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I have ordered rice paper with which to make butterflies. It is so delicate though. Is there a way to coat the back with something like clear gesso and still have the look of translucent water color and airy? Is there another type of paper that might work instead?

This is the rice paper that I ordered. It is very thin, delicate and almost like tissue paper.

enter image description here

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    How have you been trying to work it thus far? – Matt Jan 18 '18 at 3:31
  • This is the rice paper that I ordered: smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B000JJMI48/… . I don't know how to add a photo, but it is very thin, delicate and almost like tissue paper. – Lilibete Jan 21 '18 at 20:32
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Because many types of paper go under the name ‘rice paper’ (pretty much any paper that is thin and semi-transparent) it will be useful to post a close-up picture to determine what type of paper you actually have.

I’ve often heard washi (or mulberry paper) being called rice paper. It is thin, semi-transparent, soft - almost cloth-like:

enter image description here

If that's the kind of paper you have consider that:

  • starch or gelatin is generally used to size paper
  • you can also use other transparent adhesive like PVA or rabbit skin gluе (PVA is white but becomes transparent when dry)
  • the less you dilute whatever you chose to use, the stiffer paper you’ll end up with

I’ve seen art stores sell pieces of handmade paper that is thin and semi-transparent, with distinct fibers (like in the image below) but unlike washi they are quite stiff. There is wide variety of textures to choose from. These might work for your project well.

enter image description here

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  • What I have is like the first type shown, and it is on a roll. – Lilibete Jan 21 '18 at 20:33
  • I'd recommend skin glue as well: the paper will remain perfectly translucent. It might give the paper a slight ochre-like hue, though. – Joachim Aug 31 '19 at 19:20
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The question asks whether there is another type of paper that would be less delicate. Here are some ideas.

  1. Shoji screens have to stand up to handling, so a number of manufacturers use a synthetic material instead of paper. A few examples:

  2. Moving away from materials typically used where rice paper would be used, there are non-woven synthetic fabrics that can be similar or can be used for a similar purpose. If you need relatively small pieces, you can cannibalize it from disposable hair covers, beard protectors, or accordion-folded dust masks.

    enter image description here Source

    enter image description here Source

    If you want to paint the material, something as thin as the beard mask above wouldn't be suitable. These kinds of materials can also be bought in sheets and rolls sold for applications like dust covers under upholstered furniture, dust filters on ducts and air vents, and interfacing in clothing. Featherweight/lightweight versions range from nearly see-through to translucent, and it is much tougher stuff than rice paper. Pellon is one of the big manufacturers.

  3. Tyvek may be a substitute and is nearly indestructable.

Note that everything listed here is some form of synthetic material. If you want to paint it, water colors probably won't adhere well. You would need to use an appropriate kind of paint. Permanent markers, like Sharpies, generally stick to these materials and are available in a wide variety of colors. Some of the Pellon materials have a surface resembling felt. If you want to paint the material, consider the surface texture.

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