Monday, May 05, 2008

Bookbinding 101 - Making Paste Paper

Making paste paper is fun and messy. It is a simple process where you smear coloured paste over a sheet of paper, then make patterns in it using whatever tools you have on hand. I haven't done a lot of it, but I tried it recently and took lots of photos. And now I'm finally getting it up here on my blog.

So the first thing you need to do, is make some paste. You need to make some paste using wheat starch or corn starch, some people use rice starch or even wallpaper paste. For most starch pastes, you will probably want to make it with a ratio of about 1:8 (one part starch to 8 parts water).

Divide the paste into two or three containers, one for each colour that you want to work with. Tint the paste using either acrylic or watercolour paint. I like to use acrylic paint since it is more water-resistant when it's dry. So, add paint and mix it until it is consistently coloured. Inexpensive paint will usually result in colours that are pale so I suggest using the best quality paint you can afford.

Gather a few things to use as pattern-making tools so that you'll have them close when you're ready for them. You could use combs, forks, sticks, bone folder, rubber stamps, sponges, crumbled paper bag, your fingers, or anything that will make a pattern when pressed into the paste.

Dampen the paper before you start - dip it in a tub of plain water, or use a spray bottle to mist the paper. Let it relax then brush your coloured paste over an entire sheet of paper. I am using 80lb drawing paper here, but it can be any paper that has decent wet-strength. I also tend to start with large sheets so that there is lots of room. But you could do small sheets. I spread the paste right to the edges and onto the table to make sure the whole sheet is covered. A bigger brush or sponge will help spread the paste more quickly. Try to get a nice consistent layer of paste on the whole sheet.

Once the paper is covered with paste, grab one of your tools and start making marks in the paste by dragging it over the paper, or pressing it like a stamp, to create whatever sort of design or pattern you like. You can criss cross lines in opposite directions, do zig zags, splotches, curvy lines...etc, whatever you can come up with.

My examples are really simple - but there is an art to this process and a lot of history; the masters produce some amazing pieces.

Of course, I had to show my little boy what I was doing, so here he is at the other end of the table, doing his own paste paper. Although for him, it was really just finger painting.

If you don't like what's happening on your paper, grab the paintbrush and brush it out and start over again! Or try just adding another design over top of the first one, moving in the opposite direction.

When you are finished making the patterns, leave your paper to dry flat. When it's dry, the paper will likely be stiff and maybe curled at the edges. It can be flattened by pressing or you could try a not-too-hot iron. Though, you can also wax and/or burish the papers if you have time, which will make them look really nice and they will be flat and less stiff.

This is what my yellow paper looked like when I was finished - and then later it was used on the covers of this little hardcover book.

More papers...

More books...

So that's how to make paste paper. Basically. If you're really interested in mastering this, there are some books available. But before you go, check out some of these links to see some great examples:

- Madeleine Durham's paste papers
- Paste papers by Sage Reynolds
- Paste papers by Peggy Skycraft
- Historic paste papers
- Paste papers by Threadborne


Kiley said...

My local book arts group will be having a paste making party this summer! I can't wait to try it out, it looks like so much fun!

Chiara said...

Wow that's pretty!

Susan Buret said...

Great tutorial. Thank you.

The Becks said...

how do you adhere the paper you design to the coverboard? i'm new to this so i'm trying to learn it all

Pankti said...

Wow... Great tutorial. I can't wait to try this method.

Cicilia said...

Amazing, thanks for sharing :)

Cicilia - Indonesia

letterlady said...

Arches text wove (or Velin) is a preferred paper for paste paper. A high cotton content is good and makes a less stiff result. Wet both sides of the paper first, then add colors. As in painting, choose colors that go nicely and don't muddy up, and you can easily make multiple hues on one sheet...also add pearl or metallic paint to the water for a nice shimmer to final paper.

MyHandboundBooks said...

Thanks for those tips. I wrote this post before I really knew much about paste papers, actually. Since then I have learned more about it and certainly - wetting the paper before starting was the most amazing discovery after trying it with dry paper so many times!