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Chewing with the Paper Chipmunk

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Recognition for a Papermaker

Several years ago I stumbled upon Japanese Papermaking: Traditions, Tools and Techniques in the local university library. I wasn't a papermaker, but wanted to know a bit more about the topic. The book turned out to be an enjoyable mélange of travel writing, ethnobotany, history and detailed fine craft how-to. Up to then I wasn't all that familiar with the author, Timothy Barrett, but soon came to know that he's a respected presence in the paper and book world, and is affiliated with the University of Iowa Center for the Book.

I was pleased to hear that Timothy Barrett was just named a recipient of a 2009 MacArthur Fellowship. One doesn't usually expect to find the likes of papermakers included in such honors. In a recent press release Timothy says,
People have asked me how it feels to receive this award....More than the money, I have to say I've been moved by the recognition. I've spent most of my career focused on the history, technique, science and aesthetics of hand papermaking. I've been lucky to be a part of the UI Center for the Book for the last 23 years because, in general, career tracks in my specialty are few and far between. So it is very much to the MacArthur Foundation's credit that they acknowledge creativity in new fields of study, as well as in established disciplines.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bookshelf in a matchbox

Another Flickr find. Not quite as small as capsule-sized, but pretty teeny. This is from Buechertiger in Bonn, Germany. If you go to look, I recommend having a peek at the individual book pictures too. Coptic endbands the size of pinheads?

Bookshelf in a matchbox
Originally uploaded by buechertiger

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Paste Paper Part Two

A while back I was on the hunt for a decent pasting brush. I'd been using standard cheap brushes, and had invested in a more traditional round brush (for clear paste), which wasn't going to be helpful for painting. None of the brushes I'd tried really worked well.

One day I was browsing in the hardware store. On a whim, I decided to treat myself to a fairly good synthetic house painting brush. The bristles were firm, but not too stiff. As it turned out, it was the best brush I'd ever used for such purposes. Paste  flows smoothly and the hairs don't fall out. It's quickly turned into one of those things I wouldn't want to be without. I wound up getting more in different sizes and with different handles. You really do get what you pay for. Now that I've experienced these, I never want to go back to the $1 specials!

If you want to make paste paper, good brushes will make a difference. My favorite paste recipe comes from Diane Maurer-Mathison:
Blend 1/4 C. cornstarch (or tapioca flour, etc.) with 1/4 C. water.
Add 1 C. water and heat on medium high, stirring with a whisk until it thickens.
Remove from heat. Add 1/2 C. water and let it cool thoroughly. Strain if necessary. When cool, divide into containers. I use roughly 1/4 cup of paste for each color, but this can be varied. Add a teaspoon or two of acrylic or watercolor paint to each portion of paste. I sometimes will also add a few drops of glycerin to ensure that the dried paste painting remains pliable enough for folding without cracking. But this additive is certainly not essential, and most paste papers work fine for books or cards without it.

This paper was done with copper acrylic paint mixed into the paste, painted on black paper. The pattern was created with a dental tool that came as a freebie from somewhere. I think it's supposed to be some sort of tongue cleaning device, but I much prefer it as an art supply. This dental tool decorated paper is in honor of a friend who almost just needed a root canal. (Hi there, M!)

The blue one below was done on Tyvek. The results tend to be a little more muted than when done on paper, but that often adds to the interesting effect. The golden pattern was done on the shiny side of some Japanese Masa paper. Most of the others (examples in the previous post) were done on Strathmore drawing paper, which I've found to be extremely versatile. In another post, I'll show the step-by-step process for wet on wet paste painting on plexiglass.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Paste Paper, with Diversion on the Uses of Methylcellulose

I went to a paste paper workshop last weekend. The instructor was nice and the company fun. I hadn't had an extended stretch of paper decorating in a long time. I picked up a few new tips and tried a different way of making paste paper. It was enjoyable.

