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The 1999 Album


A short while ago, I received an interesting letter from one of the collectors of this year's album - somebody living in America. He read my previous notes about how I feel that these prints are most attractive when seen in a Japanese room, on a low table in front of a shoji screen, but he felt of course a bit frustrated. In his American home, there is no Japanese room ... no shoji screens. He wasn't about to give up though; in his letter he told me how he had been looking at the prints by candlelight, setting a candle at the far side of the table and looking through the album in this soft light. He reported to me how beautiful the prints looked when viewed this way.

Of course I was happy to hear that he was enjoying the prints, but from my point of view I have mixed feelings about this. A beautiful woman when seen by candlelight can seem ravishingly beautiful, but as many less 'blessed' women discovered a long time ago, candlelight can indeed make many things look more attractive ... For me as a printmaker this is a dangerous situation! If I were to take one of my test prints and study it by candlelight it would without question look beautiful - even though I may have balanced some of the colours poorly, even though I may have printed with weak pressure on the baren, even though I may have been careless in other ways. Seen by candlelight it will still look beautiful. So although you as a collector can indeed enjoy your prints in such a way, I as the printer have to avoid it. During those times when I am working on the prints, I have to look at them as coldly and clinically as possible - in a harsh light which will show as many defects as possible, not hide them.

So when I am checking, sealing and signing the prints in preparation for sending them out to you, I do it under such an unforgiving light. And each and every month I have pretty much the same feeling ... I have failed again. Places on the print where my knife moved roughly, places where my baren failed to press the pigment deeply enough into the washi - those places jump out to my eye. I don't see the beauty ... I see only where I have failed.

I'm not trying to tell you a sad story here; for me to see the prints this way is essential, as it is only by inspecting the problems that I will be able to move forward and improve. But this David is not only a print maker, he is a print collector too! I send out most of the surimono prints, but I do keep a set for myself, and sometimes I too, just like all of you, take the album off the shelf, open it up, and enjoy looking at the prints. I try to turn off the 'critical eye' and just enjoy them, and sometimes I am successful ... sometimes ...

And in those moments, when I am peacefully looking over the print collection, I feel a great sense of satisfaction in what I have accomplished. I know that here in Japan it is considered not so 'polite' to speak well of one's own work, but I have to say that I think this little album is a wonderful treasure. I love looking in old bookshops for interesting books and prints, and cannot help but think of a time in the far off future when some young man is digging through a box of dusty books and finds one of these albums. How intense his pleasure will be when he looks through it and sees what he has found! How I myself would love to find such a thing!

Thank you very much for supporting my work during this past year - for subscribing 'sight-unseen' to this album, not having any idea what sort of prints I would be sending you. I hope you have enjoyed the experience as much as I have.

January 2000


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