Anti-Wrinkle Treatment

Getting your Japanese woodblock prints to dry flat.

Paper has a hard time in my hands as a printmaker. I put it through all sorts of stresses and strains on the way to making a print and still expect it to finish up as a pristine, flat sheet of loveliness at the end, though hopefully with a layer or two of colour on top.

Oil based lino prints aren’t a problem. I’ve been doing them a long time: I use Zerkal paper (like most of the printers I know) and it works a treat, staying nicely flat under the pressure of my Albion press. The clever bit for me here is keeping my filthy hands off the edges of the print.

The Japanese printing I do is a whole different story: this is a watercolour process, the paper is damp and I am constantly stretching the paper with hand rubbing in different places. The Fabriano I use, while very good tempered about taking the paint, can be very hard to dry flat, especially if the print is large.

I have very recently, after lots of stacking and balancing acts with everything from those big cookery books, the sort with just the one great recipe, to old bricks, discovered a way to resolve the problem. I now use two large sheets of birch carpenter’s ply held absolutely tight together with butterfly clamps. Butterfly clamps are a builder’s equivalent of a peg, but massively stronger and much larger. I bought mine off a puzzled man in my local market at £1.50 each. They have rubber over the gripping mechanism which protects the ply should you later want to turn it into a woodcut. Buy plenty: the more you clamp, the better.

I put my damp prints straight onto the clean ply and put another sheet over the top (this is 5mm thick ply, it’s probably best to have it fairly sturdy) and simply clamp all the way around with my butterfly clamps. It takes about two days or so to work and the prints are beautifully flat at the end. The ply absorbs the moisture, then dries out and off you go again, though you must keep it clean. Keeping anything clean for me is a major challenge which is why I go on about it so much.

There is another very occasional problem and it’s pretty much out of my control: pictures getting damp in frames and then coming back from wherever they have been shown cockled. These wrinkly prints can be both linocuts and woodblocks. With these, after stomping about a bit in temper, I remove from their frames and make up a sandwich of slightly damp blotting paper. I put the prints, oil based lino included, into the blotting paper parcel and allow the prints to get damp for about 4 hours or so. At this stage they become alarmingly wrinkly and look terrible. They then go into the ply and I dry them as before. The result is again a lovely flat print.

I can’t promise that this will work well for every sort of print, you’ll have to try it for yourself, but it certainly works for me…

Author: Laura

Laura Boswell is a printmaker working exclusively with linocut and traditional Japanese woodblock printing. She has a degree in Art History/Visual Art from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and has been elected to the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers.

3 thoughts on “Anti-Wrinkle Treatment”

  1. Hi Laura, I’ve used ply board to keep my watercolour paper flat until it’s dry. Before I lay the board on top of the print, I put some tissue paper over the print to stop the ink (oil based) from smudging. Then when the paper is dry I remove the board and tissue paper to let the ink dry properly. My teacher at college showed me this and it’s always worked for me.

  2. Hi Laura thanks for your site. Is it a no no to use an iron to conquer wrinkled Japanese paper.
    I’ve just ironed some prints. The ones stuck onto Japanese paper wrinkled a bit but managed to save all but 1 by using a dampened cloth on the wrinkled bits.
    Is it acceptable to stick them onto watercolour paper using clear acrylic. Iisn’t but it works so well. Should I mount them onto paper using archival tape as a hinge onto backing paper rather than sticking.

    1. Hi Judy – not in my opinion- I’ve just ironed a whole set of washi before using to get it flat. I’ve heard the same from a couple of other mokuhanga artists. There is a method of mounting using wheat starch (the traditional method) that works really well, but it is a bit tricky to explain here. From a conservation perspective you should avoid doing anything that cannot be reversed, that rules out the acrylic. Hinging with archival tape is fine, but it won’t get the paper flat since you shouldn’t stretch the paper, only hinge it on one side. To contradict myself, when there has been a real need to get artwork flat we have resorted to dry-mounting: heat sensitive mounting tissue and conservation grade mount-board. The results look great, even and flat, but the process, whilst archival in the sense that the work will not deteriorate over time, is not strictly archival since you cannot return the work to its original condition. Sometimes however you do need flat pictures!

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