Tutorial: Paper Mache Maracas

As promised, here’s a little tutorial for how to make these colorful maracas. We’ve already had lots of fun with them, both in making them and using them, and I’m sure you will too. Don’t be put off by the length of this tutorial, it’s not difficult, but it is somewhat time consuming. That’s why I like that I can do it with my kids, so I don’t have to find a bunch of extra time when they’re sleeping to do some paper mache. There are several steps to this process, including some drying time, so don’t expect to get it done all in one day.


Supplies:

  • cornstarch
  •  water
  • saucepan and stove top
  • paper for making the egg (newspaper, copy paper, etc., nothing too stiff)
  • decorative paper (paste paper, scrapbook paper, etc., again, not too stiff)
  • water balloons
  • scissors or xacto knife
  • ruler
  • bone folder
  • white glue
  • beans, rice, or other dry grains, for filling the maracas with
  • glitter, puff paint, ribbons, stickers, etc., for embellishing (optional)

How to Make the Paste

What makes this project really child-friendly is the paste (not glue). If you swear by Mod Podge, you could probably use that instead of paste, but I’ve never touched the stuff, so I don’t know for sure. I use an all natural paste that I make myself, and I love it. I got the recipe in a handout in my book binding class, and it’s what I use for all my paper mache projects.

It’s easy to make, only two ingredients: cornstarch and paste. And you can make as much or as little as you want, just remember to use the 1:10 cornstarch:water ratio. When I make this, I find that 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and 10 tablespoons of water makes a good amount. You don’t want to make too much, because the stuff only stays good for about 2 days in the fridge.

Cornstarch Paste

1 part cornstarch
10 parts warm water

  1. Whisk the ingredients together in a small sauce pan.
  2. Bring to a boil on medium heat and boil for 5 minute, and then remove from the heat. The mixture will go from milky/cloudy to thick and translucent.

The paste will only stay runny for a little while, and then it will start to thicken and gel. This isn’t a problem, it works both runny and thick, you just have to work a little harder to moisten the paper and spread it on when the paste is thick. So it’s usually best to be ready to use the paste as soon as you make it.

The advantages of using this paste over other adhesive options is that it is very affordable (practically free) and that it is completely nontoxic and washable, so you don’t have to worry about your kids getting on their hands and everywhere else (though I’d try to keep it out of your carpets).

Of course, if you have another paper mache paste you’d prefer, feel free to use that instead.

Making the Egg Shapes

Sorry, I was a little sparse on the pictures for this step.

  1. First you’ll need a form to paper mache onto to give you the shape you want. In this case, I used water balloons (inflated with air, not water).
  2. You don’t need this many, but my little girl loved playing with them, rubbing them on her hair and making them stick to the wall, so you may want a few extra, for entertainment purposes.
  3. (This is the only picture I have of making the initial egg shape.) Basically all you do is moisten little squares of paper in the paste (don’t have it globby or thick, you only want a thin layer) and stick it onto the balloon. Make sure to overlap the edges of each piece of paper a little.
  4. Once you’ve cover the whole balloon, leaving only a nickel-size whole where the balloon is tied, you’ll want to do another layer. You’ll want at least 2 layers, depending on the thickness of your paper. I used a paper that was a little thicker than printer paper, so two layers was fine, but if you’re using newspaper I’d do 4 or 5 layers. Also, if you are not using another layer of paper to decorate your maraca, you may want to do one more base layer.
  5. You don’t have to let it dry before putting on the decorative outside, but I did, just to make sure it was strong enough. If there are weak (soft) spots when your egg dries, add another layer or two.

Once you are sure you egg is hard enough, you’re ready to decorate.

Decorating the Egg Shapes

I chose to decorate the top part of my maraca before filling, sealing, and attaching the handle because I wanted to make sure no moisture would seep in and spoil the grain/beans inside. You can use whatever you want to decorate your maraca. You can paint them or dye them, but I chose to use more paper. You can use any kind of decorative paper, as long as it’s not too stiff (really stiff paper will have trouble conforming to the curve of your maraca).

I used paste paper, because I love it and I have lots of it. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can make some paste paper using my tutorial here. It’s a fun project all by itself.

