Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Working on papyrus

A few years ago, at a museum exhibition about Mesopotamia, I purchased a package of actual papyrus pages in the gift shop. This is the first time I've used it. It's layered and stripey but wasn't as difficult to draw on as I had expected, although I used larger nib pens.

The 'two women' image - Queen Kawit and a servant - is from a National Geographic magazine. 
The ink drawing is mine, including the Aura of squares around the image.
The queen's mirror is highly reflective silver paper.
There are several tiny gems in the queen's necklace and on the four papyrus plants on the left.

I processed the magazine image to eliminate the paper but keep the image. This is especially useful if you're concerned about archival quality and are using paper that's not acid-free (basically all magazines). In this particular case, 'archival' is not really an issue because the papyrus itself is not archival, but I wanted the texture of the papyrus and a bit of the tan color to come through the image. Magazine ink is another issue.

In fact, it's less about getting the image off the paper as it is about getting the paper off the image! 

Here's what I do:
  • Leave a good two cms. (1/2" +) of border around the image you want to use.
  • Paint six layers of acrylic matte medium on the image, letting each one dry well. You could use glossy medium instead. 
  • Lightly score the back, where the paper is still accessible, with an X-acto knife and wet it liberally with water. You'll see dark lines appear where the water is soaking into the cuts.
  • Carefully rub off all the paper. This takes a few sessions of scoring and rubbing and lots of re-wetting. If you're done, the back will feel quite smooth.
  • In the end, the paper disappears but the ink is left behind. Then you can trim the image to the edges you want. Note that it will be floppy to handle.
  • Use the same matte or glossy medium to affix the image to your art surface.

Some of the supplies I use, and two other images
I plan to use in future artwork.
I'm still not quite sure what I think of it, but it was fun to do!


  1. Wow, that is amazing and beautiful. What a process! Thank you for sharing both your art and technique. Intriguing.

  2. Fantastic and such fun. I love seeing ways you take your tangling in new directions. I have used a similar image lifting technique before, albeit on a much smaller and more makeshift scale. I've stuck a piece of wide adhesive tape over a small magazine image. Then soaked it to lift of the paper.

    1. Good idea, and more practical for things like Artist Trading Cards.

  3. This is Fab! Thanks for sharing your process 😍

  4. Fascinating, Margaret! When I read "I processed the magazine image to eliminate the paper but keep the image", I felt my head tilt and my eyebrows knit together. But then you explained it! :) I learn so much from you!! Thank you! And I love the border you added to the image.

  5. This is an interesting idea, Margaret. When I first saw it, I wasn't sure how much you had done yourself and what was sourced elsewhere - you've incorporated it all so well that it's all of a piece. An interesting approach to use the gel medium transfer method, too. It's a lovely mixed media piece!