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

'Hyakunin Issho'
Newsletter for fans of David Bull's printmaking activities
Issue #88 - Summer 2012
Contents of this Issue:

What an astonishingly busy spring and summer it has been! When I decided last year to really have a go at opening up my Mokuhankan publishing initiative to include other workers, I knew that my life would get a little bit more busy. What I didn't anticipate was that it would be turned upside down!

There is so much going on here just now that I simply don't have time to write long detailed newsletter stories about it all, so this issue will be a simple 'news update', just to keep everybody in touch. I'll try and cover some things in more depth next time ...

But please read on - about the state of the 'Arts of Japan' project, our workshop expansion (we are doubling our space!), a little trip coming up for Dave, and ... a massive new project that may provide work for us all here for years to come!

Room to Grow

Take a look at these photographs of the workroom down in the lowest level of my home.

As you can see, things are starting to get fairly tight down there. In our very small space we have three printing 'stations', a bench for packing prints and cutting paper, and a large cupboard for storing pigments and supplies. And you can see that the room construction is still far from complete, with the walls and ceiling still being uncovered insulation and the floor bare plywood.

But do you notice that folding door in the photo? Let's take a peek at what is on the other side!

Look at that! A wide completely open and unused space, just waiting to be filled with busy workers!

But how is this possible? What is this space?

The answer is simple. Although up at street level my house seems to be 'free-standing', the two-story concrete foundation structure is shared with my two neighbours. The family directly next to me - the Ishidas - have never used their part of the lower basement level, because without considerable effort - as we have seen in the case of my own workshop - the space is simply too cold in winter.

A couple of months ago I chatted with Mr. Ishida and proposed that I rent the space for an extension of my workshop, and he immediately agreed to the idea. We settled on a very reasonable monthly rental, and as soon as it was all arranged, Lee-san got out a heavy hammer and made short work of the breeze blocks that divided the two spaces.

At the time of writing this we haven't begun any construction there, but hopefully by the time you read our next newsletter we will have begun. We are going to keep it simple at first, with another couple of printing stations, an area with a wide table where the staff can gather for discussions (and lunch), and some kind of storage for coats and etc.

But now that I think about it, perhaps coat storage won't be needed. If we don't get that space insulated before December, nobody will dare take their coats off!


Ever since moving to Ome around twelve years ago, I have enjoyed occasional 'sightings' of local wildlife. There is a pretty good balance here between urban and rural landscape, so we're never quite sure what we might run into, but this year has been an exception; I can't say 'occasional' sightings - there has been a veritable parade of interesting creatures passing by my windows this year! Here are a few photos I managed to catch ...

This couple are regulars, and actually have probably been living here longer than I have. Although they soon fly away if I try to get too close to them, they break that rule when crumbs are being tossed from our balcony ...

These guys are extremely sensitive, and it is impossible to get near one. Our only chance to catch a good view is through our windows during the day, when they can't see in because of the reflections. The photo here is a capture from a webcam broadcast; the overseas viewers also got a chance to enjoy this!

Although I would dearly love to be able to show you a photo of the kingfisher diving into the water with a great splash, capturing that kind of shot requires a lot more effort than I am able to expend on it. But this guy stopped for a few minutes on the embankment directly across from my window, so I was able to catch a bit of video ...

[Weasel] - This one is rare. He's not particularly shy, and will approach within a few meters - as long as he is safely on the other side of the river! I managed to catch a distant shot of him jumping from stone to stone while hunting in the river one sunny afternoon.

Nothing exotic in this photo, but I was delighted to find this year that the fish population was far larger than usual, and some of them grew to around 20cm in length, quite a respectable size for such a small stream. If they get much bigger than this it will be a cause of trouble I think, because already some of my neighbours are making noises about getting a 'line' into the water ...

It's honestly sometimes difficult to concentrate on my work with all these guests waiting in the wings ...