  1. I tore my paper into strips and then into squares as I went. You only need to make one layer with your decorative paper.
  2. I added the white accent papers at the very end, but you can do all of the decorating now, just remember that you will be covering over a small area near the opening in your egg when you attach the handle, so don’t put anything there that you don’t want covered up.

Once you get it all covered, let it dry.  

Filling the Maracas

  1. If you have a funnel, you can just use that. But if you’re like me and have only limited kitchen supplies, you can make a quick funnel out of a scratch piece of paper by rolling the paper into a cone, leaving a small opening at the end, and taping the side so it keeps its cone-shape.
  2. Insert the small end of the funnel into the opening in your egg, and pour about a tablespoon of some dry grain or beans into your egg. I used a different substance in each of my maracas.From left to right: garbanzo beans, popcorn, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, and rice.
    I thought the popcorn and the rice made the best sounds, but you can use whatever you have, as long as it’s not perishable.
  3. Once you have your material inside your egg, keep it propped upright in a cup or a jar so the beans will keep away from the moisture in the next step.
  4. To seal your egg, cover the whole with a square of paper coated in paste. Make sure not to tip your egg or let the beans come in contact with the wet paper.

Attaching the Handles

I used a rolled triangle of cardboard to make my handle. I waned a good, solid handle, and this shape seemed to work pretty well.

  1. Start by cutting out a long rectangle from o thin piece of non-corrugated cardboard (you could use an empty cereal box or the like). Draw vertical lines that divide the rectangle into 4 equal strips, and score the cardboard along those lines.
  2. Fold the rectangle along those lines, and form a triangle (the cardboard will overlap on one side). 
  3. Glue (not paste) along the side that overlaps, and let the handle dry.
  4. When you’re ready to attach it to the egg shape, wrap a piece of paper moistened with paste around one end of the handle so half is on the handle and half extends off the edge of the handle. Snip down  each of the three corners of the triangle on the paper to where it is on the handle, and fold the sniped paper back (see the picture, sorry this is confusing!) so it forms a flat end on the handle.
  5. Stick this were you sealed the egg (you may need to apply a little more paste if it has started to dry at this point). Again, try to keep your beans or rice away from the moist area.
  6. Lay more paper down over the flaps of the handle and up the side of the handle to reinforce the joint. You’ll want 2–5 layers of paper here, as before, plus one decorative layer.
  7. Cover the rest of the handle (including the open end) with paper and decorative paper.

Finishing Touches

You may want to add more decorative elements after your maraca is assemble, but remember not to get the egg part wet enough that moisture will seep through to the beans on the inside.

Here’s a few examples of how I decorated mine. There are so many possibilities, so be creative.

Now you’re ready to make some music.

Have fun!

ps. I’m linking this up at tatertots and jelloskip to my lou, and sun scholars.

Rainbow Maracas: I’m a Finalist!

Have you guys been following the Color Your Summer series at Kojo Designs and Delia Creates? They been sharing colorful, fun projects to add some color to your summer. Well, they wrapped it up this week with a contest, and I made it in the top eleven with these maracas:

I’m so excited to be included with a bunch of other really great projects, and I’m grateful for an extra push to finish a project I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

Being in the top eleven is great, but the joy in my daughters eyes when she plays with these is so much better!

If you want to make your own, check back in a few days and I’ll be sharing a tutorial to make these.

A Year in the Making: The Color Book

Okay, you probably never thought this day would come. In fact, you probably forgot you were even waiting for this day to come. But here it is, the finished project that I mentioned working on way back here at the beginning of my blogging career:


This project originated from my desire to have some books for my baby girl that had Spanish and English in them. I might have already mentioned this, but we are trying to raise our child (soon to be plural) bilingual, despite the fact that I am woefully monolingual. So this was a great learning experience for me too. Anyways, instead going out and buying some Spanish books, I decided to make my own, thinking it was just a little project. Well, it quickly ballooned into a huge project, and here I am, a year later, just finishing it up. Here’s a look at all the pages:

The process for making the paste paper is found here, and I used the tutorials found here and here to put the book together.

