I mentioned last month that the seventh print in each album seems recently to be a bit 'gorgeous', and that's all very well of course, but there is a downside; because such prints take a long time to make - the Hokkei took me nearly two months - the next one has to be a lot quieter! But look at this one! If it were any 'quieter', it would be a blank sheet of paper!
Actually, that's not really a joke. I have on my shelf here some pieces of exactly this same type of paper presented to me by Mr. Ichibei Iwano, the man who made the paper for all the prints in this album. The pieces are about the size of this print, are blank, and carry his seal in the lower corner. They are works of art. So I think that when Iwano-san sees this print, he will be very happy ... at last people will be able to see the 'raw' beauty of his paper without the sizing and pigments getting 'in the way'!
This print of course, is mainly 'about' a poem, and to understand it needs some explanation ... This is an 'announcement' surimono issued by an amateur poet sometime in the 1780s, probably only in a dozen or so copies handed out to the members of his poetry circle. Members of such circles in those days used poetic names for themselves, which they changed as they felt appropriate. One such man decided to start calling himself Icho Mitsukado, and composed a poem to communicate to his acquaintances why he had chosen that particular name. A little tidbit of historical background is needed before we in our era can understand his feelings - the fact that in those days gingko (icho) leaves were pressed between the pages of books with the belief that they repelled insects.
Just like a gingko leaf
Pressed in the pages of a great book,
I too wish to be among books
To take on the ways of wise people.
This is a sentiment to which I subscribe whole-heartedly; and if I ever decide to change my name, I'll keep this idea in mind!
On the contents page of this album I put the designer's name - Yanagawa Shigenobu - in quotation marks, and I should explain to you just why. Most of the prints in this album so far have been quite strict reproductions which follow the original model very closely. This print however, is more of an 'adaptation'. I know it only through a book reproduction, and a quite poor one at that, but I was so captivated by the elegance and simplicity of the design that I wanted to include it in this album even though I had no chance of obtaining a clear image of the original.
The lower part of the print, the embossed gingko leaves, didn't pose too great a problem; I sketched them based on Shigenobu's outlines, and then carved a block to match (you'll have to click for the enlargement to be able to see anything there ...) But for the calligraphy, which was far too indistinct for my requirements, I had to call for assistance. Mrs. Yuko Tauchi, a professional calligrapher who lives in Saitama and whose calligraphy I admired at first sight, consented to write the poem out for me in her elegant hand. She was somewhat hesitant when hearing my request, but once I made it clear that I wasn't looking for a 'reproduction' but was giving her a completely free hand, she accepted enthusiastically.
When I received her manuscript, I was glad to see that she had used some 'dry brush' work in places; the 'standard issue' calligraphy on most of the old surimono, elegant as it is, is always very clean. I love carving it, but also appreciate the challenge of this type.
Then printing ... this was another challenge; as you all know, woodblock printing is a 'flat' process, and the baren moves across the back of the paper applying even pressure to all parts of the carved block. Printers in the Meiji days though, found ways to create such variations in depth of tone as you see here, and I have studied their prints to try and emulate their achievement. To print calligraphy this way takes a great deal of 'extra' work, but it is especially gratifying when somebody sees the result and says "That can't be carved and printed! Surely it was drawn by hand!"
So there we have it, a very 'simple' print on the face of it, but one that I hope will give plenty of quiet pleasure, as it did for me during the making.