Natasha Norman Visual Artist

Baren leaves

We’ve all been working furiously to get the most of Hiroki’s insights. Today we were given invaluable demonstrations of tool sharpening, paper sizing (the Japanese use cow not rabbit glue) and changing the bamboo leaf on our barens (the tool we use to transfer the image from block to paper – a more sophisticated version of the smoothed wooden spoon common to Western hand-printing techniques).

There are two types of baren: beta and sumi baren. They were originally made from wound and knotted bamboo coiled on a flat surface and covered in a bamboo leaf that is oiled with Camelia oil when printing. A pure bamboo baren will last 3 generations of printers. The Grandson of the first printer will probably use an original sumi baren as a beta baren by the time he inherits it. A sumi baren is harder and used for pressure on fine lined blocks. A beta baren is better for soft flat areas of colour.

Our barens are made from coiled synthetic rope but still covered with bamboo leaf and oiled with Camelia oil. I am wondering what I’ll find to replace my baren with back in South Africa. I promised Hiroki I’d send him a picture of the banana leaf baren when I try it!

One of the most useful things I learned from Hiroki for my own printing is the application of thin layers of colour. I am getting a handle on soft, transparent gradations which is very exciting.

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