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



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.



  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?



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 




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:




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:



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



Re-Wilding Practice: A Year-Long Program for Art and Environmental Sustainability

Re-wilding Practice is a year-long intensive research and practice-based program developed by Feral Art School in collaboration with an industry partner, G F Smith (a paper manufacturer).

Together with nine other artists, I am excited to have the opportunity to “re-wild” my creative practice by exploring, observing, and researching innovative paper production processes aimed at reducing environmental impact.

As someone who is passionate about environmental and social justice, I use my painting practice to raise awareness of habitats impacted by the climate crisis. I am new to exploring the possibilities of paper in my artwork, and I am particularly interested in learning about the environmental concerns and practices of such a large global industry.

Further information:

Feral Re-wilding Practice programme
GF smith


Alternative art schools:

Feral art School
The Other MA
Turps art school