A small tribute to David Bull and the other woodblock print makers.
Mareo Hirabayashi, the old master sat down at his empty workbench, on a Sunday afternoon. He just finished lunch and wanted to do something else besides taking a nap. He smeared his hands over the table, which was an ancient piece of history in itself. Mareo looked at it with great joy, as he ran his fingers across the surface. The bench was worn, but was as sturdy as a new one. He loved this piece of furniture, as it reminded him of his woodworking passion.
Hirabayashi grabbed a small piece of torn cloth and cleaned the bench with great care. He wanted to make sure that nothing was on the table. He was a man of high precision and craftsmanship. His skills were legendary and known across the country. He was one of the few remaining elders of a long passed era. He did hundreds of woodblocks in his time. He worked for newspapers, artists, personal collectors and even for the state. Mareo was considered a national treasure, but he was against the idea. He did not like the title, as he was against such dogma. His true purpose was to craft. This was the thing that made him special.
He put down his little cardboard box of tools on the table and brought out the key block itself. It was a beautiful slab of Japanese cherry wood. It was rich in red colors and tough as steel. As Hirabayashi was a busy man, he forgot where he stopped last time. He had to inspect the piece before he continued. The Great Wave off Kanagawa was in his hands. It presented the viewer with the cold and harsh reality of the sea. Men in rows, all fought together to survive the great elements of the crude weather.
He did not rush his work, he never did. He always thrived for excellence and wanted create the best he could. After he familiarized himself with his progress, he put on his glasses and began to work. However, the knife he wanted to use was dull. It had a hard time to carve. Mareo made a gentle sigh as he prepared to sharpen the blade. He put the block aside and brought out his sets of sharpening stones.
It was an art in itself. A ritual, that Hirabayashi did countless times. He put some water on the stones and ground up a smooth rock on the first surface. It was trick he learned way back, to create a thin paste that made the process much easier. One by one, he went through all of his coarse, medium and finishing stones. He sharpened with great intricacy. Time passed, as he hunched over his knife.
When it was ready, Hirabayashi put his sharpening kit away and prepared to make his first cut. He was eager to make process, but the piece moved a little. He forgot to place his trusty old towel, underneath. When the knife moved like bliss, a wide smile appeared on his face. The curves flew under his steady hands, as he carved the waves. Line by line he made his cuts into the hardwood. He even cared to make relief cuts, to loosen the tension. Tiny wood chips began to fling at every direction.
He felt like a conductor at a concert. He listened to his knife, to know how sharp it was. He felt the strength of the wood and looked for signs to increase or reduce pressure. He watched the lines to make sure no mishap would happen. He cared for the slab and prayed for it in silence. He made sure that everything was in perfect harmony.
It was well beyond teatime, when Mareo stopped his work and took a short break. It was difficult for him to get up, as his legs were cramped. He had to do some exercise, before he went into the kitchen. He made some lovely, green tea. He used his old methods of cooking, as Hirabayashi was a creature of habits and a lover of old flavors.
Mareo lived a life of rules. Everything he did was according his dogmas. In some ways, he was more of a monk than a carver. In his mind, everything had its meaning. Every tool and equipment he owned had a soul. He took care of them and they cared for him. His house was a temple, where joy and happiness roamed around. He lived a life of peace and tranquility.
After he drank his tea, Mareo chose to go outside. He wanted to have some fresh air, before going back to work. The birds sang their mating songs and the smell of blooming trees filled his lungs. He gazed down from the hillside into the valley and looked across the county. It was a rare and beautiful site that never seemed to amaze him. This was the reason, why he chose this place. It gave him inspiration and endless energy. Soon, he was back at his trusty old bench and was ready to make his next, intricate cut.