But, as it turned out, I wasn't crazy about the way we were doing the papers. I'd originally learned to do paste painting on wet paper stretched taut on plexiglass. In this workshop we worked on dry paper. Judging from what I've read over the years, some people can do it this way. But I don't seem to be one of them. The paper curled and I found the process exasperating. Furthermore, we were using methylcellulose. Again, a lot of people do it this way. I've even made some pleasing methylcellulose paste papers over the years. But I usually prefer to use some kind of starch-based paste for the better detail provided. Once the papers from the workshop had dried, I wound up with hardly any that I liked.

However, I still found the class valuable. It reminded me how much I used to like to decorate paper. A few days later when I was back in my own studio and had access to my stove, I boiled myself up some paste, pulled out my sheet of plexiglass and a tray of water, and treated myself to some paper decorating satisfaction. The designs you see here are details from a couple of those papers.

I'm highly gluten sensitive and have some weird allergies, so I have to make my own baked goods from scratch. The upside of this is I get to have on hand all kinds of ingredients that some people might find strange, including a variety of wheatless starches—tapioca, arrowroot, and amaranth—along with the ubiquitous corn. I've made paste out of them all, as well as out of rice flour and some rice starch that I'd actually bought for making paste rather than for baking. All of the starch-based pastes are pretty similar in texture and workability, although the amaranth is a bit heavier and has a warm color cast to it.

The canister of methylcellulose that I've been using for years, in fact, came from a gluten free food supply company. It was meant to be used as a gluten substitute in baking (although I've never used it for that, only for bookmaking and paper work). It was less expensive than any methylcellulose I've ever seen in an art store, yet seems to be exactly the same stuff. Out of curiosity when I was writing this post, I looked to see if that company still sold it (it's not actually a popular gluten free additive for home cooks). Sadly, they do not, but I discovered some interesting facts about our old friend methylcel. In addition to being used by bookbinders and food manufacturers, it is widely used as an emulsifier and thickener in cosmetics and shampoos and is a common ingredient in pharmaceuticals. In fact, it is the "cel" in the laxative citrucel. Gelatin-free capsules are often made of it, as are the eyedrops that I use. Virologists and stem cell researchers use it in the lab. It is a base for creating fake slime and goo in movies (it was used in Ghostbusters, for instance). It is also, alas, used in the porn movie industry to simulate...things best not thought about.

Miraculous stuff, but nonetheless I prefer my starch-based painting mixtures. I have a further thought on paste painting, but it will have to wait until the next post.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sticks and Chains and Waxed Paper in the Studio

One night as I was flailing with gunk-covered hands for some freezer paper or waxed paper or some such, inspiration struck. The resulting roll holder has worked so well, I thought I'd post pictures. The whole thing hangs down from underneath the side of a table, so it doesn't take up any space.

There was also already a nail above, and that turned out to be perfect for holding a letter-opener type cutting implement, which is great for slicing off pieces of freezer paper.

The green stuff on the tabletop in the first picture is some used stencil material. It doesn't have anything to do with storing rolls of waxed paper. As I say to every visitor, don't mind the mess!

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I'll Be Cutting and Folding Cat Books for Eternity...

The month has gotten away from me. I'd meant to be more on top of this posting thing. I've been wrapped up in getting ready for last Saturday's opening for the show that my book arts guild is having at Eureka Books this month. I'm happy to say I survived it.

It was amazingly crowded—there was a big tourist-drawing festival happening almost across the street on the waterfront. I didn't take any pictures, but my friend Michele put some up on her blog, if anyone is interested. I sold a couple of books. Actually, two copies of the same book. It's an ABC from a cat's point of view. If I'd finished more copies in time, I think I would've sold them too. I have orders standing for more cat books, plus I need to bring some more to the bookstore before the show is down.

This is good. I like sales, definitely. I'm glad people like my book. Not to sound like an ingrate (book-purchasing folks are wonderful, really)...yet I'm having visions in my sleep of gluing together cat ABCs into eternity.

Funnily enough, as I type, my large black cat (who gets a credit in the book) is at my side, yelling and hitting me. It must be time for his second (or third) dinner or something. "C is for Can opener... E is for Eat..."

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