Chapter Three — Printing

PaperSizing PaperA Brush for SizingPigmentMediumBrushesOther Necessities for PrintingBlind PrintingThe Oriental PrinterPrintingGradationsGold and Silver
Drying the PrintsEditionsMarketing PrintsEpilogue


Some Societies of Print Makers

Chapter III


PAPER. Japanese papers are the only suitable papers obtainable at present. They are made expressly for hand printing, and are tough enough to withstand hard usage in a damp condition, a quality imparted by the long fibre from which they are manufactured. Of these Hosho is the most venerable. It is made from fibre taken from young mulberry shoots, and may be recognized by the water-mark-lines, roughly one inch apart, covering the whole sheet. It is not so tough as Torinoko, a paper designed to hold up under the protracted processes of reproduction practised in Japan; which sometimes involve an extraordinary number of printings. Torinoko is manufactured from fibres of a species of mallow. Its surface is glossier and more perfect than that of Hosho, and it is usually heavier. The difference in texture of printed surfaces on these papers makes this description necessary. With Hosho, pigment apparently remains on the surface, though actually it penetrates the paper. With Torinoko pigments become incorporated with the paper to a greater extent, so much so that it is often impossible to move them once printed. The best period of Japanese color-prints was pre-Torinoko. A number of artists still prefer Hosho, the whiter paper; it is by no means superseded.

The hard grained surface of European etching or drawing papers takes an unpleasant mottled impression —one spotted with white, or whatever color the paper may be —an effect which the pseudo-craftsman often describes as atmospheric, and similar to that resulting from a badly prepared wood-surface which is covered with holes and indentations. But occasionally a printmaker makes a brave effort to use it.

The satin texture of printed pigment, discernible in good prints, can be attained only by the use of a perfect wood surface, Japanese paper properly sized, pigments ground in water and applied with paste, and much experience. If you examine the back of such a print you will see that the pigment penetrates the paper, and seems to have become a part of it.

A certain amount of size may be soaked out of European papers it is true, but this leaves them too fragile to handle in a damp condition. They are made up of too short fibres.

SIZING PAPER. The following mixture (Mr. Urushibara's recipe) is sufficient to size about fourteen sheets of Torinoko paper (Imperial) on both sides:

Alum 1/8 oz.
Gelatine 1/4 oz.
Water 35 ozs.

Hosho paper should be sized only on one side, with half the quantity of water.

Heat the water but do not let it boil. Add the gelatine and when that is completely dissolved add the alum.

Different papers and different woods require slight modifications of the recipe. So does a change in atmospheric conditions. The necessary amount of modification is slight and is best decided by experience. Mr. Urushibara advises a pinch more of alum for soft woods such as whitewood, or for a soft paper or for a dry climate.


Brushes for Printing and for Sizing
A broad brush is needed, neither thick nor long in the hair. My own is of Japanese manufacture, six inches in width, the hair one and a quarter long and three-eighths of an inch thick.

Lay a sheet of Hosho paper upon a drawing board flat upon the table, smooth side uppermost. With your brush full, but not too full of warm size, cover the paper evenly. It is a delicate process; use the brush as carefully as though you were painting a portrait. Starting at one edge continue until you reach the other with a band the full width of the brush. The second stroke must touch the first but not overlap it. If possible do not go over the same place twice.

Do not flood the paper.

Keep the size warm.

The brush strokes should follow the same direction as the lines which constitute the watermark.

Lay a second sheet over the first, and proceed in the same way.

Creases made during sizing are permanent. Therefore carefully avoid making them.

Leave the pile of sized sheets for a while, so that the size may spread evenly through it, but not too long, say half an hour.

Now lay each sheet to dry upon newspaper spread upon the floor, or suspend it from a line strung across the room as clothes are hung up to dry. Use wooden clips for the latter purpose.

The rate of drying varies of course. Once in my experience in England, notoriously humid, a whole winter's day and a night failed to harden a sheet, whereas an hour on a Canadian summer's day will suffice. England's comparative humidity, however, fills the printer's heart with joy. It had much to do with the acknowledged pre-eminence of the English School of Water-color Painting. It is early to claim pre-eminence for English chromoxylographists, but the craft flourishes, and many boldly make the claim. In that country one is never bothered unduly by printing paper which dries prematurely, or by wood so dry that much energy must be expended in getting it into proper condition.

Torinoko paper must be sized on both sides with the weaker mixture.

PIGMENT. Buy only colors of proved permanence, in powder form —not necessarily finely ground, but dry.

Mr. Howell C. Brown, of California, and his brother have done good work in testing various makes of pigments. Some results of their labor are recorded in the Original Color Print Magazine for 1925. They have established the reputation of one color at least —Cadmium Red —which is a notable addition to the modern palette.