I have no tutorial for the part in between making the paste paper and putting the finished pages together, but I can tell you that it was long and involved. First I made a list of items for each color (this was the hardest part sometimes; how many inherently purple things can you think of?). Then I sketched out each item, and traced them on the back of my paste paper (all the words had to be written backwards). Then, I cut every piece, right down to the tildes and dots on the “i”s, out of paste paper by hand (honestly, very time-consuming and hand-cramping work; I would love to try using one of these to make a book sometime). Then I used paste to glue down each of those little pieces, often fitting them together like a little puzzle (see the bear, chocolate, and turtle for examples of this). Oh, and I forgot to mention having my handsome husband help me translate the words. That was an important part, too, because you can’t trust Google translate 100% of the time.

Even though the whole thing took countless hours of work, in the end, the whole project was worth it. I love the end result, and so does my darling little one.

Because it’s kind of a priceless item, I can’t really let the little one look at it unsupervised, so I scanned each page and I’m planning on printing out some copies. I’m wondering if anyone would be interested in purchasing a copy. I’m not sure how exactly I would do it yet, so I don’t know the how much a copy would cost, but if you’re interested, leave a comment or e-mail me and I’ll get back to you with the details when I know them.

Well, I’m glad to have this project done, but really the only reason I had time to do it was because my new little one is taking longer to get here than I thought. I’ve gotten even more projects done while I wait, and I guess it’s good to keep busy, but I do hope she decides to come soon, because I’m starting to feel quite impatient to meet her.

Oh, and I’m linking this project up here:
and here:

 

Children’s Board Book, Part 2

Sorry it’s taken me so long to get this to you. I have to say, writing tutorials is a lot more work than I thought it would be. And what about the fabulous project I talked about here? you may ask. Well, that’s going to be a while, too, but that delay is caused by circumstances that I can’t control. I promise to post it some day, and when I do, it will be fabulous.

So anyway, here’s how I finished my children’s board book. (To see the first half of this tutorial, go here.)

Supplies

You will need basically everything that you used in the the first half of this tutorial, with the addition of any decorative paper or supplies you need to illustrate the cover and inside pages. For my book I used paste paper for the cover and pen and ink and watercolor for the inside (just a quick note, if you have a baby with chronic wet hands from thumb-sucking, like mine, I wouldn’t recommend watercolor because the paint will smear every time she touches it—yes, I learned that the hard way).

Making the Cover

  1. Cut out two pieces of board (whatever you want for the cover. I’m using binders board). Make sure the grain is parallel to the spine. I made my covers 1/8 in. wider and 1/4 in. taller than my pages because I wanted them to hang over the pages a bit (see finished book to see what I mean).
  2. (Optional) Round two corners on each board to match the rounded pages, using the same technique as you used for the pages. If you made your covers bigger than your pages, you may want to use a bigger coin.
  3. Choose your cover material. If you are using binders board, you will want to cover your cover boards with paper. I’m using paste paper. You could also use book cloth if you want. Make sure that whatever you choose will cover your boards and overlap a little bit, and that the grain will run parallel to the spine.
  4. Cut the cover material to just a little bigger than your cover boards.

  5. (Optional) Cut out any words or designs in your cover paper. I cut out the title (contar) in my paste paper and put a white piece of paper behind it. You can do this with any combination of papers and to form any design.
  6. Glue your covers to your board. Cover your board with glue or paste (glue sets fast, so make sure you have it exactly where you want it). Use a bone folder with a piece of scratch paper underneath to smooth down the cover.
  7. Trim your edges. If you have a rounder corner, you may want to cut out little notches in the corner so it goes around nicely. For the square corners, cut perpendicular to the corner, leaving about 1/8th in.  so the board won’t be exposed (see the picture below to clarify).
  8. Glue down the edges. I usually glue systematically: first the top and bottom sides, then the spine and fore edge sides.
  9. Glue your covers to your book. Brush glue onto the outside of the first page (make sure you don’t glue your covers on an upside-down book) and place the front cover on, with the spine flush with the book’s spine. Repeat with the back cover.
  10. Press your book. Place your book in a book press or under some weights or heavy books and allow to dry for at least 6 hours (overnight is best).

If you’ve already filled your book full of delightful illustrations, then you’re done. Congratulations! I know that was a lot of work. Hold your little book and feel the joy of creating a little piece of beauty for your child to enjoy.

Here’s what I did with the inside of my book. I decided to make a Spanish counting book (my wonderful husband is from Ecuador and we are trying to raise our baby to be bilingual).







And here’s my darling little one enjoying her new book. (Note the thumb, which did smear almost all the pages. But it’s okay; it just gives it character.)


