Yasuyuki Shibata worked at Tyler Graphics for 9 years from May 1991. A specialist in the traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e method of woodblock printing, Yasuyuki was responsible for cutting and printing the blocks for many major projects including Frank Stella’s The fountain and Helen Frankenthaler’s Tales of Genji.
What was your role at the workshop, and can you tell us a little bit about what that role entailed?
I was hired as woodcut printer in 1991 after graduating from Kyoto Seika University where I studied all printmaking techniques and especially focused in Japanese woodcut technique called Ukiyo-e.
Can you outline some of the technical processes involved in your work?
The Ukiyo-e technique is a traditional woodcut printing. It was developed in the late 17th century in Japan. Artists work with the woodcutter and printer to create editioned prints.
My work at TGL mostly involved woodcut and used Ukiyo-e tradition. Since I was the only one who knew this technique at the studio I had to do both the cutting and printing by myself.
The process of this technique at TGL was to make a tracing from an artist’s original artworks and then do color separations onto multiple blocks. You then cut the blocks and mix colors from pigments for each block and do test proofing, showing the results to the artist until they are happy to make the editions. Edition printing takes the most time of the whole process.
Can you tell us about the atmosphere in the studio? What did you enjoy most about working there?
It was a learning experience every day about printmaking. Most of the projects involved many printers. It was very interesting and exciting to work for the Frank Stella The fountain print project – a very large scale of print was made using woodblocks and so many copper plates, which were cut in shapes and inserted into the woodblock. Each individual plate had to be inked separately and then placed onto woodblock each time for printing. It took us one full day to print a panel, sometimes two prints a day if we were lucky. There are three panels for this print. It was something I had even thought about doing before coming to TGL, and seeing the result of the print was quite a remarkable experience. Of course we had many technical issues to resolve before the successful final print.
Do you still work in the arts? How did your time with TGL affect your career path?
I am still working as a printer, now at Pace Editions in New York paceprints.com . I would not have been there without my experience from TGL. I learned a lot about printmaking from Ken and his studio.
Do you have a favorite project from TGL, or did you have a particularly memorable experience with a specific artist? Can you explain what made that project or person so special?
Helen Frankenthaler’s woodcut project Tales of Genji was the most important for me while working at TGL. It took three years to complete the series of six prints. It was the first project in which I was responsible for all cutting and printing – from beginning to end. It was also the first time a hydraulic press had been used for printing with water colors on hand made cotton paper; this had never been done before. It was all Ken’s idea doing such a time consuming and labor intensive project, but it tuned out a very beautiful set of 6 prints following Madame Butterfly in 2000.