Exploring sustainable practice, and artistic development, with Feral – Re-wilding Practice programme.


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I am interested in finding ways to make paper using reeds from a local wetland area planted to help filter polluted mine water. To begin, I followed the methods outlined in my previous post and attempted to make paper by hand using recycled materials such as used paper, old cotton, and cardboard scraps. Although the process was time-consuming, each type of paper produced had a unique texture and qualities. After completing the process, I reflected on what I learned and have some tips to share. Hopefully, this will help others in exploring how to make and utilize eco-friendly handmade paper.

 

Test batch 1 –

Made from purely printed recycled paper, no size.

The thickness of the paper improved as I became more familiar with using the deckle. The couching process worked better on cotton canvas offcuts than on an old poly-cotton T-shirt. The canvas also left an interesting texture on the pressed paper. The thickness of the paper slurry caused uneven and lumpy paper sheets, indicating that adjusting the particle thickness is crucial for the texture and properties of the paper. Although the soaked recycled paper I used had its own size (glue) in~, Next time, I would want to use additional size in order to give increased flexibility to the finished paper.

 

Test batch 2

15% recycled cotton 85% recycled paper (fragments with less print), cellulose based size.

This paper was made by mixing recycled paper with 15% waste cotton fibre. Cellulose-based size was added to make it stronger and more flexible. Cotton fibres are shorter than the wood pulp fibres (in the recycled paper component),  making the paper softer and more fragile, but the added size helped. I used a better quality screen for this batch of paper, stretched to higher tension on the deckle frame. This helped to make the paper more consistent and even. I added some additional cotton fibres direct to the slurry, to give variation in teh textures of the surfaces.

 

Test batch 3

100% recycled cardboard, my own size made from boiling okra)

The experience gained from previous trials has paid off, and now the sheets are much more evenly pulled. Adding okra size to the pulp vat has made a significant difference to the slurry by helping the fibres remain suspended. Okra size is prepared by boiling okra in water for one hour. Although the paper’s colour is a dull brown, embedding reeds, dried foliage from the study site, and strands of old thread have given this paper an interesting texture and varying light reflection. The okra means that the paper is more flexible and robust to handle.

 

Embedding objects into the paper:

I found that adding reeds and organic materials to the paper worked best when the items were placed onto the deckle after pulling the sheet. This allowed the water to drain off and the objects to embed into the paper structure more effectively than if they were placed directly into the slurry vat. A combination of defined objects and abstract organic texture proved to be the most effective.

 

Summary:

Each paper type has a different surface and qualities, and it would be interesting to explore how these sheets could be collaged or combined together. Going forward, I would potentially explore coating the finished paper sheets with the two types of sizes to see how this affects how they respond to drawing and painting mediums. Overall, though, this lengthy exploration process has resulted in some lovely textural papers for my artwork and a lot of learning to take forward as I explore creating usable pulp from wetland habitats. I hope this inspires others to try their hand at hand paper-making using recycled materials and sustainable techniques.

More information:

Find out more about artists using handmade paper techniques in their work.

 

 


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Recently, I have been studying a reed bed area planted to purify drainage water from a disused coal mine. Inspired by GF Smiths NotPla’s seaweed paper (1), Gmund Bier paper made from hops (2), and the artwork of Jane Ingram Allen (3), I am keen to explore how I can make paper from the wetland reeds found at the site.

Making pulp from reeds is a complex process. The plant material, in this case, reeds, requires soaking and boiling in an alkali solution to break down the fibres before it can be processed in a Hollander beater or blender (4). As someone new to paper-making, I will start by learning the fundamental paper-making technique using recycled materials that are simpler to turn into pulp.

After researching various paper-making techniques, I did three trials using recycled materials, such as recycled printed paper, recycled cotton fragments, and old cardboard packaging materials. I used different methods for each of these and refined my technique after reflecting on each outcome.

