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[River in Summer] - Post Mortem ...

Posted by Dave Bull at 7:22 PM, June 9, 2007

Continued from [River in Summer - 22] | Starting point of the thread is [River in Summer]

OK, it's been a day since I finished up the printing work; time to stand back a bit, take a look at it, and see how it turned out.

Here is that final version:

So how does this final version compare with the imaginary version I had in my head when I started?

Before I can ask that, I should try and explain just what I was aiming for when I started. Did I have this image 'finished' in my head? No, not at all. Honestly speaking, I had no idea at all what would come out at the end of the process. That may seem like a surprising thing for me to say, but let me try to explain, by comparing with the way that a print of this type would have been made back in the middle period of the last century, when the shin-hanga style was at its peak. The publisher would conceive of a particular project, either a single print he wanted to issue, or a themed collection, or whatever. At this point, there would be no particular 'image' in his mind of course, just the 'concept' ... the general type of picture. OK, that's where I myself started with this project a few months back ... a general concept. So far, so good ...

Next, he would have commissioned a designer to put some drawings down on paper. The publisher would obviously select a designer who he thought would be able to come up with something that matched the proposal, and of course the two of them would discuss the project requirements. Now in my case, publisher Dave sat down and had a chat with designer Dave, and it went something like this:

Publisher Dave: "... and so that's what I've got in mind. Do you think you can do the job for us?"

Designer Dave: "Well, as you know, I haven't got a lot of experience with this type of work, but I think I have a good understanding of what you want, and with a bit of help from my camera, I think I can hand in some decent line drawings for your people to work with."

Publisher Dave: "Yes, I guess I'm sticking my neck out a bit here by going with a beginner for this job, but I kind of like your attitude, and I'm willing to give you a try."

Designer Dave: "Thanks! I know you won't regret it!"

Designer Dave then headed off with his tent, and spent quite a lot of time sitting by the river, scouting out places that he thought would make interesting designs. Here's an aerial view of the place that he settled on for this print. The 'X' marks the spot on which he was standing, looking in the direction of the red lines ... (click it for an enlargement):

What did he see from that point? Here's the shot he brought home with him, with a white line showing where he mentally cropped it for the print:

Now that's not a particularly 'beautiful' image. The vegetation is just a mish-mash of brush and spindly trees, nothing attractive at all, especially in the flat light. But if you sit there and look at it, and then think about how tree shapes could be drawn across the hillside, and how a good carver would be able to carve this kind of tree shape, and that kind of tree shape, and of how a good printer would think about where the light was coming from ... then it begins to have possibilities.

So Designer Dave came home with this shot, loaded it into his Mac, got out his pen tablet, and started drawing on top of this image. He worked at it until it looked sort of OK, and then handed in his line-drawing to Publisher Dave.

Publisher Dave: "Wow, you've certainly gone in for a lot of detail, haven't you! This isn't an o-ban print you know, it's going to have to be mounted inside an A4 size book. A lot of this detail is superfluous ... It's going to take twice as long to carve as I expected. And look at all those different tree shapes - are you expecting all those to have different tones?"

Designer Dave: "Oh, please ... let's give it a try. I know that all those extra colour blocks will be expensive to print, but I think the result should be worth it!"

Publisher Dave: "No way ... This is completely uneconomical. Try again, with far less detail."

Designer Dave: "Look, how about if I were to work for nothing ... take the money you would have paid me, and apply it to the craftsmen's fees ..."

Publisher Dave: "That's the only way that this project could work ... OK, if you insist!"

At this point, all that exists of the print is the line drawing ... no colours, no colour separations ... no 'finished' image at all. But the publisher has a secret weapon - two very highly skilled craftsmen: a carver and a printer. These men could take a child's scribble and turn it into something drop-dead gorgeous. He talks to the carver first:

Publisher Dave: "OK, here's that project I was telling you about ... the first one from that 12-print set of nature designs."

Carver Dave: "Cheeze, look at all that detail ... are you nuts?"

Publisher Dave: "Please ... bear with me. We're going to have to tighten the rein on this designer soon, but let's give him his head for this experiment ..."

Carver Dave: "OK, it's your money ..."

