In the Studio – Yuji Hiratsuka

A few months ago we visited with Yuji Hiratsuka in his Corvallis home studio. Yuji is a printmaker represented by the Augen Gallery in the Pearl District and professor at Oregon State University.

Yuji shows us his dirty room, for messy printmaking. The upstairs is the clean room for storing the paper and showing the work to patrons.

Duplex: What is the start of you print process?
Yuji Hiratsuka: I start with drawings.  Then I transfer onto tracing paper then transfer to copper plate. This process is color printing, but I use one plate. I make 15 editions in black then, I erase it using a sanding machine, it takes about half a day working from coarse to fine until it is almost flat and shiny again.  I intentionally leave the important contour lines so that I can leave those lines for the color separation. Then I etch again for the next color: black, yellow, red then blue. I start with the black always because I need to see the key. In commercial printing color goes first and black goes over, but I don’t do that because it’s a little bit more confusing for me.

2014-01-16_0002I always make a pair of figures because I cook this hot plate for one hour and would have nothing to do, so I make a second one.  I always make two or three. When I sometimes finish the first figure I swap the image for the second one.

The theme of this one is fossils from the time before dinosaurs. Some are plants.

D: Are you doing a series of work in this theme?
YH: These are the only two, always only in pairs, maybe sometimes four, but mostly only two.

YH-Blog-23This package just came. It is a collection of prints from various artists. Printmakers do a lot of swapping.  I do this a lot. Let’s take a look. I know a lot of the printmakers in the state, lot of them are educators too. You get to know everybody via these exchanges. We get very close.

D: So they put together a collection of prints in send them around?
YH: Yeah, and I bring them into the students to pass around.

D: How did you end up at OSU?
YH: I applied to a few schools for teaching positions, and the economy was good in 1992, I was teaching at Colorado Springs.  It was good, but it was not a permanent position. I applied to Southern Oregon and in Wisconsin. OSU required more art making than Southern Oregon because it is a research school, and Wisconsin seemed a little isolated.  So I chose Oregon State.

YH-Blog-19 YH-Blog-20D: Where do you get a lot of your imagery?
YH: You can tell the style is definitely mine, I like graphic aspects, and the faces are more aligned with traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e prints in a flattened style. Flat but also decorative, lots of kimono designs and elements on the outfits. I like the figure plus something else, the figure is always there. I like the bright colors and a lot of red.

D: Did you always know you wanted to be a printmaker?
YH: In Japan I started in an art school high school. They had architecture, graphic design, fine arts, photography and I was able to choose fine arts at 15. I was exposed to printmaking towards the end, I started with lithography, screen printing, etching. Then I went to a teacher’s college and after I started teaching middle school and high school. I saved money to apply to grad school in the US and ended up going to New Mexico State. They gave me money, so why not? I went to Indiana State too.

D: How many editions do you make?
YH: It depends, but usually 15.  The each pair is an edition of 15, and sometimes people buy them separately.
I also teach bookbinding.


YH: I submitted this for a gallery but they accepted the smaller books. Maybe they were worried about it being too big.

2014-01-16_0004D: If you make a print and it doesn’t turn out how you want it to does it end up as bookbinding?
YH: Yeah, you don’t have to trash it.
D: It adds such a nice touch too. Are these books completely hand made by you?
YH: Yes they are one of a kind, but it’s not worth making more unless I get a commission. One is enough!

Prints have an advantage because I can make the books just as easily as a single edition. I can also connect to other people by exchanging prints.

D: How many prints have you made?
YH: I have been doing this since 20 years ago and I have lots of time to work on but right now it is busy. I print just on Saturday and Sunday, so 1 edition complete each month, 12 a year, 10 years is 120, 20 is 240, so I guess 5,600 easy. But some are gigantic and it takes more time.

YH-Blog-2D: Do you have a catalog raisonné?
YH: Yes! You can see part of it at The Augen Gallery.

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