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'Hyakunin Issho'
Newsletter for fans of David Bull's printmaking activities
Issue #80 - Summer 2010
Contents of this Issue:

Four times a year - rain or shine - this little newsletter lands on your doorstep, and has been doing so now for a full twenty years!

This issue is quite a mixed bag; one of the stories is quite predictable - the annual family reunion report - but the rest bring a more diverse selection. We have a report on how I have begun to do my own paper sizing, as well as something that I promised in the previous issue, a few comments from collectors on the My Solitudes series that was completed this past spring.

And although it seems a bit incredible, I have now been in my 'new' home in Ome nearly ten years. How has it changed in that time? We'll have a little photo report!

Sadako's Corner will just about wrap things up, but don't miss the photo on the back page - it has been many many years since you had a chance to see me in a coat and tie! (Luckily, dad had some extras that I was able to borrow for the occasion!)

Family Get-together

Regular readers of this newsletter know that once a year they can expect to see a story like this one - Dave's 'report' on the annual family reunion.

As you will discover when you arrive at the last page of this issue, this year's event was a bit different from recent get-togethers. My siblings and I spent a week together on a little 'side-trip' with our parents first, so when I returned to Vancouver, the focus switched to spending time with my own kids.

Or as I should more properly say - trying to spend time with them. Himi and Fumi have been in business together for something just over a year now, and their fashion accessory venture is turning out to be spectacularly successful. They did try to make time for me, but I could do little more than sit and watch as they dealt with the stream of orders that are pouring in for their products each and every day of the week.

Things have now gone well past the point where they can handle it all by themselves, and as I write this, they are in the process of expanding their production capability by taking on their first employees. To see this happening even in the current difficult economic situation is a testament to how hard these two kids can work!

With both Himi and husband Ioan holding down full-time jobs, their daily scheduling is no simple matter, but one or another of them is always with the two boys, who are getting all the care and attention they need.

But good grief they are so rambunctious! I had gone over there with the thought that I would 'take the kids off your hands for a while ...' What a joke! I was completely incapable of handling the two of them.

Once upon a time I - of course - had two kids of my own at that same stage, and don't remember any particular difficulties. What is different about these two?

Yes ... the XY factor ...


Speaking of XY factors, we tried a variation in our usual family photo this time - lining all the males up by themselves first. I've heard from readers of previous newsletters that they have been confused as to 'who is who', so I'll caption it this time.

From left to right we have: brother Simon, son-in-law Ioan, Grandad, Fumi's man Craig, and me. And look at that; without planning it, we lined up in order of an increasing amount of hair! :-)

We were then joined by the ladies: Himi, Grandma, Fumi, and sister Sherry. (I'll make no comments about hair for them!)

Size Matters!

Many times during the years that I have been making woodblock prints I have heard comments from older craftsmen in the field that I should "... stop trying to do so many things. Just stick to [say] carving, and let other people handle the rest." For carving and printing, I have always ignored such advice, because I really do want to make my prints 'by myself'.

When it comes to the tools and supplies, I have of course depended on other craftsmen a great deal, but recently I have become worried about my paper supply. Hand-made washi cannot be used in its 'raw' state, but must be treated with 'size' - a glue mixture - before printing can begin. This is normally the work of a specialized craftsman, who sits between the paper maker and the printer.

At present, this work is handled for all traditional printers here by a single craftsman. But this man is now approaching retirement age, and has no apprentices. If (when) he decides to hang up his brushes, it is going to create a very difficult situation for people such as myself, who depend on a supply of well-sized paper for our work.

So recently, deciding not to just sit and wait for this to happen; I have begun sizing my own paper, in the hopes that I will be able to develop the requisite skills myself.

A major difficulty is that there are so many variables involved. The proper recipe for the size - the balance between the nikawa glue and the alum - is dependent on weather, humidity, and the condition of the paper, as well as the desired result. An experienced worker simply 'knows' how to balance these things; a beginner can only push forward hoping that 'common sense' will not lead him (too far) astray.

