Paste Painting

Paste painting dates back hundreds of years when bookbinders would add paint to their leftover paste and create covers and endsheets for their books.


First, you need to make a big batch of paste to make the paint. I tested out two recipes: one with cornstarch and one with wheat flour. The wheat flour is cheap, but the cornstarch was easier to use and better for students with wheat sensitivities. Both recipes made quite enough for a class of 16-20 students.

Wheat Paste

  • one part flour
  • 6.5 parts water

Slowly boil the flour and water mixture, stirring constantly. It’s easy to burn the bottom of the mixture if you’re not paying attention to the stirring (ask me how I know). Even so, you can strain out any burnt bits with cheesecloth. Let cool and thicken.

Cornstarch Paste

  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 7 cups boiling water

Boil 7 cups of water. In a large bowl, mix 1 cup of cold water and 1 cup of cornstarch.

Once the water boils, add it to the cold cornstarch mixture and mix immediately with an electric mixer for a minute to prevent any lumps from forming.

Let cool.

Once cool, remove the skin that formed and mix again with the mixer (if you leave the skin in, the mix is much lumpier…ask me how I know).

Of the two mixtures, cornstarch was my favorite. It’s easier to work with and dries with a pleasant sheen to it. If you’re using the wheat paste, have the students apply it to their paper and wait a few minutes for it to set up a little before trying to manipulate it.

Adding Paint

I let the students do all the measuring and mixing. They put about 1/4 of a cup paste mixture to a squirt of paint and stirred them together. You don’t need fancy paint here; we were using really old craft paint. We decided on 8 different colors and made two jars of each which the students shared.

Tools and Patterns

This is the kind of project that has to be demonstrated. Too much paste paint and you’ve got a real problem on your hands. It’s also helpful to show the kids how to create a variety of patterns.

Tools we used:

      • trimmed popsicle sticks
      • combs
      • cotton swabs
      • forks
      • spoons
      • fingers

Managing the Mess

This is one messy project! It’s important to clean as you go, but also have a receptacle to scrape off excess paint from pages and tools. Additionally, have lots of paper towels on hand, however, reserve them for wiping messy fingers and not paint-covered tools – you’ll waste much less paper this way.

Starts Goopy and Thick, Dries Flat!

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