Lesson #34: Moistening the printing brush ...
(entry by Dave Bull)
One common mistake made by inexperienced woodblock printmakers ... (please understand that the term 'mistake' here refers specifically to traditional Japanese methods) ... is to have too much water splashing around everywhere during the printing process. The paper itself must be moist, but not soggy; the wood should be damp, but must not have 'loose' water on its surface; the pigment in the bowl should not be too 'runny' ... Although we need water in all these components, too much will make a blotchy mess of the work.
If the printing brush too, becomes saturated with water, this moisture will 'leak' out during the brushing, upsetting the balance between pigment and block. I have watched professional printers at work here in Tokyo many times, and have noticed that they almost never add any extra moisture to the brush beyond that which is already present in the pigment/paste mixture.
When they first start any print run, they make an application of the pigment and paste to the block, and rub it out smoothly with a clean and dry brush, but do not follow this up by taking an impression on the paper. This procedure is repeated three or four times allowing the brush to 'fill up' a bit with pigment, so it is then loaded and ready to begin the printing proper ... It is not necessary to soak the brush, or even to dampen it in any way, before beginning.
If however, during the printing process the wood surface becomes too dry, as sometimes happens when only a very small area is being printed, it becomes necessary to 'touch up' the moisture in the brush. Dip it into the water bucket? No way; the flood of water will spoil the next impressions.
A good solution is to keep the water bucket by your side while printing, with the 'mizubake' - the brush with which one moistens the paper - sitting in it. If you carefully lay the wet mizubake across the top of the bucket, like this:
...the printing brush can then be gently dabbed against the tip of the mizubake, picking up 'just' enough moisture. The lightest of dabs is usually enough ...
Water in printmaking is like oxygen for humans - vital but absolutely poisonous!