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Wet Collage and Inclusions

March 16, 2021

This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #80 (October, 2007).

What happens when you incorporate dry materials into your wet paper pieces? Suppose you have some small scraps of a patterned red paper you adore that would look stellar in the maroon sheets you are now pulling. You can collage these scraps into your paper.

First, however, you’ll want to test the paper to see whether or not the color bleeds. Dip a small piece or corner in water; then press it briefly between heavy pellon, white scrap paper, or blotter, and see whether the color transfers. If no color transfers, you’re good to go. But if it does, you have some decisions to make. Some bleed may be okay with you, but you should be aware that this color will bleed through your sheet of paper. The color will also transfer to the pellon or felts that come into contact with the wet sheet, and quite possibly, depending on the amount of bleeding, onto other sheets that you’ve couched or pressed on top. Also watch out for whether or not you see lateral bleeding. If the color not only transfers to your test material but also spreads out beyond the edges of the paper scrap, that color is going to spread out in your collage as well.

If you are considering using materials that bleed, also take care in choosing a drying method. Do you want that red to offset onto your drying blotters? Or is this sheet a better candidate for drying on a board or on its pellon?

Happily, our hypothetical piece of red paper does not bleed at all. We’ve pulled a base sheet. We have two methods at our disposal for incorporating our collage piece: adhesive or non-adhesive.

To include the piece without adhesive use, wet the red piece of paper--wet it thoroughly by dunking in water or using a spray bottle. This will reduce buckling as our collage dries; since paper expands when it’s wet and shrinks as it dries, we want to keep all elements of our sheet of paper behaving similarly.

Next, trap the red paper on the base sheet with a new layer of pulp. Form a second sheet and pull out an area of pulp that will create a window to expose the center of your inclusion. Couch this layer on top of your base sheet and inclusion. Ensure that the edges of your inclusion are covered completely. An alternate method to creating this window to showcase your inclusion is to hold a pellon or craft foam stencil on your mould as you form your second layer, removing the stencil once the water has drained from the sheet. If you are using thin, translucent veil layers, you might also cover the entire inclusion with this second layer, allowing your inclusion to be slightly muted or obscured by the pulp. Just keep in mind that your veil layer might be more opaque once it dries than it appears when wet.

An adhesive method is recommended for larger inclusions or if you want some edges of your inclusion exposed. Use a thin methyl cellulose mixture to adhere the addition to the base sheet either by brushing it onto the back of the sheet of red paper or by dipping the red sheet into a dish of methyl cellulose.

You can include your own prints and drawings into your work if you’ve used inks that are waterproof. Photocopies and laser prints also work well. However, avoid inkjet-printed items as they will bleed. You might also try to incorporate slightly dimensional objects such as lace, rickrack, buttons, or string. Dip the string directly into your vat to pick up a layer of pulp and then lay it across your sheet. You’ve just added your inclusion and veil layer in one fell swoop. Remember that when adding dimensional objects, you should consider pressing these sheets separately and using suitable drying methods.

For some tips on including plant materials, take a look at Marilyn Sward’s column in Hand Papermaking Newsletter, Number 68.

Don’t be surprised if not every sheet comes out as planned at first. It takes time to learn to predict how a wet collage will look when dry. With these tricks at your disposal, though, you will be able to turn each sheet into a piece of art.

by Mary Tasillo