2.6; More Sampling: Tearing

The tearing continued although I became a little more adventurous with the papers I selected.

I recorded my observations in my sketchbook, the main thing that I noticed was that the softer, handmade type papers contained longer fibres which produced a fluffier, wispy edge.

SAMPLE 2.6.5 (a) (b) (c)

I started to compare the technique of tearing with cutting:


My observations can be read directly from my notes in the photograph but on reflection I feel I need to add that I don’t really have a preference for one technique or the other. I think both have their merits. Cutting is more accurate and produces a sharper design with more contrast. Tearing is softer, more textural and produces subtle imperfections.

I noticed Becky Kisbeth Gibbs’ torn weavings on Pinterest (see also here). I was attracted to the softness of the colours she uses and the way they mix optically in a similar way to a mosaic. I was compelled to try this with some of my Brusho scraps:

The first thing I noticed was how the torn strips curled up from the table, seeming to retain some of the energy of the tear. The cut strips lie much flatter, they also fit together much closer. The interlocking of the strips without a gap makes the colour appear stronger and brighter. By contrast the gaps and white edges of the torn weaving produces a much airier, open effect.


This making session was really about using my new Gelli Plate to explore the difference between a cut and torn line.


I have wanted a Gelli Plate for ages and I wasn’t disappointed when I tried it out! I found that I was able to explore all sorts of colour combinations, textures and shapes at the roll of a brayer. I produced a huge stack of prints, the draw back was that I became so absorbed in the process I almost forgot my goal!

I used one of my flower shapes from 2.4.3 as a motif because although I cut them from foam with scissors when I photographed them through tracing paper the edges became fuzzy.

These are some of the prints that do demonstrate the difference between a cut and a torn line:

I realise that my prints aren’t brilliant; I evaluated them in detail in my sketchbook reflecting on how to make them better next time. My favourite of the session was the one below:


I like this print because it has a good mix of colours, the blues that I challenged myself to use in this exercise are still present but I have ‘made them my own’ by incorporating my favoured earthy browns.The print is harmonious; Cool blues are balanced with complimentary warm orange/brown. These are enhanced by the addition of white to the composition. Sharp cut edges stand out against the rough, textural background- I think a torn edge would have been lost, leaving the outline too undefined. Importantly the masked image has slight imperfections, which tone down the whiteness so it doesn’t appear too stark.

SAMPLE 2.6.6 (a) (b)

Finally for this exercise I returned to 2.4,’Cutting Holes’ but this time I tore them in a wet wipe:

Tearing pulls and distorts the very long, strong fibres. I found that the surface could be stretched creating a web-like structure; Even harder pulling creates holes. I can see a lot of potential for this sample: layering and adding stitch or other embellishments are all possibilities I would like to explore.

In addition, the quick pen sketch I made of this sample in my sketchbook looks like it would lend itself to being scratched into a surface (Excercise 4.2). I like to move in very close to small details and enlarge them in my drawings so this would be ideal.


2.6; Sampling: Tearing

I started this exercise by tearing plain white copy paper. It was interesting to compare the difference between fast and slow movements. I also found the orientation of the paper affected the appearance of the torn edge: width-ways the tear was jagged and uneven, length-ways it became much more straight. The reason for this seems to be the direction of the paper fibres (I found a simple scientific explanation here).

I find that one of the most attractive things about tearing above cutting is the soft textured strip that looks similar to a deckle edge created when you make your own paper. I am right handed, I found the textured ‘deckle’ edge occurred on top of the paper in my left hand and beneath the paper in my right. (I also noticed the paper in my right hand always seemed to curl and coil like a spring, whereas the left remained flat).

SAMPLE 2.6.1 (a) (b) (c)

I decided to work with the ‘deckle’ effect that tearing creates. I chose one of my favourite papers from an old sketchbook. I like it because it is thick and strong, it feels soft but has a grainy tooth, it is also very absorbent.


Long, slow  gentle tears across the grain created broad and uneven edges. Using what I learned from previous exercises I did not glue the layers flush, I used double-sided tape sparingly to leave space in between. This definitely added more interest and contrast particularly as all the layers were white.

The sample reminds me of the sea, I am reminded of the way the surf breaks on the sand. I worried that this was an obvious interpretation but decided as I have lived next to the sea all my life I could be forgiven. I wondered if I lived in a different location if I would have seen mountains, or hedges or clouds?

I was keen to use colours that I don’t normally use (to try to push myself out of my comfort zone) so I decided to pursue the idea of the sea by using blues and greens.

Sample 2.6.2 b, (below left) shows how colour was added using a light ink wash before tearing; 2.6.2c, (below right) was torn and coloured after tearing.

