Saturday, January 27, 2024

More on Wet-strength Tissue Paper

 Several readers have asked me to give more information on the topic of wet-strength tissue paper.  Here goes:

In an earlier post, I showed a collage on stretched canvas that I'd created with the help of printed wet-strength tissue.  At that time I considered the artwork finished.  But over time I've continued to add more layers of tissue.  I'm glad it progressed that way since I now have 3 photos to help illustrate the use of stencil- and mask-printed wet-strength tissue in collage. 

These three photos illustrate the effects achievable with wet-strength tissue printed in a variety of stencil-printed patterns as well as the visual blending of colors.  Some of these papers were printed with pure white tissue.  Others with yellow tissue, but I purposely varied the saturation of the yellow.  Still others were printed in sap green, orange, etc.  The medium I used on these papers was Golden High Flow.

Now to name the two excellent teachers I've mentioned in earlier posts.  Both work with wet-strength tissue paper and both teach online classes.  Both are UK residents.

Sally Hirst 

Kasia Clarke

Recently, I had stated that wet-strength tissue is no longer available here in the US, but I believe I have now found it, here. I've placed an order and have yet to receive it, but I have faith this is the right stuff.

The reason for using wet-strength tissue in art-making is almost always to create layers of material on a collage.  

By itself, wet-strength tissue is not usually a substrate all by itself because of its flimsy nature.  

Paper lanterns and "willow structures" are an exception but those three-dimensional projects require special treatments not covered in this post.  But if the urge strikes to use stencil- or mask-printed wet-strength tissue to create these sculptures, a good place to start is here.

Wet-strength tissue is used in collage because it becomes either translucent or transparent after being adhered to a substrate with gloss medium (liquid or gel), Nori adhesive, or any other adhesive that dries clear.  Using matte medium (liquid or gel) reduces transparency to translucency.  I suggest trying both, experimenting to find personal preference.  And of course preference can change, depending on the art-making project at hand.

Altho the tissue itself, once adhered to a substrate, becomes transparent or translucent, the paint or ink that's been added to the tissue paper will remain clearly visible.  The result is that when the tissue is adhered to a substrate, the painted marks appear to have been made on the substrate itself.  And when layer after layer is added, each with its own markings and colors, the result can be a delight.  Colors, hues, markings -- everything! -- will appear to merge into combination imagery that can capture attention.

Another advantage of using wet-strength tissue that bears an artist's stencil prints or ink marks or paintings (acrylic or watercolor) is that once media is dry, the artist can flip the paper over to see which side best suits the purpose at hand.  The printed/painted/inked side of the tissue will be as bright and clear as if it were on any other surface.  Its flip-side will bear the same prints/paints/marks, but -- depending on how heavy-handed the artist applied the media -- the flip-side will appear somewhat less bright.  Its colors will be somewhat muted in comparison with the side that was worked on.

So if I'm working on a stretched canvas where I want the piece to have a brighter, darker appearance in specific areas, I will use the "top" side of the tissue.  And I will often turn the tissue over to add "echoes" of the same markings and colors elsewhere on the artwork (in areas that are called "rest areas for the viewer's gaze.)

Before the printed tissue has been adhered to the substrate, an artist has the option of starting the project with watercolor or acrylics or water-soluble crayons.  (It's most likely better to avoid using oil-based media until the artist reaches the top layer and last steps before calling the artwork finished.

The other option is the one I most often take -- I start with acrylic paint, add layers of tissue, and finish with more acrylic paint, but most of the top layer of acrylic paint will be transparent, not opaque.  

When I use Nori adhesive instead of acrylic gel as the adhesive, I cover a finished artwork with a layer of "satin" acrylic medium.  "Satin" is the word used by at least one manufacturer to designate a medium that's roughly halfway between glossy and matte.  I consider it a "happy medium" since it combines the transparency of gloss with the gloss-muting effect of matte medium.

An artist can easily create homemade satin-finish media, by mixing gloss medium with matte medium (either liquid or gel versions) and adding a little water.  I won't give measured amounts because every artist experiments to find just the right balance for the individual.  And it's good to take the extra step of painting a test layer of the mixture onto printed scrap paper, then waiting for it to dry, then judging what has resulted in terms of transparency, glossiness, etc.

As to the substrate for wet-strength tissue, I personally used stretched Fredrix "watercolor" canvases.  This specific type has a very smooth surface which has been coated to readily accept watercolor.  I do this because I want to work on smooth surfaces and create my own texture.  I personally dislike working on a textured surface but that's just my individual choice.

Wet-strength tissue will adhere better to a smooth surface than to a textured surface, but there is a go-around for this:  An artist using a textured substrate can pounce a wet paintbrush all across the surface of the tissue right after it's been added to the artwork.  The tissue remains flexible, up to a point, so gentle pouncing and press the tissue down into the low areas of the texture.

If I were to work on watercolor paper rather than stretched canvas, I would use 300-pound hot-press watercolor paper.  This paper is sturdy enough to tolerate layers of tissue.  Cold-pressed watercolor paper has texture.  Hot-press watercolor paper is smooth.

Other substrates are also good candidates, as long as they are sturdy.  Cradleboards are one example.  If there's a carpenter in the house, these can be homemade.  (A special coating needs to be added to a "naked" wooden surface.  Its purpose is to seal the surface.)

I haven't myself used wet-strength tissue to collage onto the sturdy version of Yupo (a synthetic substrate that comes in tables and is available in varying thicknesses.)  But it too would work as a substrate.

As said above, the reason for using wet-strength tissue in art-making is almost always to create layers of material on a collage.  However, some artists  -- like Kasia Clarke -- use this tissue to create texture on a substrate; after the tissue dries, paint or other media are applied in ways that highlight the texture.  Creating texture this way merely means crumpling the tissue before adhering it to the surface of the substrate.

The photos below show other collages of mine that took advantage of the qualities of stencil- and mask-printed tissue papers.  One or two have already been shown here, but since this post goes into depth on the whole issue, a second look may be helpful.  Something to look out for is the visual interplay between layers that have each been printed with a different stencil or mask.  Whole new shapes (usually abstract) are created when these prints are layered.  This mingling can of course also be done on a gel plate on one sheet of paper.  But the effect with tissue is different enough to be touted.

In some of the artworks above, the printed tissues were the very top layer. In others, printed tissue was sometimes partially covered by newer layers of translucent acrylic paint.

Thanks for checking out my blog today! To scroll thru the pages of my stencils and masks at, please start here.

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