Today's postings

  1. [Baren 28099] Re: Victoria woodblock bootcamp 2005 with Richard Steiner: notes (Mike Lyon)
  2. [Baren 28100] Chinese seals (chops) (Cate Pfeifer)
  3. [Baren 28101] Richard Steiner workshop notes, second part (Barbara Mason)
  4. [Baren 28102] Richard Steiner brushes (Barbara Mason)
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Message 1
From: Mike Lyon
Date: Sat, 04 Jun 2005 11:35:58 -0500
Subject: [Baren 28099] Re: Victoria woodblock bootcamp 2005 with Richard Steiner: notes
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Thanks so much for the report on Richard Steiner's workshop, Barbara --
such an interesting read!

A few comments 'for discussion' and in an effort to keep the transmission

>Richard pushes the kento to the outside of the block, almost to the edge
>of the paper. This is unlike the 3/4 distance we are traditionally taught.
>He feels it gives more control.

If you don't consider practical matters, the farther apart the kento, the
more accurate the registration (duh). BUT... For me, it's best to place
the side-kento far enough in from the side of the paper opposite the
registration corner to allow the paper to be bowed (so it doesn't sag)
using the traditional 'scissors' grip while allowing the thumb to
comfortably 'lock' the side edge to the kento base (this is sorta hard to
describe in words, isn't it?). But if the side-kento is too near the
adjacent edge of the paper it becomes a kind of uncomfortable acrobatic act
to keep the paper properly bowed and off the block and still get my thumb
in place before allowing the paper to drop onto the block.

>I forgot to ask if you get a build up of paste and pigment on the edge of
>the plastic but can see careful inking might be needed if you decided to
>use this method. I am hunting this film and will let you know if I find it
>in the United States.

So long as the tape is water-proof and you adhere the plastic well (check
out mylar with one glossy side and one matte side for local supplies) so
there are no wrinkles or spaces underneath you shouldn't have any problems
with ink build-up and squeeze-out (although this makes another interesting
effect) -- and there are MANY other materials besides plastic and wood
which print interesting textures and effects as well... Crinkled aluminum
foil, for example, makes a wonderful and somewhat random water-droplet
effect. And fabric! Oh, my! Especially embroidered fabrics and
lace! And string! And leaves, and on and on! Endless possibility here!

>Richard demonstrated a knife blade fade, that is a rolled edge. He took a
>large bull nosed chisel and shaved off the edge of a flat surface, saying
>it would be a softer edge. I think this worked, but will look more closely
>at the print I got in trade to be sure.

This is called "ita-bokashi" -- it's an ancient technique and makes a
beautiful narrow gradation or soft edge during printing. Check the center
panel of Kuniyoshi's famous whale triptych with ita-bokashi in the edge of
the black on the whale's side
which I tried to emulate in the gradations of the background of my "Fixing
Hair" print here: --
edges can also be softened or feathered by lightly sanding.

>Shin Torniko...shin means machine made and torinoko means paper made with

"Shin" means "New" and "Torinoko" means "hen's egg", I believe -- probably
just a reference to the off-white color of the paper. Shin Torinoko is
usually made from mitsumata fiber instead of the stronger gampi used in
traditional Torinoko.

>Both of these are soft and light weight and needed a carrier sheet to hold
>them aloft so an added hassel when printing.

Paper is bowed to keep it from sagging onto the block while registering --
when the weight of the sheet is too great in relation to its size, it tends
to fold up and droop down making a mess and ruining the print -- a second
sheet can be used to prevent the troublesome sheet from sagging and allow
it to be easily registered and accurately dropped -- it's a great and
useful technique when you want to print larger, softer, damper, and/or
thinner papers!

>Also the Kitakata paper stuck to the block a bit and caused me to have to
>wipe it off a bit between prints.

This happens when the paper becomes too soft (too wet) -- print 'drier' and
it'll help prevent the paper from breaking back down into just loose fibers
(sizing helps tremendously, too, and kitakata is unsized).

>Richard moistens about 10 sheets and then restacks the paper. This puts a
>layer of air between each sheet. (I did not check, I just took his word
>for this)

The effect of re-stacking like this is to help even out the moisture in the
paper -- when you first moisten the paper, some areas of the paper
invariably receive more water and some less -- re-stacking changes the
position of the papers relative to one another and so wetter parts tend to
wind up touching drier part in a random way -- the water moves from wetter
to drier and the papers become more uniformly dampened. It really has
nothing at all to do with 'air'.

>Richard uses a super black ink and had desinged his own mixing brushes
>with a long ferrule and short handle. They work well as you can either
>drop the tiniest drop from them or really pile on the pigment to a large
>area. They are round for colors and a flat one for black. At $8 they are
>more than the hokobi brushes, but I liked them so of course had to get a few.

