Using a baren for printmaking is a solid friend to all home printers! When you start out with printmaking it’s unlikely that you will have access to a beautiful bit of kit like an etching press (unless you have a reinforced floor – they weigh a tonne!), and as lots of us start out at home you want something in your linocut printmaking kit that’s easy to store and whip out whenever you need it. So how do you get a nice crisp application of ink applied to the paper you are printing on? In this article I’m going to tell you how, and the chances are you won’t be running to the shops, instead you’ll raid the kitchen drawer!
When I started printing at home a few years ago I’d ink the lino with a roller, place the paper on top and then grab another roller and, pushing down as hard as I could, I’d roller up and down furiously. This worked, but I had loads of slippage as the paper often moved about too much. The result wasn’t great, and so I started looking into what the options were. This was when I discovered about using a baren.
So what is a baren for printmaking?
OK, simply put a baren is a smooth disc shaped object, normally with a handle that you grip onto, which can be used for hand printing. It essentially provides a flat surface to distribute downward pressure across a small area. Once you’ve inked your printing block and laid a piece of paper over the top, you then rub the baren across the paper, forcing the ink to be applied to the paper. Ta-daa!
I’ve had mixed success with using a baren (nothing beats using an etching press in my humble view), and so I will give a brief review of those that I have used below, with links for you to follow if you want to get one to try for yourself. I’ve not tried them all, but if I get the chance to add more reviews then I will add them to this post later.
Of all the purpose made baren’s I’ve used I prefer this type the most, and like all things related to printmaking that come from Japan they’re pretty good. It’s essentially a disc with a wrap of bamboo around it and tied off into a handle. They will eventually wear out, but they’re cheap enough to replace whenever you need. I like these because, unlike other makes, you can feel as that you are exerting a good downward pressure that will transfer the ink to the paper nicely.
They are as cheap as chips – under £5 typically, and if you want to order one online you can get them here: http://intaglioprintmaker.com/shop/bamboo-baren
This was the first baren I went to the shops to buy. I see lots of people using them so I guess they work well enough for those guys and girls but I think they are over engineered, over priced and not particularly good (so I’d recommend that you save your hard earned pennies and don’t bother with this product).
I have two main reasons for disliking this baren when it comes to printing by hand. Firstly, the surface that you have to rub over the paper has a course plastic mesh texture which damages the paper when you rub the baren across it (annoying when you buy nice paper), Speedball describe this surface as ‘nearly friction free’ on their website but i find that it destroys the paper ‘nearly’ every time I use it.
The second reason I don’t rate this very highly is because the behind the surface that applies the pressure onto the paper there is a very very slight padding. I find that this just absorbs a small amount of the pressure I’m trying to exert onto the print block.
The cost of this baren is £27 (wtf??!). I’m actually not going to provide a link to buy this product as i cannot recommend it to you nice people.
The Wooden Spoon
“A wooden spoon?” I hear you exclaim! Yes, the humble wooden spoon – typically found within the utensils drawer in your kitchen. The first person to point this out to me was Nick Morley (aka LinocutBoy) when I attended one of his very excellent Linocut workshops and they really do work excellently – just as well if not better than the bamboo barens mentioned above. The reason they are so good is due to the fact that they have a large flat spoon area or soft curved edges that you can use. So don’t feel you have to run off and get a dedicated bit of kit, once you’ve stirred your soup just make sure you wash and dry the spoon before you use it on your next masterpiece!
I agree! The speedball baren can make it hard to do hand printing. Although I do enjoy that one for printing with gelatin plates, haha.