The third in an increasingly erratic series. Today, our trusty burnisher.
People print their relief prints using all kinds of methods. In essence all you need to do is tranfer the ink onto the block, and then off again on to the paper. Simple. In practice its not always so easy. Just pressing the block onto the paper usually results in a patchy mess, some areas overinked and others not inked at all. For those with lots of money and plenty of room the best way round this is to buy a printing press. For the rest of us the answer is hand-burnishing, selectively applying pressure to the back of the paper to press it evenly onto the block and encourage the ink to stick to it. Traditionally this is done with a japanese tool known as a 'baren', some good examples of which can be seen here. Other people (including us on occasions) use the rounded back of a spoon to get the same effect. Clare Leighton, for example, recommended in her 1932 book Wood Engravings and Woodcuts that wood engravers ought to burnish their prints with an ordinary teaspoon in order to get the maximum subtlety of tones from their inking.
The picture above shows our favourite and most used burnisher, an old empty tin of mints. You can see from the state its in how much use it has had, and the way in which the silver covering rubs off is actually part of the appeal. The light coating this leaves on the back of the paper makes it easier to see which areas of the design have and haven't been rubbed, allowing us to judge when to stop and when to carry on. The size and shape of the tin have also proved ideal for our small girlish hands! Its history is shrouded in myth and legend, though rumour has it that it was discovered resting in a vending machine somewhere in Ely while two young printmakers were gadding about in their earlier days...
Currently listening to: Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat