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'Hyakunin Issho'
Newsletter for fans of David Bull's printmaking activities
Issue #65 - Autumn 2006
Contents of this Issue:

It has been just over three years since I last saw Himi-chan, and when I said good-bye to her at Narita airport that day, I couldn't imagine that our next meeting would look like this!

During the years that my two girls were growing up, the thought that they might one day become mothers was always present, so there is no reason to feel too surprised that Himi now has a child of her own. But that the day has arrived so quickly ... now that's a surprise!


Family news provides the 'main story' in this issue - I made a quick trip over to Vancouver to meet the new arrival in the family, and brought back a few photos for you.

There are new arrivals in Mokuhankan this time too, with a small collection of books joining the prints in the slowly growing catalogue. Do you think colouring books are only for children? Perhaps there is a surprise for you here!

There is also - wonder of wonders! - an update to the Studio Diary construction report series, some thoughts on next year's work, and then everything is rounded off with Sadako's Corner.

I hope you enjoy this issue!

Family News

As I mentioned in previous issues of the newsletter, daughter Himi got married last November to a young Romanian man. As it turns out, the two of them haven't wasted any time in working on a family 'expansion', and they presented me with my first grandchild at the end of August. I had hoped to be able to visit them in time for the birth, but little Alexandru decided to come a couple of weeks early, and I missed the main event. But it was perhaps just as well; things had settled down and I was able to spend quite a lot of 'quality time' with the little guy.

The first picture here is with proud father Ioan, who allowed me to take over his 'job' for a couple of hours! It was a very nostalgic moment for me when I put on that baby carrier - it's the same one with which I carried Himi in the first weeks after she was born! I had walked around the garden earlier that day carrying the baby in the carrier, with just the top of his head visible, and had found it very difficult to believe that only 23 years have passed since it was little Himi who I was carrying that way ...

Ioan has become a landed immigrant in Canada, and - in the classic pattern for immigrants - not only has found his first employment, but is already planning how he can move up to a better position in the company. He and Himi both seem eager to work hard to build a good life for their family, and it is going to be interesting to see what sort of adventures they have along the way!

As you can see from this snapshot on the right, little Alex is certainly having no chance to get 'lonely' these days. Although I imagine my mother isn't too happy to think of herself as a 'great-grandma', I suppose that is mitigated somewhat by the pleasure she gets from her time with the new baby (that's 'great-aunt' Sherry helping with the tickling chores ...).

The new baby is of course the main 'news' this time around, but during the first week of my stay in Vancouver, I was able to spend plenty of time with Fumi as well, as she had some free time before heading off for her next year of university. I can't say that I regret my life in Tokyo away from my family, but doing this - sitting on a sunlit café terrace with one of my interesting daughters - is something I would like to do a lot more frequently!

Here's a close-up shot of the guest of honour; bath time is about the only chance to get a clear picture of him - at other times he's either sleeping, or getting a face-full of milk!

For our final snapshot in this little 'album' we'll look in on great-grandad ... What does a professional musician do when he retires from a lifetime of making music? He takes up a new instrument ... of course!

Drowning in the Sea of Possibilities

Every year, as the days shorten and the weather starts to turn cooler, the turn of the season brings certain changes to the pattern of life here at the Seseragi Studio. Boots the cat certainly takes notice of the change - she has shed so much of her thick black hair during the summer that she feels it very vividly when the cool days of autumn arrive suddenly! She changes her sleeping pattern - abandoning her chair in front of the open window, and trying to huddle near me instead.

I too have my season 'switch', and of course do the usual things that everybody does - prepare warmer bedding and pull some sweaters out of the closet - but autumn also brings to me something that it may not bring to many people ... my annual drowning!

For eighteen years my printmaking work has followed a strict pattern: I make a set of prints during the year, exhibit them in January, and then make another set the following year, around and around the cycle. Some years ago, during the time I was making the long Hyakunin Isshu series, the pattern of work was set in stone for the entire ten years, but since the end of that project, I have had to start fresh each year.

Sometimes I continued with the same theme from one year to the next - making multiple 'volumes' of my Surimono Albums for example - but recently I have produced a completely new project every year. Of course, in order to announce a new series in January, complete with custom-made case, a sensible selection of prints, and carefully thought-out details, I must start planning months earlier, and that is why as autumn deepens, my thoughts turn to the huge question I must face yet again - "what to do next year?"

Why did I use the word 'drowning'? Because there are so many print projects that I would like to be able to try! As I sit in my room browsing through my library of prints and books, it is difficult to restrain myself; each time I turn a page and see another beautiful print, I think to myself "Yes, this one! That will be next!" It's a good thing that my interest lies with prints, and not with food, because if it were the pages of menus that I turned over so eagerly, I would end up so fat I wouldn't be able to get through the door!

