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Why good, old-fashioned paper delights the senses like screens cannot

We break down what makes every sheet special.

While paper is still used, it is facing certain obscurity as the world finds favour with computer screens and keyboards for communication needs. But, as if countering fast-paced technological developments, there’s growing enthusiasm to go back to the “good ol’ days”.

Most notably, analogue tools are experiencing a revival. Fountain pens are showing healthier sales globally, a stark contrast to cooling sale figures in the general luxury goods market. Vintage typewriters are also experiencing burgeoning popularity, for their connection to the past and the haptic pleasure they offer.

Paper Expert 2

To be sure, at a time when digital communication flies fast and furious, the effort it takes to type or write a missive makes the message all the more meaningful. Says Genevieve Chua, managing director of paper merchant Spicers Asia: “Paper still has the edge in helping to create better emotional connection and engagement, through the power of touch. That tangible feel and connection are intrinsic qualities that the digital component just cannot replicate in the same way.” Indeed, paper can do what a screen still cannot – delight the senses.

WHAT’S A PIECE OF PAPER?

The ubiquity of digital communication means that e-mail invitations just don’t cut it, in the sincerity stakes. To express one’s heartfelt intent, it’s paper and snail mail, with the quality of the material speaking volumes about the event and the organiser. These characteristics, of course, cannot be experienced onscreen. A piece of paper thus becomes a gift for the senses. Tony Lim of Spicers Asia, which specialises in fancy paper, tells us more.

  • What's A Paper 1 - Thickness

    01: THICKNESS

    The thickness of paper creates an impression, especially for that staple of business: name-cards. The usual weight is 250gsm (grams per square metre). Typical copier paper is 80gsm and greeting card, 120gsm. To leave a mark, go for 300gsm, as thick as a paperback book cover. It’s bulky for cardholders, to be sure, but you don’t want to pass out too many cards anyway.

(RELATED: All you need to know about pearls, nature’s prettiest band-aid.)

EXPERIMENTS GONE RIGHT

Conversational pieces.

Paper Expert - Experiment Gone Right

01: IDENTIFY THE BEER

German paper mill Gmund adds spent grains from beer production into the usual wood pulp mix, giving the uncoated paper a speckled look. Each colour is inspired by various beers – from the cream-coloured Weizen to the dark-chocolate Bock. Fancy Papers, 420 North Bridge Road.

02: TRADITIONAL MULBERRY

The Awagami Factory in Tokushima, Japan, makes by hand its traditional washi paper with fresh spring water, paper mulberry, roots, shrubs and bark. Bright colours and patterns aside, the paper can be used for copy or digital printing. www.shoporyx.com

03: DIAL UP THE STERLING

Looks silvery, you say? The Gmund 925 collection takes it literal by brushing pure silver ions onto paper. The dispersed metal particles provide the silky paper its elegant, reflective sheen. Fancy Papers, 420 North Bridge Road.

04: PAPER SKIN

Taking inspiration from fashion brands, Italian paper mill Cordenons embosses leather textures on paper. The Leatherlike collection resembles the fabric and adds sleek opulence to stationery. Spicers Asia, 3 Gul Crescent.

PULP FICTION

Is wood-free paper environmentally friendly? Well, yes and no.

Wood-free paper is one of the most commonly used materials – it’s used as copier paper, and to print books and magazines such as Kinfolk and The Peak’s Gourmet & Travel magazine. It is durable, bright and easily biodegradable – a paper the eco-conscious can use with some peace of mind.

But its name is misleading. Wood chips remain an essential component in the papermaking process. So why is it dubbed so?

The reason lies in its pulp. The pulp is prepared by “cooking” wood chips in hot alkaline. The process breaks down a polymer, lignin, from cellulose fibres. Lignin, which makes paper brittle and prone to yellowing, also forms bark and wood. Removing it thus make the pulp “wood-
free” – chemically speaking.

(RELATED: The Peak Expert: 7 Types of Wood Best for Homes.)

PAPER AS ART

At the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI), papermaking is at the core of the gallery’s spirit. Papermakers employ European techniques at their workshops, but the basic cotton, linen or mulberry are not the only materials they work with. A variety of materials can be used, explains senior papermaker Gordon Koh. The important step lies in scooping the material up with a flat sieve, in which it takes its permanent shape. STPI often experiments with unusual fibres and methods to create a unique piece of paper for artworks.

Paper Expert - Paper as Art - STPI

01: SPICES

South Korean artist Haegue Yang wanted a symbolic visual of the spice trade and how it transformed civilisations. Each piece of paper is dedicated to a spice or herb, created by individually mixing each ingredient with paper pulp.

02: PINEAPPLE HUSK

After boiling the husks in soda ash, the fibres are extracted and employed in the usual papermaking process; they are mixed with water and sieved. The paper is then pressed to squeeze out excess water and left to dry.

03: DURIAN HUSK

The team also used the same soda ash method for durian husks. The tougher fibres create a durable paper, but more effort is required to pull them out from the husk.

04: BEAN SPROUTS

This paper was inspired by veteran artist Amanda Heng’s performance piece, Let’s Chat, which involves picking beansprouts and just talking. Bean sprout husks are boiled, rinsed in cold water and poured over a sieve to form paper.

PHOTOGRAPHY Darren Chang & Vernon Wong
ART DIRECTION Jean Yap