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Paper Choices: White Paper

Also: How and Why to Make Your Own 2-Ply Paper

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One of my first attempts at paper sculpture was this portrait of my mother-in-law. (I hope I have improved since then!).


A traditional form of paper sculpture relies only on cut and shaped white paper. The high and low areas of the formed and shaped paper, along with the cut edges and deliberate photography, give the form to the art. The artists I’ve discussed previously often work just in white paper, or with very limited palettes. (Jeff Nishinaka, Calvin Nicholls, and Reinhard, among many others).

When I went to visit Reinhard, the only thing he asked me to bring was several large sheets of 100% cotton, 1-ply (critical!) white drawing paper with a vellum finish. I had no idea where to find this, and my internet searches didn’t seem to quite match the requirements. Fortunately, I live in a large urban area where I can access excellent art stores. After a long discussion with some workers at the Blick art store by ASU in Tempe, we settled on several sheets of Strathmore 500 1-ply drawing paper.


Reinhard was absolutely delighted, saying it was a better paper then he had found in 20 years. I ended up leaving the extra with him. 😉


This is a good base paper, and a good white paper. I try to keep a supply always on hand.

Here are some links to buy the paper – it can be challenging to find. I’m sure there are other comparable papers out there. - have to buy in packs of 25 sheets - selling single sheets.


In addition to the 500 level, Strathmore also produces a 300 and 400 level paper – I believe the difference is cotton content. These can be easier to find – I know Hobby Lobby stocks single sheets of Strathmore 400 level drawing paper. ($1.69/sheet)  You can also find them in sketchbooks, but be careful of the weight of the paper. 


If you are looking for a similar paper, or this paper from other sources, things to look for (because different terms can be used):

1 ply, or 106 lb (125 gsm) - weights should be in the same approximate range

Bristol or vellum surface, not Plate or smooth.

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White paper is important because even though you’ll see the amazing array of colors on the next post, there are never enough colors. Also, sometimes you may want to generate your own patterns.


The background wall paper in “The Babadook” image was printed on Strathmore 500 paper with a color and pattern I generated in Photoshop (and then further colorized with Pan Pastel).

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Reinhard said that the reason he wanted 1 ply only was that he preferred to create his own stiffer paper.


Commercially made 2-ply (and higher) papers are made by gluing 1 ply sheets together. However, when they are dampened, the glue tends to release and the ply’s separate. I had experienced this myself in my paper sculpture experiments previously.


Making your own 2-ply sheets is as simple as spraying one side of a paper and adhering it to the second side.


I generally work in smaller sections at a time, rather than whole sheets at once, so that I have more options for the remaining paper. (More images to come in later posts).  I let it dry for at least an hour before I start trimming the shapes, and definitely before I try wetting/shaping the trimmed piece.


Reinhard said to use Super77 spray glue only (one time I had to use a different glue, and thoroughly regretted it). Prices tend to be fairly consistent between Amazon , Hobby Lobby/Michaels with a coupon, or Walmart, and it’s easily found.


Be warned: Spray glue is insidious! It goes literally everywhere! I remember having to use the spray hoods at school, and a photography prof threatening us with being kicked out of the school if we were ever caught spraying outside of the spray hood.


I manufactured this tall box spray hood (which I use more than I should inside). It’s getting goopy enough that I will probably need to switch it out soon. 

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This is a very unscientific visual representation of the difference between 1- and 2- ply. (if you aren’t sure what a paper is, hold it up and see if it has any bend.) NO bend, and the paper is probably too stiff.


I don’t always use 2-ply pieces. If it’s something that is an accent and resting on a support of 2-ply – such as an eyeball – I will often just use 1 ply. When I’ve tried to use it on more structural pieces, however, I always end up regretting it. Better to err on the side of 2-ply, rather than 1.

You can also use the white paper as a backing for colored paper. I will sometimes do this with (1), hard to find colors that I want to save, or (2), certain colored papers that are on the exceptionally light end and even 2 ply would not be enough of these. (Example – the Strathmore 500 series colored charcoal papers – have some lovely muted tones but they are very lightweight). I will back these paper with the heavier white drawing paper.)  


I will also use it to back colors I generate on my own either through pastels or digitally. However, when you back a colored sheet with a white sheet you will have a small visible white edge. This can be used for a very subtle outline effect, or you can colorize the edges to better blend in.

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