Pulp can be created from these materials without boiling them first, by using mechanical processes such as blending or a Hollander beater. The Hollander beater is a machine that grinds and macerates the fibres into a pulp, whereas a blender cuts the fibres. Although more practical for small-scale use, the blending process shortens the fibres by cutting them, making the paper more fragile and coarser textured than the same fibre processed in a Hollander beater.(5)

Here’s a how-to guide for other artists new to paper-making who would like to try this technique:

    1. Break up the paper/card or other fibre source into small pieces
    2. Cover the pieces in water, and soak the fibres overnight
    3. Blend the fibres with plenty of water to make a pulp
    4. Place it into a container that your deckle will fit into.
    5. Add water (and other fibres, colourant or size) to make a slurry suspension
    6. Use a deckle and mesh to dip and pull up a sheet of paper
    7. Remove water from the underside of the mesh using a sponge and squeegee
    8. Press (couch) the paper sheet onto fabric
    9. Compress the sheets for 24 hours under heavy bricks
    10. Lay out the fabric sheets to dry (this took around 5 days)
    11. Carefully remove the dried paper from the fabric

I learned a lot from these test batches of paper. Although it is a time-consuming process, some of the results have come out really well. I’m looking forward to sharing the outcomes from these in my next post, along with some further tips and tricks I learned by making these.

 

Sources used:

  1. Notpla Paper
  2. Gmund Beir Paper
  3. Paper-making Artist Jane Ingram Allen 
  4. Making paper from plants – Paper industry technical association 
  5. Hand Paper making – selecting source fibres  

 

More information

Paperslurry – how to make paper

Making paper from denim – Jonathan Korejko

Stephanie Hare – Papermaking artist

Paper artists directory

 


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During my recent visit to the GF Smith paper factory, I was impressed by the community and hand-made processes that underpin their work. I saw firsthand the skills and processes involved in creating bespoke products from a huge variety of papers, from embossing to cutting and folding. However, one particular paper caught my attention due to its unique visual and textural qualities. It’s called NOTPLA and it’s made from seaweed in a zero-waste process. (1)

NOTPLA is an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional paper-making processes that typically rely on virgin tree pulp. Instead of using wood, NOTPLA uses fibres derived from seaweed. Fibre is sourced from the by-products produced by industries that extract and use gelatinous compounds found in seaweed. Designed by Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez and Pierre Paslier, NOTPLA is a full composite biodegradable paper. (2)

Seaweed is a macro-algae. Algaes are aquatic organisms which range in size from tiny single-cell organisms (micro-algae) to 100-meter-long seaweeds like kelp (macro-algae). Seaweeds, together with microalgae, play an important role in aquatic ecosystems globally. Seaweeds often grow into large underwater forests, providing nutrients and shelter for other plants and animals. Algae, both micro-algae, floating seaweeds, and single-cell organisms, produce over half of the earth’s oxygen. (3)

 

Sustainably farmed algae are increasingly being used in many industries, such as skin care, food sources, and bioplastics. Research suggests that feeding cattle seaweed-derived food sources reduces methane. Seaweed has also been used for centuries as a fertilizer for land-based crops. (4)

Similarly to reed beds, seaweed can be used in wastewater purification. In particular, it can help remove heavy metals from contaminated water and reduce phosphorus and nitrogen content prior to water entering rivers and seas. (4)

With increasing numbers of industries using seaweeds, from cosmetics to sofa padding, farmed and managed seaweed crops are increasingly used to ensure that these algae and their ecosystems are supported and managed in a responsible way. (5)

The use of seaweed paper and bioplastics is a significant step towards a sustainable future. It is inspiring to see designers and innovators creating practical and sustainable solutions as we continue to search for eco-friendly alternatives to traditional manufacturing processes.

Researching the processes of making NotPla paper from seaweed fibre has inspired me to explore how papers could be made from alternative plant fibres found on the damaged sites I study.

 

Sources:

  1. NOTPLA – https://www.gfsmith.com/notpla
  1. Royal College of Arts: NotPla paper
  1. Ocean Service: How much oxygen comes from the ocean? 
  1. Seaweed and micro-algae
  1. 5 unusual ways seaweed is being used to tackle the climate crisis: 

 

More information:

Tim Flannery,  Can Seaweed help curb global warming?

 


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GF Smith produces eco-friendly papers used by artists, printmakers, illustrators, and graphic designers. I recently visited the G F Smith paper factory, thanks to the Feral Art School’s re-wilding practice programme. During my visit, I was impressed by their commitment to sustainability and was inspired to try out some of their papers in my artwork.

My artwork focuses on habitats that have been affected by the climate crisis. Currently, I am studying a woodland area that was burned in a wildfire on the hottest day of 2022. I am documenting both the damage caused and the gradual regeneration of the site. I use mostly wet media such as ink, watercolour, or water-based paints in my 2D work, both on-site and in the studio.