Luminosity is a quality dependent as much on technique as on the physical properties of individual pigments. When you are experienced in prints you will notice that, held to or against the light at a particular angle, the richness of printed color is very much enhanced. Mr. Giles has written of this phenomenon, which he calls dichroism, borrowing the term from mineralogy.

Opaque and transparent pigments must be differentiated, both as regards design and over-printing. Opaque colors printed over others often are effective. The addition of white to give body and opacity to transparent pigment is justified on occasion. Mr. Urushibara has a print in which slim grasses and flowers with hovering butterflies are overprinted on a ground of solid black. Some artists justly question the propriety of using colors which change in artificial light, regarding the fact that pictures are more often viewed thereby than by daylight. Blue, for example, unless with a greenish bias, loses most of its quality.

Some colors print very easily and smoothly, but others sometimes need the addition of glue or gum to ease their transference from wood to paper. The color is ground in water, conveniently on a ground glass slab with a muller.

MEDIUM. The medium or binder is paste, made with starch, flour or rice. The first is most easily made, but its adhesive properties are apt to injure the surface of the paper if too much is used. Rice paste does no harm in that way.

To make starch paste, mix dry starch with enough cold water to make a stiff cream. (A teaspoonful of starch makes a cup of paste). Add boiling water, stirring the while, until the liquid thickens. If it does not thicken, boil it.

For printing add water after the thickening occurs, until you have a liquid of the consistency of milk, because further coagulation takes place when the paste cools. Rice flour or powder should always be boiled with water.

Gum arabic may be used as a binder, with glycerine or paste, for special purposes, where, perhaps, a little more intensity of color is desired.

An intense black may be obtained by grinding the crude pigment in warm glue size. This is the Tsuya-Zumi of the Japanese. According to Mr. E. F. Strange the glue-water medium used was made in the proportion of about one-third of an ounce of glue to three-fourths of a pint of water, in which a little alum had been dissolved. This mixture coagulates of course unless it is warmed, and may be kept some time in that condition without deterioration. While in use the vessel containing it should be kept standing in a pan of hot water.

BRUSHES. A variety of brushes are suitable for spreading color over the blocks. An inch hog-hair brush, such as is used for oil-painting, is adequate for smaller areas, but a wider and thicker brush is better. Probably the best is the badger brush made especially for this purpose by the Bryce-Smith Company of London. An inch brush of that type is an inch long in the bristle and three-quarters of an inch thick.

Cut up newspaper two inches larger all round than the printing paper. Dampen them evenly with a brush, but not so much as to show a watery sheen on the surface. On each sheet lay a piece of printing paper, right side down (always stack your printing sheets in this way), and leave the pile to stand with a board on top for, say, one hour. A sheet of zinc or glass is really preferable to a board, which very soon warps under this treatment.

Take out the damp news-sheets, and distribute them between top and bottom of the pile. In a humid atmosphere one or two sheets only are necessary; the rest may be removed altogether. Leave for at least one hour and a half. Damp paper will not mildew for three days at any rate. The most convenient time for damping is the evening previous to the day of printing; the papers may remain piled safely all night.

Japanese printers dip the printing sheets in water and hang them up to drain. The time allowed for drainage is about twenty minutes, but it depends obviously on the state of the atmosphere. Blotting paper may be used for absorbing superfluous moisture.

barensOTHER NECESSITIES FOR PRINTING. The 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.

BLIND PRINTING. This is a process of embossing for which a block is cut with thought of a delicate relief but no color. Much pressure is needed in printing. It is evident that such blocks must not be cut in reverse, and that the pattern to be printed must be impressed on the back of the print. Rain might be effectively suggested by this method, and some textures and patterns.

THE ORIENTAL PRINTER kept his color in pots, already ground in water and ready for use, and he sat on the floor "with his legs neatly tucked away beneath him," as Mrs. Jaques describes Muratta san, "and was nearly lost to view behind piles of papers, blotters, printing blocks, a whole battalion of old blue and gray bowls and brushes." But I cannot sit comfortably on the floor, and I like to mix color as I need it on the ground glass slab.

PRINTING. Brush the water-color vigorously over the block, which should be damp—but not wet—on the surface so that color will not dry too quickly on it. Add a little paste and brush again, this time more carefully and evenly, the final strokes as delicate as possible, covering the whole printing area and in one direction.

As to the amount of paste, a block six inches square would require as much as would flow on a Canadian nickel (or an English threepenny-bit). Too much paste —I am speaking of starch paste —will pull fibre ends from the paper or, worse still, a fatal slice of its surface. The latter catastrophe happens only when the paper is soft owing to weak size, or when you neglect to wipe from the wood the gathering film of superfluous paste which in a very short time becomes sticky enough for a fly trap. Rice paste does not offend so badly in this way. Paste, pigment, and especially water must be used sparingly; there should be no free moisture or superfluous color anywhere, neither in the hollows nor between lines.

