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One of the challenges of designing with handmade decorative papers is trying to pick out a group of papers to work with from the thousands of papers available. Contrast of texture is one my favorite approaches.

So, what is texture? What does that mean when it comes to paper? Texture is the feel of the paper, the roughness or smoothness of its surface, determined by its weave or grain. Some papers are smooth and glossy, others bumpy and rough or somewhere in between. The texture also influences how the paper will tear and whether the tear is clean or feathery. And in the case of printed papers, it also relates to the quality and clarity of the pattern on its surface, and the visual texture that communicates.

When I’m making choices based on texture, I’m choosing papers that are soft or crisp in terms of both structure and pattern, and using cuts or tears to emphasize those differences. Let’s look at the process behind choosing papers for a pencil cup. Here are the papers under consideration:

The main paper that I want to use is a gift wrap poppy paper (paper 4) which is a tight, clean repeating pattern. I then look for softer papers to tear and wrap around the center of the cup. I want to pick up on the plum colors in the gift wrap in a quiet way, so instead of using the burgundy marble (paper 3), which is beautiful but very busy, I choose the cream paper with the embedded multicolored threads (paper 5), which picks up on the muted plum, red and green in the poppies. This paper is a thin, recycled sheet and provides a soft, ragged torn edge. The design needs a narrow band of something around the top rim of the cup to bring the two papers together, so Japanese Chiyogami paper (paper 6) is the answer, as Chiyogami paper often is, since the designs are usually crisp, geometric and colorful repeating patterns. That edge is also torn, to contrast with its printed surface, but that torn edge is less fuzzy than paper 5; that’s an example of textural differences when it comes to tearing paper.

The next question is what paper to use to line the interior of the cup. The deep blue crinkled sheet (paper 7), while it picks up on the Chiyogami colors and introduces a texture somewhere between soft and hard, is just too strong and overwhelming. The plum floral pattern (paper 1) would work, but the small red blossoms on the cream background (paper 2) seem a better choice, since its pattern is softer, and a better contrast to the Chiyogami sheet, letting the exterior of the pencil cup dominate. Here’s the final product:

Texture is just one path in design. In future posts, we’ll talk about color, pattern, shape, contrast and composition, and how these elements work together to create well-designed work.