Introduction: Book-binders of old and of late mix their leftover paste with pigment to make beautiful patterned papers. The translucent quality of the paste allows for this process to be repeated many times on the same paper to achieve multiple layers of color and rich 3-dimensional patterns.
- Elmer’s Art Paste
- Acrylic paints
- Plastic sheeting or garbage bag and masking tape to protect your work area.
- Spray bottle to be filled with water.
- Sponges for painting and for cleaning up.
- A plastic takeout container to wet brushes.
- Medium to heavy weight paper such as Mixed Media paper or kraft paper
- Tools to make marks — Some suggestions:
- Old credit cards (and strong scissors to cut shapes)
- Popsicle sticks
- Paint brushes, 1 inch or larger
- Plastic combs, forks
- Painting combs
- Faux wood grainer
Caveat: Paste papers often pick up the texture of the table or platform on which they are made. Because they are made wet they may pick up the creases in a plastic bag or grooves in the table. To avoid this you may want a stiffer, smoother work surface such as a firm plastic mat, a piece of plastic, vinyl or Plexiglas, an old shower curtain or tablecloth or anything that can withstand being wet. Also wear old clothes that can get wet and paint splattered.
Making the Paste: I use Elmer’s Art Paste, a powdered methyl cellulose paste, but there are many different recipes for paste paper paste out there. In a pint sized container mix 4 tsp of the powder into 1 ½ cups of warm water. Use a whisk to mix the paste into the water. Try to smash the lumps. Cover and let it set over night. The mixture should be clear and thick with all the air bubbles risen to the top. Put half the paste into another pint size container. Into each of these containers of paste add about 2 tbsp of acrylic paint and a small amount of warm water. The separate containers will each hold a different color. Depending on the consistency and the color I wish to achieve I may add more hot water along with acrylic paint and stir, stir, stir. I’m going for a creamy smooth consistency that I can stand a spoon in—like mayonnaise or yoghurt.
The Technique: Spray the work surface with water. Lay down a sheet of paper. Spray the paper with water. Allow the paper to absorb the water until it is totally dampened and lays flat on your work surface. Apply a layer of prepared paste. I normally don’t make any marks on my first layer but you certainly may. Allow this layer to dry completely before adding a second layer.
I generally get into a rhythm where I do a first layer and lay it outside to dry. Then I do the same on a second sheet of paper. When I lay the second sheet outside to dry I check the first sheet. If it is dry, I’ll bring it in and do a second layer. If the first sheet is still wet when I set my second sheet outside, I go do a first layer on a third sheet. Every time I go outside with a new sheet I check the previous sheets to see which ones are dry. As each sheet dries I add additional layers of paste on the front and on the back.
On any layer you can use a tool to move some of the paste away exposing the previous layer. Think of your layer of paste like a layer of snow that you can plow through leaving a trail or step in to leave tracks. Or you can think of the whole process as finger painting for adults. Use a stick to make lines or a straw to make small circles. Use your scissors to cut out “teeth” in an old credit card and drag that through the paste to make stripes. Combs and forks are also good for making stripes as are commercially available paint combs. You can spin these combs to make concentric circles. I especially love dragging the wood-graining tool across a sheet. Experiment further with sponges, toothbrushes and things that roll!