Last month (and now continuing into this month) I’ve been making paste papers, lots and lots of paste papers. Those of you who follow my blog know what I’m talking about, but for others, here’s a link to find out more about what paste papers are: Making Paste Papers – Part One.
This year I decided to try out a number of different paste paper recipes. It was interesting to see how different recipes changed how the paste worked. While my favorite recipe is still my archival cooked paste, I have found others that work almost as well. I’m sharing the results here.
Wall Paper Paste Recipe
The easiest “recipe” is to purchase premixed wall paper paste from Home Depot. Add color to the paste, then paint and decorate the wet or damp paper. I used Golden Liquid Acrylics, but anything that would color the paste would work.
What I liked. The paste is premixed and doesn’t need straining. The paste doesn’t need to be refrigerated and keeps almost forever. There’s very little prep work needed. The finished paste paper is not likely to crack. The finished paper will not attract bugs.
What I didn’t like. Because a lot of the work is already done for you, it does cost more money than most other pastes. I had no control over the consistency as it was premixed. I found the paste to be just a little thinner than I like. When the paste dried it was a bit dull.
Flour & Water Recipe
Flour and water is another possible paste that can be easily made. If you add non-toxic tempera paints, this is a very inexpensive paste that can be used with young children.
3 cups water
1/2 cup flour
Add just enough of the water to the flour to make a paste the consistency of cream. Boil the rest of the water, then add the flour and water mixture. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat. Strain through a strainer or cheesecloth to remove any lumps. Let the paste cool before using.
What I liked. The ingredients are easy to find. It’s easy to make and it’s non-toxic.
What I didn’t like. Bugs tend to like the dried flour. It’s not archival. Cooking takes time. If I’m going to this much trouble to cook paste, I would want to make my archival recipe. The paste needs to be used in a few days or it goes bad.
Another recipe that uses ingredients you’re likely to already have on hand. Although it’s not my favorite, many paste paper artists like this recipe.
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 3/4 cups water
Mix cornstarch with 1/4 cup cold water. Add 1 cup water and heat on medium high. Stir constantly until mixture resembles a thick custard. Remove from heat and add the remaining 1/2 cup water. Mix once, then let sit to cool thoroughly. After cool, strain paste through strainer or cheesecloth.
What I liked. This only calls for cornstarch and water, something I always have in my kitchen.
What I didn’t like. I find the paste papers made with this to be a bit dull. The paste needs to be used in a few days or it goes bad.
Methyl Cellulose Recipe
This is the hardest recipe to explain as the quantities of water to powder change depending on where you get your methyl cellulose. While Daniel Smith no longer sells it, I used about half as much of their methyl cellulose to get the same consistency as I got using the methyl cellulose I got from John Neal Bookseller. However, John Neal’s methyl cellulose mixed much easier than Daniel Smith’s. So, my best suggestion is to mix it as suggested by whoever you get your methyl cellulose from.
What I liked. Once mixed, it lasts indefinitely (use distilled water and glass or plastic containers, no metal). It’s almost like working with watercolors. Great top coat when adding another color on a different type of paste paper. Archival.
What I didn’t like. It takes a while to find the right water/methyl cellulose balance. It’s almost like working with watercolors and gives a soft edge. Some paste paper artists use about 50% methyl cellulose and 50% acrylic. It is very expensive, in my opinion to use this much acrylic paint. I use about 1 teaspoon of acrylic to 1/2 cup of paint (though I never actually measure).
Non-Cook Wheat Starch Paste Recipe
This powder is somehow precooked. It is mixed with cold water and requires no cooking. You can order it from John Neal Bookseller and probably other places.
4 tablespoons non-cook wheat starch
2 cups cold water
Add 4 tablespoons non-cook wheat starch paste to 2 cups cold water. Stir until mixed. Strain paste through strainer or cheesecloth.
What I liked. It’s easy to make. No cooling time required. It’s easy to control the thickness.
What I didn’t like. I can only get the non-cook wheat starch online. The paste needs to be used in a few days or it goes bad.
My Archival Wheat Starch & Rice Flour Recipe
This is my favorite recipe. I’ve been using it for years and I know just what to expect from it.
4 tablespoons wheat starch
3 tablespoons rice flour
3 cups boiling distilled water
1 teaspoon tincture of green soap
1/2 teaspoon glycerine
optional – several drops of oil of cloves as a preservative
Mix wheat starch and rice flour with just enough cool distilled water to for a mixture the consistency of heavy cream. Let sit for 30 minutes. Add 1 cup boiling water to starch and flour mixture. Place in double boiler (already hot), stir and add another cup boiling water almost immediately. Stir constantly. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add another cup boiling water and cook about another 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add glycerine and soap. Mix well, but don’t beat (you don’t want to introduce air bubbles). After cool, strain paste through strainer or cheesecloth.
What I liked. I like the texture of this paste on the paper. It’s archival. The colors are brighter than with some other pastes. The paste holds patterns well.
What I didn’t like. Sometimes I’d rather have a smoother surface, but that’s what other recipes are for. Ingredients are hard to find. I have to order the wheat starch online. I get the glycerine from my local pharmacy. I order the tincture of green soap from my local pharmacy. The paste needs to be used in a few days or it goes bad.
If cost is your #1 concern, go with the Flour and Water Recipe or the Cornstarch Recipe.
If you want super easy, use Home Depot’s wall paper paste.
If you want the most archival, go with either the Methyl Cellulose Recipe or My Archival Wheat Starch & Rice Flour Recipe.
My suggestion for the best combination of ease and quality, I would suggest the Non-Cook Wheat Starch Recipe. To make it a bit more archival and flexible, add 1/4 teaspoon of glycerine and 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (or tincture of green soap if you can get it).
For adding color to your paste, I use Golden Liquid Acrylics. I use about 1 teaspoon of acrylic to about 1/2 cup paste. I don’t measure, so it’s just approximate. I like Golden because their acrylics are heavily pigmented. You may need more of other acrylics or other paints (like tempera) to get the same color saturation. Experiment. You can use anything that will color paints.
If you are using this with children and you want to make sure everything is non-toxic, I would suggest trying Natural Earth Paints. They are made by Leah, a friend of mine. Check out her Children’s Earth Paint Kit.