Lesson #29: Making paper 'soft' for printing ...
(contributed by Dave Bull)
Not again! Is David really going to talk about paper moistening again?!! Hasn't he pretty much said all there is to say about this topic?
Well, actually ... no. In the Encyclopedia entries on this topic, I've shown my actual methods of moistening, and here in these 'lessons' both myself and some other contributors have described how paper is maintained at the appropriate moisture level, but there is one extremely important point that has not been covered yet ... the fact that all this talk about making paper moist misses the point. Not only does it miss the point, it is actually downright wrong! We don't want water in the paper! Water is poison to woodblock printmaking!
Got your attention?
* * *
Let's go back in time some years - David is visiting printer Keizaburo Matsuzaki for the first time ...
Dave (watching Matsuzaki-san printing): May I touch the paper? I'd like to see how wet it is.
Matsuzaki-san: Sure, go ahead. That's the only way you will be able to tell how soft it is.
Dave (gently fingering the paper): I see ... So I should be shooting for about this level of water ...
Matsuzaki-san: This is the level of softness you should be aiming for.
Dave (thinking to himself): 'I wonder what the % of moisture content is ...?'
Matsuzaki-san (thinking to himself): 'He just doesn't understand at all. It's not how much water is in there, it's how soft the paper has become!'
Dave (later, when leaving): Thank you very much. I've learned a lot today.
Matsuzaki-san: I don't know about that ... Maybe next time ...
* * *
Do you understand what I'm trying to point out? We constantly talk about water, and how moist the paper is, but that is not the real point. Water is simply the tool by which the effect we need is arrived at; the paper must be properly softened before smooth and deep colour can be printed on it. It took me many years to realize this. I just didn't hear what people were telling me - they said 'soft', but I only heard 'moist'.
Of course the two things are related: not enough H2O in there and the paper remains hard - too much and you have a soggy mess. But try not to think too much about the water itself; try and look beyond that to the result - a sheet of paper soft and supple, not too limp, ready to be laid gently onto the wood surface to receive the pigment. When you get it just right, it is an absolutely sensuous feeling.
I am gradually getting better at this. It used to be that I would finally get the paper to this state just about at the end of the multi-colour process. Recently I am having more success at having it that way right from the beginning. Last night I prepared the paper for my current print, staring out the window at the sky for a while, 'feeling' the air in the room, and then brushing on what I felt would be the correct amount of water for this particular batch of paper on this particular day. This morning I re-stacked the pile of sheets, to let them 'creep' together and balance properly. Tonight, when I open the package of paper to start printing the key block, I know what I will find ...