To continue on from the last blog post that talked about inking a detail block without making a mess, I wanted to post my most recent efforts to print some detail carves. The final touches for the woodblock "Snow Angel" involved printing two vertical relief areas that had no supporting relief areas around them. My experience in the past is that dabbing ink onto relief lines without nearby relief areas to support the paper is a challenge to print cleanly. The attraction of moku hanga for me is that so much of the process is all about touch, about having a feel for the process.
Too Much or Too Little.
Before applying the ink for the first time, I take a new surikomi inking brush, charge it with a small amount of water, and moisten the area to print. Touch comes into play in knowing how moist the area should be before inking. The block should be moist without overly wet. If in doubt after moistening the area, wipe it down with a soft absorbent rag, leaving the block moist but not wet. For the surikomi brush, check out McClains Printmaking Supplies website at ttps://imcclains.com/catalog/brushes/index.html
The most successful solution to ink small detail areas that I have come up with, is to apply and distribute the ink using a small #6 surikomi brush. A small pool of ink is poured into a porcelain dish or plate and then the surikomi brush is charged directly from that, taking care to not over charge the brush. The ink is then carefully applied and distributed evenly to the relief areas using the surikomi inking brush. I prefer using small circular motions to distribute the ink, taking care to ink as close to the relief area as possible. The further the ink is distributed away from the relief area, the more likely that areas will print that are not meant to print.
Once the block has been inked a few times, it will hold moisture, making subsequent inkings easier. If too much ink begins to build up on the area being printed, just wipe it down with a soft absorbent rag. I like terry cloth rags as they pick up moisture quickly and are gentle on the carved block. I am always striving for that perfect balance of moisture between the brush, block and paper.
The next challenge is burnishing the area with the baren. I used a small baren with a flat hard support for the bamboo wrap. A smaller baren gives more control on where pressure is applied. Normally, I make small circular motions with the baren but with such a narrow area to print, I made two or three vertical swipes with the baren over each area to print using a fairly gentle pressure. Adding more pressure is only going to push the paper down into areas that should not print.
Printing a few proofs in the beginning is a good way to perfect the inking and burnishing techniques. Invariably, there always seem to be a few prints with mis-registers and so I will start printing with those to refine a last minute carve or adjust the color of the ink. Moistened newsprint works well as a proof material. The color is usually a bit lighter than when printed on good paper, but it does help one get the inking and burnishing procedures down before printing the good prints.
Another print and another example.
Another print that is approaching the final stage of printing is Old Tracks. This had a similar vertical relief area to print as well as two color spots. For the vertical area, I printed it the same as on the Snow Angel block, applying ink directly with the inking brush. For the two color spots, ink was applied using a 1/2" brush, daubed onto the relief areas and then spread out evenly using a inking brush.
The newsprint proof shows the three different colors printed. The proof also pointed out areas that needed some clean up carving. An orange and a yellow were daubed onto the two figures and an inking brush spread the yellow first and then the orange. After each inking, the brush was daubed onto the terry cloth rag to pull out excess ink, leaving a somewhat dry brush for the next print's inking.
Immediately, using a second inking brush, the dark red was picked up from the porcelain tray and brushed onto the vertical relief areas. At the end, the same brush was swiped across the lower half of the yellow figure, darkening the pants on the figure. After practicing this a few times on newsprint, I moved onto printing the good prints.
A challenge with moku hanga and applying the ink with a brush is to get a clean crisp printing. This can be a frustrating process as there are so many things that can go wrong. Once one gains control of those process variables, they can be used as creative tools or techniques. I tend to experiment a lot, and the successes then become another technique in my arsenal of creative printing options.