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NHK filming finished

Just back home this evening after a very long day down at the NHK studios. They sent a truck to come and get me, and he arrived as scheduled at six this morning, so I've been up since about five ...

I don't remember if I mentioned it before, but because this is one of the first programs in what is to be a new series, they haven't got things worked out smoothly yet, and the day involved a fair amount of trial and error, getting the large studio set up the way they wanted it.

Here's an overview of the setup while they were still working on the lighting:

When I first walked in, I thought there had been an electrical fire or something, as the room seemed full of smoke, but I learned that this was all part of the lighting effects. They have some kind of 'mist' generator running, to make the spotlight beams visible. I think it's a bit overdone, but I guess they want even a simple interview program like this to look 'exciting'. (Now I'm curious to see/hear what kind of music they will be applying to all this footage!)

Peter Barakan and I met backstage before we started, and we 'agreed' not to talk about the printmaking until we were 'live' on the set, to avoid having to repeat ourselves, and lose the natural feeling of the conversation.

Once the tech guys were ready, Peter and I took our places on those two stools, and we got started. As you will see in the finished product, the program alternates between segments taped at my place and our conversation/reaction. Things went along fairly well, although there was a bit of stiffness between us due to the fact that it was so tightly scripted; it was difficult to get our conversation to run along as smoothly as we would have liked.

At one point, we moved to one side of the studio where they had built a little room for me:

When I first saw this I semi-chided the producer for 'spending so much money' on preparing a set that would just be used for a few minutes, but he laughed me off. It turns out that they 'borrowed' it from a neighbouring studio where a samurai drama is filmed. (And that was a hoot too, sharing the hallways with all the people in those old costumes. It's kind of bizarre, walking past a fully dressed samurai warrior on the way to the bathroom; do you catch his eye, or look away ...)

I'm sorry that I don't have any more photos to show you, as we did keep pretty busy, and anyway I really couldn't act too much like a 'tourist', snapping away at everything around me ...

So the rest is up to the editors; just how interesting they can make it we'll discover in a week or so.

Here's a reprise of the broadcast information, and how to view it:

[The scheduled time of first broadcast is: 2010:10:10:10:10 (ten past ten on the tenth of October, 2010) But that's Tokyo time, so for people in most places around the world, it will be happening on the 9th. The program will be repeated later that same day, at four hour intervals, three or four more times, so no matter where on the globe you are, you'll be able to see it at a hopefully convenient time.

How to access NHK World (cable or satellite) information is here.

Schedule (including local times) is here. (Japanophiles is a new program, and appears on the schedules there for the first time on October 2~3rd. My episode will be one week later, on the 9~10th)

View NHK World live on the net here (click the 512K button in the viewer to pop up a larger viewing window).]

* * *

And as today is the end of the month, we have another 'countdown' image!

One of the RoundTable readers wrote to me after seeing this a month ago, and after I tossed him a small hint, he figured out what this is all about ... The '120' should be a pretty big clue, I think!


And speaking of 'teasers', I have a little photo here that I snapped the other day. Some of you have been asking me about Boots-chan, and why I haven't talked about her much recently.

Well, a story about that will be coming along soon now, but until it arrives, this little photo will have to do. :-)

Posted by Dave Bull at 8:11 AM | Comments (5)

Many updates to the Urushibara website ...

The website for Yoshijiro Urushibara was been open for just around a week, and there have been many additions to the prints on display there since then.

I have added a new page on 'Creatures' to showcase many of his animal designs, including his famous storks and horses.

And there is a very interesting series of three prints of Notre Dame, where he used the same blocks (with small changes) to alter the time of day and mood ...

Dozens more still to come ...

Posted by Dave Bull at 7:11 AM | Comments (3)

Mystique Series - #7 keyblock done

The insect keyblock is now done:

Oops! Upside down! Let's turn it over ...

That's exactly the same image just rotated 180 degrees ... Funny how our brains interpret them differently - always assuming that the modelling of shadows is determined by light falling from 'above' ... Wonder why? :-) (And I wonder what infants 'see', before their brains have learned to handle this kind of processing?)

And let's have a closeup (millimeters on the scale):

(That last one clicks up to a considerably larger enlargement than the others ...)

I've now moved on to the colour blocks, but this afternoon there will be more 'disturbance'; another reporter/photographer combination is coming over. They are from the magazine 'Edogaku', which is difficult to translate - it could have a nuance of 'Interesting Edo', or 'Having a Good Time in Edo', or things along that line. They have a few sample pages of a recent issue online, and at least this one looks a bit more promising than the Playboy episode!

Posted by Dave Bull at 8:37 AM | Comments (2)

Mystique Series - carving on the boxwood ...

