Decoration · How-to · Paste Paper

How to Make Paste Papers

Paste Papers are papers which have been painted with a cooked and colored flour and water mixture. There are many ways to use these papers, but I most often use them as decorative covers for books. This week I had the pleasure of incorporating paste papers into projects with students at Long Trail School in Vermont. I supplied papers that I decorated to some of the classes while students in other classes made their own paste papers.

There are many recipes for making paste. It’s all about preference. My preference is to use Gold Medal Flour for making paste. I mix the flour with cold water, with a whisk, using 4 cups of water to each cup of flour. It starts out looking like milk.

Addendum 04/2022 :  When I make wheat paste to mix with PVA to glue down paper to board or paper to paper, , I need only a small amount of wheat paste, so I start with 1 cup water and 1/4 flour. Same as above, start by adding Gold Medal flour to the cold water, whisk, then cook over medium heat, whisk whisk whisk. This small amount takes about 5 minutes to make, from start t to finish.

The flour-water mixture needs to be cooked over a medium heat, whisking often. If the stove top temperature is too high the paste will form lumps (bad). It will take about 8 minutes for the paste to begin to thicken. After about 12 minutes it will thicken considerably. Lower the heat then continue to cook for another 4 to 8 minutes. I generally figure on spending 20 minutes making paste. It’s important to stand by and whisk the mixture quite regularly. No going to the computer to check emails,,,,

After the paste cools down, put about a cup of paste in each of several bowls, then mix a big dollop of acrylic paint into each bowl.  A big dollop might be a  tablespoons or two?
The brushes pictured here are inexpensive utility brushes from Home Depot. I protect my work area with a big sheet of plexiglass that my friend Julie gave to me. I like the plexiglass because it easily wipes clean. In schools I cover tables with  multiple layers of newspaper.

Lightly coat of piece of paper with water, then smear on the paste. Most decent quality papers (ie NOT newsprint) work out fine. Use what is available, and if that doesn’t work, find something else, Papers that people like include Mohawk Super Fine, Aches Text Laid, and Canson Ingres. Different papers accept the colors differently. Lately I have been happily using Crane’s Distaff Linen paper.

Continue slopping on paste. Be careful not to heavily coat the paper as thick, dry paste will crack when you fold it. Add interesting textures on the surface of the paper by using a Q-tip as a drawing tool, lightly dragging combs through the paint, dabbing the paint with a sponge, pressing in foam stamps, or using anything at all that can create a texture. This part is all about discovering what kind of tools feel good to you. When the design is finished transfer the paper to a non-stick surface to dry. At the school, students placed their paper in a drying rack. At home I spread out a big plastic drop cloth for laying out the paper to dry. It takes a few hours to a full day for the paper to dry, depending on the humidity in the air and the thickness of the paste.

Here’s the finished piece of paper which was started in the photos above. The paper looks best when it becomes part of a book.

So here it is, the next day, on the cover of a book.

Here are a few more small books using a selection of paste papers for the covers.

The paste paper making classes at the school were 42 minutes long. That gave me about 5 minutes to demonstrate at the beginning of class, 5 minutes for everyone to clean up at the end of class, and about 30 minutes to work.

Students seemed to average making about 3 papers apiece during class.