Head & Hands

It's been nearly ten years now since I left my 'salaryman' job in Canada to take on the challenge of making a living here as a woodblock printmaker. One of the main reasons for quitting was the 'routine' nature of my job. The work was quite repetitive in nature and I had to do the same things over and over again! I couldn't stand it! So I left.

But look at me now! Seven years of work on my Hyaku-nin Isshu print series have passed, during which I have made 66 woodblock prints - all very similar in appearance, carved and printed in exactly the same way. For seven years I have been sitting on the same zabuton every day, at the same bench, holding the same tools ... When I do the printing I sit with a stack of more than 100 sheets of washi, rubbing the pigments onto the woodblock just like a robot - sheet after sheet after sheet ...

But it's not driving me crazy! In fact, I'm still enjoying myself very much. How is it that I am able to enjoy this job, even with its endless repetition?

One reason, I think, is that I have turned a simple craftsman's job into something different. Yes, I do spend many hours in simple repetitive work, but on top of this, I add many other activities. I communicate with collectors of my prints, I write stories for them about how their prints are made, I go and visit the craftsmen who are supporting my project, I am a 'househusband' taking care of my two children, I write essays about many things, and yes, I even write this little weekly column to try and explain my work to you.

Can I simply say that I make sure I use my head as much as I use my hands? My friend Sadako and I were discussing these things the other day. The word she used to describe these two different people living in one body was 'fushigi'. Do you think so?