But leafing through print albums is easy, turning those thoughts into a practical project is not. Just for example ...

  • In the 1790s the publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo issued a number of illustrated books that are among the most beautiful objects ever created by man. Images from these books have occasionally been reproduced, but nobody has felt able to take on the task of creating perfect reproductions of some of these volumes. Should I try? But struggling to find the necessary superb quality wood, ordering special paper, spending the many months that it would take to carve and print each sheet, asking the collectors to wait for years until all the pages were ready to be bound into an album to be sent to them ... No, I don't dare try it ...
  • Just at the dawn of the 20th century, a pair of Tokyo publishers - Matsuki Heikichi and Akiyama Buemon - competed with each other in issuing an astonishing group of albums featuring beautiful women, each containing 12 prints. The carving is delicate beyond belief, the paper is so snowy white and smooth, the pigments are of the finest purity and fineness. After making a successful Meiji reproduction in my Shiki no Bijin series, I think I might be ready to try one of these albums. But again, each print would take me many months, trying to find adequate supplies would be endlessly frustrating, and after three or four years of work I might be able to sell a few copies of the completed album. No, I don't dare try it ...
  • Surimono ... Oh, there are so many incredibly beautiful surimono prints in the world's museum collections! And how few of them I have yet reproduced in my albums! But during the five years of my Surimono Albums, even as the print quality improved year by year, subscriptions gradually dropped off ...

So even though I am daily buried in work on the current print projects - the Kaigetsudo Scroll and the Small Print Collection - I keep returning to my shelves to try and find an answer to that question constantly in my mind: what kind of project can I put together for next year that will fit the requirements: provide me with a worthwhile challenge, be interesting to potential collectors, be economically feasible (adequate income for me, yet not too expensive for the collectors), and, what is perhaps most important - be something worth doing?

It is indeed a difficult puzzle. Will I find a solution again this year? We'll all find out in January!

Mokuhankan News

When I started my Mokuhankan publishing venture earlier this year, it was with the intention of bringing beautiful woodblock prints to the market. I can't say that I thought much about it beyond that. Along the way though, other ideas have pushed their way into the mix, and it seems as though Mokuhankan is perhaps going to become David's 'brand' ... an umbrella under which other activities will also be included. So here we go - announcing a small collection of books now available from Mokuhankan!

A Story A Week (Volume 1)

This is the print version of the stories published on my 'A Story A Week' website during the first half of this year. Why should only people who use a computer have all the fun! The complete text of the 26 stories issued from January through June is included, and each story is accompanied by a short vocabulary in Japanese containing some of the more difficult words and phrases.

(Watch for Volume 2 coming in January - the stories from July through December ...)

Hyakunin Isshu Love Poetry Colouring Book

This is a colouring book that uses images from my well-known Hyakunin Isshu poetry series. Japanese readers know that colouring for adults has become a huge boom in Japan recently, and these images make a perfect theme for this!

Thirteen of the poets are represented in this book, each one twice - in a colour reproduction of my original print, and then in outline form ready for colouring.

A special extra section includes four of the designs from my Hanga Treasure Chest series, ready for colouring, then to be trimmed and mailed as postcards.

This book is available in bookstores across Japan; if your local shop doesn't yet have a copy, they can easily order it for you.

Japanese Woodblock Printing - Hiroshi Yoshida (eBook)

Woodblock Printing - Frank Morley-Fletcher (eBook)

These are the first two in what I hope will become an extended series of eBook reprints of classic books on the techniques of creating Japanese woodblock prints. I have arranged and edited the entire text of books which have fallen into the public domain - but which are very scarce and difficult to find - and created electronically-readable editions. (Note that there is no paper copy of these eBooks - you need a computer or eBook reader in order to view them. )

* * *

All these publications can be purchased via the order form at http://mokuhankan.com. I hope you will find some of them interesting!

Studio Diary

With winter coming closer, I again feel pushed to get a bit more work done on the construction in the workroom downstairs. But before this next stage of work can be done, I have to dig my way through three years worth of wood chips that have built up underfoot. I can't believe I've actually been working down here for that long now!

The immediate goal is to finish off the alcove where I sit to work. After the chips were out of the way, I built a panel for the front face of the working platform, and fitted it with three dimmer switches. These will control the lighting on three tracks that will be mounted on the wall between the windows.

I ran the wiring for these tracks when I first built the platform, and it has been waiting patiently all this time for me to get it hooked up. Luckily, I was able to remember which wire should be connected to which switch ...