Carver Dave then sets to work. He cuts the keyblock first, pulls a bunch of kyogo impressions, and sends those over to Designer Dave. As expected, Designer Dave asks for a bunch more blank sheets, because there weren't enough. Carver Dave shrugs his shoulders - it's not his money - and sends them over. When the batch of sheets comes back, all covered with tiny detailed colour breakdowns, he thinks about calling Publisher Dave with his concerns, but decides to just plough ahead with the job. A few weeks later, the set of colour blocks is done, and sent off to the publisher.

The traditional publisher would at this point then think about which of his printers to use. It's a bit of a difficult choice this time, because with an unknown designer, there is no easily recognized style. Most of the better printers are easily capable of coming up with a pleasing set of colours, as long as they know what is roughly expected of them. This though, is a new designer, with no established style. Our story continues with Publisher Dave deciding to send the set of blocks over to Printer Dave ...

Publisher Dave: "I think you get the idea here. It's full of detail, but not particularly complicated. We want to try for a kind of early morning light. Nothing too gloomy in the shadows, but put enough depth in there to give the highlights a nice clean brightness. Nothing complicated on the water, but if you can, try and give it the impression of being deep over there at the far bank ... Other than that - over to you!"

Printer Dave: "OK boss ... By the way, what kind of paper are we using for this job?"

Publisher Dave: "The usual - the good stuff from Ichibei Iwano. With all these overprintings, I don't want to mess around with anything cheaper."

Printer Dave then sets to work, following the guidelines the publisher outlined. He does a few trial proofs, playing around a bit with different greens, and some different effects in the water, and then shows them to Designer Dave for comment.

Designer Dave: "Wow ... you've really started to bring this thing to life ... I think there's a nice print hiding in there!"

Printer Dave: "What do you mean 'hiding'? ... OK, OK, don't get upset ... let's talk about it ..."

The two men then have a good discussion of how to proceed from here. They bat it around, trying different combinations of greens in the vegetation, and different levels of grey on the stones. They spend a few days on this work, but then get a phone call from the publisher.

Publisher Dave: "What the hell is going on over there! Get that thing nailed down, and get going on the edition! We've got the staff here working like crazy on getting the book volumes ready to receive them - we have to get this one out the door before the end of the month!"

Designer Dave: "But we need more time to get this thing really perfect ..."

Publisher Dave: "Perfect? What's 'perfect'? The perfect is the enemy of the good ... If I give you your head, that print will _never_ get shipped. Sign off on a proof right now, and then get out of there and leave him alone! He's perfectly capable of making an attractive print ..."

Printer Dave then sets to work, and day after day over the next couple of weeks, quietly 'builds' the print. He makes plenty of adjustments along the way, based on what is developing before his eyes, and then after ten days work, and 31 impressions, calls it a day, dries them off, and sends them to the publisher.

The publisher opens the package, nods his head in general approval ... "Not bad ... Could have used better shading under that central tree; those water highlights would have been more effective if they had been deeper, and I don't know where he came up with the green on that tree over there ... But yeah, I can live with this ... Ship it!"

So ship it they did ...


At this point I had intended to give a list of things that I think 'worked' in this print, paired with a list of things that weren't so successful. But I think that before I do, it might be interesting to see what parts of the print other people find either particularly effective, or not, as the case may be.

Please use the comments box below, and feel free to post your ideas/thoughts/comments/criticism/etc. on this print!

The thread continues in [River in Summer] - Amendments ...


Following comment posted by: Marc Kahn on June 10, 2007 2:02 PM

Hi Dave,

I very much like the way you transformed that scraggly vegetation into a lush treescape. The color overlays gave a wonderful modeling and depth to that part of the print!

However, I'm disappointed in the water. It's a stream, not a lake. It might have taken a couple more carved surfaces and impressions to show water movement, but I think it would have been worth it.

Nevertheless, this is a great print and well worth the blood, sweat, and tears that you put into it.


Following comment posted by: Barbara Mason on June 10, 2007 2:19 PM

i disagree with Marc....the river could be moving, but I love the calm large expanse of blue that offsets the busy multitude of the trees...I think one thing that makes this print so successful is the place for your eye to rest on that large expanse of blue and then surprise itself going up into the landscape.
I think it is the single problem for most artists..not giving the eye a place to rest....we want to fill up the space with lots of movement.
I am so anxious to see this in the reality...not on the computer as I know it will look quite different.
Good Job Dave....