'Arts of Japan' Update

With the first three prints in this new series now done and sent out to the waiting collectors, the general style of the series is perhaps becoming apparent - that is, there is no general style! We are going to career from pillar to post this time, on a journey through the centuries, never pausing very long at any particular spot.

Some of you may be wondering if ukiyo-e is going to play any part at all in this set - we have seen none yet - and I can ask you not to worry, because of course we will be visiting that genre too, probably any number of times before the end. But as long-time collectors of mine well know, I consider it very much a 'mission' to help people understand that the Japanese print lives in a wider world than simply that of the ukiyo-e courtesans and actors with which we are all most familiar.

In fact, one of my motivations in creating a series of prints like this is to help erase in people's minds the equation that 'The Japanese Print' = 'Ukiyo-e'. Ukiyo-e is simply one of the types of image that can be created with this 'technology'.

At the moment that I am writing this newsletter item, I have yet to decide on the topic for the fourth print in the series. I have a very long list of topics and themes to choose from, a list that I will never see the end of.

Here are a few random notes about the series:

As you can see from these images, each of the prints has a title written in elegant calligraphy. Just as with my previous Mystique series, this is being prepared for me by our friend Mrs. Yoko Tauchi, who has been a long-time supporter of my work. My requests to her are always 'last minute' - "I want to start carving tomorrow ..." - but she never complains, and always sends me a selection of different styles to choose from. Her assistance with this work is much appreciated.

I mentioned in the previous issue of this newsletter that the paulownia storage boxes for this series are being made right here in our own shop, unlike the cases for the previous Mystique series, which were ordered from professional woodworkers. Our woodworking ability doesn't quite match theirs, leaving me with mixed feelings. Whenever I see woodblock prints made by not-so-experienced amateurs, I notice that the prints usually differ from each other - they look 'home made', whereas my own ideal is to make all 200 prints in a batch look exactly the same. But when making these wooden cases, my 'amateur' status clearly shows, and these too look somewhat 'home-made'.

Ah well, isn't home cooking always more tasty?

Ukiyoe Heroes

This - without question - is the most important story in this issue of the newsletter, and the name 'Ukiyoe Heroes' is something that you will be hearing about for quite some time to come. I don't have either the space (or the time) to bring you the full story at present, so a short capsule summary will have to suffice. There will be more about this in the next issue, for sure!

Here's the short story ... As long-time readers know, I have long been wanting to use my Mokuhankan venture to publish new work created by contemporary designers. Five or six years ago I published two prints designed by overseas friends, and last year issued two senshafuda sets designed by a young Japanese woman. None of those projects recouped their expenses, but that is of no concern to me; new work was created, and the Japanese traditional printmaking methods were pushed just a little bit further into the future.

Over the past couple of months, I have been heavily involved in another such venture, but this time at the instigation of the designer. Young American illustrator Jed Henry had the inspiration to create a series of prints merging two worlds that he was heavily interested in; it was his idea to take modern video game characters - known and loved by people all over the world - and 'parody' them in traditional Japanese ukiyo-e style. This sort of illustration is known as mitate-e, and is a long-standing tradition in Japanese art.

When I first heard his request, I thought that the type of prints he was intending to produce (in the fairly large o-ban size) were more than I could take on, so I first tried to introduce him to another workshop. But after some discussions back and forth, it was decided that I and the printer trainees here would have a go at making some of his designs. I carved one of them and prepared some proofs, which - when we showed them to people for their comment - received a very good response. Things snowballed from there when he posted the project on an internet site designed to collect advance support for proposed projects. As I write this, that is still in the stage of collecting supporters, but is very heavily subscribed, and it now looks like Jed and I will be making a great number of prints together.

I'll show the first one of the designs here. Until the end of August they are only available through Jed's project page, but when that has run its course, he will be opening a website for them, and for the many others in this series we will be making over the coming years.

Ukiyoe Heroes - bringing 'heroic' support to Mokuhankan!

