Two Women in a Boat

Well as you can see already, I have broken my 'rule' that all ten of the prints in this Surimono Album would be made by different artists - this one, just like the first print in the album, was designed by Katsushika Hokusai. Most of the western collectors of my work will be quite happy with this, as Hokusai is extremely popular with them, but I'm not so sure that all the Japanese collectors will feel the same way!

Why did I choose to include another Hokusai print? It's because of the design - it matches this season perfectly. I've got a notebook here filled with ideas and suggestions for designs to include in these albums, but have run into a bit of a problem with balancing the seasonal aspect of the images. Most of the surimono type prints that were made during the Edo era were issued at the New Year, so the imagery to a large extent is based on themes traditional at that time of year. I can't send you those designs in the summer or autumn! For this print that will reach you near the end of the year, I needed an image that would reflect this chilly season, and when I saw this one in my notebook, realized that it would 'fill the bill' just fine.

Once I started doing the test printing though, I had second thoughts; I noticed that the tree in the background was an ume, a Japanese plum, which of course is yet another of those ubiquitous new year symbols. But looking more carefully at it, it seems that there aren't any buds on the branches, so perhaps this is a suitable scene for mid-winter after all.


Something else important to mention about this print, is that what you are looking at is a true reproduction of Hokusai's original design. As you must realize by now, many of the prints I am including in these albums are adaptations, not perfect reproductions. For example, that Sukenobu print was originally black & white, but I added colours; the fan print I made in the summer was an adaptation of a brush painting, etc. But this print was originally issued in exactly the same form as you see here. Because it carries no poetry, no title, and no other indications of why it might have been made, I am not able to tell you much about its history. It's not even signed by Hokusai, and to be more accurate, I should be labelling it 'Hokusai school', because it is quite possible that it was designed by one of his pupils. That is quite unlikely I think though, because we have many examples of prints from other workers in his 'studio', but very few of them, if any, are as well executed as this design.

I have learned that there is a very big difference between working on a reproduction of a print, and an adaptation. In the case of the adaptation I of course have much more freedom to use different colours, etc., so when I am preparing the pigments, if a tone or shade turns up in my pigment bowl that I hadn't planned, but which seems attractive, then I am free to use it. But when making a reproduction, I have no such freedom. The colours and tones were decided two hundred years ago, and it is my job as a printer to use my basic pigment collection to re-create that same colour. This is not an easy job, in part because the materials I have available to me today are so different from those of the Edo era, but also because it is simply difficult under the best of circumstances. But no man can call himself a suri-shi unless he has that ability - to look at the sample that is set before him, and then to use his tools and materials to match it.

I do have to admit though, that this isn't an absolutely authentic reproduction. The original that I used for a guide to make this print is a print in the possession of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England (who were extremely cooperative, and provided for me a large scale photographic enlargement of the print). Unfortunately though, their print is not in perfect condition; at one place the paper has become abraded, and the lines of the design have been destroyed. When I drew my hanshita it was necessary for me to fill in those missing lines, and I had to guess where Hokusai's brush may have moved across the paper.

I'm not going to tell you which particular part of the print this was. Maybe you can have fun looking at it, and trying to decide which parts were drawn by Hokusai and which little piece was drawn by David!

December 1999