Thursday, January 7, 2010

The paper summer

Once every few years a papermaking class is offered at the local community college. It just so happened that it was offered this year and it just so happened to have been advertised outside my art history room. So I signed up.

Incidentally, the instructor was the wife of a coworker, but that was just a point of mild amusement. The class itself was a huge eye-opener and I had more than one life-altering experience.

The class covered topics from the history of papermaking, basic papermaking, making paper from plant fibers, dying paper, marbling paper, book binding, and sizing paper. Before this class I had never made paper from plant fibers. After this class I bought 5 pounds of soda ash (it only takes about 3 teaspoons to cook a batch of plant fibers) because I knew I would be making piles of plant papers.

One of the neatest things was using these corn stalks that I had been saving since the previous fall. We had a HUGE windstorm when hurricane Ike blew through the midwest. I was over at a friend's place out in farm country when the storm hit and there were cornstalks blowing all over the yard. I was rather reckless (for once) and ran outside while tree branches were falling and the wind was bending flag poles, grabbed an armfull, stashed them in the car and ran back inside. Oh the risks I'll run just to make paper....Six months later a friend made corn on the cob with our burgers when I went over for dinner and I asked her to save the husks and silk for me. We didn't know each other well at the time, so she just gave me a very strange look, but set them aside in a bag. In class I made some excellent, strong, rough paper with them. The best part was the look on my friend's face when I handed her a birthday card made from our dinner a few weeks before! She said "Did you make this from MY corn husks?" Yup. I did.

The corn was probably the hardest fiber to work with. It was very hard and the paper turned out much like cardboard as far as strength and stiffness go. A much softer, though frustrating fiber was the gampi (shown at left). It is a Japanese fiber used to make very thin, strong, flexible, translucent paper. It was great for sandwiching rose petals. The thinness of the gampi allowed the rose petals to show their color off. I still have some of that fiber in my freezer though. I don't have the proper mould and deckle to use with it at the moment. When I get a good one made (which I plan to do by this fall, but more on that later) I will use up the rest of the gampi fiber.
I had a blast taking that course, and would happily take it again the next time it is offered. After finishing the course I decided that I had been looking at my career options totally wrong. I had been so frustrated that I couldn't focus on a career. Nothing pulled me. Nothing was so obvious that I said, "Yes, that's what I need to do!" It was hiding in my basement all along though. I have been making paper almost every day for years and I haven't gotten tired of it. The variety of papers to make keeps me from getting bored. I can use the paper and feel like my work has a purpose. If I get tired of pulling sheets one day, I can bind them into a book instead. The book covers can be as artistic and creative as I want, or very plain and simple if I don't feel up to creating a masterpiece.
It's the perfect job, because it never felt like work.