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Paste Paper Making with Sage

Source: Martha Stewart


New York City designer Sage Reynolds has developed a unique technique for decorating paper called paste paper making. In the 1970s, when Sage was making albums and boxes, he couldn't find sheets of paper large enough to decorate them, so he started experimenting with paste, using various starches. The resulting formula yielded what has since become his signature art form, a medium Sage likes to think of as a sophisticated kind of finger painting, in which a variety of tools are used to create beautiful designs. You can use any number of household or homemade items, including potato stamps, kitchen utensils, rubber toys, toothbrushes -- or whatever tools your imagination inspires.

In this recipe, alum acts as a mordant, binding colors to the paper fibers; alum can be found at drugstores or at specialty grocers with the pickling supplies.


  • Large resealable plastic bowl

  • Wire whisk

  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup cornstarch

  • 1 tablespoon alum

  • 2 cups cold water

  • 4 cups boiling water

  • Steel pot

  • Fine-mesh sieve

  • Rubber spatula

  • 1 cup Liquitex Acrylic Gloss Medium & Varnish

  • Small plastic container

  • Acrylic paint

  • White rag paper, such as Arches Text Laid

  • Sponge

  • 3-inch paintbrush

  • Design tools, such as brushes, graining combs, feathers, or eraser stamps

  • Metal spatula

  • Newsprint


  1. In plastic bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, and alum. Whisk in 1 cup cold water until mixture is smooth. Whisk in 4 cups boiling water until smooth.

  2. Pour into steel pot, and place pot over high heat on stove. Bring to a boil, and cook until mixture is translucent. (The mixture will be a very thick paste.) Whisk in remaining 1 cup cold water.

  3. Rinse out plastic bowl. Strain paste through fine-mesh sieve into clean bowl, using a rubber spatula to push it through. Seal the bowl, and let paste cool at room temperature.

  4. When paste is cool, it will resemble pudding. Stir it to break it up. Add Liquitex, and mix well; paste will turn white and thicken.

  5. Pour about 1 1/2 cups paste into plastic container, and add 2 to 4 tablespoons acrylic paint. Spread a sheet of paper on work surface, soak sponge, and wet paper with sponge. Flip paper, smooth it out on work surface, and wet with sponge. Dip paintbrush into paste, and paint entire surface of the wet paper, going 2 to 3 inches beyond the edges. Even out the color with paintbrush. Use design tools to manipulate paste and decorate paper.

  6. When you're satisfied with the design, use metal spatula to lift one corner of the paper, and continue lifting paper with your hand. Lay paper on newsprint to dry. Repeat process from step 5, using various colors, as desired.

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