With a hand-toned paper, using pigments and a glue size such as gelatin, we can have the most beautiful range of hue and value as background for painting or drawing. The irregularities of color and finish add character to the paper, just as hand dyed wool is more interesting than wool that is commercially vat dyed. I have a drawing project in mind (more on that soon) for these intensely colored papers. I will be using egg tempera, but I've used ink and gouache in the past.
I was thinking of Indian miniature painting while making these, and though I wasn't trying to copy their colors, they influenced me a great deal.
A glue is mixed with the pigment in order to fix it to the paper. I use ordinary food-grade gelatin, available in any supermarket. A small box of Knox gelatin contains 4 paper packets, each 1/4 oz. For this project I dissolve 1/2 oz gelatin, which is two little packets, in 18 ounces of water. So that it dissolves completely evenly, I heat the mixture gently over steam in a double boiler. It's useful to have some steam handy if the gelatin/pigment mixture starts to congeal, as it did several times during my work session. I just put the mixture over steam for a few moments and it liquified again. You don't want it steaming hot though.
My small enamel dye pots are perfect for this project, since I don't want to use anything that would later have food in it, which would not be a good idea. I put some pigment paste, here Caput Mortuum, into the pot; you can also use powdered pigments. I get all my pigments from a great supplier, Kremer Pigments; they have a store in NYC and also an online store here. For brushing the color onto the paper I have a couple of soft, synthetic hair 2 inch brushes. You can mix any color you'd like, dark or light in value. Many people like subtle grays, or light tones, which also look beautiful.
I add enough of the dissolved gelatin to make a fairly liquid paint, since it's easier to get an even tone with several thin layers than one or two thick ones. This is the paper with one layer of color.
And here it is with one and a half. I used some gorgeous handmade watercolor paper, with a rough surface, by Twinrocker, which I've had in my flat files for years. The paper curves while it's wet, but flattens quite well once it is dry, so there's no need to stretch it; that way you can paint clear to the edge, with no white border.
Here is one of my finished sheets, 15 inches square, made by painting 5 or 6 layers of the pigment/size mixture. Its imperfections and variations breathe life and air into the color, and make it a very enticing surface to work on.