The Draw of Paper and Ink

21 Jul

I have a wonderful friend, E, who reads the blog. She is incredibly intelligent and has spent her summer studying for the MCATs. In a recent email from her, she said amusingly,

“i have been reading your blog. it is delightful and i can hear you talk and motion with your hands when i read it. your custard blog asked for comments, thoughts but i thought mine was too nerdy, so i will send it, privately, to you from me:  ‘no way – i have just been reading/studying about cellulose! not cellulite, ew. cellulose is a polysaccharide, which is a group of saccharides, or sugars = carbohydrates. and this stuff is pretty strong, because it’s got those D-glucoses linked by 1,4’ beta glycosidic bonds!'”

While I have completely disregarded her wish for privacy (don’t worry, I asked for permission), I wanted to share with you her words because this is what I find so entrancing about the project. It can draw people in from all walks of life. Of course, E is very well-versed in both art and science, but it is her bridging of the two that I appreciate most. While she sits in her cubicle studying for her MCAT, I stand in the studio pulling sheets of paper. These activities could not be any more different – literally on two different ends of the spectrum – yet, we understand each other on some base level because she is studying about the components that I am trying to remove from my beloved paper pulp.

As Jillian and I have talked to friends and colleagues about the project, eyes brighten and faces warm. People find the project fascinating. Probably because it is such a foreign idea to most. We are a society that gravitates towards technology and screens. We like texting rather than writing and watching rather than reading. Gross overstatement? Maybe to a certain extent, but by and large, I stand by these statements. There are, of course, still some of us out there who still love, need, utilize the written word. Paper. Ink. Cursive. Recently, a friend wrote me a letter where he said, “After a day at work so full of screens and bright LCD lights, it’s calming and lovely to write letters to my lovely friends while I let the radio hosts chat…”

I understand that feeling. I understand the joy and vitality that comes with sinking my hands in a vat of pulp and feeling so close to the process. I feel removed when I use a keyboard but I can think better, write better when I have a pen and ink.

Does anyone else feel this way? Do you think or write better when you can hear the pen scratch against the paper? Or do you gravitate more towards the clack of the keyboard? We’d love to know!

As always, thanks for reading!


Minor Catastrophes

18 Jul

The beater exploded today.


Earlier this morning, we traded out the daylilies for hosta. Except that Holly (our beater) decided she didn’t actually like hosta. So…we cleaned up the mess and added in some bamboo fibers that we had in the studio. That alleviated Holly’s stress and she merrily continued to beat our fibers.

Other adventures today included drying the blotters that absorb the extra water in our paper during the drying process:

(Sidenote- I love this photo so much. Great lines.)

Also, trying to find iced coffee. It was 90 degrees today and by 3 PM, paper-making was nearly unbearable. Eventually we found some and found the energy to continue pulling paper.


The photo on the left is Jillian pulling a sheet of daylily and linen paper and the photo on the right is the hosta after being drained from the crock-pots. After this photo was taken, it went into the beater after which you know what happened…

Quite the day. Phew! Hopefully you stayed cool today! Stay tuned for more adventures in paper-making.

A History Lesson

18 Jul

Hello dear readers! Thanks for again coming along and reading about our adventure in paper-making. I hope you are enjoying the posts so far and learning as much as I am.

I am going to say a statement which might cause a bit of internet controversy. Prepare yourself.

History is cool. 

As I write this, I can already imagine that some of you have closed your browsers, while others of you audibly groaned. For those of you who are still reading, thank you.

But really, history is incredible. As we have been making paper over the past two weeks, the background and history of paper has often been on my mind. At the beginning of the project, Jillian sent me a great website that detailed every possible aspect of paper-making you can think of. As I was reading up on the history of paper, I was surprised to find that paper was first invented by the Chinese around 105 AD. I blanched at this statement at first; didn’t I learn in sixth grade that the Egyptians used papyrus way before 105 AD? Well, yes. It is here that a differentiation must be made. According to Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien in Paper and Printing (Volume 5),

“Scholars of both the East and West have sometimes taken it for granted that paper and papyrus were of the same nature; they have confused them as identical, and so have questioned the Chinese origin of papermaking. This confusion resulted partly from the derivation of the word paper, papier, or papel from papyrus and partly from ignorance of paper itself. Papyrus is made by lamination of natural plants, while paper is manufactured from fibres [sic] whose properties have been changed by maceration or disintegration” (38).

Fascinating! I love history.

That is a little snippet of what I have been learning recently about paper. Do some research on your own! Tell us what you find most fascinating about the history of paper.



13 Jul

Who doesn’t like a good pair of linen pants (or, for all you UK readers out there, trousers)? Maybe that’s the wrong question to ask — ironing linen can definitely be a killer. Thankfully, we don’t encounter any of that when we are making linen paper. What we do encounter is heat.