Sample b, seems much more successful. Even though the ink wash is very pale there is still contrast between the blue and white. The diffuse line between them adds to the watery feel. The torn edge is similar width and unevenness in both samples but in c the colour has had a more ‘all over’ effect. I was expecting the ink to behave differently on the surface and edge of the paper but it didn’t. Perhaps because it is so soft and highly absorbent?


I used Brusho with a wax resist to record the tears in these samples:

I tried drawing with wax crayon and a candle. The marks that replicated the tearing best were made with the edge of a wax crayon with a sheet of sandpaper beneath the paper (far right) I found this produced thick but uneven lines. The mottling created by the roughness of the sandpaper has created some unusual shapes, I drew these in pen in my sketchbook also.

The following photographs are of the piece I created as I used up the Brusho I had mixed. (I often find I like these spontaneous ‘clean-up’ pieces better than anything I plan to do!)

This piece builds on the samples I created and embroidered when recording 2.4.5 (below) I still used Brusho and salt but this time in this more unfamiliar colourway. I also used Deli Paper rather than Abaca and was pleasantly surprised at its crispiness (also Brusho doesn’t bleed through layers below it, so you don’t lose any intensity).

SAMPLE 2.6.2 (a) (b) (c)

The results of sample 2.6.1 c, were surprising, I expected ink to behave differently on the surface of paper than it did on a torn edge. I realised the absorbency of the paper had nullified the effect. When I tore some very smooth card I could immediately see the difference in texture between the surface and edge. Since the textures were now markedly different, I hoped the ink would be lighter on the smooth surface areas and darker where the card was torn.

a) The torn circles were glued to the same type of card which was then coloured with Brusho:

The colour did as I expected. I particularly like the way not only the torn edge is darkened but the area surrounding each applied shape has also strengthened where the dye has pooled. The wet-to-wet application of Brusho has made the colours merge and mingle in waves that echo the shapes of the torn edge.

b) I also coloured some of the card the circles were torn from:

The irregular shapes became rather fragile having been so wet, I was able to peel the card apart in layers. This showed just how far the dye had seeped into the card through the torn edge. Finding areas that had remained untouched at the of core of the paper was an exciting discovery.  

c) As I tore the circles I thought about how Maud Vantours sometimes stacks the shapes cut from a paper design. I realised it would be quite difficult to emulate her clean cut style with its sharp edges using a ragged torn line but I tried:

It was actually quite difficult to stack circles so that they didn’t look like fried eggs, which is why I spread the shapes out. I am pleased with the colour effect in this sample, I find it sympathetic to the shapes. The darkened edges contrast well adding form to the circular discs.

SAMPLE 2.6.3

I also tore some circles from card that had already been dyed. I was looking forward to seeing the same Brusho coloured circle shapes but this time with a plain white torn edge.

My findings were once again unexpected! I found I could tear almost perfect circle shapes but only in one direction- meaning the torn ‘deckle-like’ edge was on reverse of the circles and the front of the sheet from which I was tearing. Try as I might I could not achieve such accuracy by tearing in the opposite direction; I like the irregular shapes though, the negative space between them is much more interesting.

I produced yet another ‘clean-up’ piece with potential. This time a sheet of tracing paper that I had placed beneath Abaca paper to protect my work surface from the Brusho.

I am really excited by the way the paper has wrinkled, meaning the dye has only stained certain areas. The shapes that have been formed remind me of a watery version of the ‘Smocked Landscape’ pieces I was working on last year for ATV. I am really keen to revisit this in machine embroidery- when I get a chance!

2.6; Initial Thoughts

I chose the exercise on tearing because I thought it would be interesting to compare the difference between a torn and a cut line. I gave some thought as to whether or not I liked tearing and decided I did, which surprised the ‘controlling’ side of me!

Tearing gives paper a softer edge which makes it feel soft and fuzzy; it produces interesting shapes that are not as predictable or accurate as cutting. Like a straight line drawn without a ruler, the wavering, undulation is easier on the eye than a stark line. I have come to realise such imperfections are what makes work more accessible and attractive.

Assembling torn paper also has implications on the way neighbouring colours interact with one another.

I see tearing as a gentle, mindful process without trace of violence (because then it would be ripping). It also suggests value, if something is kept, even though it is torn there must be some worth to the object. This reminds me of the Japanese aesthetic wabi-sabi.

I didn’t research any particular artist or designer using tearing. I looked briefly at some of the images google pulled up for me but nothing really grabbed my attention. I saw lots of collages put together from scraps of torn paper and noticed a current trend for tearing and adding to photographs.

Although I like the way different shapes and textures are brought together, sort of pixelating the image, I have personally never had much success with collage. I decided to focus on the appearance of the torn edge rather than concentrate on creating an image with the pieces, this in fact proved key to the exercise.