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Tag Archives: paper

Artists’ sketchbooks

Artists’ sketchbooks

Small article here about how artists use their sketchbooks, including a little reference to the work I undertook on a few of Graham Sutherland’s sketchbooks whilst at Tate:
Da Vinci, Sutherland and Van Gogh

Full article for Tate here: Up Close and Personal with Graham Sutherland’s Sketchbooks


Chinese book conservation

Chinese book conservation

Over the past year at the Bodleian I have been working with a small number of Chinese books requiring a variety of conservation treatments. I’m benefitting greatly from the expertise of my colleagues here and have learnt a lot about the materials and structure of Chinese books over the last year. Just up on the Bodleian’s website is a case study I’ve written about this work, complete with diagrams to elucidate some of the key features of such bindings. Please follow the link to read the article! Chinese book conservation


Graphics Atlas – Identifying print processes

I’ve just happened upon this wonderful website from the Image Permanence Institute, aimed at assisting with the identification of print types from woodcuts to chromolithographs to digital prints:

I’ve been looking at the photographic techniques section, which under the ‘Identification’ tab gives lots of examples of each technique, as well as dates of common usage and types of deterioration. Even better, using the ‘Guided Tour’ allows comparison of different types of prints. For the photographic techniques this includes showing the photo twisting in order to see the level of surface gloss:

Silver gelatin snapshot and click on ‘Glossy Surface’

It provides images of the surface under high-level magnification, and lots of other details that might help to positively ID a print method. Lovely.

They are also advertising for a 15 month intern to research photographic processes, which sounds like an amazing opportunity (they’re based at Rochester Institute of Technology).

Washi paper

On Tuesday I went to a talk by scholar and curator Nancy Broadbent Casserly, who has just published a book about Japanese washi paper. I thought I would give a brief summary here of all the wonderful information she shared during the talk. The talk focused on her research of washi papers in the Parkes Collection housed at Kew, part of their Economic Botany Collections. She began by describing the history of the collection, which was interesting in itself: Parkes was the British Minister in Tokyo in the 1860s and 70s and whilst living there was requested by Gladstone to gather information about Japanese paper manufacturing and report back to the Houses of Parliament. This request was probably partly due to the fact that the UK paper making industry was still struggling with a shortage of rag, and had not fully discovered the potential of using raw plant fibres, whilst Japan had long used gampi, kozo and mitsumata fibres to make their papers. Japan had also developed methods of using paper for a wide variety of applications, and the technologies through which they did this may also have seemed like appealing knowledge to gain (see my older post here about some of the things the 19th century British were trying to make from paper).

Parkes reported back to Parliament as requested, and also sent samples of papers and paper-making fibres. Sadly interest seemed to have waned by that point, and no-one quite knew what to do with these samples. They were passed on to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A), who in turn passed half of them on to Kew. The Kew part of the collection numbers 111 sheets of washi and 17 3D objects made from washi. Nancy described two different kinds of washi which can be found in that collection: decorated washi (karikami) and imitation leather washi (gikakuji and kinkarakawakami). The first kind is often woodblock printed, but a wide variety of other techniques could also be used: sometimes paper was brushed with pigment prior to printing; or “background’ printed with one pattern before being over-printed with another; flakes of gold leaf mixed with seaweed and rice starch could be applied; or ground shell or mica mixed with seaweed and rice starch to give a pearlescent look; and finally powdered pigment could be blown or sprayed onto the finished print. This kind of decorated paper was often used on screens or walls in Japanese houses.

Imitation leather washi was made by laminating sheets together with glue, and then dampening and oiling the sheets before pressing them around a covered roller to create a relief pattern or texture. Sometimes this would be leather-grain, but it could also be a more elaborate pattern. Alternatively the paper could be burnished to give a glossy calf-skin appearance. After this process the paper could be gilded, lacquered, sprinkled with mica, or decorated in other ways. Sometimes it was gilded all over and then varnished in order to resemble the kind of Spanish leather wall coverings that were fashionable at the time. Imitation leather washi was used for a wide variety of applications, including making fire-screens and bookbinding.

Nancy finished by discussing 3D objects made from washi in the Parkes Collection. This was possibly the most interesting bit, as due to the special techniques of oiling and lacquering the Japanese were able to make a wide variety of robust, beautiful and surprising objects. Imitation leather washi was used in the same way as leather to make objects such as book coverings and wallets. Washi was also woven so it could be turned into objects such as hats. It could be shaped and lacquered to make it as strong as wood but much lighter. This is a helmet made from washi paper, lacquered to make it strong and waterproof:

copyright the trustees of Kew Gardens

copyright Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

There is also a telescope in the collection made in this way, and a raincoat made from lacquered paper. Another interesting and pretty way they had of using washi paper was to create a fine, wrinkled paper made to look like silk crepe. It could be twisted and pleated, and soaked in starch to help keep its shape. These techniques were used to create ribbons and cords, like these imitation crepe hair ornaments:

copyright The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

copyright Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Nancy concluded by describing a few contemporary techniques of making and decorating washi paper (now mainly used for art and craft projects). There is currently an exhibition of the Parkes collection papers and washi papers made by contemporary papermakers at Norwich Univeristy of the Arts gallery, on until 20 April 2013.