The studio can get insanely hot. Remember, it’s summer, it’s a studio with no windows that open, and we have three crock-pots on high blasting out the non-cellulose materials from our daylilies. There is definitely some sweating that happens. Which brings me to today’s title “Custard.” Jillian and “the littles” (her two wonderfully, lovely children) went out for custard today in the hot heat of the afternoon. The beater was churning away and the crock-pots were doing their thing, so we escaped for some much needed cooling off via some pretty tasty custard.

I bring all this up because “the littles” often come into the studio to help us. No really, they do. They stand next to Jillian and me, one on each side, and aid in the process of papermaking. Sure they can’t mine for the pulp gold in the vats, but they can put pellon down and wipe the excess water away with a sponge. They happily chat and throw out words and phrases like, “pulp!” and “Let me make paper!”. And it’s all I can do to not marvel. “The littles” are doing their part to move the project forward, to learn and experience, to grow. I am constantly amused and encouraged by their enthusiasm and excitement towards the paper we make. Plus, when they go to school someday, they will show all the other kids up in art class with their knowledge of fibers. So rad.

Remember how we talked about calendering paper yesterday? Here’s a before and after of a sheet of calendered paper. The left side has not been calendered while the right side has. Notice the smooth and silky surface of the right side and the more rough texture on the left. I made it extra large so it was very apparent.

I wish you could feel it. Wouldn’t it be the greatest if the world of Willy Wonka semi-existed (no oompa-loompas, please) and we could transport items through the television waves (well, in this case, the internet waves) so that you could experience how glorious this paper feels? That would be really excellent.

We beat and strained the daylily fibers today. It looked a little something like this:

 After we took the daylily out of the crock-pots, we had to rinse it. All the non-cellulose material had to be removed from our precious pulp. This is a two person job, involving a large strainer, a large bucket, and the silk used for silkscreening. Super cool stuff. Once it was in the beater it looked like this:

and later like this:

Isn’t the beater incredible? That’s after just a few hours. Later it was time to pull some daylily paper. You are probably thinking that it would be difficult to pull the paper because of how thin and delicate the pulp is. You would be marginally right. I would say it was harder than the cotton for sure, but Jillian was right in that eventually, you just get the hang of it. Tonight we came back into the studio after dinner and after two hours, I nearly had the hang and the feel of the daylily paper.

Take a look from start to finish!

The fibers on the mould.

Formed into a sheet of paper and now drying.

Dry sheet of daylily paper.

This is a closeup of the paper. Look at the amazing intricacy of the fibers.

I think it’s remarkable that these leaves made that paper.

Sometimes during the day, I stop and think about what I am doing. Each morning, I mix the old and the new; I use electricity to beat these fibers to a pulp and then manually create sheets of paper. It is such an odd dicotomy of using technology to my advantage, but then laughing in its face as I create handmade paper so I can write letters instead of emails…so students can develop a photo on it, rather than printing it. It’s something I have talked abut before here, but simplicity is something that I am drawn to more and more. This project feeds that urge in my heart – the one where I want to purge my closet and unplug my computer for awhile. Bring on the hammock, the books, the live music. But then I am brought back to the convenience and honestly, the necessity of the modern world and its accouterments.

So, for now, I will find solace and joy in the hours that I spend in the studio, surrounded by water and fibers and ultimately, paper. While I can’t completely go back to a simpler time, I can work towards a project which takes invasive plants and makes them desirable (more about this soon!). I can learn from a woman who is passionate about paper and about making a difference. I can take time each day to sit, write, and share about this amazing project.

Thoughts on the project? Questions about anything? A friendly hello? We welcome all of these! Leave us a comment and some love.

Until next time!

What a Crock!

12 Jul

Crock-pots: not something you would normally think of seeing in an art studio, right? Am I the only one who thought this contraption belonged solely in a kitchen? Well, it seems I have been proven wrong. Today heralded the cooking of the fibers (finally!). Also, we put the linen in the beater. Talk about a thrilling day in the studio.

Besides crock-pots and linen, we had our first proper visitor to the studio. My dear and lovely friend, B, came by to see the studio firsthand. She had been following the blog and was kind enough to come visit. It was an interesting test of my knowledge to see how much I could relay back to her and explain the project. We chatted about the project as I learned a new skill — calendering the paper. This entails putting a stack of our paper through the etching machine which compresses the paper and makes it smooth. Back and forth between the roller and the press bed until the paper was glossy and sleek. This paper was hot!

B was also kind enough to snap a photo of me cutting more fibers. Then, we looked at all the fibers that we had collected and imagined the incredible paper they are going to make. Jillian tells me that they will look somewhat lacy but be incredibly strong. I can’t wait to see this.

