Thursday, November 11, 2010

mmmmmm paper....

I loooooove paper! I love everything about it - how it looks and feels, how it's made and what you can make with it. I love thick paper and thin paper, cheap paper and super-duper arty (expensive) paper. 

I'm making another pile of paper at the moment - this one has parsley flakes in it!
next week I'm doing an activity day at my kidlins public school -
(I'm doing things with PAPER this pile of 'parsley' paper is destined for those young fingers...

When paper-making (as we know it) spread from China to the western world somewhere around the 1400s it revolutionised book making (and I'm sure a whole heap of young animals breathed a sigh of relief..... no more sacrificing their skins for book pages!... hee hee hee). Paper remains the foundation of book production (be that mass production or one-off arrrrty creations) so it's a subject that requires particular attention..... I've found the more that I understand about paper, the more I'm able to actively control what's going on with all my (papery) art making.

Now paper is a HUGE subject - we arty folk spend a lifetime developing our understanding - I'm only going to go over a few key properties (every one of these needs consideration before tackling any arty project) and I'm going to concentrate all my arty energy on ONE paper property in particular (it's the one I think makes or breaks a booky project)..... 

very briefly these are the main properties of paper (and an even briefer explanation!) that I consider in my arty process (and I'll be using these terms every time I talk about book projects so it's best I introduce them now....)

the archival quality (is the stock acid free?);
the weight, which is the paper's thickness (boards are described by the thickness - eg 1mm, 2mm, and paper is generally measured in gsm = grams per square metre..... the bigger the number , the heavier the paper....360gsm is heavier eg thicker than 80gsm);  
the surface (rough... aka cold press = CP, smooth is hot press = HP, and something in between rough and smooth = 'not' short for 'not hot pressed');
the colour (I'm one of those pitiful creatures who carries on about getting just the right the subtle shade of white....);
the furnish - or what the paper is made of (paper is essentially cellulose from plant matter, like cotton, jute, mulberry, esparato, etc etc that has been mushed up in water, before being 'pulled'.... the better artist papers usually have a high rag content - eg cotton or linen....but japanese papers, also uber-arty-great, are made from the inner bark of mulberry)
the sizing (that's the stuff added to inhibit bleeding..... ever bought some delicious handmade paper at a market and found that you can't write on it without creating a monster puddle?.... that's what happens when a paper has no sizing);
and the grain (no I don't mean oats, wheat or barley hee hee hee)......

        ....and it's paper grain I'm going to chat about here - let's call this...

How to ....
work out the grain direction of paper 
(and why it's something you need to know...)

All mould-made and machine-made paper has a grain* - (yep all of it - it doesn't matter if your paper is el cheapo wood pulp or the finest grade artist's rag paper). The grain refers to the way the fibres align as the sheet is being formed. Have you noticed that newspapers tear easily in one direction but not the other (yeck.... what a mess)?

that's because all the little wood pulp fibres are all lined up neatly in that (easy to tear) direction.
And that is the grain direction of the paper.

So why do you need to know this?

Paper tears more easily and folds more successfully along the grain, but paper is stronger/ stiffer across the grain.... it also expands and contracts across the grain..... (this is why watercolour artists pre-stretch -and tape down their paper before slopping about puddles of water! if they don't - ooops it's a cockled-paper catastrophe!) In any book project it is important - no I'd even say it's ESSENTIAL that you know the direction of all the paper grains (in the boards, in the papers used to cover them, the text pages everywhere) -  that they are aligned in the same direction - and that the grain runs (almost without fail) from the head (top) of the book to the tail (bottom). Now for every rule of course there are exceptions - but unless stated otherwise that's what's going on in all my booky projects.

so how (other than ripping it) can you easily figure out what direction the grain is running on your paper?

I do the 'bouncy-bouncy'...... pop your piece of paper on a flat surface... lightly press down with a bouncing movement and feel the resistance....

bouncy bouncy bounce..... mmmm nice and easy this way around....

now rotate the paper 90 degrees and repeat the light pressing action....

not so bouncy bouncy bounce..... oh how can you resist me so!

the paper offers less resistance along the grain and more resistance across the grain - so the grain is running parallel to the fold with the least resistance - (eg the top piccie here) wheeeee!

It's a good thing there isn't a spy camera my studio - I'm sure everyone would think I'm quite mad when they see me bouncing little bits of paper all the time - when I'm making book things with paper I am constantly checking the grain direction (check twice, do things right the first time is my credo!). oh and to check boards (which don't really take to the bouncy bouncy test) - I do the flexy flexy...... flex the board in one direction, rotate 90 degrees, flex again..... one way is much easier to flex than the other..... and, you guessed it - that's the way the grain is running.

Now we're almost ready to get into bookworks eh? well not quite (I've got another favourite topic to talk about - and a couple of booky terms to relate first...)

and before I head off to tackle a HUGE pile of monster mulberries (mmmmmmm mulberries...) I must add - 'which paper' by silvie turner is a rippa reference book on 'choosing and using fine paper'..... I thoroughly recommend it (good luck trying to find it however...).... ahhh I loooove paper.... and books!

*handmade papers display a less distinct grain - in part because the motion used to create handmades is much more random than machine-made papers.... still, handmades CAN have a distinct grain - so it's best to always test)



  1. I love your teaching style, very warm & reassuring. I have one addition to make to checking the grain of boards. Once you've identified the grain put a little arrow to show which way it goes. Every time you need to cut a piece from that board mark the grain on the cut piece before you cut it. The smaller the piece of board gets the more difficult it is to flex it so if you've added the little arrow you'll always know. And I do wish I always followed my own advice.

  2. great advice carol! thanks for your valuable addition!

  3. oooo nice tip Carol; and Ronnie, such a insightful post.

  4. And wouldn't it be handy if all watermarks ran along the grain edge, like the mill mark on fabric selvedge?

    And Carol's tip is a good one to apply to paper, too. Those odd pieces that you want to save for something else have an annoying way of re-shuffling themselves on their shelf!

  5. I agree - great advice from Carol. I try to do it, but often make my arrows so far apart that by the time I am cutting down a smallish cover then there are no arrows left on that bit! Sigh. I agree as well re watermarks would be very handy. All your thoughts and tips are the things that most beginners think - oh it doesn't matter - and most who have been doing things for a while KNOW make all the difference. ASs Carol also says - if I could only follow my own advice all the time!


thanks for all your lovely comments - your words are greatly appreciated xx