A dedicated fabric and yarn stasher should never open a single drawer in the fancy paper section of an art store. But I did, and I couldn’t resist taking home a few samples. Just to see how they performed as borders or mats to simple line art.
One of the most appealing aspects to CBP for me has always been the intrigue of compositions done solely in black ink with a minimum of lines. I particularly love cats portrayed in this manner. There’s something inherent in their sleek lines and smooth curves that transitions to ink on paper so elegantly.
First came the artwork
One paper I fell for was a wonderfully soft, textured green. I pulled out a few old frames, cut the paper roughly to size and then planned a few ink compositions on a heavy textured rough paper. I made a pair of felines of course, then a trio of frogs done in the style of master Qi Baishi, and a strip featuring five snails. All but the snails were done solely in dark ink. They got a little light green wash on their slimy parts.
When the art was dry I measured them for placement on top of the colored matting. Previously I had learned the heavy rough paper tore leaving nice rustic edges if you wet it along a planned edge, and then pulled away the excess against a ruler edge. I used the glass from a small picture frame and ripped all four edges around my finished art and thus acquired same-sized art for arranging on the colored backdrops.
Bonding the artwork to the green matting posed a challenge. I auditioned my artwork over the green matting inside the frames, and was most pleased. I was tempted to leave the creations merely “friction fit” or held in place by the glass, but knew that for any long term enjoyment, the artwork would have to be more permanently fixed in place.
Considering glue options
Rice Glue was my first consideration. Both papers, the green as well as the heavy cream, seemed to have sizing of some kind. A vegetable-based glue probably would be more compatible than any manufactured product, I presumed. I’ve done my share of decoupage and know how to work with “white glue” (carpenters’ glue, or a brand name product such as Modge Podge) to get a clean finish. Mind you, rubber cement that comes in a little brown bottle with applicator brush right in the lid, does a good job with photo mounting. (I have some 45-year old photo projects from journalism school that have stood the test of time just fine.)
Several of my art group friends who have worked with more traditional silk borders and Japanese papers recommended I bond the green paper to a mulberry paper backing. (It apparently would give me less grief in the gluing process than rice paper by staying flat and not wrinkling.) I could do that in the usual CBP art-finishing method. (See earlier blog)
Playing with paper
Even after testing a paper swatch, I wasn’t sure how much dye my green paper would release when wet, so I set forth to conduct a few experiments with my several subjects. I bonded a small test piece using rice glue and mulberry paper. Very little dye released, the paper was nicely crisp and flat, and the texture was only slightly altered to a softer green when dry. So I forged ahead.
For the cats and snails, I cut mulberry paper slightly larger than the green pieces and used rice glue to stretch them. I did the two pieces for the cats first and let them dry overnight. In the morning I discovered the paper was VERY firmly attached to my drying boards and it looked as if the smooth surface would be damaged in removal. I grabbed some wet paper towels and re-wet the bonded papers. They lifted easily, but were now soggy again. Nevertheless the green paper was bonded to the backing pieces. So I lay them out on tin foil to dry again, and decided to try and affix wet cats to the damp backings.
I placed my feline artwork face down, spritzed them to relax the paper, and then saturated them with rice glue as usual. I simply placed them on top of the damp green/mulberry backings, and patted gently so that the torn edges were fixed down. The cats seemed to be absorbing some of the green dye. Knowing that wet art and dry artwork can look quite different I didn’t get too alarmed over the greening of my cats. Besides, this was experimental art, right?
I left those to dry. For the snails, I only brushed rice glue on the backs of the cream base paper, not saturating them quite as thoroughly as the cats, and then patted them down in place on their matting.
For the frogs, I merely fixed the green matting paper to a cardboard backing with a few dabs of rubber cement, and then saturated the three frog pieces with rice glue and set them in place to dry on top of the DRY green matting.
I set all three trials aside to dry while I contemplated the placement of my chop using the traditional red cinnabar.
Of the three trials, the frogs emerged the most pleasing. (wet mount on dry matting, rubber cement fixing the green matting to card stock). This is how they look as a vertical arrangement of three images; I’ve shot them at an angle so that any wrinkling/texture will show better.
Here are close-ups that show how the green dye bleeds through the heavy cream paper somewhat. That bleed-through is not nearly as distracting with the frogs as it is with the cats, perhaps because the frogs are painted solid black, or maybe because in real life they are green while cats are not.
The green paper lost some of its sheen from the glue bath and released a lot of color into the cats (wet into wet). I love my framed cats, but wish they weren’t quite so green-hued.
The Snails (damp onto wet) emerged with less greening. Here they are completely dried, chopped and framed. I love the composition, just wish I could have achieved a finer line for their outlines.
Cats and Snails both curled along the outer edges as the bonded green and mulberry backing dried. I trimmed them all to fit their frames and tested their flatness under glass. The cats complied nicely but the snails showed a few wrinkles. I took out my steam iron, covered them with newspaper and ironed out the wrinkles.
All of them are now dry, flat, under glass and propped around my art room. On some of my passes through the work space I am convinced the cats aren’t as ghastly green as I first thought. At other times they look quite sickly. All in all this ‘paper caper’ was fun, and I’m considering moving up to trying the fancy paper borders with ribbons that some of my art friends do so well.