So it's to be 'Show & Tell', is it? Very well ...

Here's the block area for print #7 - you can see the yellowish boxwood inlaid, with the tracing pasted down, and partly rubbed away with a finger ...

That was taken just around 8:30 this morning ...

Here's the next shot, taken around 8:30 this evening!

Couldn't quite finish it today, but it'll be done tomorrow morning, and it'll be time to move on to the colour blocks ...

Posted by Dave Bull at 7:48 AM | Comments (6)

Mystique Series - boxwood insert for the next block

I have the two designs ready for the next pair now, so next step is to get a block ready for them. One of the images has an area with some very fine detail - too much so to be carved confidently on cherrywood - so I'm inlaying a bit of boxwood in that part of the block.

It came out basically OK, not perfect, as you can see at the corner, but undetectable by touch, which is what counts:

As I have mentioned before, I avoid using sandpaper to smooth this out. That always leaves the surface microscopically 'torn', and thinly carved lines then always seem to expand when you hit them with the water-based pigment. But if the wood is finished by scraping, rather than by sanding, the lines stay as carved.

I use a blade removed from a Japanese plane ...

... and draw it across the surface (after normal planing to get close). This leaves the surface very nice and smooth.

So carving is underway. Should I show images of the blocks, or keep the designs under wraps?

Posted by Dave Bull at 7:14 AM | Comments (4)

Urushibara website is open

As I mentioned a few days ago, Doi-san and I made a raid on Urushibara-san's home on Sunday, and returned with 4Gb of material: photos of prints, correspondence, old pictures, clippings, etc. and etc.

I have only got the tiniest portion of this uploaded to the website, but I think it's time to open it up anyway. If I wait until 'everything' is done, the site will never see the light of day!

The new tribute site will live here; so please go and have a look ...

The contact form is active, and I know that Mr. Urushibara (the artist's son) would love to hear from you. After taking a look at some of the prints and other materials, please drop him a line! (He speaks completely immaculate English - remember, he was born there - so language is no barrier here ...)

Posted by Dave Bull at 8:06 AM | Comments (2)

My Solitudes Update (yes, even now ...)

After the major interruption of the last couple of days for the NHK filming, I'm now busy with the preparation of the tracings for the next pair of prints. Once I get them pasted down, I'll shoot some pics for the RoundTable, but there is nothing to see yet.

The filming went generally OK - a mix of the usual stuff, with the addition of a short episode up in the woods with me setting up my tent and then sitting there trying desperately to ignore the mosquitoes while they took some long shots of me 'relaxing' ...

We had a bit of a kerfuffle at one point though, when I had a standoff with the cameraman. We were at the part of the schedule where they needed a stack of my prints for shooting, and while I went upstairs to get them, they had started to put together a kind of stand with lights, for the filming. When I saw what they were planning, I refused, and insisted that we shoot them over at the wide north windows, under natural - and horizontal - light.

This is HD TV, so it is a very good chance to finally get the feel and texture of the prints exposed. But the cameraman didn't understand this, and wanted to do things his usual way.

We went toe-to-toe on it for a few minutes, but I wouldn't back down, and we ended up doing it my way. The camera guy - who seemed to have as much, or more, power as the producer - pouted for a while, and didn't want to cooperate, but after we shot the first few, he started to see the point (which he simply hadn't understood), and things went more smoothly.


Anyway, about the title of this post - update to My Solitudes. While we were shooting those prints, the producer asked how he would be able to read the story, to help with organizing the program. (The Solitudes stories aren't online, just the prints.) I made sure that he got a .pdf of the set, but it did set me wondering what I should do about that. I have published my own set of books - text plus prints - but I do have the feeling that it would be kind of a wasted effort not to get the material spread around a bit more widely. This is especially true of the Japanese translation side, which Sadako and I spent a huge amount of time on, and which to this point has only been seen by a couple of dozen people.

I'd like to shop this thing around to some potential publishers to find out if there would be any interest (unlikely I suppose, but who knows ...), but simply don't have the resources (time) to do that, so I'm kind of stuck. Anyway, in an attempt to crack that door open just a little bit, I've amended the webpage for the first print in the set to include a link to a .pdf version of the story that goes with it. If you were not one of the subscribers to that print set, now's your chance to enjoy (well, at least to read) the companion story to that print.

Not sure though, where I should take it from here ...

Posted by Dave Bull at 7:40 AM | Comments (3)

Some snaps from a filming day ...

Today was the first day of filming for the 30-minute NHK program. It was pouring rain all day, so we weren't able to do any of the planned outdoor scenes, and stayed in the downstairs workshop most of the time.

Before they arrived, I set up my Webcam in one corner of the room, and set it to 'record' mode, as well as broadcast. Here are a few snaps from the day - how many of these will you be able to spot in the final program?

