Home > Artist Tips, Collage, Product Reviews, Shellie Lewis' Art > 5 Things I Learned About Unryu Mulberry Paper

5 Things I Learned About Unryu Mulberry Paper

Unryu mulberry paper is made in many colors and is distinctive for it’s long, swirling fibers.  Metallic threads and other fibers can be a part of the paper for different decorative effects.  I have mostly used Asian papers for relief printmaking, such as woodcuts and linocuts rather than for drawing or multi-media.  The soft, thin paper molds to the edges of the woodcut or linocut and prints well.  I have used a small amount of Unryu mulberry paper for collage.  I was struggling to get transparency with a drawing to be a part of a painting.  I wanted the background colors of the painting to show through the foreground image- and my planned technique was not going to work.  I wound up shifting from the work being a painting to making the canvas a multi-media artwork.

I spent all of yesterday experimenting with two sheets of Unryu mulberry paper, generally identified as being Thai or Japanese.  The paper is like a super light tissue and translucent.  It can work wonderfully for a process or be destroyed by its frailty.  Here are five things I have learned about using Unryu mulberry paper:

  1. The paper is very light and thin: ink goes right through it.  I taped a piece of 50 LB white drawing paper behind the Unryu and drew on it with Sharpie marker.  The lines I drew went through both layers.  Marker also went through the Unryu paper and a layer of newspaper.  The marker readily went through both layers.  You would need many layers of paper or newspaper behind your sheet of Unryu.  It is a lot better to back your Unryu paper with plastic or cardboard.  If the plastic makes the lines of your drawing lines too blurry, use a piece of scrap cardboard which is both thick and absorbent.
  2. The paper tears easily.  You may want to remove any price labels on it in the art supply store before you leave with your purchase to make sure the label comes off without ripping the corner off with it, if you want the whole sheet intact.  The easiest way to “cut” Unryu mulbery paper is take a small, round paint brush, draw a line on the paper with clean water, then after two seconds gently pull the opposing sides apart.  You can do curves or straight lines.  This makes a nice feathery edge.
  3. Metal cutting tools need to be very sharp.  If you are using scissors, a razor blade or an Xacto hobby knife to cut clean edges, the tools need to be like-new sharp.  Dull scissors or a dull cutting blade make a shaggy line or will bend rather than cut the paper.
  4. The paper is very porous.  Drawn lines tend to have a soft, fuzzy look.  Adhesives are absorbed in an instant.  I made the mistake of putting my paper front side down on newspaper, applying acrylic gel medium as an adhesive, with the intentions of flipping my drawing over onto the canvas and pressing it into place.  This was a total disaster.  The Unryu paper was glued onto the newspaper the moment the acrylic medium was brushed onto it.  I wound up having to make my drawing all over again.  I brushed the acrylic gel medium onto the canvas, and pasted the image down in place a small section at a time.  Again, Unryu tears readily if wet, so you have to be very careful is you try to re-position or smooth out a wrinkle any paper wet with glue or adhesive.
  5. Varnish permeates the paper and makes it clear.  Spray varnish made my white translucent paper almost totally clear.  A minimal amount of the swirling long fibers still showed; they were barely noticeable.  I did a test with varnish and gloss medium coats and both made the texture and the majority of the paper transparent – it disappeared.  You can use this effect intentionally, such as a top layer sealing in other layers glued to the Unryu.  Avoid gloss medium and varnish if you want to see the texture and color as they are naturally of the paper on your work, in my case as a drawing on a multi-media canvas.
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