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 table. The bench was worn, but was as sturdy as a new one. He loved this piece of furniture, as it reminded him of his true passion: woodworking.
Hirabayashi grabbed a small piece of torn cloth and carefully cleaned the bench. 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 really was against the idea. He did not like the fame and he was not after fame or money. He only wanted 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. A beautiful slab of Japanese cherry that was rich in red colors and tough as steel. Hirabayashi forgot where he stopped last time, so he carefully inspected the wood. 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 harsh sea.
He did not rushed his work, he never did. He always thrived for excellence, and wanted create the best he could. After he familiarized himself with his previous progress, he looked for his cutting knife, put on his glasses and began to work. However, the knife was dull. It barely wanted to carve. Mareo made a gentle sigh and prepared for the sharpening. 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 carefully put some water and ground up some smooth stone on the first stone, and created a light paste. It was a neat trick that made his sharpening easier. One by one, he went through all of his coarse, medium and finishing stones. He sharpened with great intricacy. Time passed quickly, as he gently hunched over his knife.
When it was ready, Hirabayashi put his sharpening kit away and prepared to make his first cut. He wanted to make his next cut, but the piece moved a little. He forgot to place his trusty old towel underneath. Than a wide smile appeared on his face. The knife moved like bliss. The curves flew under his steady hands, as he carved the waves. Line by line he made his cuts into the hardwood, and then made another one next to it, to relieve 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 silently prayed for it. 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 a bit difficult for him to get up, as his legs were cramped. After doing some short exercise, he went into the kitchen and made some lovely green tea. He used his old methods of cooking, as Hirabayashi was a creature of habits and loved the flavors of his old pots.
Mareo lived a life of rules. Everything he did was according his norms. 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 calmness.
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 lovely 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 carving.