Paste Papers and Paste Painting

You may remember I’ve taken a couple of Zoom classes at the Kalamazoo (MI) Book Arts Center with Lorrie Grainger Abdo. She’s a great teacher, informative and fun to learn from. I also like the subject matter she presents – topics that stem from her work in book arts but are applicable to any artist’s work. (Look here for posts I’ve written on mark-making and circles/squares.

So when I saw that the Smithsonian was offering a Zoom class on paste papers and paste painting, taught by Lorrie, I was ready to sign up for two reasons. One, the teacher! and Two – I’ve wanted to try this technique ever since some students I taught in college classes showed me paste papers they had made. They were beautiful and quite different from the collage papers I make by simply painting with acrylic paints. I’d never had the chance to try the technique and now, here it was right in front of me.

All right. What is paste painting? Basically, it’s a surface decoration process that involves using a mix of paste and paint, applied to paper. It’s very amenable to layering and to texturing. I won’t go into much more detail since information is readily available on the internet. Let me tell you how we did things in the class.

The paste used is this product, Elmer’s Art Paste. It’s readily available and very inexpensive. This whole box can go through quite a few painting sessions, and once water is added, it lasts a very long time, so you don’t have to use it all up right away.

We needed to prepare the paste a day before the class, and it must be made with refrigerated cold water (to avoid lumps), which should chill overnight at least. For the class on Thursday, I started cooling the water on Tuesday and made the paste on Wednesday.

Here are Lorrie’s full directions on how to prepare the paste. I appreciated her thorough explanation.

I made half a box of paste and it just fit into a large plastic multi-serving container. I thought the paste would be white, but it’s actually clear. In fact I thought my paste had not gelled until I stuck my finger into it, between that and it not being opaque white, I had a bit of a fright, thinking I’d have to start over.

All right. Next, I gathered my materials and set up my work space. Lorrie had sent us a photo of how the materials might be arranged, along with written notes as to what was needed. Here is my set-up with her photo in the middle of the picture.

You see that I have craft acrylic paints for this session. Craft paints work perfectly well, but they have less pigment than better paints, so that you would use more paint. However, since I didn’t know if I’d ever do this process again, I just grabbed my existing assortment of $1.19 paint bottles and it worked out fine. For future reference, Lorrie used a student grade acrylic and I would think that if I kept up with paste painting I would do so as well.

You also see

  • plastic tubs to mix the paint and paste;
  • a variety of texturing tools;
  • foam brushes to spread the paste paint on the papers;
  • sketch papers, which is what I used in this session;
  • rags and water (the brushes and so on will get glued up if they don’t stand in water when not in use).
  • And of course the paste, in the yogurt container to the back right.

OK. After Lorrie explained the process to us, we got to work (our class was a group of about 10, and we were from all over the US). Basically, you glop paste into your container, then add paint until you like the opacity (this is where the use of better paints comes into play). If you want to mix a custom color, you just get the paints you want, mix the color, and add it to the paste.

Or, if you are me, you use up some of your color, red, let’s say, and then you add more paste and some blue paint and you get purple. Use that up, add more paste, add white, now you have lavender…

Once you have your colors, you spread paste paint on the paper with your foam brush (for overall coverage) or maybe with a palette knife or other tool (for mark making, usually in later layers, but…no rules! ).

The paste paint dries pretty quickly, so you can layer another color on not too much later. You can also paint in stripes, or blobs of color randomly scattered, or…really, do whatever you like.

All along the way, you can use your tools for texture. I was astounded by the transparency of layering possible, and the dimensionality this paste paint gives. You can scrape into the paint or you can add on to the top layer with stamps or a paintbrush, etc.

Let me just show you want I mean rather than using words.

The class focused on painting for the purpose of making collage papers or paper to be used in bookmaking. I also experimented with painting a “scene”:

I love the transparency and the layering. I’d like to try more things like this image. There is an ethereal quality to this image that I really enjoy. What did I use to make this image?

  • /Foam brush, both for spreading paint and for daubing straight lines with the end of the brush
  • plastic spackle tool
  • pencil eraser (at the end of a pencil)
  • plastic soap holder, flexible and grooved
  • plastic grout spreader
  • rubber-tipped tools intended for making marks into clay (I have a variety with different tips that make different marks)


Well, that’s pretty much it. I’m thrilled to have learned this process, and I can see I will be experimenting with it and finding uses for it as time goes on.

Thank you to Lorrie Grainger Abdo and my classmates for a very informative and fun session!

14 thoughts on “Paste Papers and Paste Painting

  1. Laura (PA Pict)

    What an interesting technique and one I had never heard of. I very much like your results. The resulting textures and layering of colours is very reminiscent of textiles.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. It’s easy to do this technique and cheap materials work fine, and the results are not a repeat of other things I have tried but unique. It is also fun to manipulate the paint/paste combo on the paper.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. I think this technique is made for you. And you can see it’s really easy to do. If you try it let me know, I have some more hints that I didn’t put in the post that the teacher gave as to how to deal with if the paste is too runny, and so on. Anyway, the process itself is just so pleasant, a very flowing feeling as you manipulate the mixture. I also think it would look great on top of printed material such as you often use, I plan to try that in my next session to see what happens.

  2. marissthequilter

    I read your paste-post carefully and with great interest. The pages you made are striking and your talent shines through.
    (I once did an art journalling class where we used gell medium and got similar effects. I am wondering if it’s a similar substance. One get it in liquid form, though, so probably not.)

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. If you ever try it, I will be glad to answer any questions (that my limited experience can handle!). I have used gel medium in the same way, and you are right, it gives similar effects but is a different substance made up of different elements or chemicals or whatever. Also, the paste painting dries to a matte finish, almost chalky feeling, whereas I have found the gel is smoother and slippier feeling and shines a bit. I also feel that in the paste painting, any texture you get is really solid (doesn’t sort of melt out as the the picture dries, if you know what I mean). Very clear edges and crisp, but though it looks raised it is not. I don’t know how it does that. And I also like how quickly it dries and how easy it is to layer. Anyway, it’s fun, I’d say try it. !!!

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