Letter from the Studio

Phil Bivins

How did I become interested in Japanese woodblock printing? I suppose we have all asked ourselves that question at one time or another. I think it's a good one to ask, and the answer may be as individual as the person doing the asking. So I will speak for myself, and let you fill in the blanks where you will.

Like most things that have occurred in my life, it's been a process - or to be more poetic, a JOURNEY! Several years ago, after finishing a grueling time in Nursing School, I was introduced to pottery by a fellow classmate. She had presented me with a simple pot for my birthday. I was really impressed with its simple beauty and asked her where she had purchased it. She quickly informed me that she had made it with her own two hands while taking a pottery course. She went on to say that pottery would be something that I too would be interested in. Anyway to make a long story relatively short, I did become interested in pottery and began to take classes. For the next several years I spent every spare moment trying to learn more about this wonderful art form. I took every class offered. I wasn't concerned about being graded for my work, so I audited the courses. This, in theory, would free me up from having to worry about WHAT GRADE I would receive. I slowly - and I mean slowly - began to have some success. I even sold a few of my pieces. So here I was, a professional potter! I had made the grade! Somebody actually liked something I made. Not only that - they paid me for it - WOW!

I wanted to learn more about glazing and decoration techniques. It was then I became interested in Japanese/Chinese brush painting. I purchased several books and videos. I love 'How to' videos concerning art and different techniques. I took private lessons and even spent a week with a Chinese brush painting master by the name of Professor Ju, who lives with his wife in Lexington Virginia. Several years passed, by this time I had a computer and access to the Internet. I came across several references that I really found exciting; including Bill Ritchie from Seattle Washington. I purchased several of the videos he had made over the years, and the one that I found most interested was the 'Japanese Woodcut Workshop' video. I have since come across even more interesting websites, several of which are participants on [Baren]. During this time I found several catalogs that sold the necessary tools to get started. So initially, all I had were a few tools and a desire to learn more about the craft.

Since that time I have carved a few woodblocks. They will be submitted to the 'Newbie's Journal' soon. They are quite simple, with only two color blocks. The important thing is that I started and that I had fun doing them. At this point I have no clue if I will ever sell anything I print. I am in the 'giving away' stage of development. People seem to be appreciative when I give them a print to take home, but I don't think they know what they really have. I usually explain the process, and they shake their heads as if they understand. Maybe they do; maybe they are just trying to be nice. I have come to believe at this point of my woodblock development that I need these little victories. So what if I am in the 'giving away' stage - it makes me feel good to know they have accepted my work unconditionally, because in a way they have accepted me. For a budding newbie woodblock printer, I need these 'warm fuzzies'. Maybe in a year or so it won't matter, but for now it does and I can accept that.

woodblock print by Phil Bivins

It has been a process, a journey, if you will. It's interesting to know how one art form leads to another. It's also interesting to note the people who have been involved in the process. No matter how much success I have in whatever endeavour I get involved in, I have not been alone. I have not accomplished anything by myself. I hope that never changes; I will always need that contact with another human being.

You know, I believe I have caught 'woodblock printing fever', and the only remedy is to try and carve another block, print another piece of paper, and stay in touch with people like you. I think that is what I will do.

Take care, Phil Bivins

This page Copyright Phil Bivins 1998