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Do you rotate the block while cutting? 
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Joined: Wed Sep 02, 2009 2:05 pm
Posts: 33
Post Do you rotate the block while cutting?
Dave, the other day on the Baren list, you said, "I've even seen Ito-san the carver do something similar. Not with the bench, but with the way of working. If he could hear the tape rolling on the camera, he never moved his block, but kept it in the same orientation, just like the top carvers of old. But the moment the switch clicked off, around it would go, turning it to get the best angle for cutting a fresh batch of lines."

What's the diffference ? Are you saying the old masters were so skilled that they did not need to turn the block about? Or is it just a matter of personal technique ? I guess cutting lines in the same orientation would lead to cleaner lines....is that your point ?

Do you turn your block as you go along ?


Mon Oct 05, 2009 9:08 am
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Joined: Mon Aug 31, 2009 2:30 pm
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Location: Tokyo, Japan
Post Re: Do you rotate the block while cutting?
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What's the diffference ? Are you saying the old masters were so skilled that they did not need to turn the block about?

It's a bit of a long story ...

In the old days (I'm speaking of up until Meiji times ...) when a young boy was apprenticed and started learning how to carve, he was given some special blocks to learn on - 'joruri-bon', books of 'lyrics' for a type of theatrical production. These were written in a large and very cursive script, and made a perfect introduction to the craft of cutting.

(They were also most definitely not 'art', but just 'books', so it didn't matter if the work was done in a less than professional way.)

The kid was taught to place the block on his desk, and then never move it until it was completed. The fact that the letters curved every which way and that, made this a perfect way to learn to cut anything. You and I can really only cut lines that fall within a particular range of wrist movement. These guys could (after training of course) cut perfect circles of any size, without moving the block.

Quote:
I guess cutting lines in the same orientation would lead to cleaner lines....is that your point ?

No. Nor was it for show, or pride. There are two very important reasons for keeping the block in one place.

The first is simply time. These guys had to work fast - speed was of the essence, just as it is in today's publishing world. Moving the block around all the time can nearly double the time it takes to get a design cut.

The second is the level of delicacy and fineness in the completed work.

The cutter placed the block on his bench with the corner that was going to become the L-shaped kento corner up in the top left - exactly opposite to the way the printer would place the block on his bench once it would come to him.

Now (this is difficult to explain in words ...) imagine a line on the design extending left to right across the wood. For the 'far' side of the line, the carver leaned his knife with the handle over towards himself at somewhere around 45 degrees, and cut that side. Then without moving the wood, he would stand his knife up almost vertically and cut the 'near' side of the line. In many cases, he would even keep the knife at a slight angle (still towards himself), and cut the near side in an actual 'undercut' - completely against what seems like common sense.

So picture the resulting line ... one side of it - the far side - has a 45 degree gentle slope, the nearby side has a sharp drop-off (maybe even an undercut).

Now, switch over to the printing. The block is turned around so that the kento corner is at the bottom right. The printer swirls his brush over the block, and then makes his final finishing strokes away from his body. The brush hairs slide up those gentle 45 degree slopes and then ... flick - disappear into space. There is no pigment left on the far side of the 'top' of the line, as is the case when both sides are formed in a bevel shape, the way you and I cut.

A block cut this way, and then printed with finesse, will result in lines in the print of such breathtaking delicacy that you would not believe they had been cut and printed by a human.

This type of cutting is called katagiri-bori, and is now extinct. If I were fifteen years old again, and just starting out on hanga, and knew what I know now ... I would discipline myself to start that way. But to try and change at this point ... impossible. I would have to take at least a couple of years off ... and let's face it, that's just not going to happen.

How about you? Ready for one hell of a challenge? Ready to become the only person on this planet that can 'cut it'?


Mon Oct 05, 2009 9:13 am
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Joined: Sat Sep 26, 2009 9:18 am
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Post Re: Do you rotate the block while cutting?
Quote:
The printer swirls his brush over the block, and then makes his final finishing strokes away from his body. The brush hairs slide up those gentle 45 degree slopes and then ... flick - disappear into space. There is no pigment left on the far side of the 'top' of the line...


Hey Dave....I never tought of it that way...but it makes a lot of sense the way you explain it...always thought it was for speed and showmanship but the more I learn about this craft I realize that the 'old' ways of doing things had purpose and efficiency in mind.... like for example the opposite angles for the cutting and printing benches. Thanks, this topic was very appropriate...sometimes when I am brushing on pigment I end up with excess pigment on the 'far' side of my lines and it shows in the print as a 'blurry' or 'bloated' line...now I know the answer to fix that !


Thu Oct 08, 2009 10:52 pm
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Joined: Fri Oct 09, 2009 2:14 pm
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Post Re: Do you rotate the block while cutting?
Wow! This is a really important concept. I do remember reading in Tokuriki's handbook about carvers that could carve without rotating the block and he confessed he couldn't do it. Given the gains that can be made I think it is a good idea that this style of carving is explained. I'm going to give it a try at least.


Tue Oct 13, 2009 12:21 am
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Joined: Sat Sep 26, 2009 2:33 pm
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Location: Lancashire, United Kingdom
Post Re: Do you rotate the block while cutting?
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I do remember reading in Tokuriki's handbook


Yes, by coincidence I read this just a couple of weeks ago in Tomikichiro Tokuriki's great little pocket sized book: 'Wood-Block Printing'. He mentions on page 22, exactly as Dave does here, about carving the block upside down to create a sharp slope and dull slope on the line edges.

I'm going to try this on my next print.


Fri Oct 16, 2009 9:55 am
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