Ukiyo-e heroes, resurrection of a Japanese forgotten art.

1. Prelude

Hello everyone and welcome to my article on Ukiyo-e Heroes. In this article, I will talk about Ukiyo-e Heroes, the people behind it, their work and their success with this project.

Reading this article will take less than 15 minutes.

Please, enjoy your reading and don’t hesitate to comment. If I made any mistake, I will do my best to correct it as quickly as possible.

Summary

  1. Prelude
  2. The people of Ukiyo-e Heroes
    • Jed Henry
    • David Bull
  3. Ukiyo-e Heroes project
    • The first contact
    • The beginning
    • Ukiyo-e heroes kickstarter
  4. The aftermath

2. The people of Ukiyo-e Heroes

Jed Henry

Jed-Henry, ukiyo-e heroes Jed Henry is an illustrator, gamer, japan enthusiast with a passion for Ukiyo-e. His artist path started with drawing art from game manuals and video game characters from japan. He also had the opportunity to do multiple painting trips with his mom around the country, and a few years wondering in Tokyo (2 years).

Jed believes in story telling when the reader and the teller have a good time together. When he is illustrating a page, he is carefully thinking about the whole composition to give to the viewer a delighted and surprising feeling.

Jed has a degree in animation and even a college Academy Award from one of his film he created as a college student. After getting his degree and award, he struggled to find a job in animation and continued in children book illustration.
Nowadays, he is working full time on the Japanese print and a new video project called “Edo Superstar”.

Jed is living with his family in a small town in the Rocky Mountains, managing his time between family, drawing and his passions.

David Bull

David-Bull, ukiyo-e heroes David Bull is a woodblock print-maker, craftsman, carving, printing and self-publisher. David spent tens of thousands of hours learning, carving and improving himself in woodblock printmaking craftsmanship. He is now in possession of world-class skills in a very niche market (25 years of practice under his belt).

David currently lives in Tokyo suburb in his workshop, where he evolved from a one-man shop to a collective workshop with skilled craftsman. For most of his craftsman career, he worked alone, but in the past couple years, he has created a publishing venture named “Mokuhankan”. Under his venture, he took several disciples to teach and train them in the techniques of woodblock carving.

David has an unusual story, he is a Britain born man who moved to Canada at the age of 5, and lived there until 1986.

In his early years, he was intellectually interested in music and tried to make a living in that field, performance, composition, pop music and jazz, but it didn’t work out. Afterward, he even made guitar, furniture and toys, which didn’t really work out either.

In the 80’s, he was working in a music shop in Toronto when he discovered woodblocks printmaking, when he tried to make wood-prints once, something clicked inside his mind. He remembered his school times when he was around 10 years old, when he had a geography class; he had to create a map from scratch. He really liked these crafting classes. From there on, he decided to devote himself to woodblock printmaking.

When he was 35 years old, he relocated to Tokyo with his family to continue his discovered passion for woodblock. He wanted to learn to carve like the old master of the Edo and Meiji period. But, no one was still alive to teach him how to reach this craftsmanship level. Therefore, he had to learn in a reverse engineering way, where he looked at the old prints and woodblock from these old masters, figuring out “how did they do this?”

Here you can find an interview of David Bull done by Andrés Rodríguez Cortés in 2015


Here you can find the YouTube channel of David Bull in which you can find all kind of video about ukyio-e and woodblock print making, etc.

https://www.youtube.com/user/seseragistudio

And here is his most popular video: Remembering a carver – Ito Susumu by David Bull.


3. Ukiyo-e Heroes project

The first contact

The first contact was done by Jed to David, in 2010; he emailed David with a message sounded like a fan boy wanting to meet his star. David replied quickly to Jed which surprised him. It was a very courteous email to one of his fan, David even called Jed one day, and they talked about Jed aspirations as an artist.

At first, David was very reluctant to start anything; he tried to convince Jed to continue his illustrator job, because woodblock printing is a very difficult with high risk business. Jed felt that it was a setback. But, Jed is a persistent man, he knew that he was onto something with his collaborative ideas; he kept pushing and pushing to David who finally agreed with Jed new idea of Ukiyo-e heroes project.

