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'Hyakunin Issho'
Newsletter for fans of David Bull's printmaking activities
Issue #44 - Summer 2001
Contents of this Issue:


Hotaru! Everywhere I turn ... hotaru! The previous owner of this building had mentioned that I would be seeing fireflies when the summer came, but I had heard such a story from somebody else who lives in this area some years ago. We had come down one evening to his place to see them, only to return home disappointed. So I hadn't really paid too much heed to the owner's comment; he was trying to sell his building, so of course he was trying to paint a good picture of the place.

But he hadn't been exaggerating ... because here they are, floating through the still night air all around us. There is a clear space on the edge of the riverbank immediately below my balconies, and this is a perfect spot for spending a peaceful half-hour or so watching them go back and forth along the river. Sometimes they come so close that you could reach out and pick them from the air.

So after months of shivering in my rooms here, I can now bask in the cool summer evenings along this river. A little voice in the back of my head says "Don't forget! The cold weather will be back!" ... but I don't care about that just now. Surely it couldn't have been all that cold anyway ...

From Halifax to Hamura

Although I was sort of settled down in a new home with a new partner, there seemed no rush to end the 'vacation' style of living that I had been enjoying over the past few months. I had saved quite well during the two years of work at the music store in Toronto, and didn't have any urgent pressure to find a job. The money wouldn't last forever and I would have to find a job of some kind in due course, but for the moment, I could relax and enjoy our new life.

At this point my main interest was very much in the world of computers. What we now know as the PC hadn't yet come into being, but its precursors, small machines known as microcomputers, were enjoying quite a boom among hobbyists. I didn't buy one myself - I knew that the technology was changing day by day and anything I bought would be obsolete in a matter of weeks. I contented myself with following the developments and learning what I could by reading books and magazines. I had no concrete plan as to how I could possibly use one of these machines, but I found them interesting and deeply fascinating - they seemed to be so limitless in scope.

So the two of us were buried in our studies - she went off to English classes every day, and I browsed book shops and computer stores. I unpacked the goods that had been in storage while I lived in Toronto (mostly books and records), and we built ourselves quite a comfortable home in our small rented rooms. Her fellow students at the language school were a varied mix of people from many parts of the world, and she frequently invited groups of them to our home, where she cooked up interesting Japanese dinners that we all enjoyed.

And then, with this pleasant background, it seemed that the time was ripe to remember what I had seen on that gallery wall back in Toronto, and have a go at doing it myself - time to try making a woodblock print!

Sometimes, as I have been telling stories about those times to people, they respond with "You obviously had a good head start on printmaking - living with a Japanese, you could get lots of advice about how it is done." Well, yes and no. Although Japanese elementary school students do make rudimentary prints, there really wasn't any advice she could offer me in my experiments. (Later, when I was trying more complicated prints, she was frequently astonished at how poor my school training had been in such things as basic colour mixing, etc. In this respect, I think the Japanese training is far ahead of what I know of my own experiences in the west.)

Anyway, advice or no, away I went. I sketched a simple design of a full moon hanging over a dark sea, with a shining path of ripples across the water below it, and then set about carving it. For a block, I guess I must have used a piece of lumber left over from the construction work we had just finished; for carving I used a household 'cutter knife'. It didn't take long to carve as there were no fine details, and it was soon ready for printing.

I of course had no 'baren', nor at this time did I even know such a thing existed. I used whatever paper was lying around the house, some simple watercolour pigments in tubes, and a rice scoop for rubbing the back of the paper to make the impression.

The result was an absolute total mess that looked nothing at all like the image that I had inside my head. You might think "Well, of course!", but actually I was quite shocked at how bad it was. I simply hadn't pictured woodblock printmaking as being particularly difficult or challenging - it was so 'low-tech', how difficult could it be? I immediately threw away both the carved block and the scraps of paper I had tried printing. (I kept nothing at all and thus can't show you the print now ... I would if I could!)

But the experience didn't put me off printmaking. I determined to have another try, set about preparing some more sketches, and started over again. Before I could get too far though, once more I got a little bit side-tracked ... A phone call came in from Bill - yes the same Bill, the owner of the music store. "How would you like to develop and install a computer system for us to handle our musical instrument rental programme ..."

Music to my ears! I was over in his office before the phone handset was cold!

Collector Profile

Have you been thinking that I had quit this 'Collector Profile' corner of the newsletter? I have no such intention, and I apologize for not being more consistent with it. My only excuse for not keeping it going well has been that my 'plate' is always so full it is sometimes difficult to organize things and to get out and around to see people.

But I recently realized that it is not always necessary for me to actually meet the person face-to-face in order to get to know them. This month's collector is an example - I have never met Julio, nor have I even spoken to him on the telephone. So how do I 'know' him? Well, I think that after hundreds (thousands?) of emails back and forth over the past few years I feel that I know something of the man at the 'other side' of my computer screen!

