First invented over 2000 years ago in China, paper is one of the few entirely sustainable products manufactured (1). The main components of paper are Cellulose and Lignin (both sourced from plant fibres such as trees or cloth) along with size (e.g. rosin, starch or gum) to help strengthen and bind the fibres.


Making Paper

‘The History of Paper’ (2), lists the main ingredients of the contemporary paper manufacturing process as follows:


  • Primary fibre component: This is the main source of lignin and cellulose. The majority of paper worldwide is now made with sustainable wood fibre. Some high-end papers, like watercolour paper, are made using linen or cotton cloth fibres as the primary fibre source. Fibres can be divided into ‘long fibres’ (mainly softwood tree sources), and ‘short fibres’ (hardwood tree sources). Different species of tree have different lengths of fibre, which affects the qualities of the paper.
  • Secondary fibre component: This can be sourced from recycled paper fibre or a different cloth or plant fibre added to the primary fibre source.
  • Bleaching and Colouring agents – raw fibres are unappealing dark brown / grey hues so bleaching agents or masking agents are used to make the fibres white/ cream, prior to colourants (like pigments or dyes) being added to make a huge variety of paper colours.
  • Size – viscose binding materials such as Rosin, starch or talc are added to strengthen and stiffen the paper fibres.
  • Fillers – can be added and used to alter the qualities and structure of the paper and/ or its surface qualities – materials like clay, talc or Titanium dioxide (rutile) are used to give paper structure.

(2) / (3)

Watch this video to find out more about how paper pulp is made using the components listed above:




Myths and Facts Regarding Sustainability 

Having previously believed that ‘paperless’ (e-commerce/online) is more environmentally responsible, I was surprised to learn that paper has a number of environmental benefits and is one of the few genuinely sustainable manufacturing processes that exist globally. Like any industry, there are some key challenges like high water usage and processing of residual materials. However, there are a number of surprising sustainability facts about paper and its manufacturing process.

Take a look at this short film from ‘Two Sides’ to find out more:



Sources used in this post:

  1. Paper mill Direct: https://www.papermilldirect.co.uk/inspire/10-interesting-paper- facts#:~:text=1.,and%20pieces%20of%20hemp%20material.
  2. History of Paper: http://www.historyofpaper.net/making-paper/ingredients-of-paper/
  3. Aalto University – Wood Science videos 1 – 5 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJVzDGZ88X4&list=PL7Ddm62__-gjaDA2XovRE2-jMzZ-YBf3u
  4. Two Sides: https://twosides.info/myths-and-facts



Further information:

Two Sides Sustainability Facts:

Information about Sustainable practices at GF Smith

Forestry and woodland habitats



Re-Wilding Practice: A Year-Long Program for Art and Environmental Sustainability

Re-wilding Practice is a year-long intensive research and practice-based program developed by Feral Art School in collaboration with an industry partner, G F Smith (a paper manufacturer).

Together with nine other artists, I am excited to have the opportunity to “re-wild” my creative practice by exploring, observing, and researching innovative paper production processes aimed at reducing environmental impact.

As someone who is passionate about environmental and social justice, I use my painting practice to raise awareness of habitats impacted by the climate crisis. I am new to exploring the possibilities of paper in my artwork, and I am particularly interested in learning about the environmental concerns and practices of such a large global industry.

Further information:

Feral Re-wilding Practice programme
GF smith


Alternative art schools:

Feral art School
The Other MA
Turps art school