I was clearing out the flat file while under the weather and not fit for much. I found today’s sketch and scanned it. Readers know that from July 1, 1998 through January 26, 2003 I drew a sketch of my Alaskan Malamute Bitch Dottie every day.
I sometimes forget that besides filling 43 volumes of journals with those daily sketches I also sketched her in other non-project journals, and even on loose sheets.
A quick charcoal drawing of her face is framed and hanging in the bedroom where I can see it when I wake up; a sketch of her eye that I did in scrimshaw on faux ivory hangs in the computer room; and a diptych of two views of her sleeping, sketched on scratchboard hangs in the other half of the studio. There’s even a watercolor pencil sketch I did of her which a friend convinced me to cut out of one of my non-project journals and enter into an art show, hanging on the wall outside the bedroom.
My point today is that it’s important to find any moment, and any method that is to hand, to sketch often throughout the day.
In 2001 while I was making paste paper I paused and looked into the other room where Dottie was taking a nap (preparatory to the long adventure walk we would have after I finished the paste paper batch). I had already started the day with a sketch of her for the Daily Dots—I wasn’t sure what the day would bring and wanted to be sure to get it in. But here I was with all this paste paper and I thought why not experiment?
I made a fresh piece of paste paper, carefully stroking on the darkest color I was using. Then using an angled silicone-tipped tool (used in acrylic painting, encaustic, and for me when making paste paper designs), I pulled out the color from areas of the paper to make her face.
It’s a quick sketch, made in under two minutes. I knew immediately I wouldn’t have the contrast range that I wanted. Still it was fun to push the paint around and mass it on the nose.
And of course it was another chance to look at Dottie and ask myself about her proportions and shape. It was a chance to stretch my art muscles and think about how with a little planning and some different colors I could actually do something with paste paper and sketching. Events like this create options for us that we may not use on the day, or even next month, but years later may find useful.
I put the sketch aside to dry and finished my batch so we could go for our afternoon walk.
I never did more sketches of Dottie from life using paste paper. In less than two years she was dead from liver cancer. During that time I made sketches of her from life in watercolor and ink, and several types of pencils, continuing on my daily life-drawing project.
But the paste paper epiphany did push me to think more about the white and black contrast of Dottie’s markings. It pushed me back to scratchboard, one of my first loves as a tool for illustration. And the experience pushed me into scrimshaw. The evidence of both hangs on my walls.
Keep giving yourself options. Keep finding moments to sketch. Keep experimenting.
Note: Bonus blast from the past—after all these years in the flat file this sketch still smells faintly of the clove oil I use in my paste mix. It makes me smile. And it provides an olfactory path into reminiscence.
Addendum: What Is Paste Paper?
Since posting earlier today I’ve had several people write to me via Facebook, email, and a comment on this blog, to ask what Paste Paper is. I’m sorry I didn’t explain it earlier. I was in bookbinding mind and all the binders I know use paste paper.
Simply put paste paper is a decorative paper that you make by painting a piece of paper with a paste you make of starch (like wheat, rice, or corn) and paint. Each variety of starch has its own granularity and gives a special quality to the texture and look of your final paper. The types of paints you add also contribute to the qualities of your painted surface.
The paste is applied to the paper. While the paste is still wet it is removed with a variety of tools. I like to improvise with my tools to get interesting patterns. But I also use some silicone tipped tools found in the art store, as well as some marbling combs.
When the paste is dry you have wonderful decorative papers that you can use to cover your book boards when binding books, or make soft-covered books out of. Use the decorative papers in cards, box making, and collage as well.
You can see three more paste paper-covered books here. (And one marbled paper book: blue spine and red, white, and blue paper.) The marks you make can be as inventive as you are as you turn household items into mark making tools.
I like to work with metallic colors when I’m making paste papers and this link shows you books made with additives that made the pastes iridescent or metallic. (The books at the end of each row on the right are not paste papers but use other techniques.)
I’ll use paste papers for end sheets when binding a book as I did in the book on the right in this link. And of course use them in my collage work.
I currently don’t teach paste paper making, but if you live in the Twin Cities a paste paper class can usually be found at MCBA (Minnesota Center for Book Arts) because it is such an important aspect of the book arts tradition.
If you want to learn more about paste paper I recommend you read Diane K. Maurer-Mathieson’s book “The Art of Making Paste Papers.” She also covers paste paper in her other book “Paper Art: The Complete Guide to Paper Craft Techniques.”
I started making paste papers in the 1990s because of examples I found in a classic bookbinding book. It was an excuse to play with paint in a free and easy way. (I have never had a piece of paste paper that was not useable—it’s amazing how things look when they are “cropped” by virtue of being wrapped around a book board!) I’m sure that 30 years on you’ll be able to find tons of blogs and message boards with people sharing recipes.
As with paper marbling, please remember, individual sheets are one-of-a-kind and the product of an artist who holds the copyright to it. It is not ethical or legal to find designs online and download images to use in your digital work without the permission of the artist. Stretch your creativity and see what patterns and designs you can call out of yourself.
Have fun experimenting. Use darker colors which provide you more contrast and you may even find you enjoy sketching on your paste paper. It’s not unlike finger-painting, but for adults.