Enjoy making and sharing your books!

Children’s Board Book, Part 1

Okay, we’re moving one step closer to the big reveal. The next step is learning the basic children’s-board-book structure

I think making your own children’s board books is a great way to give your child something extra special and unique for them. You don’t have to be a great author or illustrator to do it, either, just fill it full of pictures, simple words, shapes, stamps, stickers, or punched paper. You can do teaching books, story books, or a mini album about your child’s life; whatever you decide, it will sure to be a treasure that your child will want to share with their children.

Here’s how we’re going to do it. The basic book structure is a stiff-leaf binding, which I modified from the one I learned from this fabulous book. If you are a book binder, you are probably already familiar with the Penland Book of Handmade Books, but if not, it is a must-read (note: it is not really a how-to book suited for beginners; I look at it more as inspiration rather than basic instructions). Before we get started, here are a few things basic book-binding terms you need to know:

Supplies

  • Board shear (if you’re lucky enough to have one, these things are EXPENSIVE, see here to see what I mean) or heavy-duty xacto-knife (the “box-cutter” variety)
  • Board
    You can use mat board if you want colored backgrounds,  binders board (if you’re planning on covering the whole thing with paper, since it just looks like cardboard), or illustration board (which I will be using in this demonstration). Just know that your final “page” thickness will be twice the thickness of whatever kind of board you choose, so keep that in mind.
  • Book cloth
    You can buy this from most art-supply stores or online art stores. You can also make your own, and there are tutorials available online if you search for “how to make book cloth.” I personally haven’t tried any of these methods, though, so I don’t know which to recommend. My teacher used the heat-n-bond method with Japanese paper, but feel free to find the method that works for you. Making your own book cloth certainly expands your design options. For this project, the book cloth will be used primarily as the hinging element, and only one portion will be exposed (the spine), so you could choose a basic black for the hinge, and a decorative print for the exposed portion. I will be using a basic linen book cloth.
  • Glue and glue brush
    I use PVA, but any kind of permanent, acid-free glue will probably be fine. Paste generally isn’t strong enough to bond boards to boards, but you can use it to bond paper to your boards before or after you build your structure. Any stiff-bristle brush will work. If you’re covering  a large surface, you will want a big brush.
  • Metal ruler
    Plastic or wood won’t do. You will be cutting against this edge, so it needs to be metal. I have wrecked the edge of many plastic rulers trying to cut against them, and I say just avoid the trouble and go with a metal ruler.
  • Cutting board or self-healing mat
  • Bone folder
  • Book press, weights, or heavy books

Prep Work and Set up

  1. Decide on the size and layout (# of pages, etc.) of your book. For this demonstration, I am making a mock-up, which I recommend for the first time you make this book so you get the idea of how to do it before you start gluing up pages that you’ve worked hard on.
  2. Find the grain of your board. You’ll do this by pressing one hand down on your board about 6 inches from it’s edge and tugging up on the edge with your other hand. Do this again on the perpendicular side. The grain runs parallel to the side on which it was easier to tug up. You may want to mark the board on the back in pencil with arrows marking which direction the grain runs. It is very important for the grain to be facing the same direction on each page, parallel to the spine.
  3. Cut the “leaves” (see diagram above) out of the board. Each leaf will be two pieces of board glued together, so double the number of leaves you want and cut that many pieces out (you must have an even number of pieces). You will want to cut the pages so that the grain runs parallel to the spine.   If you are making a mock-up, you can leave the pages blank. But if you are going to decorate the pages, you will want to do that before you decide to put the book together. If you do have designs on the pages, make sure to number the backs so you know which order they go in.
  4. (Optional) Cut out your covers. If you want to use a different type of board to make your cover, cut these out. I am going to cover pieces of binders board with paste paper to use as my covers. You can use the same kind of board you used for the pages, if you want, but be sure to cut two more pieces in addition to the number you need to make your signatures.
  5. Cut your strips of book cloth. (a) Start by cutting a long strip that is the same height as your spine. (b) Then cut the long strip into individual strips for each signature. You will want the individual strips to be the height of your spine × (1 inch + 2 board thicknesses). Determine 2 board thicknesses by stacking 2 pieces of your board on top of each other and measuring the thickness. Err on the side of a little too much rather than a little too little. If you have glued pictures or paper to your pages, you may want to include the thickness of these add-ons in the total thickness so that you don’t experience page swell. Do this by placing the enhanced pages face to face and measuring their combined thickness.
  6. Make a jig. (a) Cut 3 strips of board the height of your spine × 1/2 inch. (b) Glue 2 of the strips together so now you have a single strip and a doubled strip (if you have pictures or other paper glued to you r pages, you may want to add this thickness by gluing a couple strips of paper cut the same size as the board strips to your doubled strip to accommodate the extra page thickness). (c) Glue the end of the double strip to the center (yes, I know mine is off center; I wasn’t paying attention) of the other strip to form a “T.” You will use this jig to help you glue your signatures together without having to remeasure each one, so don’t skip this step.
  7. (Optional) If you want your book to have corners like many children’s board books, round the corners. (a) Trace a coin around the top and bottom corner of the fore edge of your book. I used a dime because my book is small, but you may want to use a nickel or quarter if your book is bigger. (b) Using your xacto knife or a pair of heavy-duty scissors, cut along the traced line. (c) Sand the corners smooth (you will be sanding this more later to make the pages flush, so this step is just to get the general shape correct).
  8. Cut a groove on the back of your page for the cloth to lie in. (a) Measure about a half-inch from the spine edge of the BACK of your board. (b) Run your blade over this line with medium pressure. You only want to cut into the board about 1/3 of the way down. Make sure to use even pressure all the way across. (c) At the bottom spine corner of the back of your board, peel up about 1/3 of the layers of the board.

