Art Supply Resources
History of Paper
The first signs of paper showed up as papyrus in Egypt and vellum in the Middle East. Paper as we know today, in the woven form of textiles, came from China about 2000 years ago, and the process by which it is made has not changed much throughout the centuries. Paper is made by beating wood or cotton fibers into a pulp, suspending them in water and drawing out sheets of wet fiber onto screens. Paper is made by beating wood or cotton fibers into a pulp, suspending them in water and drawing out sheets of wet fiber onto screens.
The resulting sheets are pressed to remove moisture, either by hand or machine, and left to dry. Wood fibers produce the bulk of the paper we see in our lives, from newspapers to cardboard boxes. Drawing papers that are made from wood fibers are well priced, but not suitable for permanent work because the acids they contain quickly cause the paper to discolor and turn brittle. In more expensive papers, acids are removed or neutralized. Cotton fibers interlock and weave better than wood fibers, creating a structure of strength and flexibility in cotton fiber, or“rag,” papers. Papers can also be made from combinations of wood and cotton, or cotton and synthetic fibers.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Deciding what paper to use can be a difficult task. One must consider a plethora of variations of grade, weight, texture and finish. The grade, or quality of paper, can range from inexpensive newsprint to 100% rag. The weight of paper is perhaps the most confusing issue for consumers. Paper is measured by its basis weight (144 “full size” sheets.) The weight is then used to describe a single sheet, i.e. 140 lb. The texture of paper is determined by touch. All papers have texture in variations of smooth to rough.
Cold-pressed and not pressed paper have a coarse texture with pits and valleys making them good for watercolors. Hot-pressed paper is smooth and good for drawing or opaque painting techniques. The finish of a sheet is determined by how the sheet is flattened by a machine.
Sizing paper is like putting gesso on canvas, both make the surfaces less absorbent. Most papers are pre-treated with sizing when they are in the pulp stage. This can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your preference. If you buy pre-sized sheets and wish to take away some of the sizing, soak the paper in cool water then lightly dab the surface with paper towels to dry. You may also add sizing to a sheet using a commercially prepared soft gel.
Types of Media
Pastels and charcoals are used on drawing papers that have some degree of “tooth” or roughness to hold the particles onto the paper. The more tooth, the more layers of pastel or charcoal a paper can hold. Inks produce better detail on smooth types of paper, although if a paper is too soft and smooth a pen can easily gouge the surface. Traditionally, watercolors use rough, cold-pressed and hot-pressed papers and papers labeled watercolor paper, but many types can be used, including printmaking papers.
Acrylic paints can be used on almost any type paper, with or without gesso. Oil paints may also be used on paper but the sheet must first be primed with a ground such as gesso.
Paper has a natural acidic level that can destroy its longevity causing discoloration and brittleness. Makers of quality paper use a scale of pH 1, (highly acidic) to pH 14, (highly alkaline) and strive to achieve a neutral level of pH 7. Only pH level 7 is truly neutral, but 6 and 8 can be considered neutral. Neutral papers are typically labeled pH-neutralor acid-free.
Caring for Paper
The nature of paper, as well as its inherent faults, can cause it to become moldy, stained, wrinkled or torn. Some of these problems can be corrected before further damage is done, but once damaged, paper can never be returned to its original state. Mold is characterized by brown or gray-green spots or stains. Caused by too humid an environment, mold–also called foxing–can be treated by removing the work to a dry place and exposing it to circulating air and sunlight for a day to kill the organism.
Stains caused by water or atmospheric pollutants can sometimes be treated by bleaching the work with hydrogen peroxide vapors in a closed environment.
Insects such as silverfish, cockroaches and termites will eat paper and the only protection against this intrusion is insecticide or the removal of the artwork to a safer environment.
When paper is torn, a patch can be made from paper that is thinner than the original art. Feather the edge of the patch with water and feather the fibers around the edge of the patch. Attach the patch with a weak glue to the reverse of the object.
Careless handling, folding and rolling can cause paper to crease, wrinkle or warp. Depending on the nature of the media used in making the work, these physical defects can be reduced by exposing the object to a humidified atmosphere, by pressing under moderate weight or a combination of the two methods.