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A series of experiments

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

This post is a quick overview of experiments I've done with papers. These include testing watercolours and gouache on Japanese papers, and printmaking on a range of papers. I started safe and small - to conserve materials - before gradually working on larger pages. I'll be posting photos to begin with, and then add notes as I go along - so this page will be periodically updated.

This one is a small experiment with gouache on gampishi:

And these are small strips of various Japanese papers and watercolours. One thing I realised pretty quickly is that Japanese papers are not externally sized, which means that watercolours will bleed, and if it's really wet the fibers start to lift and pill the paper.

Gouache is pretty easy to control as long as it's not too runny. This paper is, again, gampishi, which really does not like to get very wet and pills easily:

Because I'm mindful of not wasting materials, I did start by experimenting on small pieces of paper. This was to test how the papers responded to different types of paint and different consistencies. I had noticed the paper buckling, so I had to research how to resolve this as well.

Painted Gampishi - it bled profusely!

Painted Kozo, 42 gsm, resting on a black-and-white cut out image:

Papercut Kozo resting on painted on light (190gsm) book rag paper:

Playing with layering gives me an idea of how the colours and forms interact:

I was also considering the translucency of the paper here, too. Some of the Kozo papers didn't read very well on the reverse side, but the Gampi and the Uzukuchi light papers (which is a type of Kozo) did quite well.

Gampi with gold mica:

I needed to consider that the paper was buckling and how to overcome this. Even though the Gampi paper is unbelievably thin, it still expands when wet, so I had to learn how to paint it without it buckling. With a bit of research, I discovered a technique called mizubari, which is used in 'Nihonga' - Japanese painting on traditional Japanese papers. The first step in Nihonga is mizubari, which is stretching the paper by mounting it to a waterproof board. So I cut up some A4 MDF boards, varnished them with a couple of coats of acrylic varnish, and used these to stretch the papers.

The gampi, mounted on board below, is much more stable and receives printmaking ink and gouache very well, but will bleed everywhere with watercolours!

I also tried to add sizing by dampening the paper with a solution of rice paste and water:

I placed the printed gampi sheets on the board and brushed the solution on the board with a goat hair brush and left it over night to dry. I did this with all of the hand-coloured prints and it made it so much easier to paint!

Here's how they look before painting:

Both the 'right' and 'wrong' side of the Gampi paper are nearly indistinguishable:

And after painting:

I painted each of the creatures in a series of layers, and I only painted them on the wrong side of the print. First I started with a simple blend of colours to achieve the result below, but then added layers and designs to achieve the results above.

And here's a short video of peeling back the paper. I had to be careful to lift the entire edge off before peeling it back to prevent it from tearing.

This is not the first time I've painted on the back of Japanese papers, and this technique is not an entirely obscure one, but it's not often used to colour both sides of a sheet of paper. I was introduced to a technique called 'urazaishiki' in 2016, when I attended a workshop at the Firstation Print Studio with Basil Hall. At this time, we used pigments mixed with starch paste to colour the back of our prints before mounting them to rag paper. In 2019, I revisited this technique, but I used very thin layers of acrylic paint instead, so it would bleed when I re-wet the paper. I also discovered that I could illuminate the artwork to achieve a different mood and a stained glass or lantern-like aesthetic.

'We must be imagining things', without illumination:

And with illumination:

At the moment, I'm using gouache on Gampi because I can get very opaque results with thin, viscous layers. If I use paint that's too heavy, it will bleed right through the paper and ruin the fibres, making the paper look dull and scuffed. I can still use fluid paint or ink if I want to stain the paper, I just have to be careful not to use too much. I'm doing this with the papercuts, which you can read about in the next post.

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