Sourcing: Paper

As an artist, I take materials seriously because they are the vehicles for my work. In my most recent series of collages, paper plays a large role because it serves as the foundation for each piece. The different collages lend themselves to subtly different paper colors and textures; I love tinkering with these aspects when deciding how to finish each one.

Here are some different colored and textured papers from a sample book I ordered from Talas:

In this post, I want to talk about two of my favorite papers: Somerset and Pescia.

I started using Somerset paper for large scale prints in college. At 250-300gsm (grams per square meter), this paper is substantial and provides an excellent base for multiple layers of ink. I’ve grown to love Somerset, especially because of it’s textured surface (woolen felts are used in the papermaking process to create the texture) so I have continued using it as the base for some of my current work. I especially love the Somerset Velvet black because it is such a rich shade; using a black base creates the high contrast I strive for in many of my pieces.

Here’s a detail shot of an unfinished collage on Somerset Velvet black paper. Notice how much contrast there is even between the darker strips of paper and the black background:

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Somerset paper is made at St. Cuthberts Mill, in the ancient cathedral city of Wells in Southwest England. This mill has been making paper since the 1700s using one of the few remaining cylinder mould machines in the world.

Mould made papers tend have more dimensional and surface stability than paper made using Fourdrinier machines or by hand. This means that mould made paper will not change drastically when exposed to different temperatures or humidity. I dampen each sheet of paper before mounting collage elements on top, so dimensional stability is important to me. More on my process in a future post.

Here’s a great video from St. Cuthberts Mill showing how their paper is made - it’s clear that they take pride in their product from their intricate operation and careful inspection process:

Somerset paper is also acid free, lignin free, archival and pH neutral to alkaline. Lignin (pronounced lig-nin) is a naturally occurring chemical found in wood pulp that causes paper to turn yellow over time (think old newspaper). The lignin needs to be removed during the papermaking process in order for paper to be considered archival.

Another paper I’ve recently started using is called Pescia. This paper is made by the Magnani paper mill (Cartiera Magnani in Italian) in Italy. This mill has been operating since the 1400s and has become synonymous with high quality and luxury. In fact, Napoleon Bonaparte used Magnani paper wedding invitations for his marriage to Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria, in 1810.

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Like Somerset, Pescia paper is also mould made and it has a neutral pH, which contributes to its archival quality.

Though these papers are machine made, they are hand finished: the deckled, or torn, edges of the sheets are created by splitting larger sheets by hand (3:00 in video above.) The papers are also inspected and counted manually to ensure the highest quality product.

Using high quality paper is important to me because I want my work to stand the test of time. These mills have been making paper for centuries, so I know I can trust their products for my work. Are there any materials that you are especially passionate about?