A little bit more about different kinds of washi here

Washi: The Art of Japanese Paper by Nancy Broadbent Casserly (2013)

Paper Through Time

Paper Through Time

A study of 1,578 papers from 14th to 19th Century, using non-destructive methods to analyse their components. Timothy Barrett and fellow researchers discovered that the oldest papers were often in the best condition, partly due to the high levels of gelatine and calcium present in them. The website also provides excellent details of the pre-industrial papermaking process. 

Griffen Mill visit

 The Conservation studio at the Chester Beatty Library uses suppliers of materials and equipment from all over the world; however one of our favourite paper suppliers is right here in Ireland. Chris and Mike at Griffen Mill, based in County Mayo, make handmade papers suitable for conservators and bookbinders – we particularly like to use their Islamic-style paper called Akbar for endleaves. In the spring they kindly agreed to let us visit their papermaking workshop – below are some photos of my attempts at making paper.

Dipping the paper mould

Couching the newly formed sheet

Whilst we were there, Chris directed us in a little investigation into recreating a few historical recipes for the kind of surface tints and coatings that are found on Islamic papers, and we also attempted burnishing the surface to get a high shine. Islamic papers would be carefully prepared prior to calligraphy or illumination taking place, using processes such as tinting (white paper was not favoured), applying a coating, and burnishing. Surface coatings and sizes were used to create a smooth glossy, non-absorbent surface; vital in order to allow the reed pen used for calligraphy to move smoothly across the paper. Burnishing brings a beautiful gloss to the paper, but also helps to make it flexible and supple, and gives the paper the ‘drape’ characteristic of Islamic and Arabic books.

Here are some of the coatings that we tried out: 

  • gum tragacanth: soaked in cold water for 45 minutes and then strained. We painted this on in two layers, allowing it to dry in between. Although it didn’t initially produce a particularly glossy appearance, following burnishing it moved well, felt beautiful, and displayed a soft sheen
  • duck egg ahar: using the whites of duck eggs mixed 50/50 with water, to which we added a few lumps of alum. The mixture was then moved around using fingers to agitate it. It is supposed to eventually curdle, although we found if this did happen it certainly wasn’t visibly evident. After agitating it for about 30 minutes we strained it. For a more comprehensive recipe see the link at the bottom of this post. The ahar was painted on in 2 coats, and was really shiny once dry. The surface burnished up really well
  • tea and saffron tints: white paper was not generally desirable for Islamic works of art – instead a soft tint was preferred. We experimented with gently toning the paper using saffron and tea in water. I have been wondering whether using natural pigments like this might be a suitable way to tone repair papers – however a quick check in the studio showed that tea water has rather a high pH and so might not be suitable. Still, it would be interesting to carry out further tests
  • gelatine: mixing watercolour pigments with 4% gelatine in order to tint and shine at the same time
  • wheat starch paste: mixing pigment with thin wheat starch paste in order to create a tone and gloss simultaneously. This might be a good way to tone up paper for repair of manuscripts, and maybe gives depth rather than just a flat colour. Again, worth further experimentation

In order to burnish the prepared paper, it can be rested on any smooth surface. Curved wooden boards or stones were traditionally used, an image of which can be seen on this blog: The curved surface would’ve limited the amount of movement needed from the papermaker as it reflects the natural reach of the arms. The paper could be rubbed with dry soap prior to burnishing in order to increase the slip of the burnishing stone on the surface. Stones such as agate were traditionally used, but anything smooth such as glass or conch shells were also used. We tried using a round glass paperweight, which worked excellently and was comfortable to hold in the hand.

Burnishing paper

Varying pressure by the burnisher can lead to a visible difference in surface texture and gloss – sometimes burnishing on top of a patterned surface (such as carved wood perhaps) was done deliberately in order to create a subtle pattern in the paper, caused by the recesses and raised areas of the surface below (like taking a rubbing by pressure alone).

Apart from all our discussion and experimentation with Islamic-style methods, we were able to quiz Chris and Mike about many aspects of papermaking and hear about their experience as papermakers. I was particularly impressed by the labour of love it was to move their ‘pig flattener’ (big rollers used for calendaring) down the country lane and into the workshop (which took two days using a winch, a few inches at a time).

The ‘pig flattener’

I highly recommend visiting their website which has many interesting sections, including an illustrated history of papermaking. The online shop provides more details of their papers (the range covers papers for conservation, bookbinding, and artists’ papers) which excitingly now includes two different 19th century-style watercolour papers. Sample books are also available.

Further information about preparing Islamic papers can be found on this wonderful website by a contemporary calligrapher: http:// under tools and techniques for ahar recipes.

Unusual uses of paper

In preparing for my forthcoming lecture at the Chester Beatty Library next week I came across this wonderful website about 19th Century paper boats, full of interesting anecdotes about unusual things made from paper, including observatory domes, boats, and train wheels: