a set of 100 prints depicting poets of old Japan.

David Bull

Work started on that project in 1989, and I produced ten prints each year, finally completing the series in December 1998. Since then, I have created a number of interesting woodblock print series:

Nearly all of the prints in these collections were designed in the Edo and Meiji eras by various artists. I worked in 'collaboration' with these men, carving and printing their designs, just as the craftsmen of the Edo period worked together with the artists of their day. The 'My Solitudes' collection is different - being landscape designs of my own creation.

In the old days, these craftsmen were either carvers or printers, never both. I love both aspects of printmaking though, and would not be content with doing only half the job. It is tremendously satisfying to see these prints coming to life under my hands. I hope that as you explore the many byways of this site, you can catch some of my enthusiasm for this interesting craft ...

My current (2012~2013) project is the 'Arts of Japan' collection, which is another in what is turning out to be a series of Treasure Chests ...

Thoughts on prints and printmaking

I love woodblock prints as objects, not just as vehicles for carrying a particular design to a viewer. In some forms of graphic art, the paper serves merely as a support for pigments making up an image, but in woodblock printmaking the paper becomes a integral part of the image. To my mind, a great deal of the beauty of woodblock prints is born in the materials and tools used.

In the Japanese tradition within which I work, woodblock prints were generally not considered art, but were simple articles of commerce. Of course, their production involved many artistic aspects, from the initial design all the way through the production process, but they were never considered high art in the way that such items are usually considered today.

Although I understand that an 'artist' is a person who has an original vision denied to other people, I believe that in the case of woodblock prints such as those we are discussing, the quality of the final product is a perfect summation of the skills of all four people involved in the cooperative effort - publisher, designer, carver and printer. There is no star - only four equal partners.

I try and work to the same ideals. I have been successfully making a living by my printmaking for many years now by following these precepts:

  • The only reason for the existence of a print is its intrinsic beauty. I am not the slightest bit concerned with big-name recognition of the designer.
  • The only value a print carries is its value as an object of beauty. Considerations such as how much it will appreciate in financial value over the years are of no interest to me. If you are looking for an investment, you've come to the wrong place ...
  • I feel that as very few people in our age have any understanding at all of what a woodblock print is, and of how beautiful it can be, I have a responsibility to educate them in these things.
  • I refuse to make 'wallpaper', and thus will not sell 'single' prints for people to take home, hang on their wall, and then ignore for the next ten years ... To this end, I only sell prints by subscription, grouped in sets and stored inside slipcases - to be kept on a bookshelf and only taken out for viewing when the mood strikes ...
  • I think prints should be priced as reasonably as possible. By 'reasonable' I mean that collecting prints should be an activity that any normal member of society can engage in, and not just the wealthy. It should not be an elite activity. (To be specific, let me add that my current 'Mystique' prints are only $35(US) each, even those with complicated overprintings and 15+ colours ...)
  • I believe that the whole and only purpose of printmaking is the creation of multiples, and the dissemination of the message to as wide an audience as possible. Any attempt to limit production artificially, either to maintain a false and dishonest high price for the product, or to avoid hard work by the craftsman, is utterly against the concept of a print. I make no limited editions, I never deface my blocks, and my prints have never, and will never, carry edition numbers.

Some years back, I created a couple of 'imaginary conversations' in which I discuss some of my thoughts on printmaking with a visitor to one of my exhibitions:

Thoughts on 'preservation of traditions'

Over the years that I have been doing this work, I have come to realize that many viewers (and collectors) of my prints don't see things in quite the same way that I do, and there is no more vivid example of this than the question of 'saving old traditions'. It's the single most common 'compliment' that I hear at my exhibitions ... "Thank you so much for preserving this tradition!"

But, do you know, I myself have not the slightest interest in 'preserving' any tradition, and to tell the truth, I don't think that traditions should be 'preserved'. I don't want to get too long-winded here on this introduction page, but my point is that if any tradition has decayed to the point where the activity in question cannot support itself 'naturally', then so be it, it will (should) disappear as a matter of course. It is dishonest to take government handouts to support it artificially. Society is always changing, and it is foolish to expect that every type of activity that humans have ever been involved with can continue to find a place in a changing world.

Why, then, if I'm not interested in traditions, am I doing this? Simple. I like it. I like using these beautiful materials ... the wonderful tools ... my hard-earned skills ... to create beautiful objects. Nothing more. Nothing less. And for as long as I can produce items that have enough relevance to contemporary society that some people find them interesting enough to purchase, then I will keep making them. And on those completely honest terms - not on 'subsidy' or 'preservation' - the tradition will continue.

But other than all that, I'm just having fun!