Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Paper Making Class

About a week and a half ago, I attended a short paper-making class with my friend Nancy. It was held at the Southwest Center of Arts and Crafts and we had access to all their big equipment.

After a brief introduction, we took two wooden saw horses and a piece of plywood to fit on top. Wetting down a large piece of felt (about the size of a full sheet of watercolor paper), we placed it across the opened saw horses and plywood, which acted as a desk. If we wanted to do more sheets, we could add another felt layer, up to a total of three.

There were four large tubs of already-prepared pulp (white, yellow, two reds) and three smaller ones with two greens and a blue. Stainless steel shelves held all sizes of molds and deckles. A goodie bag of textures—plastic grids, polyester lace/fabric, keys, etc., enticed experimentation. A spool of fine filament (think fishing line) was available to dip into the pulp and create fine or thick lines. And we had only an hour and a half to play.

Instead of beginning with simple individual pages, our instructor showed us a complicated folder with pockets, which took me quite a while to understand and complete. It is shown below, sideways, the outside, before I've folded it in half.

What a messy medium this is! There were two hoses, both set on full-force, one at a tub-like sink for rinsing and one hose to wet down felt. Every time you wanted to change colors, you had to wash out your mold and deckle so you wouldn’t contaminate the vat of new color. Some pulp was so thick, it stuck all over your hands and rings. You would pull your mold and deckle through the bin of water, shift it slightly like a gold prospector, and bring it dripping water all over to your felt “desk”. The cement floor had several drains and we were warned to wear waterproof shoes. They weren’t kidding--I had to roll up my jeans as well! For one born under a Pisces sign who loves beaches and water, I was surprised how much I didn’t like working in soaking-wet shoes and hands. I brought my camera to take photos but never had a chance. My hands were always wet, making or elaborating a sheet.

Once time had expired, we stacked all the felts into a sandwich with boards that went into a huge press. It squished out all the water from the papers and the felts, under great pressure. A drain caught the run-off.

Then, we had to slow-dry all the papers. We weren’t able to bring any of it home that day. Removing the sheets onto more sandwiches of corrugated boards, davey boards, and dry felts, we stacked them up next to a box fan covered in plastic blowing steadily for a week. I couldn’t figure out why the teacher said this was an “instant gratification” medium!

Just got the pages back yesterday and these scans don’t really show the intricate elegance the paper has. The irregular deckles, the translucent layers, the feel of the finished product. Okay, now I begin to see the attraction.

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