Shop PortfoliosVolunteers

More Couching and Drying

March 16, 2021

This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #96 (October, 2011).

This is a continuation of Mary’s column in the last issue, on basic and experimental couching and drying surfaces. She begins with an explanation of restraint drying.

While a stack drying system requires a strong pressing of the wet paper for best results, restraint drying calls for only a light pressing so as to leave more water in the paper, helping it adhere to its restraining surface. Once it’s been pressed, the paper can be brushed or rolled out onto the board using a soft brush, brayer, or even a rolling pin, starting from the center and working out to the edges of the paper. The object is to get an even contact with the restraining surface from edge to edge of the damp sheet. Sometimes, a small scrap of dry paper is placed under the edge of the new sheet at one spot to aid in lifting the paper once it’s dried.

Humidity and temperature will affect whether your paper maintains contact with the surface and dries flat, or whether it cockles and pulls away from the drying surface. I have found restraint drying in hot and dry climates to be much more challenging than in cooler humid environments. If you are concerned about cockling, you might use a thin layer of methylcellulose to help adhere the paper to the restraint, as well as taking this into consideration in determining where to place your drying surfaces in relation to the sun or sources of air. Paper that cockles can always be tamed again by misting it with water and making use of stack drying methods as a finishing touch—bringing some of the advantages of stack drying to your pages in a speedier time frame.

Experimental Surfaces

What is the severest danger you risk in choosing an unconventional surface on which to couch? The worst thing that could happen is that your paper could stick, and you could ruin the sheet peeling it off your drying surface. That being said, perhaps you’ll discover something interesting. Low-relief sculptural paper casting sometimes involves casting paper over small or low-depth objects to dry. Often this is accomplished by placing the objects on a sheet of Plexiglas and casting onto this surface. See Marilyn Sward’s column on Dimensional Paper Art in Hand Papermaking Newsletter #67 (July, 2004).

You might also consider how a drying surface can become part of your piece. How can a window be used not only as a drying surface but also as a display environment for your paper art? A few of years ago, Bridget Elmer taught a papermaking workshop at Asheville BookWorks as part of her Fibre Libre project. She related the experiences of some workshop participants who decided to see what would happen if they dried some sheets on the parking lot surface or on the hood of a car. (A word to the wise: rumor has it that the dried paper seemed to have inextricably fused to the car’s hood, turning the action into more of an experiment on the car than an experiment on the paper.) In parts of Asia, large sheets of paper are placed on the ground and dried on hillsides—explaining in part rumors of papermakers just drying their papers on the lawn.

Again, there are no wrong answers—though there may be mistakes. However, this is part of the discovery process of experimenting. Drying paper on the lawn will not make a suitable letterpress printing paper, but it might lend just the texture you need for the handmade paper pieces of an installation project. Consider the end use, and feel empowered to play.

by Mary Tasillo