Trials of Tradition | American Artist

The traditional Chinese wet mounting process through an American artist

By Meredith Bless

Imagine you’ve just spent hours - no... days, creating a new painting on the most delicate of rice paper, and your art dealer tells you that now, as you watch, your work of art will be soaked in water and glue to be mounted for presentation.

“Oh goodness, it was like a train wreck, I was horrified but couldn’t look away,” recounts painter Nissa Kauppila when asked about her first experience witnessing the traditional Chinese wet mounting process of her work in Shenzhen, China.

“I was ready to scoop up my work and run, but was assured it was going to be okay. And it was.”


In Dafen, the arts district of Shenzhen, there is one shop in particular where Kauppila prefers to take her smaller pieces. After almost 2 years of residing in the region the novelty of a female foreigner has worn off. Now, she enjoys basic Mandarin conversations with the local guys as she sits back in an old torn arm chair at the shop, coffee in hand, while they mount her work.

The basic concept of the traditional Chinese wet mounting process is to first soak the painting with water. Next spread a rice glue or paste from the inside of the painting out to the edges, careful to avoid wrinkles. At this point techniques can vary depending on what backing the work is being

mounted on to. With Kauppila's work, the painting is placed in a heat press and adhered to a thicker piece of rice paper as a backing. The professionals who mount Kauppila’s paintings complete this process entirely by hand.

This process is unique since Kauppila is not Chinese and her work is not officially in the traditional Chinese style. The concept all together sparked a few additional questions about why she uses this process.


TC: Why do you use this traditional mounting style for your work?

NK: Quite simply, I am using all traditional materials. The rice paper I paint on is extremely delicate, in fact a touch of extra water while painting can destroy the whole piece - imagine trying to paint on toilet paper, it’s not that dissimilar. Because the painting paper is so fragile, it must be adhered to a stronger piece of rice paper for presentation.

TC: How/when did you discover this mounting style?

NK: As soon as I tried using rice paper to paint on.

TC: How did you find the professionals to mount your pieces for presentation?

NK: My art dealer in China has a few guys who specialize in the process and mount my works, all by hand. Because the price of my work, size, and increasing popularity, we are careful to work with folks who are specialists.

TC: Any notable experience with a specific piece of work and the process you would like to share?

NK: One experience that stands out was when I was experimenting with ground pigments - mixing my own paints - and I was using a brilliant red. The newly mixed paint did not react well to the mounting process and the big net leaked a bit (image on left). Luckily, due to the explosive nature of my work it actually ended up looking purposeful. This was very very early on in a simple piece.

Most recently, Kauppila’s work can be seen at the Affordable Art Fair Singapore debuting Thursday November 17, 2016. Otherwise you can inquire with for a list of galleries currently showing her work, or view her portfolio online.

Affordable Art Fair Singapore Nissa Kauppila
Affordable Art Fair Singapore Nissa Kauppila