A few years ago, I decided to gradually
start upgrading my mokuhanga supplies.
Better quality carving tools came first, then
printing brushes as well as higher quality washi.
Most recently, I called McClains and
made the ultimate upgrade when I placed an order
for a “hon” baren.
Lucky I called when I did as it turns out
the exchange rate was the lowest it’s been in years
so the baren was considerably less than expected.
“Hon” means “real” in Japanese, and is the
highest quality and most authentic baren available.
Each hon baren is made to order and
can take as long as 6 months to a year to receive
depending on how busy the baren maker is. Mine took only
three months to arrive, so I was lucky to not have to wait too long!
It was obvious as soon as I took it out of the box that this baren
was exquisitely crafted and vastly superior to
any of the previous barens that I’ve used.
I was delighted to find a wonderful story
on printmaker David Bull’s website
where he writes about his visit to Mr. Gosho’s
home/workspace to place an order for his own baren.
You can read the story here.
This is one mokuhanga chore that I prefer to
put off as long as possible…conditioning printing brushes.
New brushes, such as these two, need a little work before using.
The bristles (either horse or hog hair)
need to be singed and the tips split.
What’s the point you ask?
Singeing and splitting the bristle tips results in a
softer, more absorbent brush. Plus, it’s less
likely to leave unsightly streaks on the block from rice paste
I skip the singeing step altogether and head right to the
“dragon skin”, which is a perforated metal plate
nailed to a wood board. Traditionally, in Japan,
a shark skin (yes, a real shark skin) is stretched
and nailed onto a board.
After soaking the brushes in water for a bit, they’re scrubbed
vigorously over the surface of the dragon skin to split the tips.
This takes quite a bit of time, as long as 30 minutes,
As you can see in the above photo, the water
turns black, and stinky too.
The odor is akin to being inside a barn…
full of wet barnyard animals…on a hot summer day.
Sadly, this is not a one time chore,
but needs to be done periodically to keep the brushes
in tip-top shape.