Then, came the cooking. Into the crock-pots went our daylily fibers and after a dash of soda ash, they were cooking like a dream. And smelling like Darjeeling tea and something I can’t quite put my finger on…

The middle crock-pot is just about the smallest thing you can imagine. The box claims it can hold a “4 lb chicken.” I doubt that. Maybe a “4 oz chicken.” Seriously, it is so tiny. Barely any fibers fit in there. Grumbling aside, it was exciting to finally be at the stage where we were cooking the fibers. Soon — daylily paper!! While the beater was beating and the pots were cooking, we cleaned and organized Jillian’s office. The studio and her office were cleaned last week so we put it all back together. She reminisced about her undergrad and even high school art classes, showing me sketches here and books she had made there. As someone who has more art theory background than actual studio art background, it is interesting and in many ways, challenging, to hear her talk about how long she has been doing her craft. Here, I am just beginning… Sidenote – cleaning and organizing are two of my favorite things besides pulling paper, of course. So, readers, this is an open and warm invitation for you to come into our studio. Come visit and see what we do! Let us teach you to pull a sheet of paper. Feel the silky pulp run between your fingers and hear the comforting rumble of our beater. Come. Come be part of our project.

Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday

11 Jul

Let’s talk music. I know it’s a bit of a departure from our usual discussion of paper and such, but music plays a large part in keeping us productive in the studio. Thankfully, Jillian and I have similar tastes in music so there have been no worries about struggling through 8 hours of country or anything horrid like that.

So maybe you are asking yourself what sort of music we listen to. Excellent. That was the plan. We listen to a lot of banjo and bluegrass, not to mention earthy folk. So good for the soul.

Recently though (and I say “recently” very loosely because it was only last night that this happened), I heard the band “The Lumineers” and instantly knew what I would be listening to in the studio today. Here are two links of my favorite songs. They definitely pumped me up today as I finished pulling the last bit of navy pulp.

Stubborn Love:


Ho Hey:

Don’t be afraid to put them on repeat. There is no shame in that and is actually encouraged.

Now, back to paper.

While listening to “The Lumineers” – I pulled the rest of the navy pulp which resulted in paper on every surface that I looked at.

When it was piled up, it looked like this — next to my grey!

It’s encouraging to see the paper becoming more uniform with each sheet that I pull. I am finally at the point where I know once I put the mould on the pellon if it will be a good sheet or not. As I drag the sponge over the mould, I can feel the moment when all the water is out and it is time to pull the mould up, revealing the perfect sheet of paper. That is a good feeling.

After finishing the navy, it was time to harvest some more fibers and to cut the grass from last week. Remember how it was lush and green last week? Now — it’s brown and very crunchy.


I checked on the linen which is nearly ready to become pulp and called it a day.

Tomorrow promises to be full of good music and more paper.

Two of my very favorite things.

Rainy Saturday

7 Jul

Saturday morning brought rain.

Rain equates to “disaster” when you are trying to dry fibers outside. I jumped in the car and rushed the fibers inside with all the care and concern of a mother whose child was drowning. Essentially, my fiber child was drowning…

Thankfully, they were nearly saved in time and my table soon looked like this:

I cut for what seemed liked HOURS. I’m sure it was really probably only an hour, but I like to be dramatic. After I was tired of cutting, I moved onto the new navy pulp. Simply gorgeous! The Reina beater makes a huge difference in the quality of the pulp produced.

That buckets says, “Make me into paper. Now!” It says, “Print on me. Scrawl some words of love on me and fold me into an envelope. Send me away.” Does the paper speak to us? Yes. Sometimes it wants to be a large rectangular sheet of paper. Sometimes an oval.

So, I pulled and pulled and pulled paper until my beautiful navy could accompany my beautiful grey.

Doesn’t that stir something inside you? Give you the urge to create?

When Jillian asked me to be her studio assistant, I immediately said an enthusiastic, “YES!” The urge to create has always been in me — when I was younger, I would create stories, weaving together words and images, piecing together characters and a plot line. As I got older, I still wrote, but there was this bigger need to create something more tangible. That need was never resolved until I took Jillian’s Typography and Letterpress class. It was there that something clicked. Paper, ink, and our Pearl Letterpress machine helped ease the ache in my chest. Suddenly, I was creating tangibly and never looked back.

This project has been much the same; it has been a place to create paper, weaving together pulp and water, piecing together Jillian’s experience and my desire to learn.

It has been a wonderful, engaging, tiring first week. I hope that you, dear readers, find a project, a subject, a something, that fills that ache in your chest, like paper and ink have filled in mine.

Oh! This is the view from the studio. I never tire of looking at it – it reminds me of simpler times which fits well with this project, I think.