Make sure the pigment does not lie in streaks.

applying paperImmediately the color is laid satisfactorily take up a sheet of damp paper in the fingers leaving your thumbs free to hold the right hand bottom corner in the depression you made to receive it, and the bottom edge on the left side snugly against the other register mark. Let the sheet fall gently over the block, holding on at the register marks to ensure its correct placement.

Unfortunately my early education in this craft was deficient. I have developed certain bad habits; among them a method of laying paper on a block-a method which on one occasion excited an unreasonable amount of hilarity in my friend Mr. Giles. I will describe it for what it is worth, but I will not recommend it unless you cannot manage the other. The block is turned so that the register marks appear at the top. The paper is picked up in the normal manner, that is with thumb and forefinger, but is held between the lips so that both hands are free to guide the corner and the edge into their exact positions.

Now lay a sheet of butter paper over all and rub with your baren. If it is a line block little pressure will be needed, but a large area like a flat background or an unbroken sky will require energetic rubbing. Don't rub small disconnected patches; take long sweeps up and down in the latter circumstance, beginning at the left side, and let the direction of the stroke be at right angles to the ribs of the baren. Do not go over the same ground twice if you can possibly avoid it. Too much or too vigorous rubbing will make spread lines or edges on your print; that is, the paper will he forced over the sides of cut shapes, picking up pigment which never belonged to the surface.

Peel the paper off the block gently, and put it under a damp sheet.

Before doing that, however, let us examine it. The first print will show whether any waste area needs further excavation. The first impression of a line block usually discovers the need for more work with the knife and the gouges; that of a key-block should be compared with the original drawing. If masses of color appear mottled, too much water was used; if blotched, that is faint and dark in patches where you expected a smooth tint, then the paper or the color on the block was too dry. There is no need to let a printed color dry before adding a contiguous one. They will neither run, nor offset.

The order in which the blocks are printed depends upon many things. Generally the largest color area is printed first and the lines last. The former needs a damper paper, and each exposure to the air helps the paper into condition for the lines. But at times one color must be imposed on another and the order cannot be reversed; a transparent color may be required to give a bloom to an opaque one, for example. Sometimes it is advisable to print the line block first, in which case the sheets must be redamped for the colors.

fragmentGRADATIONS. To print gradations load only one corner of the brush with pigment, the rest of it with a little water and paste. If the gradation covers a large space this is unnecessary: start with a full brush where intense tone is intended and work towards the light; you will find if you manage properly that you will finish with a comparatively clean brush. It is sometimes expedient to print the gradation first, and a flat tone over it. For small areas, such as the boy's red cheeks in The Bather, use a dry brush with a small quantity of strong pigment, already mixed with paste, on damp wood.

The practice of mixing powder and paste on the slab before use is effective for intense tones, and small patches of color, and it saves time on most blocks. The ideal surface, however, is obtained only by brushing paste over color already spread upon the block, and this method should always be used for large masses of color.

The best impressions are taken when the wood has become a little sodden with paint and paste and its pores closed. It follows that the more impressions taken off at one sitting the better. After trial proofs have been pulled and studied, and the final state of the print decided upon, let your first set number as many as may be finished conveniently in two days.

When your papers become too dry always stop printing and slip them between damp sheets of newspaper. It will never do to persuade yourself that a slight dryness does not matter, or that with only a few more to do you might as well go on. It is the little extra trouble occasioned by the determination to have every step perfectly accomplished that makes all the difference between success and failure. From beginning to end everything must be right, every small process efficiently performed, all mistakes corrected, not slurred over, and success, you will find, is easy of attainment.

Trial proofs show mistakes made in cutting; faulty register marks for example, which must be corrected; smudges which indicate shallow clearing of waste spaces; overlapping edges, and so forth.

I have described this process because I have found it the most satisfactory; not the easiest, but the most beautiful. Other binders than paste may be used. Some artists invariably use oil on dry and unsized paper, in the form of printers' inks, of doubtful permanence, or artists' oil paints in tubes, conserving a great deal of energy. For years I used water-colors in tubes or pans, latterly with a little paste, on unsized paper. The print so made differed from the powder-and-paste print in surface quality. It has an unpleasant glaze due to the gum, and records also all the imperfections of the wood, because, being very finely ground, the pigment penetrates its pores, and even with the aid of paste has insufficient body.

