Plugged in and turned on. All paper. All the time.
A curated collection of pieces from artists working in pulp painting was the first Hand Papermaking Journal portfolio I sat with in person. It was Hand Papermaking Journal Portfolio #7, it was at the University of Iowa archives a little under five years ago, and it was at the dawn of my paper obsession. I was thrilled to see the details of each sheet and to read the nitty-gritty of the conception and creation of the edition. Looking at other HP portfolios in the archives that day fed my desire to be part of the hand papermaking community. I was inspired.
You can imagine my wonder and honor when an email turned up last spring; I was invited to participate in Portfolio #12: Intergenerationality! The theme is in celebration of the journal’s 30th anniversary and pairs established artists who were active at the time of the founding with emerging artists who were born around that same time. The collaborations reflect each team’s experience of forgoing the traditional mentor/student relationship to interact and create on equal footing. We committed to an edition of 152.
The person I collaborated with is Velma Bolyard. Velma is a place-based papermaker, using plant material from her locality in her paper and art, along with commercially available fibers like kozo, flax and abaca. Her passion involves a highly experienced and informed botanical pressure printing practice that she shares with other artists through workshops around the globe. Velma told me that it is difficult to find a suitable paper for her process as the paper must enfold metal and plant material that is then clamped or tied into tight bundles and submerged in simmering water for prolonged periods. But – how perfect! My passions are production paper making and paper design. We decided that I would design a paper that would not just withstand her process, but would also delight her and enhance results through texture, color and definition.
To begin with, Velma sent me papers she currently uses for her printmaking that I tested for relevant properties. I made up a couple of ideas and we tested them when she came to my house to show me her process (described in the captions of the photos below) .
From there we went through a series of iterations of the furnish (i.e. formula). I would make up ideas and send them to her. She would test them in her process and give me feedback. We experimented with hemp, cotton rag, abaca, sisal, kenaf, and a fibrillated pure cellulose product, two different wet strength agents, AKD sizing, and different methods of alum addition. Velma determined if the papers met her personal aesthetic then evaluated them for durability and handling, and the resulting prints for color and definition. We landed on a 50% premium unbleached abaca, 40% cotton rag, 10% kenaf blend with a dose of AKD sizing for resistance to wettability and a separate alum addition similar to mordanting cotton fabrics for dyeing. With that settled, I got to work!
For me the biggest technical challenge was working with the laboratory handsheet mould, a process closest to the pour technique. In my training as a hand papermaker I’ve always used dip moulds and vats. This was also my first time doing a big production using a blender to pulp and refine. I ended up making pulp for ten sheets at a time which moved production at a reasonable pace. The stock I added to the mould for each sheet was at 0.2% consistency which, with the long fibers, helped with the formation.
I sent them to Velma as I made them and she processed them as they came. When she finished she sent me photos of the finished stack and of all the prints fanned out.
It’s the same thrill I got when I was working at the paper mill in Argentina and went to a cafe where they were using our paper for their menus – surprise, delight, and satisfaction. It has been two years but I feel the same as when I posted Two Reasons Why I Love Production Work:
“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! 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.”
Want to see what other collaborators were up to? Follow the Hand Papermaking Journal FaceBook page.
Want to buy Portfolio #12? Fifteen pieces, each in a protective folder imprinted with the artists’ names, all housed in a custom-made clamshell box. A handbound booklet, with letterpress-printed cover, contains statements from the artists, details about each piece, and a commissioned essay by Tatiana Ginsberg. Pre-order now and you’ll save 33%!