Do you know what a Mulligan is? I understand the term originated in the world of golf, but it has now spread more widely and is used in many walks of life. 'Taking a Mulligan' refers to the practice of 'getting a second chance' to do something, in a situation where that is usually not permitted, golf being of course a prime example of such an environment.
Now there can be quite a difference between being allowed to do something over, and having to do it again. Here in our printmaking workshop, it sometimes happens with the less experienced printers that I will ask them to re-do a batch of prints. The choice is not theirs to make.
But when it comes to one's own production, the difference between the two can become somewhat blurred. At any (every!) stage of the process of making a set of prints, the question is always implicitly there to be answered: "Is this good enough? Should I ... Do I have to ... do it over again?"
I can think of a couple of episodes in the past when I ended up answering that question in the positive, even though the cost was very high. On both occasions, it was at the stage of making a print where the key block had just been finished. This is the first point during the traditional process where the maker is able to actually see a proof of the print itself, and he is able to see what the end viewers are going to see.
Both of those key blocks had taken weeks to produce, and both were full of fine details. To take a Mulligan - get out a blank piece of wood and start over - would mean much lost time and money. But I remembered a conversation I had had with the old carver Ito Susumu during an interview we had done one day for a TV program.
I had been sitting beside his bench and watching while he carved a reproduction of an old ukiyo-e design. It occurred to me that over the long course of his career he must have been asked to do that same print design - a hugely famous image - more than once, perhaps many times, and I asked him something along the lines of "Do you ever get bored doing the same design yet again?"
He tossed the idea aside completely; "Interesting? Boring? Such things are of no concern. I'm a carver. It's my job to carve!" And he added (in a friendly way, I should emphasize), "You are carving only things that you have chosen for yourself. It's kind of a 'hobby' for you!"
So on the times when I sat there facing the question of whether or not to re-do those key blocks, his comment came back to mind, and each time, I put the blocks aside without regret, prepared new wood, and started again. Both of those prints now have pride of place in my mind as being among the best I have ever made. The 'extra' time it took to get them finished has been forgotten.
I tell this story now because just this week, I have again been faced with the same situation. A few days back I completed the key block for the most recent design in my 'Arts of Japan' series. Due to the many interruptions from my Mokuhankan publishing activities recently, the collectors of this Arts series have been waiting nearly half a year for this print, so I was extremely eager to get started on the printing process. When I pulled the first proof though, I knew in an instant that it wasn't going to work.
They've waited that long, but they'll have to wait just a little bit longer. I'm not proud of having to do this, but it can't be helped; it's Mulligan time!
Story #436, May 4, 2014