At first glance, Oblation Papers and Press may seem like any other hip store in the Pearl District. A wide storefront catches your eye and a sandwich board beckons you to come inside. However, once you enter the store, you’ll find that it’s not just a cute stationery shop—it’s an entire urban paper mill.
Amid the clacking of typewriter keys, the buzz of shoppers and the soft chittering of the store’s parakeets, this letterpress print shop, hand bindery and boutique is producing some of the most innovative paper on the market, and that includes their new, vegan handmade watercolor paper.
A soft launch for the new paper was held on Feb. 16 with Oblation now being the first watercolor paper producer on the West Coast. They’re also one of the few mills in the world to offer paper that is handmade, cruelty-free and made from 100 percent recycled materials. While the product will be officially released to the public at a trade show in Austin, Texas on Feb. 24, this event at their brick-and-mortar store drew a modest crowd of artists and shoppers eager to try the paper out for themselves. With paints, brushes and paper samples on an accessible table, as well as cups of wine from the Portland-based Woven Wineworks, the event was a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Overseeing the paper was Oblation’s master paper maker Kalin Stoev, though he simply calls himself a “paperman.” With a master’s degree in painting from National Academy of Art in Bulgaria, Stoev has years of experience with watercolor paper, which lends well to his paper-making craft. He proudly compared the quality of his paper to the quality of Arches, a French company who he considers to have set the standard for watercolor paper. However, Arches uses gelatin to size—a process in paper production—their paper, making it non-vegan, as gelatin comes from animal byproducts. In explaining the market for a vegan watercolor paper, Stoev said, “A lot of artists…they are sensitive and would like to be animal-free, cruelty-free.” He later followed up on that, saying that many artists “can’t work on something that requires sacrificing animals.”
While customers tried out the paper and Stoev gave tours of his production area, the quality of the product was clearly visible. It held water and pigment remarkably well while remaining fresh, shiny and staying true to the intensity of the paints.
The process of making handmade watercolor paper begins with huge, stiff sheets of recycled cotton and ends with durable paper, making stops along the way in powerful pulping machines, intermingling with all-natural pigments and crystal clear water. Stoev’s production room is tiny, loud and lit by a single dangling lightbulb, yet it bursts with artistic liveliness. His pride and satisfaction with his paper was palpable. It’s always fascinating to see some of the simplest things in our lives broken down into their steps of creation, and paper is certainly no exception.
Somehow, putting a brush to Oblation’s paper felt more powerful than using a pad from a chain store. It felt like it was making a statement—art comes from the heart of an artist, and paper should come from the heart of the paperman.
Oblation Papers and Press is one of those unique stores that lets you see their manufacturing area. Through huge glass windows, you can see workers delicately and expertly working on their craft. When you visit and shop at Oblation, you know exactly where your paper is coming from, and you have the peace of mind that it’s made with the earth, animals and humans in mind.