Bokashi Jig

Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge, Hiroshige, 1857

I’ve always wanted to to an irregular bokashi or gradation (yes, my desires are irregular).

The classic example of such a thing is Hiroshige’s Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi. The problem with irregularity is consistency of ink application within an edition.

Shimoi-san dabs sumi with a tokibo at just the right places. Photo courtesy of Yuya Shimoi.

Last week, Shimoi-san of Ukiyo-e Reproductions showed how he recreated the dark rain clouds while he was printing “Sudden Shower”. I asked him if he used a jig and he said “no, jigs didn’t work as well” and posted a few pics showing his technique of directly inking which is probably the traditional way to do it. However, I’m not good enough to trust myself with placing the pigment, brushing, and printing consistently.

This is a photo from Shimoi-san of the irregular bokashi effect. Nice job! Photo courtesy of Yuya Shimoi.

Getting jiggy

I had remembered David Bull using a jig in 2009 to create a very smooth bokashi arc for a fan print he was working on. He used a Lazy Susan to help with the brushing- I thought that was pretty ingenious.

Dave Bull’s curved bokashi jig. Photo courtesy of

I cannot imagine how someone in the Edo period could brush freehand that cleanly and I’m sure there was another trick at the time. Anyway, Dave’s print really looked nice and I squirreled that information away.

The resulting impression of using Dave’s curved bokashi jig. Photo courtesy of

My jig

I am printing a third print of a series of 14 (much more on that much later) and wanted to capture a rainstorm in the mountains.


You can see the similar effect as in Sudden Shower that I am looking for: A dark, foreboding cloud just as the rain has started, but not as undulating as Hiroshige’s design.

For this print, I am using 11 blocks with 17 impressions in the shin-hanga style. The rain, incidentally, is printed with gofun, or Chinese white. The rain is my first attempt of Kyoto-style printing: Unlike the Tokyo/Edo ukiyo-e transparent style (like the rest of the print), opaque pigments require more pigment- under very light baren pressure. In this case, it’s the last thing to print.

I’m at the proofing process and wanted to get everything ‘just so’ for a much larger edition. I know how gradations tend to ‘creep’ over time- a little or too much there cumulatively can lead to a little or a lot too much there. So, to that end, any fluctuations in the bokashi would render the edition too variable and I wanted some help.

I remembered Dave’s jig and made one of my own, albeit not as clever.

Here’s a few pics:

The jig- basically, 3 pieces of wood with an “L” shape on the left to fit around the block’s corner.
Here’s the backside of the jig.
The jig in action- the idea is for the hanga bake (printing brush) moves along the jig’s irregular contour. I normally would use my left hand to held it in place, but I needed it to take the pic.

Given using the zokin, nori, and hanga bake correctly (note in the above photo, the black dot indicating which side of the brush is loaded with sumi), the jig worked well- I had to keep the brush at a consistent angle, but overall, I’m quite pleased with the relative consistency!

18 proof prints- now on the next design!

Thanks to both Yuya Shimoi and David Bull.

A New Way (for me) to Laminate Blocks

I earlier went over the process of sanding and finishing blocks in “ONE BLOCK AT A TIME”.

I have since both built a press which I am also using as a forced-air print dryer (more details at a later date). In addition to making drying more efficient, I am looking at making the process of making cherry blocks more efficiently- both in material, time, and money. As I’ve mentioned on Facebook, I order 1/4″ thick, 6″ x 24″ black cherry thin stock from Green Valley Wood Products. Some cherry plywood blocks available online have only 1/8″ thick cherry veneer- too thin for my tastes…

In order to become more efficient, I have looked at material dimensions of the wood and paper first, then designed my prints accordingly.

As you probably know, the kento registration system is great, but there is wasted wood around the margins and it’s very difficult for me to clear the margins in order to create a clean area around the carving. You can see a keyblock separation and the finished block from one of my latest prints in production below.

Instead of using a printing jig, I have been laminating separate pieces of cherry for the printed area and where the kentos will be carved. It takes some precision, but as you can see on the keyblock, I allow for a large margin of error by cutting the cherry oversized by around 1/2″ in case things are off a bit.

The design with locations for image area and kentos. I used this as a template to make a cardboard jig so that I can scribe onto the wood to position the cherry pieces.
The resulting block with1/4″  cherry ‘islands’ laminated onto a 3/8″ birch backing board. As long as the pieces are laminated ‘close enough’ and the design with kentos are transferred to the block together, it works well.

The Process
I start by cutting the thin stock cherry. You can see me using a “stop” on the radial arm saw. I also cut 1.5″ x 1.25″ little cherry blocks for the kentos– 2 for each block.

Cutting the 1/4″ cherry- note the stop clamp for consistent length
Cutting the birch plywood to size
I use a cardboard template to scribe onto the birch plywood where to glue the cherry pieces- it is VERY important to line this positioning jig along the edge of the block!

Scribing where the kentos should go
I also cut some freezer paper a bit larger than the blocks in case the glue runs over during clamping.
I use waterproof Titebond III wood glue and a coarse-textured mini paint roller. Please use waterproof glue or epoxy- of not, the blocks will pop off while printing with water. I’ll mention the salt packets later.
I also use a piece of cardboard to coat the 3/8″ birch plywood backing. As opposed to the roller, this helps control the glue in the areas I want. Note: Don’t press too hard, just enough to spread a good coat as the wood will absorb a lot of the glue. Note the ‘anti-doofus’ check-marks where the glue should go- my mind can wander 🙂
Coating the kento areas on the birch plywood backing board with glue.
It’s necessary for both sides (birch backing and cherry) to be glued. I find that the mini-roller works well here.
This is a good view of the amount of glue coverage I am looking for. Also, the ‘dimple’ texture from the coarse roller helps it stick to the birch.
If I worry about the boards slipping out of position while glueing-up and pressing (it has happened), I add a VERY small pinch of salt. I only used about a half-packet for all 12 blocks. The salt creates a little texture that helps the pieces stay in place and the salt will melt when the glue is drying. It’s an old-timey way to cut down on slippage and, according to my research, the sodium doesn’t interfere with the glue strength… so far.
The cherry glued to the backing board.  If there is a little glue around the sides, that’s good.- I really don’t think I have glued these up yet, but you get the idea of the positioning.
As the boards are glued, I put them into a press that I made recently. It’s a good idea to hurry the process as much as possible when you’re doing a lot of blocks in case the glue starts to dry and without pressure, the introduction of moisture in the glue will sometimes make the thinner stock warp away from the block.
12 blocks glued up and interleaved with freezer paper. After 24 hrs., I will sand, wet-sand, and polish them and they’ll be ready for the next step!

Once again, here are the directions for the later finishing steps and how I used to assemble them. I hope this saves you money- it has for me- these end up costing me (sans labor) around US $5 per single-sided block!