The camera guy used what has become a 'standard' shot in this workshop - first shooting the flowing river:

Then panning over to my bench:

At times during the day, the 'real' cameraman came near my own camera; I don't think he noticed it ...

After they had enough printing shots, they grabbed some of the tools and materials. Here they are shooting my pigments, while I peek at the email ...

They then discovered my baren drawer ...

... and gathered together some brushes. (I'm watching out the window to see if the kingfisher was around; he's frequently here just about an hour or so before noon ... But no luck today ...)

They are all gathered around a layout of printing blocks on a mat on the floor; Dave watching like a hawk to see that none of them get scratched!

Then time to switch to carving. I first cleared away all the printing setup ...

... and we got busy at it. (Notice my change of clothes to make it look like a different 'time' ...)

It was difficult for them to get the angles they wanted, with me being hunched over the block so closely, so they tried from this way and that ...

They then took some shots of my carving tools to finish off the session down here.

Next part of the 'script' was to jump in their truck and head off on a visit to Cho-san the baker, my first collector. Forgot something?


All done ...

Tomorrow's plan will involve filming in my 'library' upstairs - looking through some of my collection - along with a little stroll up into the woods above my home. They want me to take my tent and some gear, and 'recreate' a scene from the My Solitudes project. Maybe something like this ...

... but only if the rain quits!

Posted by Dave Bull at 8:16 AM | Comments (2)

NHK program details finalized ...

It's been a while since the previous update, but the reason is always the same ... nothing going on but endless printing printing printing ...

The #5~6 pair is now completely finished - 115 copies for current subscribers, and another 85 or so for future orders. Ichikawa-san is coming tomorrow afternoon to pick up #6, along with its story, backboards, invoices, etc., and it will then be time for me to move on to the next pair.

In other news ... the producer from NHK was here again today, and we finalized plans for the 30 minute program. They will film here next Thursday and Friday, and I will later go down to their studio for the session with host Peter Barakan. The broadcast schedule has been established too; this will be the second program in a new series - Japanophiles - with the first one (on lacquer worker Suzanne Ross) airing on October 3, and mine following a week later on October 10th.

The scheduled time of first broadcast is (get this!): 2010:10:10:10:10 (ten past ten on the tenth of October, 2010) But that's Tokyo time, so for people in most places around the world, it will be happening on the 9th. The program will be repeated later that same day, at four hour intervals, at least three more times.

How to access NHK World (cable or satellite) information is here.

Schedule (including local times) is here. (Japanophiles is a new program, and appears on the schedules there for the first time on October 2~3rd. My episode will be one week later, on the 9~10th)

View NHK World live on the net here (click the 512K button in the viewer to pop up a larger viewing window).

* * *

Friend Doi Toshikazu and I spent the entire day Sunday on a visit to Urushibara-san. If you missed the earlier post, he's the son of Yoshijiro Urushibara, the printer who lived in England in the early years of the 20th century.

Sunday's mission was simple - inspect prints, shoot them, scan stuff, and generally collect as much information for the new website as we could. Urushibara-san and his wife were again very open to all our questions and demands, and we took advantage of their hospitality to totally 'destroy' their Sunday! :-)

But I came home with nearly 4Gb of material on a thumb drive, and will now try and find time here and there to get the information up onto the website. Give me a few more days, and I think I'll have a publicly-accessible skeleton open for inspection ...

In the meantime, here's a little advance item ... Urushibara-san and his family, snapped in about 1933:

The young boy at lower left is Ichiro-san, whom we visited on Sunday ...

Posted by Dave Bull at 7:35 AM | Comments (0)

The Sizing Saga continues ...

I sent out the summer issue of my newsletter a few days ago, and one of the stories inside gave an overview of the recent experiments in paper sizing. In the story I mentioned how I had had trouble obtaining a brush to do this job - none of the brush makers still in business were willing to make a full-size brush for me, as this is pretty much a defunct business.

But look at the email that showed up yesterday - from Richard Steiner in Kyoto!

But the reason I am writing now is that you said you could not find a wide enuf brush, so you have to cut your sheets in half. Many years ago, I visited a paper-making village in northern Shikoku (forget the name now, but they are good and inexpensive; many families doing the paper making, a similar arrangement as we find in Etchizen). We stayed overnight, so got to know nearly everyone there. In this town there was a sizing kobo, a large scale operation. On the day we were there, they has just received delivery a couple days earlier of a sizing machine which they had designed and had make somewhere. They were testing it out. A long machine, nearly fully automatic. Very cleaver design, with sprayers located above and below the moving sheets of washi. One man loads the hamper at one end, and another man (could be the same man) removes the sized paper at the other end.

