On Our Mind: Thoughts from Mark & Michelle Dean

Paste Papers: The How To…

by Michelle Dean 04-09-2014 | 2:35PDT | Comments (2)


photo 5 - Version 2For centuries, artisans have been decorating papers by drawing designs in colored paste (Maurer). Paste papers are lovely way to create easy decorative papers, which may be admired on their own, incorporated into drawings or utilized in a variety of contexts such as collage, book binding, and scrapbooking.  They lend themselves to a multitude of educational and therapeutic applications, which I will discuss in Part II of this blog post  Paste Papers: The what for…  

The patterning of the paper is made through the use of pigment and a paste agent, such as flour paste, cornstarch paste or methyl cellulose (recipes below).  Methyl cellulose, my personal favorite, is a clear viscous solution or gel product that is pH neutral and may be used in archival glue for book binding as well as an adhesive for paper repair and mounting.  Use it as a paint extender and slicking agent with tempera for finger painting.  Methyl cellulose may also mixed with glue to create an economic decoupage and extend the life of many white, PVA (Polyvinyl acetates)glues such as Elmer’s™ and Sobo™.

photo 1Poster paints, tube gouache, watercolor, and acrylic all may be mixed with the paste of your choosing to create the colors for paste papers.  My personal preference is acrylic mixed with methyl cellulose due to its ease and availability in our studio.  Patterning tools such as combs, hair picks, multiple line calligraphy pens, plastic forks, potter’s tools, and wood-graining tools are recommended because they all make interesting and varied marks.  To create homemade graining tools, use pinking sheers to cut an edge from a plastic jug or use a knife to create “teeth” of various widths from the side of cardboard milk container.  Additionally, stamping may be done on the paste papers with plastic or foam stamps, buttons, bottle caps, corks, lace, bubble wrap and many other found materials.

The ideal paper is 70 – 80lb. offset printing paper, or charcoal weight paper.  The paper must be strong enough to endure raking tools over its wet surface without falling apart.  Highly absorbent papers should be avoided, as they tend to shed or rip as you work with them.  Wetting the papers first by soaking, sponging or spraying with water allows the paper to relax and creates slower drying times, which may be helpful when creating intricate designs.  Papers that are uneven in their moisture content will buckle and could create distortions in the patterns.

Brush the tinted paste of your choice over the moistened paper and experiment with various pattern making tools and mark directions.  Many people at first experiment with symmetrical patterns, which according to Maurer-Mathison (1993), reflect more historical designs.  Be sure to experiment with asymmetrical designs and contemporary influences.  Once completely dry, double and triple “printing” may be done by applying another layer of colored paste on top of the first pattern.

Recipes:photo 3
Flour Paste 

4 Tablespoons rice flour

3 Tablespoons wheat flour

3 Cups water

½ teaspoon glycerin

1 teaspoon dish detergent

Cook the flours with a little water over medium heat; continue to add water until it resembles thin custard. Remove from heat and add the glycerin and detergent to keep the paste smooth and pliable.

photo 2Cornstarch Paste

Mix ¼ cup cornstarch with ¼ cup water until well blended.  Heat over medium heat while adding an additional cup of water until it resembles custard. Add ½ cup of water to thin.

Methyl cellulose

Mix 1 Tsp into 1 pint of cold water (hot water does not work as it prevents it from “melting”).  Let stand overnight or longer.  Does not go bad, so make up extra and store in a sealed container (i.e., Mason jars) for whenever needed. 

Reference not included as link:

Maurer-Mathison, D. V. (1993). Decorative Paper. New York: Illustrated Books.


© 2014, All rights reserved, The Center for Psyche & the Arts, LLC; written by Michelle L. Dean, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, CGP, HLM (DVATA)

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2 Responses to Paste Papers: The How To…

Alessandra Colfi, Ph.D.(c) says: September 6, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Thank you Michelle and Mark for this great suggestion to use paste to decorate and texture papers; I’ll introduce it to my groups of cancer patients I work with every week. They are always eager to try new things and keep me on my toes:-).
Best wishes to you both.


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