Relief printing without using a press

Barrens come in many differing forms

A printmaker’s tools

They are used to rub the back of paper which has been put down on an inked block. The Chinese one in the picture was made for me by a kind student in the Purple Bamboo Studio, Hangzhou. There the students had to all learn to make these as part of their training in the traditional Chinese printing techniques. The flat bamboo one is Japanese. We’ve all used the backs of wooden spoons when starting out, but the shaped piece of box wood is in a different league. I once had to cut down quite a big old box bush and kept the trunk for years, then found a skilled carpenter who made this for me. I can get intense specific pressure with it as well as overall.

The most useful is probably the ball bearing barren. The bearings move independently within the grid and you can print through thick paper with it.

Printing by hand like this gives great control - the ability to have more or less pressure in different parts of the print, to lift one end and have a look, and even to swipe a bit more ink onto the block. Hand burnishing is quite hard work, although much easier on thin paper than thick. I certainly woundn’t want the labour of printing the big Pine woodcuts this way, I’m glad Pine has a very big press to do it.

Judith Westcott