Richard Steiner uses an inexpensive commercial sumi which he buys in large
jugs -- it's really very nice stuff! He was kind enough to give me a
couple of his mixing brushes when I visited in Kyoto and I've tried them --
they do hold lots of pigment, but the wood handles are thick and heavy and
tend to topple over, roll off, and fall out of the small containers I like
to use to hold pigments (currently my favorite containers are those
inexpensive 8 to a pack Glad Ware 1/2 cup mini-round covered air-tight
plastic containers you can easily find in grocery stores for CHEAP --
usually less than $3 for an eight-pack) -- so I still like those little 25
cent hardware-store bristle brushes and the Baren Mall hakobi the best.

Sounds like it's been a great workshop, Barbara! Richard's a very kind and
very energetic guy, isn't he? Can't wait to hear about the rest of the week!

-- Mike

Mike Lyon
Kansas City, Missouri
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Message 2
From: Cate Pfeifer
Date: Sat, 04 Jun 2005 12:09:05 -0500
Subject: [Baren 28100] Chinese seals (chops)
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I received a letter from Lynn Starun about Chinese seals (chops). I hope
that Lynn and the other Baren members do not mind if I share this

Hello Lynn and All,

Chinese seal carving is a project, like woodblock printing, that I started
and never continued. In both cases, life took me in a different direction.
Plus, I hope that I am not over-sharing here but I have an essential tremor
that has been getting worse and it interferes with my ability to use small
and sharp tools.

I have some tools and stones for Chinese seal carving that I would happily
sell to any interested party.

I also have some woodblock tools/brushes/etc. that I hope I can sell to a
Barener. I need to raise some money to move - I've been in Peoria way too
long (giggle).

If you want someone else to carve your Chinese seals, I recommend that you
contact Gong (Kevin) Lin. His website is:

He also sells Chinese seals on eBay under the name Stone-Bug. If you don't
know how to find people by name on eBay, just type in "Chinese Japanese
sumi-e Shoushan Seal" in search and you will find him (he lists all his
Chinese seals that way.). He puts up 3 to 6 new stones every Wednesday

Gong Lin is a true gentleman. If you ask him any questions, he will explain
the answers in detail. If you want to make him happy, offer some
American/English wisdom-based idioms for him to carve. He is aware that
Chinese phrases sound strange to Americans. He is also very careful with
the translation of your phrase to Chinese. He will consult with you to make
sure that the meaning is just right before he carves.

If you buy custom seals directly from him, he will give you a bulk discount
based on the number bought. He will also sell supplies like the traditional
red ink paste and Shoushan stones.

He is a wonderful artist. I find his designs both lovely and innovative.
He will carve the seals in Chinese characters or will add a small picture to
the seal. He lives in the US and occasionally travels to China for art

Another person you might want to check out on eBay is Deng Liwen. He sells
under the name Harmonyunion. He lists his items as "Chinese Seal" then
includes the message of the seal. You will have to wade through many items
with the "Chinese Seal" but you will find his seals. He usually puts up 25
to 50 seals at a time. I suspect that his seals are the ones made for the
tourists. I have been shopping with him since he opened his store and the
same messages and designs reappear from time to time.

None the less, some of his messages are fabulous and his prices are
affordable. I love his seals what are just a picture of a dragon or a
phoenix. He puts up new seals every couple of days. Be sure to open the
item listing and read the entire meaning - sometimes he does not pick the
best part of the phrase to put in the title. Also, sometimes his
translations are a half-step off and, as a result, charmingly amusing.

He does not take Paypal so be ready to get a cashier's check from the bank
and send it to him air mail. I tried sending him a Post Office Money Order
once but he could not cash it in China.

If you want to carve your own seal, there are hundreds of seals or chops to
pick from if you type in "Chinese Seal" in eBay. To the best of my
knowledge, only the two gentlemen mentioned above offer specific message on
their seals. The others have stock phrases like "Double Happiness" or
mystery phrases (the sellers don't know the meaning) on the antiques. Oh
the variety of choices of styles and materials!!!! You can sand the bottom
off many of them and carve your own phrase. I never played around with the
metal ones or some of the more exotic stone ones so I can not comment on

You can also use some of the more modern materials if you are a
non-traditionalist. A rubber stamp actually works surprisingly well with
the traditional red ink paste.

There are even rubber stamp seal/chop sets if you do not mind (or like to
modify) the mass produced stuff. These are available in book stores. I
don't picture this as being popular with the Baren crowd but, then again
someone might delight us all with their innovation.

In my steadier days, I also bought some of the do-it-yourself rubber stamp
plastic/rubber and made a few seals/chops with that. Unfortunately, the
do-it-yourself material was hard to stamp and only lasted for a few uses.

Hope this helps. Chinese seals are such an integral part of printmaking, I
am surprised that they are not discussed more often on his forum.

I may never start woodblock printing again but I will continue to read this
forum. The spirit of helpfulness, innovation and encouragement that exists
on Baren is a joy. I can't tell you how often I read your posts for solace
and inspiration after a difficult day.


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Message 3
From: Barbara Mason
Date: Sat, 4 Jun 2005 14:39:52 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [Baren 28101] Richard Steiner workshop notes, second part
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Richard Steiner workshop notes:

The names of our Victoria printmakers were Melissa Goede, Jennifer Robins and Chiarina Loggia, all who we hope will soon join the baren forum. They did amazing work for never having cut a woodblock before. I will try to scan all the prints and get them on show and tell in the next few days.