    This step is important to the final look of your book. You are creating room to inlay the book cloth so that it is flush with the surface of the board. If you do not do this, the two layers of book cloth between each page will cause the spine to swell. Sometimes this spine swell is good, but in this book structure, the swell will cause your pages to not fit together well. You may want to practice this step on some scrap board before cutting into your pages.

Binding Your Book

Once all these steps are complete, you can move on to the binding portion. It may seem like a lot of set up, and it is, but once you get the hang of it, it will go faster. Book binding is all about taking care of the details so the big picture falls into place. Make a habit of fine tuning the details and your end result will come out great every time.

  1. Glue your signatures together. Start by brushing glue on one “groove” on the back of one page. (a) Lay your book cloth face up or face down in the glued groove (depending on which side you prefer to have show in the joint) and press down with the bone folder. (b) Flip your page over so it is face up. Place your jig over your page so that the page is snug in one side of the “T” and the book cloth lies underneath to the other side of the “T.” (c) Brush glue on the “groove” of another page, and place this page, groove-side down into the other side of the “T,” over the book cloth, and press firmly down. (d) Remove the jig and flip the joined signature over and press the book cloth into the groove. If the cloth overlaps the edge of the groove, trim with an xacto knife and press so the cloth is flush with the top of the board. Wipe off any excess glue and trim the book cloth so that it is flush with the head and tail of the the boards. Repeat these steps for all of your signatures.
  2. Press your signatures. Lay the signatures open on top of each other with the right-sides facing each other, and press them in a book press, under a board with some weights on it, or under some heavy books (my heaviest books are always my art books and my husbands computer engineering textbooks). Leave to press  for 30 minutes.
  3. Glue your signatures together to form your book. (a) Take your signatures out of the press and fold them in half with right-sides facing each other. Run your bone folder along the spine to get a good fold. (b) Stack your folded signatures together; this is the thickness of your book. Take the first two signatures and lay them flat with their spines facing each other. (c) Brush glue over the back of one signature from the fore edge to about 1 mm from the spine.

    (d) Take the other signature and lay it on top of the glued signature so that the spines and fore edges line up. Press them firmly in your hands. Make sure all the edges line up as best as possible. You may want to open the signatures and press directly on the pages that have the glue in between. If you use a bone folder to press, put a piece of paper down over your pages first so you don’t score your pages. (e) Lay the two signatures down flat and place another signature next to it so that the spines face each other. Repeat steps 3c–3e until all the signatures have been glued together into one book. If you are using the same materials for your cover, go ahead and attach these to the outside of the first and last signature. If not, wait til Part 2 of this tutorial to see how I did my covers.
  4. Press your book. Put your glued book in the press and leave overnight.
  5. Sand the corners and trim edges as needed. (a) Remove the book from the press and hold in your hand with the spine inward. (Doesn’t this feel good, holding your own little handmade book. I love the feeling of first holding my books after they have been bound.) Take some sand paper (I usually sandwich a piece of board in between my sand paper to give it some support, but you can use a sanding block if you have one; I don’t) in your other hand and gently sand the corners of the fore edge so they are uniformly round. (b) If you are like me, and you don’t have a board shear, your pages that were glued to each other may not line up exactly and little strips of the back show on the edges. You can trim these with an xacto knife, or sand it lightly to make all the edges flush. This is just a perfectionist step, but don’t worry about it too much; you’re not going for a “machine made” look anyways.

