Decorating Paper Interview #3: How?

A shaky photo taken by an ally who gained access to Claudia's bindery, showing the first batch of completed Decorating Paper sets. This week the final piece will be set in place: the samples in each copy will be calligraphically numbered in sequence, and a separate reference sheet providing details about each sample will be included. Claudia needed to get the bindings and sequencing finalized out before we could set and print these sheets.

This week's Q&A asks a few technical and logistical questions about creating a reference that spans two volumes and over 500 unique paper samples...

How many methods/techniques are illustrated/included in the book; how many paper samples are there in total; and how many of those samples were created by you for the book vs being sourced from others?

Barbara Hodgson: Decorating Paper covers eight of what we’ve identified as major paper-decorating methods. Within each category, we discuss various techniques. This is how we’ve organized the book, dividing the subjects into the two volumes, the first for papers made by hand, the second for papers made by some kind of printing technique.

Volume One:
  • Random-Patterned Papers: Sprinkled, False-Marbled, Crinkled
  • Pulp-Patterned Papers: Watermark & Water-Pattern, Pulp Innovations
  • Paste Papers: Paste-Paper Techniques, Paste-Paper Style
  • Marbled Papers: Suminagashi, Turkish & European Marbled Papers
Volume Two:
  • Stencilled & Resist Papers: Katazome; Screen Printing; Silhouette Paper; Brushed, Sponged & Wiped; Spattered, Sprayed & Airbrushed; Batik; Shibori; Itagime
  • Lithographed & Glazed Papers: Lithography & Chromolithography, Offset Lithography, Glazed & Metallic
  • Embossed Papers: Dutch Gilt, Blind & Metallic Embossed, Leather Imitation
  • Relief Printed Papers: Woodcut; Karakami, Chiyogami & Zuancho; Domino & Calico; Remondini & Rizzi; Flock; Wallpaper; Rotary Block & Letterpress; Linocut & Stamps
In many instances, the techniques are subdivided. For example, under water-pattern techniques, within the category of pulp-patterned papers, we discuss mizutamashi (water-drop paper), suiryushi or ryusui (flowing water), rakusuishi or resugami (stencilled spray water, “lace” paper), hikikakegami, and danshi (“Sandalwood” paper).

What’s the most uncommon, strange, and/or hard-to-source sample in the book?
Claudia Cohen: The easiest to find are the marbled papers, because they’re the most common. The hardest to find were the 18th century ones. The resist paste papers (mentioned in Q&A #1) also are very hard to come by. It was a technique used for such a brief period of time, and you certainly can’t buy it commercially now.

I inquired with a lot of book dealers in Europe, but very few had any papers to sell. I bought some papers from auctions in Holland. There’s an auction house there that has two auctions a year, and I got some really nice early papers in an odd lot. You never know what you’ll get with those. There seem to be a lot of serious paper collectors in Holland, so it’s a good place to go looking.

One of the nicest samples in the book is the block-printed dominoté, a yellow sheet with small dots (see above). Those were made no later than 1820. I bought four sheets of the same pattern in two different auctions, which was a real coincidence. To find four whole sheets of old paper is very rare. Then one the hardest thing’s about doing this book is cutting up a sheet of 18th century paper, to make the samples!

Another sheet in the book that was hard to find is the Rizzi (below). Those came from a trade with another collector. I was lucky enough to stumble across multiple sheets. I was told by a bookseller who had them that the reason Rizzi papers have become so uncommon is that Tanya Schmoller hoovered up all the samples she could find for her book about them (Remondini and Rizzi: A Chapter in Italian Decorated Paper History, Bird & Bull 1990). I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a good book. It’s the reference book on Remondini papers. 

BH: One particular technique eluded us: silhouette paper. This is one of the earliest types of decorated paper, originally created in Persia and Turkey, and popular in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were often used to decorate albums. It’s a simple but fiddly technique, felt or leather is cut into patterns, soaked in dye, and then pressed between papers. The colour transfers to both papers. I made dozens of small transfers, using leather, wool, felt, and chamois cloth for the patterns; dyes or paints for the colouring; and a variety of papers. None resulted in anything that I thought worthy of the book.

Papers that we made ourselves include ebru [Turkish marbling - the round samples shown on this page were all made by Barbara], shibori (Japanese tie-dye paper), kakishibu-coated crinkled paper, paste papers, and marbled papers. 

Were any of the techniques discussed hard to research (i.e. a lack of information) or difficult to find examples of? How many of the techniques are essentially obsolete, or even forgotten, now?

BH: Several techniques are now a rare specialty, for example, batik paper (samples below). This is made with a wax-resist technique, similar to the way batik cloth is made. Our information for how it was made commercially came from August Weichelt's Buntpapier-Fabrikation (1927). Translating Weichelt’s German text was made extra specially difficult for this reader of rudimentary German, as many of the technical terms are obsolete and not found in any dictionaries, print or on-line. I made a glossary of such terms that I could find, cross-referencing and slowly filling in the missing words (a process made somewhat simpler by the delight Germans take in making compound words). I eventually managed to piece together the rough technique. If someone ever translates Weichelt’s book into English, they will be doing the world of paper a big favour.

But the saga of batik paper doesn’t end with Weichelt. It was also made by artisans, including Emil Kretz (Swiss) and Ingeborg Börjesson (Danish born). But, where we classified the commercial technique as wax-resist stencilling, we classified the artisanal type as paste-paper, because of the actual application of colouring. Although we are able to follow the general methods that Kretz and Börjesson used for making their papers, each no doubt carried to their graves that “something special” that makes their papers uniquely theirs.

Tell me a bit about how you decided to physically present the samples in the book. What are some of the challenges or issues you had to deal with?

BH: We chose to present the papers as either small specimens, grouped together to make up a whole sample sheet, or as larger, full-page samples. Specimen sheets are a time-honoured tradition among paper makers and are still used today. Because both Claudia and I value specimen sheets as much for their aesthetic qualities as for the information they display, we decided to make our specimen sheets as visually pleasing as possible. We explored the varieties produced by the decorating paper factories of the past, especially those of Aschaffenburg. Ours is designed along the same lines, but we made ours more flexible, to accommodate a variety of different sizes of specimens.

Sometimes small samples appear with the text. Most are clustered at the end of each chapter, ensuring that the flow of the text was not interrupted.

CC: The main challenge with a book like this, with so many tipped-in samples of all different shapes and sizes, is you can end up with a pie-shaped book if you don’t compensate for all the thickness you’re adding with the samples. The Decorating Paper volumes are sewn on a medium-weight Japanese paper concertina. There’s a zig-zag between each signature, sometimes two, so that the spine ends up the same thickness as the text block with all the samples inserted. You have to sew a couple of copies to get it just right.

Another technical issue was how to protect and contain the loose portions of the tipped in samples, and the gatefold spreads. Because remember we wanted people to be able to inspect the back of the samples as well as the front, you had to be able to fold or turn the samples to see the verso. So I had to include tabs throughout the book to hold the larger samples in place - there are scores in each volume - so they don’t flap around.

Another trick I used - which people may think is purely decorative but it had a function too - was adding samples cut in circles throughout the book, often near the fore edges, to help build up the thickness at the outer margin to match the middle of the text block, where most of the bulk of samples lay. It was a structural issue, tempered by aestehtics. I love cutting decorated paper in circles. It’s like a spotlight. It intensifies the pattern.

Next week's post looks at some intriguing contemporary decorated papers being created in the U.K.