The Story of Pastepapers at the Four Hands Design Studio

We began making pastepapers in earnest in 1978. With the help of Rosamund Loring's book, Decorative Book Papers, and information printed in Roller Printed Paste Papers by the Bird and Bull Press from the rare book room at the New York Public Library, we developed a formula of mixed starches and acrylic colors that met our needs. The push to make pastepapers came, at that time, from a need for larger sheets of decorative paper to cover the albums and boxes we were making. The only papers in the marketplace were marbled papers and a few printed papers, all produced in a standard 17 by 19 inches. It took two matching sheets for any one project. As our standard, we chose Arches Text Laid, a 100% rag paper 25 by 39 inches in size. This larger sheet of paper is economical and insures ease of handling whether the papers are used for (small) books or large projects like covering walls and screens.

Our paste formula developed after cooking every starch we could find. Flours made of rice, wheat, tapioca, corn, and potato along with their varieties; bleached, unbleached, glutinous etc. were cooked, mixed with watercolors, and spread on paper. (Research yielded simple recipes that included additional ingredients like oil of cloves for its preservative properties and detergent for ease of spreading and clean up, neither of which is necessary.) As (these various) pastes dried, each yielded papers with different qualities. Some were rough to the touch while others were smooth and pearl-like. A few pastes made no apparent change to the paper's structure while some would curl the paper remarkably. One paste made smooth papers that seemed to absorb moisture from our hands while handled them. Brushes and combs produced different effects in the paste, designs would bleed in runny or gummy pastes and remain distinct in those that had more body. Paste build up was also a concern, the paper should dry with a flat surface without the drawing, (especially with combs) becoming a bas-relief that would not wear well on books. From these tests we selected the qualities that we found most aesthetic, durable, and useful. We added a mordant to fasten the colors and an acrylic varnish to enhance its durability. This gave us a formula for articulate drawing and a smooth, strong surface.

Coloring the paste was very expensive. We started using the traditional watercolors. In the quantities we were making (each batch of paste was one and a half litres) a little tube of watercolor didn't yield the color intensity we wanted. We tried dyes but they were fugitive, would often stain the paper reducing the contrast, and did not always produce pleasing effects. Finally, we came to acrylic paints. They provided the best source of strong pigments at a reasonable price and gave us the intense colors we wanted.

Sage's background in bookbinding had taught him how to handle gold leaf. In his reading, he had been intrigued by accounts of historical gilded and figured papers (that had been produced in Portugal among other places) and attempted to copy, or at least update, the techniques and use them in our papers. Further research into Japanese techniques of gilding lacquerware and textiles lead the way to producing our first gilded papers. In some ways it opened a floodgate, the paste color formulas were altered with bronze powders and polyester glitters. We devised methods for adding metallic leaf to the papers surface and irridescence to the paste.

Producing papers for sale meant there would have to be consistency in our production. Colors were put into recipe form with every ingredient weighed on a triplebeam balance and written onto cards. The papers themselves were covered with a measured amount of colored paste; early on we had seen that papers made in one color without measuring the paste gave us a number of sheets that appeared to be made from differing shades. With these controls in place we were able to produce samplebooks that would truly reflect what our clients could order.

With our background in the fine arts, we felt that paste would offer us a medium in which to express ourselves. Our production process is similar to those followed by other paste paper makers. We make our tools or alter those commonly available in local hardware and art supply stores. (Our search never ends and it has resulted in a large collection of brushes, combs, some kitchen utinsels, rollers, and hand-cut stamps. On occassion we have used plastic bags and crumpled paper.) We hope than our designs will be seen as contemporary, but not without a history, designs whose first allegiance is to the pleasure found in simple rythmic structures and rich colors. Paste is a remarkable medium for impressions of all kinds.

We have been in another book American Decorative Papermakers by the Busyhaus Press; 1983, we were the only (known) pastepaper makers at that time in America (we had begun in 1978 or there abouts with our first experiments in 1974-5 after Sage's first trip to Croydon); all the other people in that publication were marbellers. In our little essay for that publication we mentioned Rosamond Loring's Decorative Book Papers and Roller Printed Paste Papers by the Bird and Bull Press (the only copy available then was in the rare book collection of the New York Public Library).

If you got to this page from Google or some other source and would like to see the Sage's Papers paste paper online sample book, click

Paste Paper Sample Book.

If you would like to see Sage's main website where you can see how paste papers are used to make Japanese screens, Please click

Sage Reynolds Website