We’re done. With this part of the book at least. I know this was a lot of steps, but it really will get easier the more you do it, so practice pracitce. (Hint: It’s never too early to start on those handmade Christmas presents!)  A few things I learned while doing this project:

  • It is really hard to take pictures of steps that require both hands.
  • I need to get a new self-healing mat (did you notice how many unhealed wounds it had?)

Stay tuned to see how I finish my book and what I put inside.

Paste Paper Tutorial

So, I’ve been working on this one project for a long long time (i.e., this was supposed to be a Christmas present, but it missed that deadline; and then it was going to be a birthday present, but that deadline has also come and gone). And it is so much fun (read addicting and time-consuming). I thought I would start my blog off with a tutorial for this project, but when I started to plan the tutorial, I realized that there were so many steps involved that I should probably break it up into several smaller tutorials. Plus, the individual parts can be fun projects in their own right and can be used for other things as well. So I will treat each tutorial as a stand-alone project, but I’ll eventually show you how I put them all together to make one really cool project.

The first tutorial, then, will be paste paper. I’ve been making paste paper since I was a teenager. I dabbled in a lot of creative mediums when I was younger, using the arts and crafts section in my local library as my main tutor. My first attempts at paste paper were fun but rather unrefined. Many years later, I took up making paste paper in my bookbinding class at BYU and fell in love with it all over again. Though I don’t make paste paper all the time, when I do it is a big, messy, blissful event. So let’s share the bliss.

Here’s how to make it:

Supplies

  • Paper
    Don’t use printer paper unless you are just practicing. Choose an acid free paper that takes water well (it will likely have “rag content”). The thickness of the paper will depend on what you will be using your paste  paper for; if you will be gluing it to another surface (which is how I usually use paste paper), a light-weight paper will be fine; but if you are going to have the paper stand alone, you may want to used something thicker. Papers are one of my favorite things; there really is so much to choose from. I suggest going to your local art supply store and looking through the paper options they have. DickBlick and other online art stores also have wide selections of paper, but you may need to know the jargon of paper description (e.g., weight, finish, rag content, etc.) to understand what kind of paper you’ll be getting. I’ve learned mostly through trial and error, and it’s also a matter of personal preference.  I primarily use discarded maps to make my paste paper. (Anecdote: When I went to get more maps the last time, they only had one, and when I got home, I realized it was a map of the city I live in from 30 years ago. Funny coincidence, huh?)
  • Paste
    NOT glue. There is actually a big difference between these things, though people often use the words interchangeably. Paste is a vegetable-based adhesive. I usually make my paste, and it is very simple and affordable. There are several different kinds of paste, flour, cornstarch, methylcellulose; I prefer to use cornstarch since it is the easiest, least expensive, and has a nice, smooth consistency. The basic recipe I use is 1 part cornstarch to 10 parts water mixed together in a pan, brought to a boil, and then boiled for 5 minutes. Make sure you stir every now and then while it’s boiling. The best thing about this paste is that is totally nontoxic, so if you’re clumsy and accidentally stick your paste-covered brush in your bowl of cereal, it won’t hurt you to eat it (this may have actually happened to me. . .).
  • Paint
    I use acrylic paint primarily since it is what I have and I hate painting with acrylic. I had to buy some for one art class in college, and since then I’ve only ever used it as my pigment-source in paste paper. You could also use watercolor, but the colors may be less vibrant, depending on how much you use. I’ve never tried tempera paint, so I don’t know how well it would work. Don’t use oil (I don’t know if this is an obvious statement, but I’ll say it just in case).
  • Large brush or ink brayer
  • wood-graining combs (like those seen here and here)*
  • sponge(s)
    It’s nice to have more than one, but you can make it with just one. I just use a kitchen sponge, but big photographic sponges are nice too.
  • Buckets for water (just some receptacle big enough to dip your sponge in will do)
  • Flat, smooth surface
    I use a discarded aluminum plate that was used for lithographs, but a large piece of plastic works also. When I first made paste paper, I used a metal cookie sheet (aka, jellyroll pan), which works fine, except it limits the size of paper you can do. I’ll refer to this as the “plate” from now on.
  • Newspapers or plastic drop cloth,  paper towels

