11 July 2005

The Mystery of Rice Paste

Here are two prints of block #1 from the batch I printed this morning. Japanese woodblock printing is done with water-based pigments which are mixed with rice paste as a binder. You drop down some paste on the block with a little brush, dribble on some pigment with another brush and mix the two together on the block with a third brush, called a maru bake, that looks like a little shoe brush. The rice paste gives body to the pigment and ensures a uniform application to the block and the dampened paper.

I was surprised how much paste was necessary to get a smooth print from this block. I ended up using about 5 "drops" of paste for every 3 or 4 "drops" of pigment. You can see above how mottled the print looks when there isn't enough paste. Although I can imagine times when that mottled effect will be desirable, learning to control it seems important.


Anonymous said...

Hi Annie,

The goma-zuri, or sesame seed pattern is indeed a fantastic texture. You can use it like bokashi to create perspective; more water in the brush on one side will make a large open pattern, with some starch the pattern becomes tighter. You can also get a nice goma-zuri by spraying water onto the block after spreading the ink mix. If you print a pale grey goma-zuri and the over-print a nice colour you get a superb two-tone pattern.
Printing pale tones, as you are doing, can be quite difficult. I like to mix my ink with some gum-arabic and water to make a more viscous mixture. This will keep away unwanted goma-zuri, and is easy to control on the hakobi, or ink brush.
If you get extra colour clinging to the edges of your block you are using too much of everything, better to cut back and make two impressions for a nice even colour.
Keep having fun!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you are publishing your experience. It is helpful as I begin again. Thank you.

Mai said...

Very helpful advice Annie! I was dissolving a red pigment into water before adding rice paste. I tried to gradually add more paste but still, it only results in a grainy finish, instead of a uniformly thick layer of pigment that I wanted. Then Google led me to your post so I decided to add pigment directly into the paste. Guess what? I could see a much thicker and smoother layer of red deposited on the paper! Thanks for sharing!

Annie B said...

Glad it worked for you, Mai. Figuring out how much of everything -- water, paste and pigment -- to use is one of the trickiest things about moku hanga, I think.