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Posted by Dave Bull at 2:50 PM, January 1, 2012 [Permalink]

I was talking with a fellow printmaker by Skype this morning, just as he approached the final minutes of his year (over in the US) and I was getting ready for New Year day lunch, and he asked "Where have you been? Are you OK?"

Well, I had thought that over the year-end period most people were probably too busy with their own affairs to concern themselves with printmaker's blogs or webcams, so I haven't been doing much updating during the past couple of weeks (although I have been on the webcam quite a bit, actually). But it doesn't mean that we haven't been busy!

There's more here waiting to post about than I possibly have time for ... Let's touch on a few of the main items ...

I posted yesterday over on the Mokuhankan Conversations about our Xmas year-end party, but I left out part of the story. There has been a lot of flu going around these days, and although most of the kids in our group have already had their taste of it - catching it at school or the daycare center - with the adults, it is a different story ...

Over the 24 hours following our party - which was held down in our workshop, with all of us stuffed together in the small space - nearly all of the adults (myself included) went down for the count, one by one. And it was a pretty bad flu, too. I wasn't able to eat or drink even as much as a mouthful of water for more than two days, and my weight dropped from its usual 63kg down to just under 60. No blog updates during that time!

After I was able to stand up again, I wasn't ready for much active work, so spent the next few days on some programming. About a half-year ago, I opened up the Mokuhankan web shop to include some prints and books by 'partners' - people who have interesting woodblock items, and who I trust to maintain a good level of quality in their offerings. Young printer - and now print dealer - Shingo Ueda has some items there, as does the Takumi printmaking workshop. But none of them know much about HTML coding or other web preparation, so they have had to wait for me to make pages for them, and I just haven't got the time to do that sort of thing. So I spent a couple of days coding a 'back end' for the Mokuhankan catalogue, through which they themselves will be able to upload items.

It works in a similar fashion to the software one uses to upload to eBay - they put in the data, locate the images on their computer, and then send it off.

My software gets it all organized, makes thumbnails, popup enlargements, etc., puts all the data into the database, goes 'out' to find current currency exchange values based on their required price, and then codes the HTML pages automatically. When I get the email notifying me of this upload, I login, check it all over, approve (or not!) the item, and if I choose to 'turn it on', a single click activates it in the catalogue.

Ueda-san used it the other day to upload a few new Koitsu prints [alternate web link], which I checked over, and then quickly approved and activated. This is going to be a huge timesaver, and looks as though it will really help us move forward on this part of our business!

And speaking of the Takumi workshop, I'll be writing about them in my next newsletter, so once I was able to move around freely, I made a visit to chat with them. Their building is not much to look at, for sure!

But when you look closer, you can see things in the window ...

And inside - what a treasure house! More about this later ...

What else has been taking up time here ...? Well, one day was a visit from a young craftsman who has some interesting thoughts on the steel with which our carving knives are made, and he brought over some sample blades which we 'cooked up' on my kitchen stove, but as he is not ready to make his endeavours public yet, he has asked me to refrain from blogging about it. More about this later ... (I hope!)

And ... I spent most of yesterday afternoon 'gardening' up on my rooftop!

Long-time readers of this RoundTable may remember this sort of photo, which comes around in spring:

Pretty, right?

Well, yes ... but there is an obvious downside to having green stuff grow all over your house, and I have been procrastinating for a few years now. This past summer though, during a storm one day, the combined forces of wind and rain tossed that wisteria around pretty roughly, and now - six months later, with all the leaves down, and the view clear - this is what I see from my upstairs balcony:

I don't much care about the gutter, as the rain can fall freely from the edge of the roof onto the ground below, but what isn't showing in that photo are the tendrils/branches that have climbed up onto the top of the roof itself, and which are insinuating themselves into any tiny crack they can find. If I don't get this thing cut back before spring comes, it's going to destroy my roof.

Now I've got a long ladder, but there is no force on this planet that will get me up onto that roof, so I'm going to attack it in two stages. I picked up a long-handled branch trimmer the other day, and have started to trim off what I can reach from the balcony and windows. Once I've cut back as much as I can, I'm going to call neighbour Abe-san - who works as a roofer - and he'll hop up there to clear off the rest. And once we've got it to that stage, I'll trim annually to keep it from going up there again ...

Let's see ... what else has been keeping me 'out of view' these past couple of weeks ... Oh yes, we have another (big) problem with the Mystique print cases!

That series has been rolling along very well; there are now 173 names on the subscriber list for it, which means that there are less than 30 sets left. These remaining sets will make their way out to good homes bit by bit as 'back issue' subscriptions come in. But when I got a new order a couple of weeks ago, and went upstairs to the storeroom to get the case and first print ready for shipping, I found that a number of the cases still left here have developed a discolouration on the front panel:

I right away contacted a few of the collectors to see if their cases demonstrated the problem, and all the replies came back negative. And as I have never had any reports of such a thing from the 'field' it seems that the problem may be something caused by the local storage circumstances here (this place can be pretty damp in summer), although my own case, on display here in my 'living room' is completely normal.

There is no way I can send these out, but I certainly can't afford to get 30 more made (nor would the maker accept such a small order anyway). So, I don't see any other solution than to get out some sandpaper, sand them down to bare wood, and then re-varnish the front face of each one.

But as I'm afraid of the problem coming back, even under fresh varnish, it would be better to stain the front panel a deeper tone, so that such discolouration won't cause future problems. So I've started testing ...

Always something ...

And finally ... (finally!) ... work has begun on tracing the hanshita for carving Mystique #18, which will be the final print in the series:

So there's the update ... apologies that I haven't been very 'visible', but it's not like I've been basking on the beach somewhere! (Hah! Fat chance!)