NHK Travelogue

An email arrived from an NHK producer in early summer, asking if I would be interested in taking part in a program they were planning. I replied to the request and the young woman came over for a visit, and to explain what it would all be about. She told me that she had been browsing the internet looking for a suitable candidate to host a travel documentary, and when she saw the section of my site that described my experiences camping - when I was making the My Solitudes series - she sat up and took notice.

This is because the program was to be a documentary focussing on the area known as Shirakami Sanchi, which some time ago was designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Although the program wouldn't involve any actual camping (which is not permitted in that area anyway) my experiences outdoors, combined with the fact that I use wood extensively in my work, suggested to her that I would be able to do the job.

To make a long story short, I did indeed accept her invitation, and in early August I flew up there with the production crew and spent five days in exploration of the forest and surrounding areas. I had a wonderful time, hiking in the (near) virgin forest, swimming in the mountain stream, seeing the mountain range from the nearby sea with a fisherman, and of course getting stuffed every evening in various ryokan and hotels. You'll see all these things when the program - 'Journeys in Japan' - airs in mid September.

(And don't miss me in the rotenburo (outdoor bath) scene. You'll learn just what magnificent pecs a woodblock printmaker can develop over the course of thirty-odd years of hard printing work! :-)

Sadako's Corner

I watched a woman fumbling with her right earlobe, the top of her index finger moving back and forth rubbing it endlessly. The trembling earlobe looked like a punching bag. I was waiting on the same platform as this lady waiting for my train and watched as her earlobe – a chubby one with no piercings – gradually turned red.

Everybody has faults. We all have some kind of unconscious mannerisms. My father's was also to fumble with his earlobe, but in his case he nipped and pulled it between his index and middle fingers. One day I noticed a tiny bandage on his earlobe; as I was only a small child at that time I summoned my courage and asked him "What's wrong with your earlobe?" He replied, "I rubbed it so much that I damaged it." I was surprised to hear his honest and candid reply and regretted somewhat asking him the question.

In the classroom at junior high school a girl with beautiful hair was sitting near me, and during classes I frequently saw her elegant long fingers combing through her hair. The pure white fingers gently streamed through the jet-black hair, and I watched the movement in fascination. One day I noticed a painful-looking scar on the back of her left hand. Such a thing was out of place on her well-formed hand yet it stayed there without healing. One day I casually asked her about the scar, and she replied that she was constantly scratching that spot, adding that she knew it was wrong, but that she couldn't resist it.

I myself habitually made a faint sound with my nose when I was an elementary school student. I wondered why I started doing such a silly thing but wasn't able to stop myself. When I tried stopping, I felt as though I couldn't breath and ended up making an even larger sound with my nose. One day a boy classmate blamed me saying "It's nasty. Stop it!" I felt so embarrassed that I resolved to fight the habit. I started by trying to make the intervals between making the sounds a bit longer. I don't remember how long it took, but I myself was surprised to find that I was eventually freed from that behaviour!

I basically don't mind people's mannerisms but it would be better to get free of those that cause harm or make other people uncomfortable. My older daughter had a habit fumbling corners of a pillow cover. When I visited her new home after her wedding I found the corners of all the cushions were worn out. But I needn't have worried, as since she became a mother, every corner has suddenly become neat and clean!

And what of the mannerisms of our woodblock print maker? If you see any, let me know!


It has been a while since I included any Family News in the newsletter. I was over in Vancouver for a short trip around a year ago, so it would normally be time for me to think about going again, but we're doing things a bit differently this time around. Instead of me visiting my family, they're coming over here! Well, three of them, anyway.

My eldest daughter Himi is here now, having brought her two boys over to see their grand-dad's place. Alex will have his birthday here, becoming six, and Andrei is four. They have no special plans for while they are here during their summer vacation, but with the shallow (and safe) river running along just under my workshop window, we haven't had any problems in finding things to do!