March 7, 2006
I learned some years ago, while working on my long Hyakunin Isshu series, that getting a good clean hanshita with sharply defined lines is one of the most critical parts of the entire printmaking process. With a clear hanshita on the block, I can carve anything I can see - but if it is fuzzily reproduced, or has poor contrast which doesn't allow me to distinguish features clearly, then the print will suffer. I read stories about the best carvers of the 'old days', who needed nothing on the block beyond a rough outline of the print, but I think such people were few and far between, and in any case, for a reproduction, where the idea is to produce a print which 'looks like' the original, such freedom of expression by the carver would be misplaced.
So my goal at this point is to create a hanshita that contains as much of the detail of the print as possible, and which is drawn as clearly and sharply as possible. Here's the process I am following, using as the starting point a full-size colour image of the original scroll blown up from high-quality book illustrations:
- scan the full-size copy into the computer, at high resolution. The image is far too large for my scanner, so I did this in sections, and stitched the pieces together in Photoshop.
- layout the image at the real dimensions, and carefully mark the places where the registration marks will be carved into the woodblocks.
- use the drawing facilities of the Photoshop software to 'repair' the damaged portions of the image
- use a touch-sensitive tool on the pen tablet to control a 'brush' in Photoshop, and create a traced layer over the top of the image that contains pretty much everything visible - all the outlines, and most of the kimono patterns. For the detailed areas, I use the magnification feature of the software, and work at a very large scale. This layer is not separated by colour, and contains features of all parts of the design, no matter what colour they will be in the finished print.
- when it is all done, I will 'hide' the base layer that contains the original image, and create a file containing just the lines that I have drawn.
- this file will then be burned to a CD-ROM, and taken to downtown Tokyo to a Kinko's, where I will have them print it out using their highest-quality printer onto a large sheet of dimensionally stable plastic film, which will become my 'master copy' for the rest of the process ...
- we'll pick up the story later, when I get that far ...
So at the moment, I'm part-way through that list - I am using my electronic 'brush' to re-draw the entire design. The tool is quite sophisticated: the nib of the stylus is nothing more than a short stick of hard plastic, but the tablet/stylus combination is extremely sensitive, and I can make strokes that are very close to 'real' brush strokes in appearance.
It was a bit strange at first, looking up at the screen while my hand makes motions over a bare plastic pad on the tabletop, but I've got quite used to it, and the sample printouts I take now and then to check my progress show that it is working very well. The finished hanshita should be wonderfully sharp and clear!