GF Smith provided me with some sample sheets of their colourplan papers (made sustainably in the UK) and Neenah Environment paper (made from 30% post-consumer fibres). I tested both papers using a variety of techniques and mediums. Here are my findings:

 

  • Fibre structure – The Neenah paper produced amazing, non-linear fibrous torn edges that contrasted well with the colour plan, which produced a cleaner straight tear. Contrasting edge style is very useful in collage work.

 

  • Dry mediums – Pen, pencil, and chalk pencils all worked really well on both papers. The fibre qualities of the Neenah paper meant that there was more contrast in how the pencil/chalk pencils sat on the surface compared to the pen marks. Both papers gave clear detailed marks with dry media.

 

  • Watercolour/gouache – Both papers performed really well for wet-on-dry use of watercolour and gouache. The properties of the colour plan paper meant that the wet mediums were kept nearer the surface than the same marks on Neenah. Neither paper showed any degradation of the paper structure, allowing detailed mark-making to show really crisply.

 

  • Wet-in-wet – Both papers struggled with wet-in-wet techniques, giving a quite muddy effect. The Neenah paper buckled more than the colour plan paper. Impressively, though, neither paper disintegrated. Once dry, the papers could be worked into using dry media.

 

Overall, I was very impressed with how both these papers performed. In particular, they coped with wet-on-dry watercolour, gouache, and inks well, giving clear detailed brush marks. The colour plan paper performed slightly better than cartridge paper for similar styles, and the Neenah has many unique properties that merit further testing and exploration.

GF Smith papers are eco-friendly and sustainable. Before visiting GF Smith, I did not realise how many different paper surfaces are made from different materials. This is definitely something I wish to learn from for my art practice—for example, the interaction between visual, tactile, and sound qualities for each paper type was unique.

 

Many thanks to GF Smith for providing me with the paper samples to test!

 

Further Information:

Neenah Environment paper

Colour Plan paper

GF Smith 

 


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First invented over 2000 years ago in China, paper is one of the few entirely sustainable products manufactured (1). The main components of paper are Cellulose and Lignin (both sourced from plant fibres such as trees or cloth) along with size (e.g. rosin, starch or gum) to help strengthen and bind the fibres.

 

Making Paper

‘The History of Paper’ (2), lists the main ingredients of the contemporary paper manufacturing process as follows:

 

  • Primary fibre component: This is the main source of lignin and cellulose. The majority of paper worldwide is now made with sustainable wood fibre. Some high-end papers, like watercolour paper, are made using linen or cotton cloth fibres as the primary fibre source. Fibres can be divided into ‘long fibres’ (mainly softwood tree sources), and ‘short fibres’ (hardwood tree sources). Different species of tree have different lengths of fibre, which affects the qualities of the paper.
  • Secondary fibre component: This can be sourced from recycled paper fibre or a different cloth or plant fibre added to the primary fibre source.
  • Bleaching and Colouring agents – raw fibres are unappealing dark brown / grey hues so bleaching agents or masking agents are used to make the fibres white/ cream, prior to colourants (like pigments or dyes) being added to make a huge variety of paper colours.
  • Size – viscose binding materials such as Rosin, starch or talc are added to strengthen and stiffen the paper fibres.
  • Fillers – can be added and used to alter the qualities and structure of the paper and/ or its surface qualities – materials like clay, talc or Titanium dioxide (rutile) are used to give paper structure.

(2) / (3)

Watch this video to find out more about how paper pulp is made using the components listed above:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwJGizHtWXo

 

 

Myths and Facts Regarding Sustainability 

Having previously believed that ‘paperless’ (e-commerce/online) is more environmentally responsible, I was surprised to learn that paper has a number of environmental benefits and is one of the few genuinely sustainable manufacturing processes that exist globally. Like any industry, there are some key challenges like high water usage and processing of residual materials. However, there are a number of surprising sustainability facts about paper and its manufacturing process.

Take a look at this short film from ‘Two Sides’ to find out more:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5eXUH80wfw

 

Sources used in this post:

  1. Paper mill Direct: https://www.papermilldirect.co.uk/inspire/10-interesting-paper- facts#:~:text=1.,and%20pieces%20of%20hemp%20material.
  2. History of Paper: http://www.historyofpaper.net/making-paper/ingredients-of-paper/
  3. Aalto University – Wood Science videos 1 – 5 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJVzDGZ88X4&list=PL7Ddm62__-gjaDA2XovRE2-jMzZ-YBf3u
  4. Two Sides: https://twosides.info/myths-and-facts

 

 

Further information:

Two Sides Sustainability Facts:

Information about Sustainable practices at GF Smith

Forestry and woodland habitats

 


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