To look after the Xuan paper simply keep it clean and dry.
Xuan paper can be kept indefinitely (as recorded so far it can be kept for 1050 years without significant ageing problem). In fact many artists deliberately keep Xuan paper to age, and aged Xuan paper has higher market value within China (sometimes over 1,000USD/sheet). In theory, the longer the Xuan Paper is kept, the more stable the paper is, so the painting or calligraphy will also be stable and lasting.
The “raw” Xuan paper that is used so frequently for calligraphy and Shanshui painting is untreated and extremely absorbent so moisture is the main concern. So store the paper in a dry place. If you have central heating and no rising damp, you may not have any damp problem, otherwise it is often recommended to keep the Xuan Paper in a raised area of the room, such as the top of the bookshelf. It’s suggested that the room where the paper is stored is aired and kept fresh and clean, it is also advisable to open the Xuan paper once or twice per year when the weather is good to let the Xuan paper breath in fresh air and release any trapped moisture.
How to keep free of moths and mould?
The reason that Xuan Paper can be kept for thousands years is largely due to the fact that Xuan Paper is quite resistant to biological attack compared with other types of raw paper. The repeated steaming of Xuan Paper raw materials increases the paper’s alkalinity and this is an important part of it’s durability, unlike some ancient papers that become moth-eaten from moth caterpillars.
Having said that, Xuan paper is made of natural material and not chemically protected like modern papers, so if you are storing the paper for a long time, you can use moth repellent, traditionally borneol: wrap the borneol or other repellent in tissue paper and avoid any direct contact with the paper.
If you do find any mold starting, a good airing and half-day exposure to moderate sunshine can normally solve the problem.
Two Special Notes:
- if the Xuan paper is damp, do not put the Xuan paper in direct sunshine to dry it because the strong sunshine might damage the fibres. You should just open the damp Xuan paper and leave it to dry naturally in fresh air.
- always keep the Xuan paper away from oil since the paper is very absorbent. Keep the paper away from kitchen or dinning room is a good idea.
If your Xuan paper is creased or was folded you can straighten it. There are a number of different ways to straighten Xuan paper, the simplest are:
- Small paper can simply be unfolded on a flat surface and flattened by putting some heavy books on top. After a couple of days the paper will be naturally flattened.
- If you need to use the paper urgently, you can also unfold the paper on a flat surface and use a spray bottle to sprinkle a fine mist of water on the paper. Once the paper dries, it should become flat. Xuan paper can also be steamed flat.
To straighten a piece of paper that has already been used, again it can be flattened by weight, or – carefully – with a small amount of moisture – this is more risky and works best with higher quality inks.
The more sophisticated way to straighten Xuan Paper would be quite similar to the skills used to mount finished painting and calligraphy:
- First, lay out the creased Xuan Paper on a flat surface.
- moisturize with clean water using a clean, soft wide brush to brush the creased Xuan Paper gently. Be careful not to make the paper too wet.
- lift the moisturized Xuan Paper and attach it on a smooth flat wall.
- use a dry soft wide brush to get rid of air and flatten the paper.
- Wait until the paper is dry.
- Once the paper is dry, you can take it off the wall.
This is the safest way to straighten large size Xuan Paper.
Mounting, Framing etc
Traditionally finished Xuan paper is mounted on long silk scroll. The thin xuan paper on silk scroll can be safely rolled for storage and transportation and unrolled and hung as needed. There are special techniques for mounting paper and it is not recommended to mount with ordinary modern glue.
Xuan paper and traditional Chinese inks are normally self-preserving and do not need to be covered to stay in good condition. Of course nowadays your painting can also be framed using a modern frame.
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