The Setup

Interview

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David Bull

David Bull

Woodblock printmaker

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Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm David Bull, and I'm a woodblock printmaker. I'm not an artist though (much) but a craftsman, producing prints of imagery designed by other people by carving and printing with traditional Japanese techniques. The profile I created for the MetaFilter site is perhaps the easiest way to get an overview of what I do.

What hardware do you use?

Given that the goal of most of my work is to create prints with the same 'look and feel' as those made some hundreds of years ago here in Japan, it's not surprising that my tools - for the most part - are also from that era. The carving work is done with quite a small selection of knives and chisels; these are nearly all made with the same laminated steel process used to make Japanese swords - hard steel for sharpness bonded to softer steel for strength.

Once the carving is done and printing begins, I mostly use the magnificent traditional tool known as the 'baren'; made from nothing but tiny strips of bamboo skins woven together into a coil, backed by a disc formed from 50+ tissue-like sheets of paper glued together, and wrapped in another bamboo skin, this is one of the world's most low-tech/high-touch tools. If there were ever a fire here, it would be my box of barens that I would grab before running outside ...

Once I come upstairs to my office, the hardware there is pretty straight forward; I connect to the world and broadcast information on what I am doing with an iMac (connected through the NTT fibre-optic network). I use a Canon EOS 650D for preparing video for my YouTube channel, and a Zoom H2 digital recorder for preparing the audio for my weekly 'A Story A Week' podcast.

And what software?

Downstairs in the workshop it's the beautiful Japanese washi of course! The type I use is known as Echizen hosho and has been used for traditional Japanese prints since the Edo period. It is now made in only one small village, by a few family workshops; if this stuff ever stops being made, it's game over for me.

The wood on which all my prints are carved is yamazakura (Japanese cherry); it provides the best balance between hardness (required for cutting fine lines) and water absorbency (necessary to be able to print with water-based pigments).

Upstairs in the office it's a pretty basic selection: my web sites are either coded manually in TextWrangler or run from an old installation of Movable Type. Videos are put together in iMovie, and the podcasts are created by editing the audio in Audacity first, then finishing up in Garageband.

What would be your dream setup?

I can't really ask for much over and above what I have. It's not a new 'setup' that I dream about, but simply better quality: the paper and wood that are available these days would be considered 'throw out' material by craftsmen of just a couple of generations back. Because the number of practitioners of this craft has become so low, the number of suppliers is also low, with the result that we now have a very poor selection of products available. Hopefully, with the 'wake up' that is being given to this old craft with the new Ukiyoe Heroes project, that might now start to change!