Laura Boswell ARE – Printmaker

Home Cooking: Nori Rice Paste for Japanese Woodblock

a blog.

Rice paste, called nori, is an essential part of water based woodblock printmaking. In Japan nori is a pretty universal substance used in all sorts of ways from laundry starch to safe glue for infants (eating glue must be a common problem, I certainly ate glue at my kindergarten – it tasted of almonds, yum). It can be bought everywhere and is dirt cheap.

applying white nori to the block for printing

Imagine my dismay when I came home to find that here nori is a rare and expensive thing. It was like blundering into the the fifties and finding that olive oil was back in Boots in 4oz bottles. Concerned and mean, I looked for alternatives.

The traditional recipe involves a lot of soaking, grinding and pushing of reluctant gloop through muslin. About 10% made it into my nori pot and seemingly 150% splattered the kitchen. Then I found a recipe suggesting rice starch – taa daa! Five minutes on the internet and I had a kilo and a half of fine milled white rice flour (turns out I bought enough flour to keep Hokusai’s print shop in business for a year, but it was so very cheap)

The recipe follows, it’s dead easy, takes about ten minutes and you can wean a baby along with printing if you wish. It’s only rice and water so has no preservative. I’ve done the experiments and can tell you that it doesn’t freeze (turns into water and a lump of something very odd). It’ll keep for about four days at British warm for spring temperature before going watery, at five days it’s got a fur coat. In the fridge it will last a week.

Mix 20g rice flour with 100ml of cold water
Stir until smooth and milky
Bring 150ml water almost to the boil in a pan
Add the paste mix in a smooth ribbon and stir
Bring to the boil and keep stirring constantly until the mix goes translucent (about five mins)
Cool, stirring from time to time

This excellent recipe comes from ‘The Art and Craft of Woodblock Printmaking’ ISBN 951-558-085-4

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.

39 thoughts on “Home Cooking: Nori Rice Paste for Japanese Woodblock”

    1. Keep a layer of water on top of your Nori. When you want to use it again, just pour off the water that still sits ont the surface and you’re ready to go. Keep your Nori from moulding and drying out.

      1. “Keep a layer of water on top of your Nori. When you want to use it again, just pour off the water that still sits ont the surface and you’re ready to go. Keep your Nori from moulding and drying out.”

        This absolutely does NOT work! It isn’t long before the water mixes with the Nori simply turning it into a watery, mushy mess. The water-on-top-of-pigment idea only works with oil-based printmaking inks in cans. This I still do.

        1. The surface tension of the water on top catches airborne mould spores, and if you change the water a couple of times per day, it gives an extra day or two to the paste before it goes off.

          The cooked nori should be firm and rubbery after cooling and setting. If it isn’t, it needs to be cooked for longer to fully burst all the starch grains.

      2. Laura gets her rice flour from the local Chinese supermarket and it is really cheap. Nori will keep in a refrigerator for a couple of days if you cover it with cling film, which should be in contact with the surface of the nori not just over the pot, but if you have some left over then just throw it away, it is not hazardous and costs pennies!

  1. Thanks a lot for the recipe!
    I was looking for it sooo long! and it is sooo
    easy to do!
    I make nori with one big spoon of rice flour and glass of water and it is more liquid but also good.

  2. Is this like the old Velverette glue that I used years ago? I want something that will hold delicate paper petals in place, raised not flat as in a form of decoupage? I was told that velverette was rice paste? Please help!

    1. Hi
      You can certainly use this as a glue – the recipe is in resources on my web site. You can also make a much stronger version with wheat starch (get mine from a Chinese supermarket) or rice flour. For that you need to mix one part flour or starch with three parts water and beat CONSTANTLY with a wooden spoon for half an hour while it boils (longest 1/2 hour of your life) and then dilute to desired thickness when cooled

  3. In reading this I notice that people are using paste and glue interchangeably, when they are very different things. Pastes are made from plant starches, and glues are made from animal and chemical compounds. Pastes, and glues made from animal skins are reversible, and can be softened and removed using water. Chemical glues can only be revered by chemical means; an example of a chemical glue would be PVA (polyvinyl acetate or white glue), or spray adhesives. If you use the correct terms then your chance of making an error becomes less likely.

    1. Hi if the paste is thickened, it’s ok to use. Since writing this, I’ve found different brands of rice flour behave differently, but all work if they have thickened. It won’t affect the printing

  4. So using rice flour works as well as rice starch? Had read can make wheat starch out of wheat flour (saw on Youtube I think).
    Nice to have an easy recipe. Wonder if adding essential oil like wintergreen will help it last longer and also repel insects.

  5. Hi,
    I am looking for an acid free nontoxic glue for collage. Does the Nori paste attract bugs because it’s
    rice flour? How long will it last? I assume it needs to be keep in the fridge.
    Thanks for your help,

    1. Rice paste or nori is ideal for this provided it is strong enough. It’s the preferred glue for repairing books etc. Fresh paste will last for five or so days in teh fridge or you can buy it in tubes and it’ll last indefinately. It doesn’t attract bugs but will go mouldy if left damp.

  6. Hi, this feels like a stupid question, but what stops it going mouldy after being used in the printing project, ie making your print mouldy? And as it’s water reversible will it make the print all mushy if it gets a splash of water on it?

    1. once the print is dry, it will not go mouldy. If it gets damp later on it will go mouldy – like any other paper artwork. This is a very ancient printing method and the survival of very old prints in beautiful condition shows that mould isn’t an intrinsic issue, just one of bad storage! this amount of rice and paint used is far to scanty to make anything mushy, but I see what you mean. If you splash water on a Japanese print it is actually far more likely not to be a problem that if you splash a watercolour painting or water based Western style print – though it should of course be blotted off quickly. The print can be redamped and flattened back to a good condition if this happens.

    1. Hi Yes – add a little water and beat it until it is soft but has body enough to hold a ‘tail’ of nori on the chopstick so that you can control it when you add it to the block

  7. Thank you for sharing knowledge! 🙂
    I am new to this and have a question I am hoping you can help me find an answer to.. Will using rice paste for chine colle work when using oil based colour? Im using Caligo Safe wash relief ink.

  8. I used nori paste dye formulas in Japan for printing. My question is this. can I use your formula to apply woven silk to walls. Pasting the wall first, then attaching the silk and then final top coats on the visible layer of the silk of your paste? Many thanks

  9. How long-lasting is it’s sticking power? Will it last 10+ years? I do collage and when I first started, I used craft glue stick and the pieces came unstuck 10 years later. I want to make pieces that last a very long time and not deteriorate. Now using acrylic medium but looking for something slower drying so I can reposition easily.

    1. This paste is used as an emulsifier for the printing pigment and wouldn’t do as an adhesive. You can make a rice starch adhesive and it is used in Japan for mounting prints, but I’m not sure it would work for collage. To make it you basically follow the same recipe, but keep cooking it for about half an hour, stirring constantly, it will get noticably stickier and stiffer as you proceed, I think it then need diluting to use.

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