Going Au Naturale in Tibet

Good Morning Briar Press! It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Judging from the amount of mail in my in-box, quite a few folks have been wondering where I’ve been. Some even think I might have quit letterpress and gone on to other projects…. or retired…. or died (heaven forbid!)…. or was angry at someone, and not speaking to them. Well…. you can rest assured that is not the case.

I have been gone, but it was not due to death or anger. I’ve been away on a sabatical / research project / voyage of personal enlightenment to learn first-hand about the techniques used in Japan,Tibet, and Korea to print Holy Scriptures.

My project, which lasted four months, was both eye-opening and inspiring to say the very least. I had the opportunity to print scriptures using printing blocks that were over 800 years old, carve new blocks to replace damaged ones in the library, make paper using mulberry bark, and make ink using mineral pigments. It was the experience of a lifetime… and one that has changed my outlook on printing forever.

While we here in the Western World, get all hung up on machinery and constantly work to get bigger, better, and faster presses… and cheaper, faster ways of making plates ….our counterparts in the remaining traditional Buddhist regions of the world take a far different approach. They refined their printing techiques many centuries ago, and still practice them today for works of high importance using tools that we would consider to be rudimentary, or even primitive.

Yet in spite of their lack of technology, their processes can produce works of amazing quality….. and are far faster than one would imagine. I timed the output of pages at Dege in Tibet, and discovered that a two man team can print print an average of 1 text page every five seconds….. for an entire day. The multi-colored work takes longer, but still not as long as you’d think. All in all, I’d compare their press output as about the same as what one can achieve with a C&P Pilot or a Craftsmen. Sure, their processes do have some limitations… but then again, so does my Pilot.

The most astounding thing I discovered is that one doesn’t have to have years of experience, or go through some long apprenticeship to learn it. It’s actually quite simple. More importantly, it is within the grasp of virtually anyone who wants to learn it.

Over the next few months I’ll be writing a book about what i’ve learned…. and posting pictures and descriptions here at Briar Press, if anyone is interested.

aka Winking Cat Press

Log in to reply   5 replies so far

Sounds very interesting. going natural scared me a little, i thought you were printing naked!!! that i didn’t want to see pictures of.


It sounds like you have had a very good experience and eye-opening one. I recently visited China, but was able to view very little of the traditional crafts, other than exhibits set up by the government for the purpose of selling “stuff” to western visitors.

I envy your experience and will look forward to seeing the book of your findings as well as any further comments you might make on this forum.

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

Dick G
Is it the winking bit that was scariest ??

John… yes it was a great experience…. but you are right about China, and parts of Tibet. A LOT of the traditional sites / temples / crafts have actually gone away, being replaced by shops sell crapola to tourists.

At one ” Holy Temple” that is renoun for printing with wood blocks, they are selling offset-litho prints of “orignal holy scriptures” for big bucks, while the actual orignal centuries-old blocks are allowed to deteriorate for lack of proper storage or care…. and the monks have been pushed out in favor of unscrupulous Chinese entrepeneurs. I think in future generations the Chinese will be regarded as great destroyers of history for what they are doing in Tibet.

BUT there are some traditional Buddhist printing sites still in existence, if you have the time to seek them out.


Yes! VERY interested in hearing more on this project—book, photos, processes etc! Keep us updated, I don’t want to miss it. Do you already have a publisher?