Paper making refresher lesson

I have only made paper once before, and that was over 20 years ago, while at art college. I thought that as my project is mainly about paper making, that I should have a refresher lesson before I start making my own paper! Luckily, at my studios is a lovely artist friend who has all the materials, equipment and facilities in her studio.

Tanya Wood (www.tanyawood.co.uk) is helping me with this project by giving advice and technical support with the paper making. I didn’t know Tanya made paper, it came up after talking to her about what I was going to do and she said that she has made lots of handmade paper. I only knew her as a very talented artist who produces extremely detailed pencil drawings.

Tanya started the session right at the very beginning, tearing up recycled envelopes into small squares. I was told that shredded paper was not a good material to use as it cuts the fibres too short. This was then put into a liquidizer with some water and then blitzed until it turned into pulp. When you have enough it is poured into a large container with clean water in to form a watery solution. The mould and deckle, the frame that produces the paper, is then submerged into the container and then pulled up with the pulp solution on the top. The water then drains through the mesh leaving the ‘paper’, the mould is taken off and it is then turned upside down on to a j-cloth. After you have made a number of sheets, a board is put on top and weighed down to press as much water as possible out. The sheets can then be turned onto a flat surface to dry.

Well that is the theory! Most of the time it worked well. With some sheets I tried embossing with some plant material, to hopefully create the ‘ghost’ of a leave. This worked well with some of them, but on one of them I forgot to put another j-cloth on the first layer and ended up trapping leaves between 2 sheets. Although this was a mistake it turned out really well, producing a lovely textured surface, something I’ll try with the plant paper.

The dried paper turned out really well, for a first attempt, and gives me an understanding on where to go next and how to make the moulds into different shapes and sizes. The next step is to process some collected plant material and practice making the paper, and start to think of the final artworks.


Sowing at other partner gardens

As well as using the plot at Tuppenny Barn (previous blog) I am using other spaces to grow my plants.

My base garden is The Garden @ Art Space, an area of tarmac next to Art Space Portsmouth that I have helped to turn into a little green oasis in the middle of Portsmouth. Because there is no soil to plant into we created beds from the bags sand, gravel, etc. gets delivered to builders, to hold the soil, surrounded by decking panels. The garden has won 13 local and regional awards over the last 6 years. This year some of these beds have been cleared of their plants and prepared to host my plants. I don’t know what the judges will think of my crops!

Richard, who assists in the garden most Tuesday mornings, helped me sow the flax in one of the beds. I made the drills and then we very carefully put the slippery seeds in the rows. Then a criss-cross of sticks and string was created, to try and stop the local cats from digging it all up! They have come up well and the string worked!

I have also helped at the Aspex Gallery / Greenspace garden behind Milton Library in Portsmouth. While others where giving the site a general tidy up, I was planting some of the veg beds. As well as putting in some tomatoes and strawberries, I also planted some red onion sets that I donated. The outer skins of these will be used for my project to either make into paper or to dye other plant material with a nice warm glow.

An unexpected extra garden I am now using belongs to Sharon, a good friend from Bedhampton, just outside Portsmouth. She is not able to use her veg patch this year and she offered it to me to grow my plants on. Ian, her husband, cleared the space of the annual weeds and it was ready for me to sow my flax seeds. I will go back soon with more of that ‘funky corn’ and other plants. I can also use other plant material from around her garden. This will be a great help to my project and give me new plants to play with.

The Garden @ Art Spacewww.artspace.co.uk/garden
Aspex / Greenspace gardenwww.aspex.org.uk/events/spring-painting-planting-a…


Flax sowing at Tuppenny Barn

Since hearing that I didn’t get my Arts Council funding I’ve not been sitting around moping. I’ve been very busy working on my project, especially starting to get my plots ready and sowing my crops.

My main partner garden at Tuppenny Barn, Southbourne, West Sussex, (www.tuppennybarn.co.uk) have been very helpful and given me a plot of land to grow my specific plants on, as well as using other plants from around their site, and there is a wide variety to chose from. The main crop I am growing there is flax. Not the type grown by farmers for linseed, which is shorter, but a variety called ‘Marilyn’ which is grown for the long fibres and once processed, a technique called retting, used to produce linen. If all goes well this will be used to make one of the main papers I will use for book making.

I actually went to sow my first crop the afternoon that I heard from ACE, and was the perfect antidote to the bad news. A lovely sunny afternoon, and with help from my mum and Becca Theed from Tuppenny Barn, the plot was lightly dug over and prepared ready to sow the flax. I’m well known for my straight lines and precision in my other work and so this was ideal for me, sowing the seeds in nice straight lines. It was just a pity that I left the instructions on how to do it properly on the kitchen table! However, it all seemed to work well.

2 weeks later I got a message and photo from Becca showing that the seeds had come up. I went back later that week to sow a second batch. I’m not too sure what happened to the first lot, but they came up quite white and weedy, not a nice, healthy green. Now, a few weeks later, both sections are looking healthy, although the first batch are a bit patchy. I’m going back tomorrow to try and sow some more in the gaps. I will also be planting other crops including what I’m calling ‘funky corn’. More news on that soon.

To find out more about Tuppenny Barn here is a great video showing the site and a glimpse of the inside of their new Education Centre, which will host one of my exhibitions in 2015.

The flax seed was kindly donated by www.wildfibres.co.uk. They have a great site with lots of information on how to grow and process the flax, and lots more.