The Joy of Paste

PasteJarDid you eat paste when you were in elementary school and paste came in little plastic tubs with a bright yellow spreader?

Paste smelled clean and tasty, but I never ate it. I squished it through my fingers and rubbed it on paper because I liked the way it looked.

Paste paper is an ancient art that honors the paste-loving kid in all of us. You cook wheat-paste, add color and then spread it on sheets of paper. Before it dries, you drag a design into it with various tools.

Wheat paste is a bit of a problem because bugs like to eat it. I’ve fiddled with the recipe and came up with something that is traditional and doesn’t attract bugs.

Paste_Sm_goldThen I created more modern versions of paste and applied them to different kinds of papers.

This is gold paste paper applied to black paper. You don’t get the full effect in this image, but it’s wonderful. I love the three-dimensional effect

You can layer paste paper designs, too, as well as layer colors. Below is a blue and purple paste on white paper.


This technique in this color blending is the old-school heavy-body paste mix, which makes for interesting color blending results.

You can also use a thinner paste-coat technique. It makes for interesting uses for stencils. Another use for stencils!

Paste_Sml_NmbersLayering colors and stencils makes great collage papers or background papers.

One of the real reasons paste paper is the tools–you already have them. Almost anything can be used or modified–spatulas, paintbrushes, string, palette knives, old credit cards, cans, plastic spoons and forks, chopsticks, sponges, and yes, your fingers.

Using odd writing instruments sometimes improves your handwriting, and creates an interesting repetitive graphic design across a page. That can be used for both cards and wrapping paper.


I’ll be teaching Not Your Grandma’s Paste Paper at Arizona Art Supply in Phoenix on August 10. Class will begin at 10 a.m. and go till 3 p.m. If you are interested, drop me an email at QuinnCreative [at] yahoo [dot] com. I’ll send you details. You can also register here.

—Quinn McDonald loves playing with new and old paste papers.

6 thoughts on “The Joy of Paste

    • I love the idea of mechanical computers. Ian once created a random-number generator and then created a lottery, because he saw it on TV. I had to pick him up from the police department. He was the only 4th grader ever picked up by the Bunco Squad.

      • There’s nothing inherently electronic about computing. A von Neumann computer, like a Turing machine, is a theoretical idea. I couldn’t afford (and frankly had only a dim idea about) transistors and the like back in grade school, but I DID have TinkerToys. My teachers didn’t understand computers or that you could have one without blinkin’ lights, but it worked (um, up to a point).

        It did not calculate in base 10 because the blasted TinkerToy hubs arbitrarily impose their own base, which IIRC was 12. In retrospect I could have designed it to do binary, but I don’t think I was aware of binary at that point…also I didn’t have that big a bucket of parts.

        Much later I discovered that Danny Hillis (famous computer guy) *also* built a tinker toy computer! His was WAY better, although in my defense I think he already had a degree in computer science at the time AND apparently an unlimited supply of tinkertoys. (his is, or was, in the Boston Computer History Museum).

        Random number generators…I don’t recommend thinking too hard about the idea of “random” unless you have a couple days to spare.

  1. I distinctly remember *despising* paste. Condescending, idiotic crap formulated by morons. There was entirely superior glue available on the same shelf; you get paste only because some undereducated yahoo derives pleasure from exerting control. The only good thing about paste is that it motivated me to get my grandfather to help me so I could politely ask for the polyvinyl acetate instead.

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