For the Love of Paper

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to take a five day intensive workshop at Women’s Studio Workshop called “Paper Memory”. It was taught by Sara Rose LeJeune who is a skilled paper maker and wonderful artist in her own right. This was the first time I had the chance to work with handmade paper since I was in grad school, a little over 5 years ago, and I was excited to dig my hands into some paper pulp once again.  There were six of us in the class, all artists looking to experiment with a new medium. We began by sharing images of our work with the class, then moved on to the basics of pulling sheets of paper in both cotton and abaca, a manila hemp fiber that makes a crisp translucent sheet. We learned to use the beater and how beating the pulp for longer or shorter amounts of time would affect the final paper. Later on our first day we did a memory activity where each of us put onto the table a special object that we had brought. The group would comment on these objects for a couple minutes and then we would say something about that object and why it was special to us. It was supposed to be a sentimental object… I ended up settling on a couple of old worn out handmade sketchbooks from when I was in college. It seems pretty simple but somehow this was a powerful grounding and also bonding activity that I think really set the mood for the week. Like an “icebreaker” thats actually enjoyable and inspiring and where you actually get to know something real about one another. The idea behind “paper memory” is that paper can hold memory and meaning whether physically though it’s wear or metaphorically though the content printed on it or through its use. Through the memory activity Sara Rose encouraged us to be unapologetically nostalgic. Many of us brought objects with us that became a part of the art we made, whether embedded between sheets of paper or cast in unpressed paper sheets and then removed from the paper, leaving behind a shell of its shape. I spent the week experimenting with the transparency of the abaca and embedding found papers, collage clipping, flowers and plants, and thread in between sheets of cotton and abaca. I also worked a little bit with blowouts, a technique where a stencil is placed over the wet sheet and the exposed pulp is blown away with the hose, and making home made watermarks with stencils and thread sewn into a mesh fabric. I made some finished pieces that I was really happy with. It was really refreshing and freeing to get to work in this way, with no pressure, just figuring out ways to use handmade paper.

I have felt a connection to paper that goes beyond its use as a substrate for art making for many years. I’d say my love and appreciation for paper began when I was just a freshman in college at SVA.  I had the luck to have a wonderful drawing teacher, Brooke Larsen, who really fostered this appreciation of materials in us. He encouraged us to go to New York Central Art Supply, an over 100 year old art supply store that had one of the most extensive paper selections in the world (until late 2016 when they closed their doors for good), and just spend time exploring paper, feeling the samples, thinking about which ones would be best for the materials we liked to use. I think I was lucky to have that connection so early on in my journey as an artist. Later, after I finished college I worked in the NY Central paper department for about four years. I learned so much about paper in that time and discovered so many different types. This is also really where my love of printmaking began, partially because of these papers and my amazing coworkers and people who would come into the store. I began learning about print shops in the city, printmakers, bookmakers, paper makers…. pretty much this whole world within the arts that I was so unaware of.

 In grad school I got to take a papermaking class with Cynthia Lollis, another wonderful teacher and artist. This was my first experience making paper, which we made from cotton linters (partially processed cotton fiber) and cotton fabric, mostly from old clothes. The fabric was how we attempted to add color. I also really wanted to try making paper from abaca then too. I tried but the paper didn’t come out quite right, not as translucent or as crisp as it should have been. However, taking this class really brought my love of paper to the next level. Making paper was such a satisfying and meditative process with so many possibilities beyond making flat sheets. I really wanted to continue experimenting with this material.
So it took me five years to come back to handmade paper and it couldn’t have been a better experience. The week at Women’s Studio Workshop was a true vacation, even though I was often in the studio until 9 or 10pm, it was such a nice break; an entire five days where I thought about almost nothing except what I was doing in the moment. I met many other wonderful artists that I will keep in touch with. It was sad to leave such a magical place and experience but I left feeling rejuvenated and inspired to make more work. And especially inspired to work in handmade paper even more, hopefully before the next five years passes.