Notebook, 1993-



[From: Wehlte, Kurt. The Materials and Techniques of Painting. Translated by Ursus Dix. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. 1975.]

Paper as Support and Ground

Both fabrics and stretchers are relatively expensive. The tasks of stretching and restretching consume considerable time. Young artists therefore often do not begin to paint on canvas until the last years of their training. Since hardboard is by no means inexpensive, in spite of the fact that one can paint on both sides, many beginners are tempted to resort to painting on cardboard, a practice that has often been condemned in this book and elsewhere, yet one that seems to die hard in our academies. The author, as a member of a generation suffering from lack of materials after World War I, has had to search for a substitute for canvas. In those days hardboard was not yet invented, and the fabrics woven from paper were useless. An obvious and even less expensive solution was paper, not as a ground for painting but as a support for a ground consisting of several layers. As with many emergency solutions, this substitute proved so useful that many painters never completely abandoned it.

Inexpensive, strong wrapping paper is moistened with a synthetic sponge and glued with ordinary hide glue to crude, homemade stretchers. Dextrin would [p. 346] also serve in an emergency. The ground is applied as on canvas. As students we would simply use roofing battens joined with lap-joints. Sizes larger than six feet were reinforced with two crossbars, for we often primed large pieces obtained from rolls and cut them to size as required. The pieces were pinned to a firm support for painting, but occasionally we stretched the paper onto reusable stretchers and painted on to it directly.

If one of these sketches was later required for an exhibition of students' work or was to be sold, it was mounted on plywood. Nowadays one would use Masonite for this purpose. For years I have used carefully primed paper on my journeys and have found it infinitely preferable to the heavy cardboard supports that once were common. However, wrapping paper of inferior quality tears very easily when wet. One should endeavor to find paper of a better quality, preferably one that is available in rolls. Types of ground for painting on paper with oil or varnished tempera will be described below. Priming of paper has certainly become much easier since the introduction of synthetic dispersions.

Purchasers never rate oil paintings very highly when they have been painted "merely on paper." A mention of famous precedents [Holbein, Rubens, Van Dyck] rarely dispels these misgivings, which are entirely unjustified. Paper very effectively prevents cracks originating in old wooden supports from penetrating to the paint layer.

Ready-to-use oil painting paper has been commercially available for nearly 100 years. Its surface is coated with a material resembling an oil ground and embossed with an imitation canvas texture. Apart from the unpleasant, fake appearance of its surface, this type of paper will become brittle in time and is unsuitable for artists.

The word is derived from papyros, a material used in ancient Egypt. The pale pith of the thick-stemmed paper reed, which grows up to ten feet tall in the marshes of Africa and Asia Minor, was cut into strips, interwoven, pressed, and dried into a material similar to paper. It was used not only for writing but also for painting. Nowadays we paint and draw on paper made from chemically treated wood fibers, flax, hemp, cotton, and even finely ground and bleached straw. The resultant pulp is charged with binding material, pressed into layers of varying thickness, and eventually rolled and dried. Paper made entirely from wood pulp has little tear strength, rapidly turns yellow on exposure to light, and is used only for unimportant sketches. Rag papers are considerably better but also far more expensive. Some modern types of American cellulose pulp of quite good quality are made into rag-content papers mixed with rag pulp, so that the good qualities of one material compensate for the drawbacks of the other. Doerner recommended only pure linen rag papers for drawing and painting, and many painters still prefer handmade papers, yet the latter have been quite adequately replaced by modern machine-made papers, which even have overcome some of the disadvantages of the former.

Paper is the conventional support for watercolors and will be discussed form that point of view in the appropriate chapter. If paper is to be painted on without prior preparation, the pulp should have been sized, the surface should be able to withstand rubbing without becoming rough, and it should not swell unduly. It depends on the artist's preference whether he favors a smooth, relatively nonabsorbent paper that has been hot-rolled or a softer, absorbent paper with a rougher surface. Colored papers are obtained by adding pigments. These are [p. 347] used mainly for drawings, pastels, and gouache paintng. All paper yellows when exposed to sunlight, although high-quality paper is less subject to this effect. Some modern paper is made to appear white by additions of brighteners. Since these tend to reduce the brilliance of warm watercolor shades, artists do not benefit from this kind off "improvement." [pp. 346-348]

[Wehlte, Kurt. The Materials and Techniques of Painting. Translated by Ursus Dix. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. 1975.]



The contents of this site, including all images and text, are for personal, educational, non-commercial use only. The contents of this site may not be reproduced in any form without proper reference to Text, Author, Publisher, and Date of Publication [and page #s when suitable].