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Week One at La Ceiba Gráfica has been about gathering equipment and materials to begin setting up my temporary screen print studio. And as I have been given a space on the beautiful new mezzanine overlooking the new ‘Taller de papel’ (paper workshop) I could help my curiosity into a key material I use in my printing – paper.

And so, I have added another ‘string to my bow’ by learning to make various papers was a week-long papermaking course with Tomas, a German guy who has been living here in Mexico since 1982. The main paper they make here at La Ceiba is 100% cotton using towels and sheets from the hotel industry.

Per Anderson, who has an extraordinary mind for working out how to do things, designing the lithography presses and paper mills; gave me my first lesson in forming the sheets.

On the course this week we boiled up 3 fibres – jute coffee bags (of which there must be millions in the area known for producing the best coffee in Mexico), banana (not the peel, but young trunks) and a palm called ‘izote’ which I recognised as a house plant. They also grow Papyrus palm, which we used to weave paper (first cutting the stalks to the same height, stripping them of their outer skins, splitting them into lengths and soaking them for five days to get rid of the cellulose;). They’ll now sit in a book press for 5 days.

As one of the founders was trained in the Japanese woodcut technique of Moku Hanga, they also grow the Kozo plant which is processed in November when the sap is lower (though I think the plants are confused here in Mexico without as definite seasons!)

Thinking about how to use what I have learned when I get back

  • How to mill the fibres without the medieval looking machines?
  • While I could make a frame and mesh, how would I suction the water out so efficiently?
  • What curved surface could I use to help transfer the paper to the felt boards?

Back to my mission of setting up a screen printing workshop…

I have manged to source most bits and bobs, such as borrowing glass from their frame stock to use to sandwich my positives in exposure; a work light stand (with a lamp for 500w… so now I have 2, thanks to Mexico City’s Downtown with its streets of electrical lighting shops – you ask where to something and there’ll be a whole street of shops selling the same thing!)

I love the ethos here at La Ceiba – use any tools you find as long as you look after and return them, If you don’t have the commercial equipment – work out how to make it! They are so generous with their space, tools, materials and most importantly their knowledge and time.

And so, my light-tight (ish) Drying cabinet came into being lining the legs of a table with leftover old banner plastic and some sturdy black plastic from a cheerful man at Coatepec market.

Just before posting this I’ve been cracking on with the next bit – exposing the screens… using the power of the sun…

Today’s mains electricity power cut helped dare me to continue to experiment exposing screen in the daylight, despite the overcast day (and spatter of rain!) with to my surprise was successful and even more surprising was that the Azocol Z1 (kindly supplied to me by Screen Stretch Ltd) exposed well in just a couple of minutes – still to refine the different timings for different materials such as graphite, Indian ink, and printed acetates using the office laser printer).

While I’m using some sturdy foam (from the Bristol Scrapstore) also used for packing the screens, the glass isn’t quite thick/heavy enough to get good contact with the positive. It’s also bigger than the screen – maybe I need to get some 6mm panes cut to the size of the mesh… perhaps my next mission into Coatepec…

Another unexpected bonus of this week was meeting Per’s wife the ceramist Elsa Naveda who ever so kindly brought me s selection of earths, some from Oaxaca and a particularly red one from near where they live (in the hills between Coatepec and Xalapa). So my little collection of earth pigments grows… I can’t wait to get started grinding them and using the various natural binders I am hoping to experiment with.

And finally.. a bit of life at La Ceiba…