*You can make your own “wood-graining” combs by cutting “teeth” into old credit cards. Mark out the intervals you want between your teeth, then cut out notches with a box-cutter (you can use scissors, but it may bend the teeth funny, like in AmericanExpress card). Example:

Prep Work and Set-up

  1. Cover your work surface with newspaper or plastic drop cloth, or whatever you want to use to protect your area.
  2. Designate your paper-drying area. You will want to cover this with newspaper as well. Or, you can dry your paper on a fancy paper rack (if you have one) or on a clothes-drying rack. Just know if you use the latter, your paper will dry somewhat wrinkly, so you may have to iron it if you are planning on using it stand-alone; if you will be gluing the paste paper to something else, it will smooth out once you glue it down.
  3. Mix up your paste paints. Add as much of the acrylic/watercolor as you want to get the desired color. You can mix up just the primary colors and then mix the paste paints to get the rest of the colors, or mix as many different colors as you want to use. I usually use about 2 tablespoons of paint to a half-cup of paste, but this really depends on the paint and what I’m going for. Use more paint for a more opaque look and less paint for a more transparent look. (Just a note: It is best if you mix your paint in with your paste after it has cooled only slightly. If you wait until your paste is completely cool, it will be gelled and harder to mix.)
  4. Set up the rest of your supplies: plate, bucket(s) with water, sponge(s), brushes/brayer, and combs.

Make Your Paste Paper

  1. Lay your paper face down on your plate. Get your sponge damp, but not dripping wet, and go over the paper, dampening it (there shouldn’t be water running all over).
  2. Pick up our paper and flip it over so it is right side up. Hold it at an angle so only about 3–4 inches at the top are contacting the surface of the plate.
  3. Using your dampened sponge, press the paper down to the plate in parallel motions from the top to the bottom, trying to press out all the air bubbles.
  4. Once your paper is “stuck” flat to the plate, you can cover it with the paste. You will want it to lay the paste paint out in a fairly even, thin layer, because thick layers may crack when drying. I usually plop a dollop of paste paint directly on my paper and use my brush/brayer to spread it out.
  5. Now it’s time to make your design. Really, the sky is the limit with this step. You can drag your comb(s) over the paper to form any number of patterns; you can fold the paper in half and then open it to create and “ink blot” type texture over the whole surface; you could even write words or do handprints. And you can use anything you want to create a pattern, hair combs, spatulas, chopsticks, whatever. The best part is, if you don’t like what you did, just smooth it out again with your brush/brayer, and start over. You can also blend several colors directly on the paper, or lay down stripes and let them blend as you comb in the patterns. (I wish I had taken more pictures of the different possibilities, but it was hard to take pictures while I was doing it, sorry about that.)
  6. Set it out to dry, either flat on a table, countertop, or paper-drying rack; or hang it on a clothes-drying rack. If you are satisfied with the way your paper turned out, you’re done.
    However, you also have the option, once the paste is mostly dry, of  going back over it with a second layer of paint, and a second design. The results for this can be somewhat unpredictable but also really charming. Give it a try. Here’s an example of how it looks:

Here are some examples of my finished paper. Don’t let this limit you, though; really, the possibilities are endless:

(This gives a little preview of my project to come. Stay tuned. . . )

Give paste paper a try. There’s lots of things you can do with it. You can use it for book covers, end papers, or cut it up into shapes (like in my very cool project to come) or use it in paper punches. Also, though I’m not a scrapbooker, I imagine it would make some unique backgrounds for scrapbook pages. Here’s an example of how I use my paste paper:

Really, you could use your own handmade paste paper to lend a unique touch to virtually any craft that calls for decorative paper. Good luck, and send me some pictures of your finished work!