So here's the platform with the top back in place. As I sit working, I will be able to reach around behind me to control the light levels. It is important for me to be able to control the three lights independently, as I need different illumination for carving and printing ...

Here's a night view of the alcove with the carving bench in place. When I work at night like this, I get a lot more done, as I don't get distracted by the view of the river outside! But look at those ugly unfinished walls ... time to get busy with the final step, window casings and plastering!

All the way through this construction, the complex geometry of this alcove has made it a bit difficult to get the parts to fit correctly. The window sills took quite a bit of careful measuring, but I managed to get them all to fit in place perfectly snugly.

I got lucky with the next step; I didn't have to go out and buy the plaster for the wall, as Sadako had a bag of it left over from some recent construction in her own home. (She hired carpenters to do the main construction, but did the wall plastering and fitted the flooring tiles herself - DIY seems to be contagious!)

I had expected the plaster to be mixed with some kind of straw, but was a bit surprised to learn that here in Japan, a kind of seaweed is used instead.

I think this will probably be the last bit of construction this year. The next job in line is the ceiling, and that's something that will need quite a bit of time set aside for it - time that is going to be in short supply over the next few months, as I get cracking on the scroll printing!

Sadako's Corner
Digesting Knowledge

One of my hobbies is gardening. After the hot lazy summer days I have been busy with weeding and preparation for the oncoming winter. Almost every day I stride into bushy areas with sickle in hand and pull out 'unwelcome' weeds wildly flourishing among the plants which I carefully planted in spring. I then throw those troublemakers into a large plastic compost bin. As I basically don't use any chemical pesticides or herbicides, all this debris becomes an important resource, being recycled as nutritious soil for my garden.

One particular point about weed disposal has always been troublesome for me: can I throw weeds that have gone to seed into the compost? Whenever I asked this question, some said 'no' and some 'yes'. I had gone through books and learned that the temperature inside the compost gets quite high and breaks almost everything down, so I optimistically adopted this theory and have been using all weeds for recycling.

Along the way I had a chance to meet a gardener who was a bit popular then (he soon became a famous garden designer in Japan). His thoughts on this point were along the same lines: the temperature in compost becomes high enough to break everything down. Just as I thought! After that, I confidently put masses of weeds into my compost mixed with kitchen waste (other than fish and meat), and recycled the precious result as humus. But ... something was wrong ... Some types of leaf didn't decay well, some bulbs germinated even in that dark plastic receptacle, and a few kinds of weeds seemed to prosper in places where the humus had been scattered. Yes, something definitely seemed wrong ...

But now this problem has been completely solved! One of the books in the pile that David brought me from his short trip to Canada gave me the perfect answer. Titled 'Organic Gardening Guide', it contained this passage: '... avoid weeds that have gone to seed ...', as well as other very persuasive ideas. In retrospect, I should have been able to reach this conclusion easily myself, if I had been a bit more careful and had thought logically through my experience. But in any case, I was happy to find a clear answer from this book; it was as though an object stuck in a drain had finally gone through! So, from this morning I am dragging two buckets with me while weeding, carefully sorting out weeds. As usual, while working alone in my yard, my mind was also busy ...

"How silly I had been, making unnecessary work for myself! If I had thought a bit deeper it was such an obvious point ... Wait a moment ... this can be applied more generally, can't it? Knowledge is important and we should listen to what other people say. But all such information needs to be digested carefully. It is important to remember that no two situations are exactly the same, and knowledge must be adapted. This is the way we utilize knowledge fully to cope with a problem or make a judgment. Nowadays many people must be suffering from 'indigestion'; we are fed too much information day after day. There is an expression in Japanese - big head - to indicate a person who has plenty of knowledge but can't put it to any practical use. Well well, the path to becoming a 'wise person' is very long for me. To take such a long time to reach such obvious conclusions ... but at least I'm getting there!"

By the way, I hadn't expected Dave to be able to turn up such a useful gardening book for me; this one will become my bible! He might ... yes, he must have observed me well and searched for the best one out of a mountain of books! Smart guy!


How many readers of this newsletter will remember this photo, which appeared in the second issue, back in the winter of 1990?

Appearing with me in the picture is Mimi-chan, the cat my two daughters had brought home from the park about a year before, and who was my constant companion through those years, sleeping on my lap during my long hours of work every day. When the girls moved to Canada in 1996 though, Mimi-chan went with them, and that was the end of our 'relationship'. But look at this!

I sit down on the floor of Himi's home during my visit, and guess who climbs 'on board'! Seventeen years old now, Mimi-chan certainly isn't as vigorous as she once was, but she still recognizes a comfortable place to sleep!