Notebook, 1993-

MATERIALS & METHODS - Painting - Oil Painting - Supports and Grounds

Characteristics - Painting Methods - Materials and Equipment - Manufacture - Protection of the Picture

Flexible Supports - Paper

Oil paintings, especially those of small size, are sometimes attempted on paper or paper that has received some sort of coating to render its surface less absorbent or more adaptable to the medium. Paper is a completely unsuitable material for oil paint from almost any viewpoint--it lacks structural strength and stability, it is alien and inappropriate to the oil medium, and the resulting works are usually very fragile. Almost every oil painting on paper that subsequently becomes of value has had to receive extensive restoring treatment. But pure rag paper or wood-fiber paper certified to be neutral [ pH 6.5 to 8.5], mounted on 4-ply rag board [some dealers call it museum board], would seem to have an excellent chance for survival. [p. 117] [Mayer, Ralph. The Painter's Craft. An Introduction to Artist's Methods and Materials. Revised and updated by Steven Sheehan, Director of the Ralph Mayer Center, Yale University School of Art. New York: Penquin Group. 1948. 1991.]

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Paper used by artists, whether for drawing, watercolors, or other techniques, should not become brittle, must accept paint well, should be strong enough to resist erasure or scrubbing with a brush, and should discolor as little as possible as it ages.

Paper is made of pulp that is mostly cellulose. The cellulose is usually derived from various vegetable fibers, chiefly cotton and linen, or from wood pulp. If manufacturers use wood pulp, they must separate the cellulose from other undesirable lignin components in the wood by cooking and chemical processing. If this is not done, the lignin causes the paper to darken. Cotton or linen pulp requires less refining and usually yields a stronger paper.

Manufacturers treat most papers, with the exception of filter papers and blotting papers, with a sizing material to make the paper less absorbent. Early paper makers dipped the hand-made sheets in gelatin sizing, adding small amounts of alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) as a hardener. However, in the nineteenth century, manufacturers using newly developed paper-making machinery employed a different sizing process, involving rosin and larger quantities of alum. The additional alum caused the formation of destructive acid in these machine-made papers. Since the mid-twentieth century, some sizing methods and materials have been developed that do not contribute to the paperÍs acidity.

The acidity of the paper is an important indicator of its potential longevity. Paper with a high acid content will age badly, darkening and becoming brittle with time. To be acceptably neutral or acid free, artistsÍ paper should have a pH reading between 6 and 8. This requires that the cellulose pulp be neutral and that the sizing be free of ingredients that cause acidity.

Although papers made of high percentages of linen or cotton fiber are preferred for painting and drawing, some special papers with low acid content have been made from other sources, including chemically processed wood pulp as well as synthetics. Common wood-pulp papers darken and become brittle with age. Newsprint paper, a very cheap wood-pulp paper, turns yellowish brown and breaks up very quickly; in spite of this it is used very often by students as drawing paper. The student-grade white drawing papers are only slightly more expensive than newsprint, but they are an improvement on it in respect to permanence.

Paper should be stored away from heat and humidity, and it should be protected from dirt and air-born acid pollution by being kept in a cabinet.

Paper may be torn or damaged more easily than wood, metal, or fabric, but when there is concern for the fragility of a drawing or watercolor on paper, it can be glazed, matted, and backed with a rigid material, such as a heavy acid-free backing board, and thus protected against puncture or accident... Properly prepared and protected, it will last as long as other permanent supports. [pp. 94-95]

[Kay, Reed. The Painter's Guide to Studio Methods and Materials. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983.]



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