Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Getting an aged parchment look

this is a Common Sense Applies area

This means there is potential risk and danger. It's up to you to assess the risk and be responsible for taking appropriate steps.

What's this good for?

An aged parchment look is ideal for presenting poems, sayings, even b&w or sepia photo prints. You might have printed it or used traditional pen and ink -- I've used this technique on both in my time.

You'll need to practice a few times to get the exact effect you want. What you'll need:
  • Heavy paper, 300gsm down to as little as 160gsm (with your poem etc on it)

  • Brown vinegar
  • A grill or hob
  • A water sprayer to douse any flames should they occur


The brown vinegar is to give authentic-looking stains, the grill / hob is to accelerate time. When exposed to the air, paper slowly oxidises, that is, burns. All we'll do is controlled oxidising in the raised temperature of the hob or grill.

When it works properly, pieces flake off the edge and small cracks appear. Sometimes a bit of over-excitement means an edge catches fire. If this happens to you, blow it out or douse with the water sprayer.

You have to handle it with care and be ready to mount it before its fragility turns to disaster. A spray adhesive such as the repositionable adhesive spray mount from 3M will serve nicely to attach it to some card mount.

Getting the patina look

The brown vinegar darkens in the heat more quickly than the paper so, for patina, splash it around the edges. Also, drop some from a height of a handful of inches so that you get splash patterns. Don't be frightened, but don't overdo it - and try to make it a bit random. Splash a bit of water around as well for varying stain effects.

So, the photo above shows what I started with -- you should be able to make out the vinegar patches (I've enhanced the edges of the photo a little to make it more obvious)

Speeding up time

...or "on with the scorching"...
Before you start, make sure you do this somewhere where the smoke that's going to be given off can't get to your smoke detector. And no, don't go taking the detector's battery out! If you even thought that, this sort of stuff is too dangerous for you!

Now, for a hob, which is what I used, it's pretty much like cooking a poppadom. Start at one corner, holding it over the glowing hob until the paper starts to brown and scorch. You'll see the vinegar stains going first.

Work your way along the edge to the next corner and so on. I probably went round two or three times, it being better to build up slowly.

Once it was pretty much done, I broke off the edges to leave a rough-edged margin all the way round. You'll see where one burn actually started to eat into the photo - no matter, it's all part of the patina.

Photo Rag paper - attempt 1

So here's my first attempt, mounted on card. It's not great - I would have preferred less browning in the centre.

Next time, I'll dampen the areas I want to keep white, before applying the heat to the edges. Flaming on the edges was a bit more of an issue because of the rag base than I remember with paper (once it was smouldering I either had to pinch it or spray it to put it out. Btw - Ray Mears says that super-dry, charred rag (charcloth) makes amazing tinder -- so I shouldn't have been surprised!).


As the scorching progressed and I could see how it was turning out, I splashed on more drops of vinegar where I thought it helped the look.


Sandy K. said...

This reminds me of when we used to burn the edges of projects for school. Is the photo actually printed on the paper? I'm going to re-read; this looks like something I would like to try.

Highton-Ridley said...

Hi Sandy - yes the photo is printed first and then burnt.

Thanks for the question :)