A second problem - and nearly an insurmountable one - is the difficulty of obtaining the needed tools. I contacted a number of different brush makers in Tokyo, but received the same reply from them all, "No, we can't make that kind of brush any more." I had to settle for a brush much smaller than is normal for this work.

The photos on these pages give an overview of my progress so far. I am still not very confident about the job, but have been getting acceptable results. And the most recent print in the current Mystique series was made on paper that I sized myself.

Doing the sizing myself from now on is going to add a huge amount of time and trouble to my working routine, but at this point I feel that I have no choice. And my fingers are crossed that all my other suppliers - paper, wood, pigments, etc. - can solve their succession problems!

Overview of the process ...

The mixture of glue and alum is dissolved slowly in a double-boiler.

It is then strained to remove impurities and lumps.

The small thermometer helps me keep the mix at the proper temperature.

This is the most difficult part - applying a perfectly smooth coat of size across the sheet.

I built clip units that let me hang the paper up without creases.

It is important to let the paper dry slowly, or it will buckle as it shrinks.

A few more points ...

The only brush I could find is 1 shaku in width, but this is far too narrow to cover a single sheet of paper in one pass. I have been forced to cut my sheets in half before beginning, thus doubling the working time. (Although of course working on smaller sheets makes it 'easier' for this beginner!)

All the sheet-metal shops in my community have closed, so I built my own sizing tray, making it match the brush. It is used in double-boiler fashion, standing in water heated by a hot plate.

These custom hangers turned out to be a good idea. It is very difficult to hang up the wet and soft paper, but I prepared dozens of these using smooth-faced clothespegs (made for use with lingerie). This part of the job is now no problem!

Message from Collectors

In the previous issue, I asked readers for some 'thoughts' on the recently completed Solitudes print series. Here are a couple of the contributions, both from long-time collectors. (And thanks very much to both of you for this!)

from Mark Roberts in Canada

When I first heard about the Solitudes series I knew I would have to collect it. The premise of the series neatly aligned with my most cherished memories of Japan.

I started collecting Dave's work during an expat assignment in Tokyo in the early 1990s. Coming from smallish cities in Canada, Tokyo's population and all the hustle and bustle of the high-technology business climate back then was a real strain on my system, but I enjoyed learning about the culture of Japan, including wood-block prints, and was excited to find someone that I could talk to on the subject in English!

In my second year of the assignment I felt comfortable enough to dedicate almost every weekend to day-trips, either into back-street areas of the city where craftsman had their shops or alternatively into the countryside. I started collecting my own set of 'solitudes' that included certain less frequented parks and gardens, the remote forest shrines in Nikko, and natural hot springs, waterfalls, etc. found on mountain trails near a friend's cottage.

'My Solitudes' by David helped me to recall what I enjoyed the most from my time in Japan. His observations and sentiments expressed in the stories resonated strongly with my own recollections of the beautiful natural areas of Japan. I have always felt that many Japanese people don't appreciate what the countryside offers and may not even venture down a less-traveled path to see what's around the next bend.

Even in the busiest areas of the city it is often possible to find an undeveloped 'natural' area, a quiet park or garden to escape for a few minutes from the pressures of big-city life. David's writings in 'My Solitudes' strongly hinted of that with his details on the short journeys required to reach many of the locations.

The combination of the prints and stories will quickly transport you to the time and place that David is relating. His stories make the print come alive and at the same time will give you a new appreciation for nature conservation, covering both benefits and issues associated with these 'freaks of nature' in Japan's urban landscape.

* * *

from Shigeyoshi Ushiro of Mie Prefecture

We have now moved into the season where we are tormented by the heat, but the 'busy as ever' David makes me think that he must be powered by atomic energy!

David's 'Solitudes' series was such a long journey! Carried by his courage and ability to bring us small details, I was thrilled and delighted to appreciate the experiences that I myself would be too afraid to enjoy alone in the mountains.

It is perhaps not so polite to say this to a printmaker, but I have to admit that when reading the stories, I sometimes forgot about the prints.