Following comment posted by: Jan on January 2, 2012 1:46 AM

Dave, your schedule makes the rest of us look comatose. My Mystique case is still perfect, so your guess about the humidity level is probably correct.
Happy New Year!

Following comment posted by: Sharri on January 2, 2012 3:29 AM

I just scrutinized the box I have and the front is a lighter color, but not white like in your photo. It looks fine to me. We have had your flu here, too, I was down for a day and hubby for two days(his maladies are always twice as bad as mine!) Hope you are well and have a happy new year.

Following comment posted by: Dave on January 2, 2012 5:29 PM

OK, as for the wisteria damage, the 'haircut' has been given.

I'm leaving the stuff up on the roof alone; it is now dead, and will soon decay and wash away. Once the weather warms up in spring, I'll get to the home center and order some replacement guttering.

And from now on, the wisteria will be trimmed around the edge of the balcony, and won't be allowed to go any higher ...

Following comment posted by: John Becker on January 3, 2012 9:45 AM

Dave, looking at the hanshita in the photo above, I can picture you sitting at your workbench in front of a big window, stretching between impressions. Maybe that distinguished-looking gentleman should be wearing glasses (and a lot more hair)!

Following comment posted by: Dave on January 3, 2012 7:32 PM

stretching between impressions ...

There's actually a difference of opinion about what he is actually doing - which I will be exploring in the accompanying story pamphlet.

(The image you see there is only partial, by the way. Can anybody can come up with the entire scene?)

Following comment posted by: Jacques on January 3, 2012 10:13 PM

The entire scene is is called Sochu No Fuji (Fuji in a Window) and can be seen here:
According to this webpage the man depicted is a poet yawning after a long day of writing...

[Note from Dave: for convenience, here's the entire scene ...]

Following comment posted by: Dave on January 3, 2012 10:25 PM

That didn't take you long, Jacques!

(Although I think it unfortunate which place you chose to link to - a company that chops up books to sell them page by page ... at ridiculously inflated prices, too.)

But I see they discuss the variance in interpretations of what Hokusai was trying to draw here. I myself lean to the 'standard' Western interpretation - that the man has been astonished by the picture perfect view of the birds flying across Fuji - but none of the Japanese I have asked about this will agree with me ...

Following comment posted by: Marc Kahn on January 4, 2012 5:01 AM

In 1988, the publisher George Braziller put out a book with all of the "100 Views of Mt. Fuji" images, along with commentary by Henry Smith. Here's Henry's take on this print:

"An old man seated at a desk stretches his arms up in an arch that echoes Fuji through the window. Western viewers since Dickins have all agreed that the gesture is one of ecstasy as he catches Fuji in a particular light, while Japanese inevitably see this as a yawn - a revealing comment on the way cultural codes of body expression differ. The Japanese perception is of course correct: simply turn the page upside down for proof.

--- snip out a paragraph about image origin ---

Hokusai has created a moment in time, for which the viewer must supply his own narrative. Here is mine: it is late in the day, and the poet has finally completed a difficult bit of composition, after which he will turn to his pipe, which lies at his side. But just at the peak of his relaxation, a row of returning geese (conventional sign of the end of day) crossed the face of Fuji. As a haiku, it might be: 'Stretch and yawn, encircling Fuji; returning geese.'"

Following comment posted by: Dave on January 4, 2012 8:32 AM

Thanks for posting that Marc; the 'upside-down' trick is well known here, and I've seen this print displayed with an upside-down (photocopy) placed next to it, to save people turning their heads around. I myself don't find it as 'conclusive' as Braziller seems to.

As for the 'evidence' for each interpretation?

1) Work finished - stretching and yawning:

  • desk papers are stacked neatly
  • pipe is at hand
  • face can be interpreted as a yawn ...

2) Stunned surprise at the 'painting' before him:

  • arms thrown up in the air ...
  • pipe has been tossed; it's actually 'flying' through the air, not at rest (to place a pipe in that fashion - propped against something - would invite breakage)
  • face can be interpreted as an ecstatic expression ...

I think this is very much an open question ...

Following comment posted by: Marc Kahn on January 5, 2012 1:23 AM

I think this is very much an open question ...

I think that it's clearly a yawn. Use your own body as evidence by emulating the gentleman's position. While seated, do this:

  • With your right hand, gently grasp your left fore-arm, just above the wrist.
  • Curl the fingers of your left hand into a very loose fist, with the palm of your left hand pointed away from the grasping right hand.
  • Raise your arms over your head, stretching your entire torso as you do so.
  • Tilt your head way back.
  • Close your eyes and open your mouth wide.

Now ask yourself which is more likely. You are yawning, or you have just become overwhelmed by a scene of exquisite beauty?

For me, when I am confronted with a scene of exquisite beauty (i.e. a glorious summer sunset from my back deck), I keep looking at it, hoping to catch the subtle changes as they happen. I don't tilt my head back and close my eyes.

Maybe that's just me...

As a side note, I really like his built-in protective elbow patches. Where can I get some of those? Does it require surgery?

Following comment posted by: Dave on January 5, 2012 8:43 AM

Well Marc, as you quoted above, "... each viewer must supply his own narrative," and although I have no quarrel with the one you bring, I still want to see it as a moment of 'hands in the air' exultation at the stunning moment he just caught - the 'picture perfect' scene of the flock passing in front of the mountain.

As for the elbow patches, perhaps they come with age? You and I must be yet too young ...

Following comment posted by: Fumi on January 5, 2012 11:24 AM

I have NEVER seen a Japanese person act this way when excited before. They don't display their emotions like this, and to me, there is NO WAY that this person is acting this way from excitement. Most definitely a stretch and a yawn.

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