Plugged in and turned on. All paper. All the time.
Production work. I love it.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. For some the repetition is mind numbing, boring, tedious (you name it). I get that. Some times it’s those things to me, too. But 99% of the time production papermaking is my happy place. My apprenticeship has allowed me to affirm some reasons why I love making sheet (upon sheet, upon sheet) and I’m here to share them with you!
1) AUTOMATION AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF CRAFT
Pull the sheet, remove the deckle, couch the sheet, and repeat. I’ve been at this now for five weeks; five days a week, 4-5 hours a day (the other work hours involve pulp preparation, sheet pressing, and breaks for coffee and flan, of course!).
Normally it’s two sheets per felt. The first one is easy. You align the mould with a mark on the board and it’s perfect registration every time. You align the second sheet by sight alone, and for the longest time I was consistently off by just the littlest bit.
When it finally seemed like I was getting the hang of it, we switched to making paper for book covers. This is a heavier grade that requires three sheets couched directly on top of one another – a challenge for sure! I started by using a set of guides but after the hundredth transfer I didn’t need guiding. The sheets were lining up, each feeling like a mini victory.
The repetition in production papermaking is like a pianist playing scales or an athlete doing drills. Call it automation or muscle memory or what you will; repetition is practice and practice leads to the development of craft. Whatever your craft, consistent and mindful practice improves your technique and forms a foundation for improvisation and creative problem solving.
With every sheet I become a better papermaker.
2) CREATING TO FURTHER CREATION
Last Saturday I ducked into an alley café to watch Argentina play Belgium in the World Cup. To my delight and surprise, the menu was on handmade paper. I chatted with the owner and discovered the paper was from Papelera Palermo, where I’m doing my apprenticeship. We were both pretty excited with this connection. (Okay, she was excited. I was ecstatic!)
My skill and creativity are efforts funneled into the finished sheet. Then the sheet goes off into the great unknown to become…I never know what! With the menu, my satisfaction came from seeing what the work became. When I consider developing papers and running a paper mill, I get excited by the prospect of building community with my customers.
Whether it’s a product of my design or a grade to meet specifications, papermaking is my chosen form of creative expression. Production work is where I thrive. So long as my product inspires further creative expression, I will know that I’m right where I belong.