* * *

I first 'met' Julio Rodriguez when he signed up to be a member of the [Baren] internet printmaking group that I had started back in 1997. He wasn't - at that time - a printmaker himself, but was quite interested in prints, having read a number of books about them. The group had (and still has) a good mix of people: professional printmakers, amateur printmakers, students, and people just generally interested in woodblock prints. But it was always one of my 'covert' objectives for the group that those who hadn't yet actually tried printmaking would be drawn to do so, and in Julio's case this ambition was realized.

The group started doing print 'exchanges', with 30 members each sending in 30 prints to make up an interesting folio collection, one copy of which would then be returned to each participant. Julio eagerly signed up for the first one, and set about translating his general interest in printmaking into something concrete. His effort was successful, as was the exchange program itself, and now three years later he stands as the only member of [Baren] who has participated in every exchange the group has done - all nine of them! I don't believe that he has any intention of becoming a professional printmaker, but that's not the point - to see him making it a productive part of his life is enough for me!

As in any such group of people, there are 'talkers' and there are 'doers', and Julio early on established himself as a major contributor to the activities. As I got to know him better, through countless email communications, I learned that he simply seems to be that kind of person - whenever there was some work that needed to be done for the group, Julio was one of the people that we could depend on to respond with assistance (proving once again the truth of the old saying "If you want something done, ask the busiest person you know ..."). He has been such an enthusiastic participant that he has twice taken on the self-imposed task of organizing a major exhibition of the group's work; finding display space, arranging framing, etc. etc., all without any thought of personal benefit.

Like me, Julio is an immigrant to his chosen country; in his case he went to America from Cuba and now lives in the Chicago area with his wife and sons. His family is very important to him, and any number of times I have received a note like this: "I can't reply to that right now Dave, I'm heading out to baseball practice with my boys ..." The reply would then come to me later, with a time stamp of something like two o'clock in the morning. '... the busiest person you know ...'

To have someone like Julio as a collector of my Surimono Albums has added pleasure for me because of the varied motivations he brings to this: he is helping me achieve my goals through his sponsorship of my work, he enjoys the prints for their own beauty, and in addition, he appreciates them as a learning tool to help him improve his own printmaking skills. I certainly can't ask for more from any collector ...

Thank you Julio, for being part of my work. I hope printmaking will bring you many more pleasant hours!

'Dear Himi'

It has now been five years since my daughters Himi and Fumi left my home and moved over to Canada to live with their mother. Since that time we have only been able to see each other during summer vacations from school and winter holidays. The air fares back and forth across the Pacific have been quite a burden, as have the telephone charges resulting from weekly hour-long calls, but I have never begrudged those expenses; our time together has been too important to us. Although I am not a 'lonely' man living here in Japan, I have of course always looked forward to the summer visits from my two 'little' girls.

This year though, the pattern has changed. As I write this, Fumi is here, but her older sister Himi did not come this time. Those of you who have been following my family's adventures for a long time may be quite surprised to hear this, but Himi is now a legal adult; she is no longer my 'child'. When our family moved to Japan she was just three years old; when my Hyakunin Isshu series started she was six; when it finished she was fifteen ... and now she has turned 18, and where she lives in Canada, that is the age at which one becomes an adult.

It is thus not surprising that she is not so interested in coming here this summer to spend time with 'Daddy'. I understand this, and had known that this day would arrive sometime. It is here a bit earlier than I would like, but there is no point in protest; she is nearly ready to make her own way through the world, and her plans will certainly not include me, just as mine did not include my own parents when it was my turn to leave home, thirty years ago.

As I won't be able to sit and relax and talk with her this year, perhaps the best way to speak with her is with a letter. If I put it here into this Hyakunin Issho, perhaps she will read it ... perhaps.

* * *


I was quite saddened a couple of months ago when the plans for this summer were being discussed, and it became apparent that you wouldn't be coming over this year. I had been hoping that perhaps I might be able to squeeze in one more year before you 'flew away'. It has always seemed like you have enjoyed yourself when you have been over here with me, and I thought that maybe you too would have been looking forward to the visit. But recently, the more I hear about your new activities and the kind of life that you are leading, the more I realize that things have changed too much for us to keep to our old patterns.

How you have changed during this past year! As you approached your eighteenth birthday and the end of high school, you so eagerly reached out to join the adult world - to do all those things that you think adults do ...

Most adults have a car, so you bought one too, acting by yourself, using the money from your part-time waitressing job. It was disappointing to see that you quickly got yourself into a tangled mess of transmission repairs and insurance problems. It's easy for me to suggest that you should perhaps have waited until you had a bit more experience, or that you should have let us help you, but I guess you are thinking that an adult can buy a car by herself ...