The beginning

In April 2012, Jed presented some possible designs to David who was surprised by the quality of these drawing. David printed it and showed it to his staff, then, at his surprise, they were very enthusiastic about the drawing. That is when David realized that there was something there. Afterwards, David made the first woodblock and print with this drawing “Rickshaw Cart”, even though, at this stage, they weren’t sure on how to sell this product.

Rickshaw Cart, ukiyo-e heroes
(Rickshaw Cart, ukiyo-e heroes)

Jed also approached David with the idea of creating a full set of 100 prints for the “Heroes” series, which quaked David, because this is a very hard and time consuming work (David has already done it once).

When the ukiyo-e heroes project started, David was in a state where he was waiting to be disrupted by something new, and this project was the perfect opportunity to start something completely different from what he was doing since the beginning of his printmaker career. He was crafting only for connoisseur in this niche market of ukiyo-e at the time. This project enabled him to reach a broader audience and customer, he (if I may say), opened to the world his art work.

Ukiyo-e heroes has clearly changed my life for the better – David Bull.

Ukiyo-e heroes kickstarter

A parody art project, commenting on the ancient origins of modern Japanese game culture.

The goal was 10400$ and they were able to collect 313,341$ with a total of 2422 contributors, the project was a big success thanks to social media and word of mouth.

Their kickstarter goal was:
We’re determined to create a complete series of hand-made Japanese woodblock prints, just like they were made hundreds of years ago.
Jed Henry has already finished 12 stunning designs, lovingly researched and executed in the Japanese ukiyo-e style. Our woodblock printmaker, David Bull, has carved and printed proofs of our first piece: Rickshaw Cart. If we meet our financial goal, we can produce a run of Rickshaw Cart prints. If we exceed our goal, we’ll turn more of Jed’s designs into woodblock prints.

The queen and I choose you !

This is truly a unique art project. There are only a handful of people on earth who know the ancient techniques of Japanese woodblock printmaking, and David is premier among them. He’s dedicated 30 years to honing his craft. We’re lucky to have his immense talent on board.

What is Ukiyo-e Heroes?
…Long story short: the Japanese games we love are just the new chapter in an ancient, enduring culture.
To celebrate Japan’s contribution to video games, illustrator Jed Henry has taken his favorite game characters, and returned them to the ukiyo-e style. Modern costuming has been traded for the medieval, but the essence of each character remains, proving that you can’t take the Ukiyo out of these modern pop icons.

Battle in the bath house

Ukiyo-e heroes series was very successful, they have customers from around 14 countries around the world.

Thanks the support from their fan community, they were able to expand their first design to a whole print series which met a lot of success.
They are pursuing their goal to save the woodblock community in a very meaningful way. Thanks to their print sales, David was able to grow his shop and pay for full time apprentices and even asked for seasoned masters.
David and Jed are giving some vitality back to this ancient art, giving to it a spice of modernity while respecting the ukiyo-e tradition.

Here you can find the kickstarter page of the project ukiyo-e heroes:


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1499165518/ukiyo-e-heroes

4. The aftermath

After meeting such a success with their kickstarter, Jed went to multiple comic-cons all over America to sell their prints. He went, for example, to San-Diego comic on, salt lake, Brooklyn, Seattle, phoenix, Los Angeles, New York, basically, 9 comic-cons in one year.

People are very enthusiastic to get their hand on rare items – Jed Henry at San-Diego comic-con international.



Nowadays, you can find their print and buy them only at their online store.
Here is the link: https://ukiyoeheroes.com/

There was also a documentary movie made in 2018 about their success: “Art of the game: ukiyo-e heroes”.

Here is the documentary trailer:


For website touring visitor:
When you have finished reading this article, please, take a look at my portfolio.

Deligne Mathieu - RedSparkleArt- Author-Painter-ukiyo-e artist- kachoga artist

Deligne Mathieu

Deligne Mathieu is a young artist with the objective to master the art of drawing Ukiyo-e bird and flower (花鳥画 – Kacho-ga).