Monday, November 25, 2013

Good Enough? Common moku hanga printing errors.

Double edge from printing two blocks that don't align exactly.
Now that I've started printing editions or multiple copies  with the idea of eventual shows or possible sales, the issue of print quality, consistency, and printing defects are becoming more important than they used to be when I was primarily concerned with just learning the craft.
I'll Leave aside the questions of artistic merit--as a bad idea can be executed flawlessly--since I mostly wanted to touch on the conflicts arising from trying to decide what level of imperfection I can live with (or expect others to be o.k. about buying).

My early errors were fairly easy to detect and are common among beginners.
Unwanted embossing from inadequately cleared borders or empty spaces and unwanted ink blotches or spots from where the wood wasn't cleared away sufficiently and ink was being picked up by the damp paper.
 These are still concerns and do still crop up from time to time--especially if I am tired or at the end of a long printing run.  IF they are at the borders of the paper--well outside of the print area --or if they don't really detract from the visual impact of the print I usually allow some level of spotting.  In the trash bag print the spotting was too intrusive and obviously a mistake while in the little fulcrum print,  the black streaks in the gray mass/color look like, and were, deliberate-- even if there is a lot of print-to-print variability in how visible they are (from differences in baren pressure during printing).
Other early errors have mostly vanished. I no longer find myself gluing my expensive paper  to the blocks from too much paste and not enough time for the block to charge with moisture and I very rarely print on the wrong side of the paper or inadvertently lay the paper down from the wrong corner throwing off the registration. (But at least one of these will still happen once with each new print I make, so I'm not immune. 

But as I start to number prints in an edition that took a long time I find myself thinking long and hard about the culls.  Some defects really are ok at my level of printing--they show that these are hand made; occasionally add vibrancy or energy to a print and do indeed become measures of where I am now as a printmaker.  Sometimes I find myself with NO perfect prints..then I'm more prone to look at the prints I do have to try and decide if I should start over or try to pull out the few that aren't really spoiled by their imperfections.

I'll list some of the common errors that I found in my last few prints and try to post some photos that illustrate the defects.

The double black line is from a failed attempt to overprint the keyblock.

Out of register; this comes (in my work) in two versions:
one is an attempt to overprint the keyblock but either the paper or wood size has changed throwing it off just a bit or I had issues laying the paper down exactly right on both impressions.
(thicker papers can often be printed exactly over and over again while thin papers are more subject to some kinking or shifting during the delicate stage of setting the paper into the registering notches).

The other is just a color block that doesn't quite mesh with the others or the keyblock.
Brown stripe at bottom way off; paper probably shifted before I started to print with the baren.

The double printing of the keyblock is usually the kiss of doom for me---it's just too noticeable an error for me to allow--and it's very frustrating as the second printing of the keyblock is often the LAST impression of many.

Color bleeding: usually from printing too wet/sloppily. Extra moisture and pigment will collect at the wood edges and can squish onto the surface when printing--especially on thin papers where the excess moisture has nowhere to go.
Dark Red Bokashi to tip of triangle has bled into the adjacent green.

The orange patch at the bottom of the "grassy area" is from the pigment drying on the block.

 Uneven color-blank spots:
Sometimes, instead of too much pigment or moisture, there's too little. If the damp pigment dries on the block before you can lay your paper down it won't print. This will result in bald or uneven color patches.
This can usually be remedied (partially) by reprinting the same color again but while the pale area will now be ok, the rest of that color area will be much darker from the printing of another layer of pigment.

In this case, there's also a bit of unwanted embossing at the bottom of the paper....but I guess I decided this was ok as, unlike the others pictured here, this copy ended up in the signed and numbered pile of finished prints...

Good Enough?


  1. There is probably also too much size in the paper of the last illustration. This shows up in the additional mottling in the right-hand, upper half of the gray mass tone. In this case it looks great, as it accentuates the "goma zuri", speckled effect I was after.

  2. Great post! Good enough? Yes! Excellent!

  3. Thanks, this is really useful... I have all these issues with my prints as well, and I think I agree with what has to be "fatal" for a print--double printed keyblock, or an obvious incongruent ink blob. I tend to print with too much ink and water...especially water. Its amazing how hard it is to break bad printing habits! Somehow I keep blotting the inevitable blobs instead of getting more control over pigment/water ratio.

  4. Great info, starting my first woodblock class next week. when you get it "good enough" it is really perfection.

  5. Very good, thank you for this!

    Lovely work!

  6. I'm struggling with the correct consistency of the watercolor and nor I paste. I alternately put my nori in the watercolor before applying or putting it on the plate after the color. Also have plates with a lot of detail and find coloring gets very sloppy. Just learned the color should be pasty but I guess not too dry. I'm a rank beginner at mokuhanga but am very determined. Also my mulberry paper is very thin. O think 25gsm. What paper do you recommend?

    1. It's hard to print on thin papers and 25g is VERY thin. At the least, you'll need to let them rest in the damp pack between colors to even out the moisture as with thin papers there is no place for the color to go if the paper is too saturated with moisture. Thin, barely perceptible layers of color are better, if there's too much: water or paste or pigment, it will fill in all your detail and print messy. I recommend adding the paste to the block along with the dabs of pigment and brushing them out together and make sure you've printed a good 5-10 ugly copies to get brush and block primed. Try showing a picture of an area and it's easier to say what might be the issue?