Xuan Paper

The History of Xuan Paper

Xuan paper is a type of paper that goes back to the Tang Dynasty. "Xuan" refers to the town where the paper was originally produced. Before xuan paper, the ancient Chinese would use bamboo strips that were bound together to form a "book." Silk and cloth was also used to write on but that was too costly for common usage. Eventually, a man by the name of Cai Lun came up with a paper by using old rags, hemp and even fishnets.

By the seventh century, the Chinese had created different types of paper for different uses. Xuan paper was use primarily for writing and drawing, as it had a smooth and pliable surface and was more resistant to mold and discoloring. It has been referred to as the "King of Papers" and the "Paper of the Ages."

It is made out of a specific type of tree bark (and other natural material) which is put through an extensive process which includes non-destructively harvesting the tree bark, washing, pulping, drying, and cutting. Xuan paper is still typically made by hand and requires incredible precision and skill from the workers. The faint lines seen in xuan paper are from the screen used to extract the paper pulp.

Different Types of Xuan Paper

Xuan paper can come as raw (untreated and absorbent), sized (coated with alum and moisture-resistant), and semi-sized (partial alum coating).

Raw (sometimes referred to as uncooked) xuan paper is the most "honest" in its reaction to moisture. Single Xuan paper is the most absorbent of papers (meaning that it is very common for beginners to experience bleeding or spreading). Double Xuan paper is thicker than single xuan paper so it is easier to control moisture.

Experienced artists and calligraphers like the fluidity and spontaneity of raw single xuan papers, while beginners generally have a better experience with double xuan papers or semi-sized papers.

Sized (sometimes referred to as cooked) xuan papers are coated with alum to make them more resistant to moisture. This means that the moisture in your brush will not absorb into the paper as quickly and can be manipulated even after you've placed your stroke down on the paper.

Artists who come from a background of western watercolor enjoy using this paper as it behaves the most similarly to western watercolor paper.

In Asian brush painting, sized papers are generally used for Gong-bi/Fine Line (Meticulous Style) painting.

Semi-Sized (sometimes referred to as half-cooked or half-ripe) xuan papers are partially treated and are the perfect in-between paper that are neither raw nor fully-sized. It still has some sizing, which will ensure that your moisture doesn't immediately absorb into the paper but it is more spontaneous than fully-sized paper.

This paper is perfect for those who want to dip their feet in Chinese Brush Painting but have difficulties with moisture control. It's also great for background washes, crinkle techniques, and landscapes. If you're looking for a bridge between west and east styles of painting, this paper is ideal.

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