October 15, 2015

Chapter Three [The Technique of the Color Woodcut]


tech3fig2The printing pad, or baren, as it has come to be called, is not yet standardized in the West, as it has been for more than a century in Japan. The Japanese baren is a most efficient tool, but dependent upon a steady supply of bamboo leaf which forms its outer covering. The body is made up of a disc of cardboard, overlaid by a closely woven web of twisted bamboo leaf. Horsehair is sometimes added. The cover, flat on the underside, is twisted on the other, and its two ends tied to form a handle. Buy one if you can —there is nothing so good.

A substitute, of hard wood, is easily constructed. My own is merely a disc with one ribbed face, with a block of wood forming a grip screwed or glued to the other. The disc should be four or more inches in diameter, and a quarter to one inch in thickness. The ribs may be anything from four to twenty to the inch. The larger ribs necessitate a thicker wood, and are made on a planing machine. The small ones are cut on a wood-engraver’s ruling machine, or they may be dug out laboriously by hand with a V-tool or a graver. They should be moulded into fairly shallow rounded shapes,


because a cup-shaped depression will occasion suction in rubbing, that is, besides forcing the printing paper down to the wood it will tend to raise it again, which is awkward. At intervals wipe the face of the baren with an oil rag, unless like the oriental a rub on the back of your head will give a similar result.

It is advisable to interpose a sheet of butter paper in printing, as a protection to the print, though it is not always necessary.

You will need also a rag or a sponge for cleaning the blocks after each impression.

I have not yet mentioned any of the host of substitutes for the baren, except my own, which I have found to be effective. Mr. Giles has one constructed of ribbed glass, with a wooden grip glued to the disc. Sharkskin, book-muslin and other kinds of cloth have been recommended as a substitute for bamboo leaf. Cloth of any kind is especially futile, at least that is my experience; apparently other artists have found it useful for it is frequently mentioned. Such unlikely tools as a photographer’s squeegee (a rubber roller), and a cocoa tin lid, give results.

All this equipment must be arranged tidily on the table before you —the block directly in front with a wad of wet paper or rag under each corner so that it cannot slip; to the left your baren on a sheet of butter paper, the oil rag beside it; to the right your glass color-slab and muller, and brushes, and beyond them your bowls of paste and clean water; beyond the block the pile of printing sheets.

Do not think me fussy when I specify tidiness. It is essential. The wet materials only too easily soil the dry ones, which in turn soil the print unless you are watchful, and they must be separated as widely as possible. Cultivate cleanliness also in printing. Wash rags, brushes and paint slab after each color, and always work with clean water.

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