It is certainly no secret that I love working with handmade papers, to the point that it is becoming a part of my artistic identity. I started using them two years ago, not only for calligraphy but also for sketching.
I love the texture, its tactile cotton element that feels different on your hand, the natural deckle edges that can invoke an appeal of rustic or old-world charm. Each piece is handcrafted, made by artisans and moulded into different sizes. I love the perfect imperfections, the variations that bring so much character to the medium.
Handmade papers become popular, especially in the wedding industry, commonly used as invitations and day-of stationery. Let’s just say, they brought so much character and beauty in the paper-loving world of stationers, calligraphers and artists, in the era of modern technology.
The Charming Characteristics
I love how Stephanie Hare of SHare Studios explain her papermaking process, quoted below:
“Entirely by hand, the fibers undergo a transformation of reverence. They are cooked and cleaned, and beaten in a hollander beater before preparing for pigmentation. The fibers are blended with a colorful variety of lightfast pigments and suspended in a vat filled with water. put into motion with the swirl of the hand, the long fibers are churned into the mix, as the vat morphs into a new kinetic composition. A dip of the mould and deckle below the surface swiftly collects a sheet of pulp as the water shimmies back in to the vat. The sheet is then pressed and dried. A quick sort, trim, and fold of the finished paper, and the final transformation is complete. The pages wait for your words.”
Stephanie Hare. Process — SHare Studios. https://www.sharestudios.me/process
Each artisan uses their personal selected fibres and materials for pigmentation and sizing. But the entire process remains the same or follow a similar tradition. It all starts with a chosen cotton rag or plant fibres, beaten into a pulp, then mix with pigments as desired and necessary. The pulp is collected and placed into a paper mould and removable deckle, then pressed, dried and sorted. These steps will produce a sheet of paper with lovely natural deckle edges, resulting from a pulp slipping through between the mould and the removable deckle.
Handmade papers come in different weights to cater to specific purposes. A medium weight that usually comes at 150gsm is perfect for calligraphy, digital or flat printing and sometimes can take a soft or shallow letterpress impression. The heavyweight comes at 250-300gsm is meant for letterpress with deep impression and mostly suitable for painting and drawing using different media.
As these are papers made by hand, each piece in a single batch may vary in various elements. Such as deckle, shape, size, texture and colour upon the manufacturer’s discretion. These variations are part of the uniqueness and beauty of handmade paper.
Many artisans and companies are making beautiful handmade papers nowadays. And I would love to try most of them if I could (- if my bank account could, instead). But I have tried a few, and they are thus far my favourite.
01 | Khadi Papers
This is the very first handmade paper I have tried, and oh my I fell in love. I’ve been using this for two years now for calligraphy, illustration and a few watercolour explorations.
The paper is made from cotton rag, which makes it feel durable and thick. The texture of the paper feels rough on hand and gives an excellent effect on paintings and sketches. And the best part is, it is acid-free - making it a unique canvass for heirloom artwork.
Price: Approximately starting at Php 400 to Php 1,300 per pack (20 sheets per pack)
02 | Indian Cotton Paper Co
I discovered their paper products late 2018 on Instagram, in time for a big client project. Their handmade papers come in different sizes from business card to A4 paper size, and with weight options of 150gsm and 210gsm.
Compared to Khadi, their paper has a smoother texture, which makes it easier to work with a pointed pen nib. I also love that they offer a handful selection of paper colour as wells as envelopes. The paper feels lovely on hand, and the deckles are wonderfully wild and perfect for that rustic theme or old-world charm feel.
Price: Approximately starting at Php100 to Php 400 per pack of 5 (5 sheets per pack)
I have only tried and tested both paper products with calligraphy ink, fountain pen ink, acrylic and watercolour. Each has its own strength and quirks, but both produce a beautiful end result.
Using handmade papers for calligraphy is a bit challenging at first, mainly if one is used to writing on smooth papers. Remember that these papers are handmade and your nib may snag off and catch fibres as you write. My tip is to write slower than usual, have a conscious effort to have a lighter hand and make the ink a bit more fluid or thinner so that it will glide easier from your nib.
After some trial and error, I found that the G nibs (Nikko G or Tachikawa G) and vintage nib like Henry 605 works best for me. These nibs are not too pointy, which prevents snagging more fibres than you wanted to. If you are writing lots of words, make sure to wipe and clean your nibs more often than usual to ensure that no fibre strands are building at the tip, that causes inkblots. Writing on rough paper is challenging and may take longer than usual, be patient, breathe and enjoy the process.
In some cases where you need to put a watercolour wash as a background design, try to add some gum arabic to your ready-made ink or gouache mixture to hold up the ink more and prevent it from bleeding.
If you need to erase a pencil guide or draft, best to use a kneaded eraser after the ink has thoroughly dried up.
Handmade paper is a decorative element on your artwork, product and on special events like a wedding. However, it might not be a perfect choice for some occasion that is more formal and requires a cleaner aesthetic. You also need to consider the budget of your client and the availability of the product.
The process that goes through in papermaking is labour-intensive, making handmade papers a higher-end product compared to digital papers, with a price point to match. As it is a product made by hand, often than not, handmade papers are not mass-produced. Most makers and artisans also make the papers ad hoc; therefore, you need to allow at least 6 weeks to get your orders.
It can be a challenging medium to use but could be tamed as long as you are willing to learn, explore and be patient. Once you get to know its characteristics and how it behaves to specific applications, you will love it and the artistic beauty it brings to your work.
Now go and try it! I am excited to see what you create, and I hope I was able to inspire your curiosity.
Have you tried handmade papers? What brand or maker is your favourite? Let me know in the comments section below!