GOLD AND SILVER. The gold and silver in Japanese prints are brass and lead powders mixed with glue and printed directly from the wood block. A better method is to print with a sticky mixture: glue or gelatine size, or gum, mixed with some pigment if you like, and to brush bronze or lead powder over the print with a soft brush, immediately.

DRYING THE PRINTS. The finished prints must be laid out to dry, and then ironed on each side. Use a fairly hot iron, and cover the print during the process with a piece of rice paper or tissue. Or, preferably, place the prints separately between drying boards (straw boards) in a pile under a weight. This process may last a week in a humid climate, so that the first has the advantage of speed.

EDITIONS. It is usual among print makers to limit the number of proofs taken from one set of blocks, though hard wood will stand up under very extensive printing. Thousands of good impressions can be pulled. White-wood, which is very soft, failed me on one occasion after four hundred printings wearing on the edges and surfaces, too, but it was a poor piece of wood. That is the only example of serious deterioration within my experience. An edition of one hundred proofs is common. It is indicated on each proof in this way: the first is marked on the lower margin in pencil 1/100, the second 2/100, and so forth. The proof is also signed in pencil immediately below the design on the right, and frequently the title is added.


Proofs are marked "second state" when further work has been done or some alteration made after a number have been issued, and if the second state is final it may comprise a complete edition disregarding the number published in the earlier state. Extra proofs are sometimes made for special reasons, which are indicated thereon.

MARKETING PRINTS. The most effective way to market prints is through a print publisher, but many of them naturally look askance at an unknown artist. If this should happen to you, submit your work to interested societies for exhibition —a list of them is appended —where the critics in the light of their physical well-being and according to the extent of their knowledge, may appraise them conveniently. For an intelligent estimate of your technique go to another artist working in this medium.

EPILOGUE. I have tried to describe the whole process of making a wood-cut in color as minutely and as faithfully as possible. Follow the instructions as faithfully and you may succeed. Difficulties will assail you only when you lack in concentration and persistence. It is most important to perform each operation perfectly. Be content with nothing less than perfection. Carelessness in pasting a drawing down on wood for example, must be paid for in time, material, and energy. There is nothing more exasperating than cutting through paper that has failed to stick when sections of it fall away to leave you without guide lines. Every careless gesture entails a penalty —but cultivate patience. In printing, remember that cleanliness and order wait upon success.


Victoria and Albert Museum Handbooks. Japanese Color- prints by Edward F. Strange. London, 1910.

Containing comprehensive chapters on the history, sig. nificance, and technique of the craft as considering japan, with some sixty half-tone reproductions of outstanding prints.

Victoria and Albert Museum Catalogues. Tools and Materials Illustrating the Japanese Method of Color-printing. By Edward F. Strange. London, 1913.

A short but accurate account of Japanese practice, with diagrams of the tools employed, and descriptive paragraphs regarding colors and the various vehicles used with them.

Washington. U. S. A. National Museum. Report of the Smithsonian Institute for the year ending 30th June, 1892. Japanese Wood-cutting and Wood-cut Printing. By T. Tokuno. Washington, 1893.

The Japanese Color Wood-cut. By Walter Baedeker Mahlow. Die Kunst Schule. February, 1925.

Wood-cut Printing in Water-colors After the Japanese Manner. The Studio, London, 1894, and some articles published subsequently in the same journal.

Wood Block Printing, By F. Morley Fletcher. Pitman, London.

The first book on the recent revival of the craft in Europe, and since its publication the standard work on the subject. It contains many illustrations, including an original print by the author.

The Original Color-print Magazine, published in London by William Giles, Chenil Studios, Chelsea, 1924, 1925, 1926.

An annual publication, with an original print as supplement, containing articles on the craft and on relative subjects by living artists. A most valuable book. Among its contributors are the editor, William Giles, Allen Seaby, Y. Urushibara, Morley Fletcher, Claude Flight, George H. Viner, and W. J. Phillips.

Color Printing with Linoleum and Wood Blocks. By Allen W. Seaby. Dryad Handicrafts, Leicester.

A useful manual, written primarily for schools.

The Modern Color-print. Malcolm C. Salaman, London.

An appreciation of the work of British color printers, with an account of William Giles' new relief-metal process.


The Society of Graver Printers in Color. Acting Secretary, H. W. Bromhead, 18 Cork Street, Burlington Gardens, London.

The Color Wood-cut Society, Mrs. E. C. Austen Brown, 16 Fulham Road, London.

The Society of Print Makers of California. Secretary, Howell C. Brown, 120 N. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, California.

The Canadian Society of Graphic Arts. Secretary, C. F. Comfort, 87 St. Clair Avenue E., Toronto, Ontario.

Other illustrations found in Walter J. Phillips, The Technique of the Color Wood-cut:
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