(from various contributors, some old - some new)
This first entry is reproduced from the book 'Woodblock Printing' by F. Morley Fletcher, published by John Hogg, London 1916. (pp.58-60)
A paste must be used with the colour in order to hold it on to the surface of the paper and to give brilliancy. The colour, if printed without paste, would dry to powder again. The paste also preserves the matt quality which is characteristic of the Japanese prints.
Finely ground rice flour may be obtained from grocery dealers. An excellent French preparation of rice sold in packets as Creme de Riz is perfect for the purpose of making paste for printing. It should be carefully made as follows:
While half a pint of water is put to boil in a saucepan over a small spirit lamp or gas burner, mix in a cup about two teaspoonfuls of rice flour with water, added little by little until a smooth cream is made with no lumps in it. A bone spoon is good for this purpose. Pour this mixture into the boiling water in the saucepan all at once, and stir well till it boils again, after which it should be left simmering over a small flame for five minutes.
When the paste has cooled it should be smooth and almost fluid enough to pour: not stiff like a pudding.
While printing, a little paste is put out in a saucer and repleninshed from time to time.
Fresh paste should be made every day.
This next entry is reproduced from the book The Technique of the Color Wood-cut, by Walter J. Phillips, published by Brown-Robertson Co. Inc., New York 1926. [Editor's note: Phillips' entire text is available on line, courtesy of Mr. Roger Boulet]
The medium or binder is paste, made with starch, flour or rice. The first is most easily made, but its adhesive properties are apt to injure the surface of the paper if too much is used. Rice paste does no harm in that way.
To make starch paste, mix dry starch with enough cold water to make a stiff cream. (A teaspoonful of starch makes a cup of paste). Add boiling water, stirring the while, until the liquid thickens. If it does not thicken, boil it.
For printing add water after the thickening occurs, until you have a liquid of the consistency of milk, because further coagulation takes place when the paste cools. Rice flour or powder should always be boiled with water.
The next entry is reproduced from the book Japanese Woodblock Printing, by Hiroshi Yoshida, published by Sanseido, Tokyo 1939. (pp. 49) [Note: Yoshida's entire text is available here in the Library section of this Encyclopedia]
Paste is made from rice flour. Fine rice flour is kept in water over night, and with a suitable amount of water it is heated over a slow fire; it needs continuous stirring until it begins to boil. When cooked it finally turns translucent, but just before it turns entirely translucent, while there still remain some whitish parts, it should be taken off the fire. That is the stage in which the starch paste is the strongest. When it becomes too thick it can be diluted with water to a suitable consistency just before using. It should be sufficiently fluid so that it can be poured into another vessel, and when an amount less than the tip of the thumb will adhere to the end of a stick.
For printing a mino size (14 5/8 x 9 7/8 in.) block in tsubushi the amount of paste required will be less in volume than an inch of an ordinary cigarette.
Paste has a tendency to contract the paper, and it is best not to use too much of it. Rather it should be used in small quantity each time the impression is made. If on the one hand, a strong adherence of pigment is not required, only a tiny bit of it will be sufficient.
The starch paste gives a thickness to the pigment which will force it into paper when pressed in printing. It also helps in printing, for the paper sticks to the block better, thus keeping it secure on the block when the back of the paper is rubbed with the baren in printing.
When paste is mixed with pigment, the print shows a clear, uniform, deep colouring. Without it, the colour on the print is likely to give a porous effect, a dry, granular texture, known as goma (sesame). As long as the colour in the brush is sufficient, the starch paste is not added. It is added only when fresh pigment is put on the brush or on the block.
The next entry is reproduced from the book Japanese Print-making, by Toshi Yoshida & Rei Yuki, published by Tuttle, Tokyo 1966. (pp 55-56)
Paste is the basis of color and must be mixed on the block with the pigment by use of a brush. The process must be done only just before printing, and not previously. This gives substantial body to the pigment and thus secures its uniform application to the block. It should be noted that this procedure is not for the purpose of making the pigment adhere to the paper. If too much paste is used, the paper will stick to the block and cannot be removed.
The paste, which is called himenori, is made of refined rice and water in the proportion of 50 grams (1.78 ounces) of rice to 340cc (.72 pint) of water. The method of preparing the paste is as follows:
- The refined rice is placed in 50 cc of water and allowed to stand for two or three days.
- When the rice has fully absorbed the water, the mixture is placed in a suribachi (earthenware mortar) and pounded until it is of uniform consistency.
- The mixture is then placed in a pan with the remaining 290cc of water and set on a heater. During the heating process the mixture must be stirred constantly with a spatular stick.
- As the mixture comes to a boil it begins to turn translucent. It must be removed from the heater at the moment when it becomes about seventy percent translucent. This is the most important part of the procedure.
- Stirring must be continued vigorously until the mixture becomes tepid and returns to a more or less opaque condition.
- Next, particles of foreign matter and grains of rice that have escaped the pounding process must be removed by squeezing the mixture through a cotton-cloth bag.
The consistency of the paste should be the same as that of cooked oatmeal. But for the purpose of pasting a hanshita, this must be as dense as that of cold cream, the water proportion being reduced by one-third at preparation. If it were boiled, it would soon lose the requisite consistency later on. It should be sufficiently fluid to be poured into another container, but thick enough so a drop smaller than thumb-tip size clings to the end of a stick.
This next entry is from [Baren] member April Vollmer
Paste is added to the pigment to give it some body, so it lies smoothly on the surface and doesn't bead up, as it does in goma zuri. I've found that methyl cellulose is a terrific substitute. It is easy to mix up (you just have to give it enough time to dissolve thoroughly) and it never molds...so you can mix up as much as you like and just keep it handy. I bought a pound of powdered methyl cellulose from Talas archival suppplies back in 1980 for chine colle, and have been using it for hanga for four years ...
This next entry is from [Baren] member Mary Krieger
Here's how I make starch paste. I use it for hinging prints, and making paper mache with my kids as well as for printing.
Each starch has its own characteristics as people have already pointed out. You can experiment with the variety of specialty flours available if you are adventurous.
I start with a mixture of flour and water. I don't generally measure so I can't give you exact proportions. The consistency I want is thin enough to pour but thick enough to coat the spoon. I cook this over a low heat stirring constantly. I know when it is ready when the mixture thickens and becomes slightly translucent. When you rub a little between your fingers and thumb, it is slick without a grainy feeling and very sticky.
Use it as soon as it cools or keep it in the fridge. Yes it will grow mold like crazy if you let it. Some recipies I have seen include a drop of formaldehyde to prevent this. I don't like this complication - too hard to store formaldehyde safely in a residence. I just make it when I need it.