Artists have far greater control over their work when they have knowledge of the materials with which they work. For many of us, paper is an essential element in the process of creating artwork either in the preliminary work or the final product. Yet surprisingly, many people know very little about how to choose the paper that embodies the characteristics that would be most beneficial in achieving their creative goals.
The most important aspect in choosing a paper is to know your paper fibers. The first papers made in the Orient were made from fibers found in the bast of shrub-like trees. The bast is the long strong fibers that grow between the wood of the tree and the bark. In making these papers, the bast is stripped from the inside of the bark. The fiber is then beaten to separate the fibers and through one of several processes can be made into paper. The longer the fiber, the stronger the paper. High quality papers are made from long fibers. The four most common fibers used in the Orient to make paper are Mulberry, Kozo, Gampi, and Mitsumata. For a discussion of Oriental papers please refer to our online newsletter.
Many of the fine art papers commonly found in the US are made from cotton or wood pulp, also called sulphite. Cotton is naturally acid free and is manufactured in two grades or qualities of paper making fibers. The highest grade is cotton rag made from fine fabric grade fibers, which are long and strong. The second grade is cotton linter, which are left over from the ginning process and found near the seed.
Wood pulp is another popular fiber in paper manufacture. Wood pulp is plentiful and fairly inexpensive, however is acidic by nature and must be buffered to produce a pH neutral paper. Because wood pulp is comprised of short fiber, lower and mid-quality papers are produced. However, recent technologies have been able to produce alphacellulose removing the acid causing component, lignin. Papers made from alphacellulose rival in quality those papers made from cotton rag. For more information about cotton and acid free papers please visit our online newsletter.