June 25, 2019

Hand-made paper

I spent last week at a papermaking workshop at the Ox-Bow School of Art, the summer school of the Art Institute (open to non-students). I've never made paper before, but I wanted to try out Ox-Bow (it's closer to me than the other places I've gone for week-long workshops), and I was interested in trying out something new, just for the pleasure of it, and figuring there might be connections one way or another with textile work. At a minimum, I figured, I'd come out with some paper that I could use to make cards. That was certainly accomplished, and if it was easier to make paper in my own studio, I'd be tempted to continue with it. The teacher, Andrea Peterson, was excellent. If you're interested to see a couple of short videos of her in her studio, you can watch here (includes a demonstration of painting with pulp directly on the paper) and here (is a tour of her studio, showing the equipment used). The students were also a great group, about 2/3 Art Institute students, and the rest artists working in a variety of media. The facilities at Ox-Bow are very good, and the setting is beautiful. I will definitely keep an eye on their calendar for other possible workshops to do there.

The photo at top shows a few small pieces of cotton paper (about 8" square) that we made the first evening we were there. The piece on the left is plain; the second was scrunched up and then smoothed out, to get some texture; the third had a bamboo placemat pressed into it for texture.

We worked with a range of fibers: cotton, flax, abaca (a banana plant from the Philippines), and kozo (mulberry). This photo shows some cotton undyed and dyed, flax, and abaca.

I did a lot of experimentation with combining fibers, often using a mold that was about 5"x10"; my plan is to fold these in half for cards.

One technique we learned is called "inclusion." You make a sheet of paper, and while it's still wet (before pressing and drying), you can lay things on the paper, then covering them with a very thin, transparent sheet of abaca.  Here I've included (from the left) flower petals from spiderwort, pine needles, and broken up bits of a pine cone. (Click on any image to enlarge.)

close-up of the spiderwort petals

from left: spiderwort pistils, dandelion, unknown flower petals

We were able to dry most of the paper we made in a special dryer, which kept the paper flat, between blotting paper and large sheets of cardboard. What we couldn't fit in the dryer, we air-dried, which results in a crumpled texture:

I also made some big sheets (about 20x30"), all of them creating a swirl with two different fibers. (The blue below is a dyed cotton.)

detail of the large sheets
We worked with colored pulp (colored by mixing in paint) in two different ways.  The first was by coloring the pulp in the main vats, and pulling paper from those vats. This next photo is a combination of rectangles pulled from blue and tan vats, and a looser shape pulled from a red vat. (The red was a larger shape, but I didn't like it, so I put another rectangle of blue over it.) The white below is just a separate piece of paper so you can see the colors, which in person are not washed out like the photo.  I like this one a lot--wish I'd done more of this sort.

about 18x28"
 Most of this next one was done in the same way: making three rectangles of cream and tan, and then laying down other blue shapes that I dripped onto a bamboo-supported screen and then "couched" onto the cream/tan.  The red dots were made in a different way--by "painting" with a much more finely ground pulp, which was then colored. The colored pulp becomes part of the paper itself--rather than being paint applied to the surface. The problem is, it's not easy to apply with a high degree of control. Rather than a brush, implements used are spoons, squeeze bottles, syringes, or just poured from a cup. These circles are OK, but I didn't otherwise have much success with this technique.

In the next piece, the rectangles and large blue areas were couched on, but the red lines were my attempt to draw with a syringe. I was frustrated with my inability to get a steady line, and abandoned "painting" with the color pulps after a couple more failed pieces.  Some students had a lot of success with the technique, but it didn't interest me enough to keep at it.  

When I get around to making cards from some of this paper, one thing I'll try is adding stitching to the paper.  Here are some sample stitches that I did on the back of an ugly painted sheet. Two different kinds of thread, using an embroidery needle.  This worked fine on the cotton paper; I'll try a finer needle on the the abaca and kozo. I'll also try out some stamping on the paper--probably similar to what I've done on commercial paper and on linen fabric.

So, an interesting and fruitful interlude, but now I'm eager to get back to my fabrics. . .