Pastepaper making is a technique developed by bookbinders about 450 years ago, according to some accounts, in which pigmented starch paste is designed on paper to create decorative pieces which act as book covers or end sheets. They can also be used in greeting cards, wrapping paper and boxes…or anything, really.
Initially, I sort of thought of pastepaper as a kind of esoteric craft. But actually, this is a really interesting and rewarding technique of making your own decorative papers rather simply and beautifully. And today, I had the pleasure of participating in a workshop led by book artist and paper ninja Curt Dornberg. He spoke briefly about the history of the craft, then showed us – the Book Art Collective – what to do.
Basically, all you need to do is mix paste with pigment (as in, Golden Acrylic Paints). There are many, many recipes to make paste so here is a simpler one from Curt:
- 3c boiling water
- 1c cold water
- 1/2c cake flour
Mix flour and cold water with wire whisk. Gradually pour boiling water into mixture, stirring constantly. Bring mix back to a boil, reduce heat slightly and cook for ten minutes, stirring constantly to prevent paste from burning. Cool completely; then whisk again. Paste will keep for one week or so.
With the mixtures mixed and supplies at the ready, Curt demonstrated for us the basic techniques of pastepaper making. Or designing. Or whatever one might call it. A most basic tool to lay pigment to paper is a brush, which, if I do say so myself, renders this craft a lovely way of combining gestural techniques with design. Note, the paper is first dampened with a sponge before working.
In addition to the brushes, you can use other tools, anything really, like stencils, hand carved burnishers, plastic grout spreaders, rubber spatulas and popsicle sticks. Dough rollers also come in handy. You can carve shapes from sticky-backed foam and paste them onto cardboard rolls. Then you can insert them onto the roller and make patterns.
After watching the demonstrations, we spent the next several hours working on our own sheets that Curt had generously prepared for us.
We then laid them to dry. One of the exciting possibilities of pastepaper is that you can layer the pigments. Once your first layer/pattern dries (usually 24 hours is the wait time…but Tucson is a pretty dry place) you can add a second pattern, creating a really interesting sense of depth and texture.
Another spontaneous way of creating patterns/textures/designs is to paint them on, or literally remove the pigment using objects like the back end of paint brushes. This can also be a way of illustrating the canvas.
We were in the Printmaking Studio for this workshop, and laid our papers wherever we could find space. The equipment in there is so incredibly beautiful. Here are some of our final results!
In the next week, we will make many of our papers into book covers of notebooks to display at the Tucson Festival of Books, where we have a booth! So, if you’re in town, come check us out (Booth 108), and if not, visit us in the digital world here or on our site, which will soon have a blog. Soon.