Anyway, in another part of the building was where the traditional sizing was carried out. I saw a brush that had been thrown away and asked about it. Because the handle had split, it was too difficult to use. I asked if I could have it to use as decoration for my studio. OK, he said. And so it has served that function for many years.

But after reading your article, I thot that perhaps the brush would like to go back into service. I had already wrapped cord around the split, and so solved the initial problem. (Why they hadn’t thot of this, I don’t know.) Here are some photos of the brush. It is about 42 cm wide. If you think you can use it, I will mail it to you. Try it out. If it works, keep it. If it does not work, send it back to resume being a room decoration, or you put it up on your wall as an objet.

It was a dedicated sizing brush, so I am sure the hair and its thickness are correct. Let me know if you would like to try it.

I of course immediately wrote back to Richard, expressing my interest, and the brush itself showed up a few minutes ago:

There is good news and bad news about the brush.

It is in fine condition overall - the split in the handle is basically of no consequence at all. The hair is in perfect condition; I had been afraid that it wouldn't have been washed and cleaned on the day that they tossed it aside, but it was, and the hair is fine. The width - known in Japanese as 一尺三寸 (about 42 cm) - is wide enough (just barely) for a standard sheet of washi of the most common dimension (the ones that I am currently using, and cutting in half for sizing.)

So this certainly looks like a 'keeper'!

But there is a bit of 'bad news' too. Inspecting it carefully, I found this at the base of the hairs:


Untreated, this is a deal killer. No way can we have active mold present in our brushes, either the ones for printing, or for sizing. The prints would never have a chance for long-term survival.

So I'm going to prepare a formaldehyde bath, and put this thing under to soak for a while. I'll then remove all the visible mold, soak it more, dry it off, then repeat. I'm sure I'll be able to get rid of the visible mold; the danger will be in what is left up at the roots of the hair mass.

But it's worth a try, as this is such a treasure! Thanks very much to Richard for being willing to put this back into service! [Richard's web site is here]

Posted by Dave Bull at 7:55 AM | Comments (2)

Grab-bag Update ...

Whole bunch of things are cooking this week, so it's another 'grab-bag' update ...

First, I've had a bunch of emails asking about the Playboy story. I wonder why! I have to tell you up front that this is nothing to do with typical 'Playboy' material. As I mentioned, they do a regular feature grabbing a few people who do a particular job, and put their 'data' up so that readers who are considering that field as a career can get a bit of an inside look at it.

Anyway, it's done, and the data for seven of us was published in the magazine yesterday. A scan is on this page of the Woodblock Shimbun section of the website. As it turned out, I am the oldest of the seven; the others are doing 'chalk art', 'spray art', acryl, and western painting. The lady directly above me on the page bills herself as being an 'Artist for Eros and Peace', which I guess might explain why this magazine chose her ...

Moving right along ... :-)

The Summer issue of the Hyakunin Issho newsletter is now online: [English] [Japanese].

It includes a story on the recent sizing experiments, and that leads me to the next item in this update ... the NHK project.

The producer was over here again today for another planning session. This is good news, as I have learned that the more time we spend in planning, obviously the better the finished program will be. But it actually caused a problem today.

I had done another batch of sizing this morning, for the paper for the second batch of printing on the 5~6 pair, and got it all hung up for drying just before he arrived. It's a dry hot day here, so I left the windows open up there just a smidgeon, so that the paper would begin to dry slowly.

During our conversation, he asked about the sizing (having seen it in the newsletter) and we went upstairs to look.


It was bone dry. Every sheet, bone dry. And because it had dried too quickly, here's what it looks like:

Very wrinkled and distorted - exactly what I had been warned against. It dried too quickly.

I can't blame the NHK guy for this, as I myself would almost certainly have waited that long before checking anyway. But it's one for experience ... watch the weather, and crack those windows open/shut accordingly!

Anyway, as for the program, they'll be here for a couple of days in a couple of weeks for filming, and I'll then also be going to their studio on the 30th of the month for the 'studio guest' part of the show. Broadcast is unknown yet, but will be in January, on NHK cable channels overseas, and (probably) on the internet (although that will be a one-shot 'live' deal, and if you're in an inconvenient time zone, tough luck ...)

* * *

In other small update news, the 5th print in the Mystique print - the Hasui design - is online on the website, and seems to be in the hands of most of the collectors.

I can also mention that I have updated the A Story A Week website. I have heard from various people that they have had trouble putting comments on the stories, so I rebuilt the commenting system over there to make it match what we have here on the RoundTable. So there is no more excuse for not leaving your comments/criticisms on the stories now!

* * *

And finally, the 'countdown' is still clicking away!

Posted by Dave Bull at 8:35 AM | Comments (0)