Richard prints with a piece of bath towel in his lap…what a great idea. Ready to catch any mess and ready to wipe anything off. I immediately picked up this trick. I neglected to mention that his favorite oil is Johnson and Johnson’s baby oil with the blue cap, fragrance free. This is for the regular leaf covered baren, he uses a light machine oil for the ball bearing baren. Also he used a piece of cork for a baren pad for the ball bearing baren so it will not pick up any fibers. He made a tiny bench hook type block to hold the baren pad so it will not move around on him when he prints. This must be to hold down his enthusiasm!

Richard starts printing with a lot of paste, then adds color. This keeps the wood from getting saturated with color. He uses both paste and pigment at the same time on the second print. He was using a very thin piece of all shina ply for his print, maybe 3/8 of an inch thick. He carved both sides and did actually make holes in the wood…but of course it was not where imagery was so did not matter. He wet both sides of the wood before printing as wood this thin will warp when it gets wet. He starts with the lightest colors and prints to the dark. If using a key block he prints it first to line up the color blocks and then often prints it a second time at the end of printing.

Traditionally the carver does not cut the kento, the printer does this. Keep the kento shallow, just a bit more than the thickness of the paper. Richard cuts the kento at a slight angle toward the work and actually cuts through the L on the corner to assure a very sharp kento corner. He puts nail polish on each piece of paper in the corner before dampening it to keep it strong during repeated printings. He has his students cut the kento on the right side for one project and the left for the next project to wake up their bodies…or to keep sharp. Probably good practice and if they do it wrong, makes them feel it is ok. We all do it backwards at some point when learning.

For large flat areas he printed with a ball bearing baren…he was careful not to get paste and pigment in the cleared areas. He sprayed the block first to get it wet. His first pass with the baren was very light, avoiding the cleared areas of the block. The second pass was hard, using all of his considerable artistic energy to push the baren.

He washed his brushes out immediately and chided me for not doing so….I admit to being a sluggard here. He hopped up and washed them so fast after using them he did put me to shame.

To make a brass color he used ochre with just the tiniest drop of ultramarine turned the yellow to brass amazingly well. He was printing an image with shoe grommets. Richard double printed the block immediately for small areas, folding half the print back and sitting the ball bearing baren on the part still adhered to hold it in place. He re-inked the block carefully and dropped the paper back and printed it again. He advised never to use paste with this method, just pigment the second time.

Also be sure to turn your baren over, face up if you stop printing for any length of time, that is if you get up and walk away for some reason.

If you want to learn to print, print 200 copies of a single image. At the end of 200 of the same image, you will have learned so much more than if you print 20 prints 10 times. There is no substitute for this. I think I would pick a small block for this…what will any of us do with 200 of something??? Richard has his students produce a calendar in an edition of 200 every year for this very practice, each one doing a page. Maybe we can do this to deal with so many prints.

You can use Reynolds freezer wrap for a slip sheet, it is waxed on one side and works well. I think it might also work well for finger painting with my grandkids. I am going to go get some later today.

Richard had a cloth he used on his bench block to keep the block from moving while carving…it seemed to be the type of cloth that Velcro sticks to. It was that type of texture and worked very well.

One of the best carving tips I learned from Richard is that I am not leaning far enough over my hands when I carve….He holds the knife like a pencil in his right hand and directs it with his left thumb, using the thumb for the power of carving. He pushes the knife away from him when carving. I tried and tried but could not seem to really see what I was doing. Finally he realized I was not far enough over the block….so if you are having trouble, try this. I found this simple thing to give me amazingly more control of how I carved a line. I got my eyes in front of my hands instead of behind them.

All in all it was a worthwhile week. No earth shattering changes from what I had already learned, but a few tips that were worth the price of it all. As Richard said, there are lots of good ways to do this.

So cut and print and I will hope to see all of you next year in August of 2006 for the real time baren summit in Vancouver Washington.

Best to all,

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Message 4
From: Barbara Mason
Date: Sat, 4 Jun 2005 14:51:24 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [Baren 28102] Richard Steiner brushes
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I liked the brushes, they are thick and large, but in using them for a couple of days, I found them to be great as I did not seem to drip any color at all across things. With the traditional hokobi brushes I always seem to have drips....maybe I am just not shaking them out enough. This is a messy process until you really get control of it and I admit to being messy. So I advise trying them for yourself...even a large watercolor brush with the handle shortened would do the same thing...but of course it would have to be one you already have and are not using as they are pretty expensive.
Thanks for the comments.

On another note I forgot to mention that I made a regitration board with the kento cut into it and used square blocks so I could turn them any direction when printing. It worked well and with 4 blocks carved on both sides I got a huge array of imagery. My images were large and farily simpe, it was fun to try them one over the other and play with color. The possibilities are endless. The carving still leaves a lot to be desired though!
Best to all,