Adults of course can legally drink and smoke, and you are doing your best to show that you are an adult here too, although I regret that you seem to have taken the word 'can' and changed it into 'must' ...

Adults are free to treat their own bodies in any way they wish, with body piercing and tattoos, and here too you seem to have decided to 'try everything on the menu'.

Adults of course don't have to be in bed by a certain time, or even come home at night if they don't want to, and you are certainly being an 'adult' here!

Yes, it really seems as though you have completely become an 'adult', at least by your own definition of the word ...

I guess you are rolling your eyes at me right now, because you feel that I am being a bit sarcastic. Well, if a bit of sarcasm like this is the worst you get from your father then you're not doing too badly - you and I have never fought with each other about behaviour, and we're not going to start now! To tell the truth, I'm not really worried about you - because I know that I've got time on my side.

Sometimes as I sit here working in the evenings, I think back to those days years ago when you and your sister were still living here. After you went to bed each evening, and we said goodnight, I went into the next room and returned to work on my blocks. You went to sleep to the sound of my hammer and chisel, tap tapping on the wood. Many people would complain about such noise when they were trying to sleep, but perhaps because you grew up with that sound always there, it never seemed to bother you.

Weren't those wonderful times the three of us had together! It's hard to imagine how we could have been happier - each of us busy with our own projects but working together to keep our household running smoothly. We were good members of our community too, contributing where we could and earning the respect of those living around us. And each one of the three of us certainly enjoyed plenty of personal achievement in our own area, you two with just 'growing up', and me with my printmaking and my family!

In my books, this whole question of 'being an adult' is a trivial point - the behaviour that makes up a 'good' person doesn't seem to be so different for a child or for an adult: make sure your family knows you love them, make sure you contribute your share, both in your immediate family and in the society at large, and make sure you have good goals for personal growth and achievement, for that is what will give some direction to your life.

So going by my standards, you were already behaving like a real 'adult' during those years that you lived here with me. I know that your standards are different; at age 18 your own thoughts are of getting away from your family and studies and having fun with your friends, and this is just as it should be for someone your age. I think though, that not too many years will pass until you discover where the really important things in life are to be found, and when that starts to happen, I'll take great pleasure in watching you take your real place in society ... as an adult.

Talk later, Himi-chan

All my love,


Fumi-chan has been busy while here this summer, and one of her projects was a woodblock print depicting the new pair of figure skates she bought just recently ...

Sadako's Corner

It was in the freezing cold month of January that David moved to Ome. But things there started to change dramatically once spring arrived, giving a frequent guest like myself a keen sense of anticipation. David too felt this breath of spring, and introduced me to many beautiful places - a garden we privately named 'The Cherry Castle', or some masses of rhododendrons growing nearby - and explained how they were changing.

He is also meeting new companions, and one of these was an 'awa-mushi' (bubble bug, Aphrophora Intermedia) which he noticed on a Bridal Wreath plant just in front of his carving bench. He asked me "This guy has already hatched; why doesn't he come out of the foam? I've been watching him for days!" He explained that the insect appeared to be trying to get out, but always retreated back into the foam; nothing was changing. I told him that it was because the insect was living in there. He continued to watch the foam closely from then on, never getting tired of it. A week or so later the insect disappeared ...

When I visit the Seseragi Studio I almost always find that another guest has arrived before me. She is well dressed, usually in black and white. David insists that she is not staying for dinner, but I can see that they are getting along pretty well. She sits very close to him, and even takes a nap while he works sometimes.

She is also somewhat friendly to me, but once I arrive, she knows that she has to say goodbye. I'm simply allergic to her presence; I start sneezing and my eyes turn red and itchy.

But this lady likes David and doesn't give up so easily. From the front door she runs round to the window of his workroom and calls out in her plaintive voice ... "Myaaa ... Myaaa ..."


Readers of this newsletter know by now not to expect any exhibition announcements from me during the summer. My pattern of holding an annual exhibition every January has continued unbroken for 14 years, and the only small change was the addition of a couple of shows in Osaka some years back.

Well, this year things are going to be a bit different, and I am happy to be able to announce that I will be taking my prints and my printing bench down to the Kansai area again this year. I have been invited to participate in a 'Traditional Crafts of Japan' exhibition at the Takashimaya department stores in Osaka and Kyoto. The event has been held every year since 1972 but this is the first time that foreigners have been included (four others besides myself will be in the show: a potter, a lacquer artist, a furniture maker, and a fabric artist).

When the people from Takashimaya first approached me about this event, I was of course interested, because I would love to have the chance to show my work to so many people in a 'new' area, but against this I had to balance the loss of productive time here in my own workroom. In the end though, I couldn't resist the opportunity, and accepted the invitation.

If you will be in the area while the show is on, I hope you will drop by and see us; I look forward to seeing you there!