Bokashi Quest #2®

Maru bake (left) and Hanga or Edo Bake (note dot for ‘pigment end’)

Hi again and sorry for the state of incommunicado- we’ve had some family-related things to take care of. In the meantime, I’m finishing up my last design (#14: Mt. Katahdin/ impression #28,000+) and have been having pretty good success with bokashis.

Here’s a previous entry about down n’ dirty bokashi techniques.

Here are some more things to consider:

A zokin- an old t-shirt tightly wrapped around a block of wood secured w/pushpins

Make the Paper and Wood Smooth
As I described before, I make sure that I print a beta ban block (smooth uniform printing)- in this case using only paste to calendar the paper [entry about my old way of using a press to calendar]. This makes the surface and the resulting impression smoother. I suspect the reason for this is as the paper is placed into the block, there is a few seconds in which the paper makes contact with the pigment/paste mixture before pressure is applied. I think that the paper’s texture can create a blotchy effect as a result. I’ve found that it’s best to calendar the paper right before the bokashis are printed. If the damp paper is stored for any length of time (preferably in a fridge), the paper ‘poofs’ back into it’s previous more-textured state. Also, if you see any woodgrain or re-occurring texture, it’s a good idea to wet sand the block with emery paper.

Also, I have been very vigorously scrubbing the hanga bake to create a really smooth bokashi. Like REALLY smooth! Once again, add just enough water to the mix to be able to push the pigment/paste around- no more, no less. I also REALLY PRESS using a medium/heavy baren. I also try to print the keyblock days before taking care not to use too much pigment or sumi ink as this can bleed into the nice delicate sky bokashi.

The proof on left to compare with what was printed.

Comparison Copy
You’ll also notice that I have a proof print (on copy paper) taped on the outside of the printed pile. This has become very helpful to me in order to become more consistent by comparing the amount of pigment and where the bokashi ends. Without this, it’s really easy for the gradation to ‘creep’ up or down.

The next gradation will be a rose color in the upper sky. I will re-order the ‘to be printed’ stack so that the image will be face up. This will allow me to ink the block so that the two color will hopefully meet in the middle- a challenge by anyone’s standards!

For a play-by-play of the video: 

The paper was calendared  in a recent impression

  1. Block was dampened with zokin- look for slight reflection with moisture
  2. Applied a bit of paste (medium consistency) onto hanga bake
  3. Inked a corner of the hanga bake with pigment on white ceramic tile- it’s a lot easier to make the amount of pigment consistently the same. Also, I have a dot on the pigment side of the hanga bake brush to remember to keep the clean side clean
  4. Vigorous scrubbed the brush across block’s area to print

    Bokashis smoother than David Niven’s vermouth.
  5. Placed in the printed stack, compared with previous ‘proof’ print: Need less/more ink? Is the bokashi creeping up/down?
  6. Rinse and repeat


  • Blotchy? This is a hard one to diagnose- could be too much water and not enough paste OR if the spots are consistent, then the block needs to be wet-sanded. Sometimes the wood has features that don’t allow the pigment to be absorbed consistently (I don’t know of much that can be done for that…) If the blotches resemble the paper texture, you may need to put more pressure on the calendaring.
  • Streaks? This could mean too much paste- is there tamari (accumulation around edges of the carved areas) seen elsewhere? This could also be that the brush’s hair tips are not softened with sandpaper or sharkskin. Also, take a little more time looking at the inked block’s surface’s reflection- can you still see streaks? If so, VERY gently feather the last few strokes. I’ve been told that a mere wisp of a stroke is enough. It’s also a good idea to slightly vary the direction of the strokes.
  • Unsightly hard edges in the bokashi? Use more moisture in the zokin and check the reflection on the block.
  • Accidentally charge the wrong side of the brush with pigment? This happens to the best of printers. Wash it out, dry it and start with a clean brush. It helps to have a dot on the brush to remind you.
  • The bokashi creeps too wide or narrow? Often the zokin will erase most of it, if not, wipe the area with a clean cloth and start it over.
  • Pigment fills in holes, shallow carving? Try to use less pressure inking and less paste if possible (look for signs of tamari). If you want to clear holes that have filled up, tap your brush hard and the brush hairs should pick up most of it.
  • Picking up ‘chatter’ on either end of the bokashi? Try to carve more on both sides of the woodblock- since you have to sweep back and forth with the brush, more care needs to be taken to clear on both sides.
  • Proof it! Be sure to use a piece of copy paper to proof before you use the good paper. Copy paper doesn’t have any sizing, so print and pull it off your block quickly or it will stick to your block. When you get a good impression, save the proof for reprinting.
  • Still not smooth? Try using pre-mixed watercolor or gouache- sometimes dry pigments are not mulled enough.

Comment with your solutions or questions!

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