Monday, May 10, 2010

I love the smell of burning horsehair in the morning...

Yesterday we printed the first color of our laser-cut prints. After vaporizing the block in the last class (we'll be doing more, so I'll show some photos of the machine in the next post), we're ready to print the first color.

First we make a "damp pack" for our rice paper by spraying newsprint with water until evenly wet, then layering it with our paper which we've torn to the correct size. We leave it for about an hour, but  even better, prepare it up to a week before and store flat in a plastic bag. The wet newsprint will impart a nice even moisture to the paper.

The block should also be dampened by running it under water till evenly wet then wrapping it in damp rags.

To spread the ink we use a horsehair brush called a Maru Bake. Because our brushes are new, we need to prepare the ends of the bristles. To do this we lay the brush on a hot plate until the hairs start to smoke, sizzle and smell awful. I advise an open window nearby.

When the edges of the brush are singed, we run it back and forth on a metal grate called a sharkskin. I imagine they once used real sharkskins, which must have really annoyed the sharks. We do this until the brush looks nice and velvety on its face. This splits the ends of the hair so the ink spreads evenly.

Now we are ready to ink the plate. You can use gouache, watercolor or sumi ink and a white glue called Nori. We brush paint and half a dozen dabs of Nori here and there on the plate. Then we take our brush and spread the ink and Nori over the surface till we have a nice satin sheen.

We take a sheet of paper out of the damp pack and register it to the edge of the plate, and drop it down, giving it a quick swipe to adhere it to the surface. Then we lay a sheet of wax paper over the back and rub down with our burin till we can see the image appear through the paper.

That's about it, it's pretty simple in theory, but incredibly complex in its ultimate form, like in the prints of Hokusai.  And he didn't even need no stinkin' laser.

For more info on the tools and how to use them, is a good source.

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