Lesson#1: Using 'nagura' on the blocks ...
(contributed by David Bull)
Many printmakers working in modern styles like to use the grain of the wood as part of their print designs. A plank of wood usually has alternating hard and soft sections formed by the growth rings of the tree. These retain and release water and pigments in different ways, and thus can show up as patterns in the final print.
What to do though, if such patterns are unwanted? The first step is obviously to select the wood with care when planning the print, but what to do once the carving is finished, and a wood grain pattern starts to appear in a place where it will spoil the print?
Printers working in the traditional Japanese style have developed a way of dealing with this problem - wood grain is almost never used as part of the design in such prints, and it must be eradicated when it arises. The problem is particularly acute when printing the skin colour on faces, etc.
The solution is to use the 'nagura' - the auxilary stone used for dressing the main sharpening stones, and for raising 'mud' for sharpening. It has enough 'grit' to cut away the hard surface of the grain rings, but not enough to scratch the block. Select a piece of 'used' nagura - with a smooth and flat bottom, not a new piece with an irregular shape.
Thoroughly moisten the wood surface that is causing problems, and start to rub the nagura over the area. Mud will start to form as you rub in small circles. Continue to apply water as needed to help the stone 'slide' over the wood surface. Be careful not to allow the stone to wear heavily in any one area, but keep it moving around. The idea is not to 'grind' the surface lower, but just to take the 'hardness' off those grain rings.
A minute or so should do it. Wash off the mud, wipe the block clean, and return to the printing.