The quietness of David's prints could be considered to be a weak point, but this is his artistic style. Some famous best-selling artists work in bold performance fashion, but David searches out themes that no others do, and creates wonderful works to send us. We always enjoy the works from this sensitive and sincere man.

Although I myself am thankful for David's reasonable pricing policies, if I were to be asked if this were the true value of his work, I would be unable to answer anything but 'no'. I am sure that it is not only I who feels this way each time we receive one of the packages. I hope that the series can soon become sold-out!

Living in the 'long tail' ...

My little business works on what is known as a 'long tail' system. Each month I send out not only many copies of the newest print, but also a selection of 'back issues' of my older work. I am happy to do this of course, but there is one very large problem with a long tail system - storage of the inventory.

I have been in my Ome home for nearly ten years now, and the once wide-open and nearly empty rooms have slowly changed ... Let's have a little tour!

The genkan (entranceway) is a great place to store the remaining scrolls in their paulownia boxes - the constant fresh air is good for them!
The next photos show the 'living room', which is full of material for doing just that ... living! Prints, books, computers, more prints, more books ....

The 'kitchen' is for brush washing, pigment preparation, paper sizing ... and of course plenty more books!

The 'bedrooms' upstairs - in the driest part of the building - are for storage of cases, washi, packing supplies, and finished prints.

Meanwhile, down in the basement, we have mountains of shipping cartons, exhibition display materials, more packaging materials, and many hundreds of carved blocks ... the 'treasures' of this house!
And somewhere in the middle of all this ... not quite sure where ... a printmaker is living!

Sadako's Corner

This summer is hot! Hot, hot, hot!

Although I have always felt myself to be a person particularly sensitive to heat or cold, it was only this year that for the first time, I started to rely on using an air conditioner. There are extenuating circumstances, as my daughter has frequently been bringing my grandson over, but even though I throw all the windows open for fresh air at around 5:30 every morning, the days when we must use the air conditioner constantly are continuing without break.

A while back, I had a visit from a person from City Hall, to tell me about their 'Eco Challenge' campaign. They have me a pamphlet with which I am requested to record my consumption of water, gas and electricity over the three summer months. They will return in three months to pick it up, and I understand that will cross-check my claimed data with my receipts. (It also seems to me to be somewhat ironical for them to involve such massive personnel expenses for something labelled 'eco'.)

Not to brag about this, but aside from this matter of air conditioning, when it comes to things such as garbage recycling, I think I am pretty near the top in my community. So it is somewhat unbearable to have this project focus only on the place where I am weak and tell me that 'your efforts are inadequate.'

Also worth mentioning is that the number of deaths related to heat stroke this year has already climbed over 300. And many times this number of people have had to be taken to hospital by ambulances, many of them elderly people living without an air conditioner. "Seniors living alone have been found collapsed with heat stroke, their bodies discovered after xx days ..." This is not to be me, I hope!

But it is unavoidable that I must leave the house sometimes, walking through the heat to the station, riding in a train car so strongly air conditioned that I need to have a sweater with me, then coming out onto a baking platform to return home under a hot sun. Even being careful to take plenty of water, this sort of thing still leaves one with a headache and dizzyness.

What is going on? It is difficult not to feel anger at being in the train, thinking of the pamphlet exhorting us to 'Think Eco! Turn down your air conditioners!'. Having just been handed that pamphlet, I couldn't avoid thinking things such as, 'Why don't they use fans in the train carriages anymore? That would allow the temperature to be set more reasonably,' and 'Public institutions like this should be making stronger efforts than individuals!'

As for that man with the beard, he simply keeps along at his own pace. He passes through the year serenely, even if the tip of his nose does get frosty in winter, or he feels drowsy from the heavy summer heat. From where I stand, he seems to be simply floating above all these things peacefully. No wonder we two seem to become so 'distant' during these seasonal extremes!


As mentioned in the family story a few pages back, it was my parents' 60th anniversary this June. And what better way could there be to spend such a special occasion than being pampered for a week on the MS Oosterdam.

Here we are, about to head in for dinner on the big day - three little kids, and Mom and Dad. Special congratulations to them both!