How I Create My Rusty Papers
How I Make My Rusty Paper Creations
Some people have inquired as to how I make the rusty papers I have been sharing on Instagram and on Facebook. To tell you the truth, a lot of it has been experimental, but here are the basics.
Before you read any farther, if you are truly concerned about acid-free, archival quality papers and prints, read no farther. Vinegar is used, and other chemicals as well, so this is not an acid-free process. It is, however, a fun, creative process, and I still make books and cover books with these papers, because I don’t care if they will outlive me. They probably will, anyway, because I am 71. I make them to give ME pleasure, not future generations. But if that happens, all the better.
First and foremost, you need to start collecting rusty things, preferably those that lie flat. Washers, gears, keys, nuts, hex nuts, various rings/circles, etc. Sometimes you will stumble across these at flea markets, like the rusty stars I have. Perhaps you have a scrapyard in your town that will let you go looking. Others can be found in garages, old barns, or even purchased on sites like Etsy. There are even links you can Google for how to rust new iron or steel objects yourself, although I admit I have not tried that. So, after you have a good collection going, you can now move into the next phase.
Let’s talk about paper. You can use pretty much any type of paper, as long as it is not waxed like deli paper. I have used watercolor, mixed media, drawing, old book pages, and mulberry papers. Thin rice paper may not hold up to the abuse you are going to give it, but you could try.
How to Make “Plain” Rusty Paper
In addition to your rust collection, you will need:
I lay a sheet of paper in the craft tray, then liberally spray both sides with a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water. Spraying one side only will make it curl. Spray both sides, and it will flatten out again.
After the paper is wet, I lay my rusty stuff in a pleasing composition all over the paper.
I liberally spray it again, then let it start soaking and rusting. I check on it periodically to juice it up a bit, if needed, and generally leave it overnight. In the morning, I might even lay it out in the sun to get some drying time and lock the rust into the paper. The more the rust leaks out, the better, I think.
When I feel it is ready, I remove the rusty bits (wear the gloves!). If you feel that some of the areas could use more rust, (some things just don’t do well, especially if they are uneven and get little contact with the paper), now is the time to add more bits to the areas that seem too blank, spray that area again, and let it go for another night.
When you are satisfied, remove all rusty pieces and then rinse the tray and the paper in the sink with running water. I lightly rub some of the crustiest looking places, because some of the metal flakes may actually come off. I have a nice deep sink in the basement, with a disposal installed, so that sink gets a lot of crafting use. You could use a hose in the yard, angle the tray, and rinse the paper from the top down. Keeping the paper in the tray as you rinse helps it not to rip, because it will be kind of flimsy.
After it is rinsed, I carefully remove it from the tray and hang it up to dry with clothespins on a rope line, but you could lay it on an old towel and let it dry flat.
After it is dry, the paper usually will have some slight ripples or will want to curl, so I iron it flat on my ironing board. Honestly, I use my iron only when sewing or crafting. Ironing clothes stopped years ago!
Now For More Fun – Cyanotype Chemicals!
I took a cyanotype class, and I learned how easy it can be. Typically, it is a process of coating some paper with the chemicals, letting the paper dry, laying it in a tray, then adding objects to the paper. If they are lightweight, like leaves and grasses, you can cover them with a sheet of glass, to keep them from moving around. If you are using metal objects, like old keys, or your rusty collection, no need for the glass. Lay the tray in the sun for 2-3 minutes, then bring it back inside, remove the objects, and rinse it well with water. Finally, to finish the developing process, spray it with hydrogen peroxide, and it’s done! Let it dry.
Here are specific directions for cyanotypes, if you want to give this a go. https://cyanotypestore.com/how-to-make-sunprints-printing-and-toning-instructions.html
Rusty Paper and Cyanotype, Combined!
Additional Materials Needed (that is, in addition to the previously listed materials for rusting paper.)
This process I discovered accidentally. It’s part of the “What if I…??” questioning that can make experimenting fun and sometimes end up with amazing results!
I had coated several sheets of paper with the cyanotype chemicals, and ended up not using one of the sheets. After about four days of hanging in my basement, it had started to turn from its light green stage to a dull blue gray. I decided to try my rusting technique on that paper.
I followed the directions in the same manner as outlined above for rusting. I used the same water and vinegar, and let things rust overnight. In the morning, I was quite surprised to see that some areas of the paper had turned bluish, others more blue green, in addition to the rust. I rinsed it and dried it and kept experimenting.
I coated some more papers, let them dry for several days, sprayed a sheet with water and vinegar, added the rusty stuff, then took the tray out into the sun. I left it out there for several hours. It had dried a lot, so I took it inside, sprayed even more water and vinegar and let it sit overnight, so that the rust could develop more. In the morning, it looked amazing! It had puddles of darker blue, lighter areas, rust mixed in, etc. I removed the rusty stuff, rinsed it, then sprayed it with the hydrogen peroxide, which brightened the blue even more.
Needless to say, I cannot guarantee how any of these will turn out. Different papers absorb more, the water to vinegar ratio is approximate, the cooking time varies widely, etc. It’s all just experimentation, and fun.
Sometimes I coat just half of the paper with the cyanotype chemicals. I might make random strokes of the chemicals on different areas of the paper. Other times I coat the entire sheet of paper (one side only is needed, not both). I suppose I could randomly “fleck” the chemicals over the paper.
Now it is time for YOU to experiment. Good luck in finding your rusty stuff collection. It is the key to this working well. The parts get crustier and crustier the more you use them. I don’t rinse them or clean them. And I do keep adding to my collection, whenever I can.
I plan to use these in bookbinding, paper crafting, and perhaps even frame one or two.
Here is a book by DJ Gaskins (@djgaskins) that I adore. See how the rusty papers could be used on the cover of a handmade book? I will also scan/photograph each paper, and then it is a digital file that I can print over again, use as a texture over a photo, or even sell digitally. Perhaps I will even sell some of the papers. Who knows? I will continue to do this until it becomes work, and no longer fun; then I will move on to something new.
In the meantime, you have fun, but don’t blame your rusty, stained fingers on me. I warned you to wear the gloves!
Follow me on Instagram. @camscamerashots
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