Following comment posted by: kocak peter on June 10, 2007 6:01 PM

yes its normaly way to transfer a photo to line drawing and onto a woodblock,as many drawings as good finaly print,but too much simillar on photo,loos the woodblock character many times,sorry

Following comment posted by: Gayle Wohlken on June 10, 2007 10:31 PM

Some old gut feeling wants something, a touch of something sort of bright somewhere, and I mean just a touch, (I think). Nature often has a surprise of some kind, a dot of something that catches your eye like berries or something. Maybe even a hint of warmth somewhere on the tent. I don't know. It's just a feeling. When I paint I get feelings about what it needs. And it's risky because you don't know for sure. It's just a nag you feel. I wish I could be more helpful, but the way I work is not intellectual but by feeling.

Following comment posted by: Jacques on June 11, 2007 12:55 AM

It's nice to see how much wilder and grander the landscape depicted in the print looks than in the photograph. I especially like how these very three-dimensional grey rocks in the foreground stand out and contrast with all the greens further down the slope and with the blue of the lake.

I do not get a particular early morning feeling from watching the print though. I actually think this could be any time of day.

Still, congratulations with this first combined result of the Dave-quartet!

And thanks to the four of you for showing us all the steps in the process, that was and is a real treat...

Following comment posted by: Gary on June 11, 2007 11:29 AM

Goodness, Dave, I see why it took you so long to get this print out, what with those four cantankerous people having to hash everything over, it's a wonder that old publisher system ever got anything out the door. :)

I realize the things that would satisfy me with this print are things I would do if it were _my_ print. So I thought I would concentrate on what I liked about this print as it is.

From the original drawing I think what struck me as the predominant feature of your composition was the way you stylized the center cluster of trees. Despite the busy and detailed surroundings, or perhaps because of it, this became the center of interest for me. It gave me that place to rest my eyes that Barbara talked about. And what better place to do this than the center of the composition? An echo of Hasui in that stylization, but not an easy thing to carry off, and this is nicely done.

Your treatment of the rocks also surprised me, as this is not an easy feat, and for a newbie designer, darn! this is not half bad.

I am curious to see what the autumn rendition will be. Are you using the same composition or doing something different? On your page of Solitude prints you have some landscape oriented boxes and some portrait oriented boxes, for the same theme of the river thru the seasons, which makes me think you are leaving this option open, you have already something in mind, or you're just playing with us!

Following comment posted by: Dave on June 12, 2007 9:33 AM

[These comments just received from Tom Kristensen, along with this image ...]

Having followed your print and taken the benefit of your beautifully illustrated progress I feel a goose making suggestions on a print that is finished and probably perfect.

But, I do think the right hand side of the composition is not quite pulling its weight. More drama in the centre and on the right would serve to balance the print. The water could use some depth and mystery. Given the glancing light in the foliage I see this scene as a dark corner behind a hill, I feel that a shadow on the water would sit well here.

As there is no horizon and only a tiny skyline this right hand section of water could provide a reflection of the sky that would open the scene up. I think the blue note of the tent could use more harmony in the print. The greens are so strong that the blue could afford to fight back a little more. Increasing the contrast in the water will set the rocks off nicely and make them sit up in 3D. Plus, everyone loves a bold bokashi, as all those Hiroshige fans would attest. If it were me I would try a bokashi without paste and then mist it with water to pull out some added texture, or else carve another mouse block.

On the other hand, there's always the next print...

I am enjoying your work. Many thanks.

Following comment posted by: Dave on June 13, 2007 12:50 AM

I do not get a particular early morning feeling from watching the print though. I actually think this could be any time of day.

Yes, no question but that I didn't manage to get that. I thought that those highlight areas - all 'pointed' towards the far right - would do it for me, but no go ... Have to think about that more carefully for next time!

I am curious to see what the autumn rendition will be. Are you using the same composition

No no no ...! That is a kind of interesting idea - use the same compositions for the three areas, and just change the seasons - but for a 12-print, two-year series, I don't think I could get away with it ... just not enough interesting content. There will be 12 completely different images, and a very wide range of scenes and moods.

I have a rough idea in mind of what most of the 12 might be like; just how closely they will come to match those ideas remains to be seen. At present, those vertical and horizontal 'filler' images on the page where the finished prints will live are all I'm going to show.

(All the comments and suggestions on the print are very much appreciated! I've taken some of them under consideration, as you can see here)

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