Sourcing: Paper

As an artist, I take materials seriously because they are the vehicles for my work. In my most recent series of collages, paper plays a large role because it serves as the foundation for each piece. The different collages lend themselves to subtly different paper colors and textures; I love tinkering with these aspects when deciding how to finish each one.

Here are some different colored and textured papers from a sample book I ordered from Talas:

In this post, I want to talk about two of my favorite papers: Somerset and Pescia.

I started using Somerset paper for large scale prints in college. At 250-300gsm (grams per square meter), this paper is substantial and provides an excellent base for multiple layers of ink. I’ve grown to love Somerset, especially because of it’s textured surface (woolen felts are used in the papermaking process to create the texture) so I have continued using it as the base for some of my current work. I especially love the Somerset Velvet black because it is such a rich shade; using a black base creates the high contrast I strive for in many of my pieces.

Here’s a detail shot of an unfinished collage on Somerset Velvet black paper. Notice how much contrast there is even between the darker strips of paper and the black background:

Collage_on_black.jpg

Somerset paper is made at St. Cuthberts Mill, in the ancient cathedral city of Wells in Southwest England. This mill has been making paper since the 1700s using one of the few remaining cylinder mould machines in the world.

Mould made papers tend have more dimensional and surface stability than paper made using Fourdrinier machines or by hand. This means that mould made paper will not change drastically when exposed to different temperatures or humidity. I dampen each sheet of paper before mounting collage elements on top, so dimensional stability is important to me. More on my process in a future post.

Here’s a great video from St. Cuthberts Mill showing how their paper is made - it’s clear that they take pride in their product from their intricate operation and careful inspection process:

Somerset paper is also acid free, lignin free, archival and pH neutral to alkaline. Lignin (pronounced lig-nin) is a naturally occurring chemical found in wood pulp that causes paper to turn yellow over time (think old newspaper). The lignin needs to be removed during the papermaking process in order for paper to be considered archival.

Another paper I’ve recently started using is called Pescia. This paper is made by the Magnani paper mill (Cartiera Magnani in Italian) in Italy. This mill has been operating since the 1400s and has become synonymous with high quality and luxury. In fact, Napoleon Bonaparte used Magnani paper wedding invitations for his marriage to Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria, in 1810.

Napoleon_Bonaparte.jpg

Like Somerset, Pescia paper is also mould made and it has a neutral pH, which contributes to its archival quality.

Though these papers are machine made, they are hand finished: the deckled, or torn, edges of the sheets are created by splitting larger sheets by hand (3:00 in video above.) The papers are also inspected and counted manually to ensure the highest quality product.

Using high quality paper is important to me because I want my work to stand the test of time. These mills have been making paper for centuries, so I know I can trust their products for my work. Are there any materials that you are especially passionate about?

 

Early start

I have been making art for as long as I can remember. I started taking art classes when I was in elementary school, a kindergartener fascinated by finger painting but ready to move to the next level. On Saturday mornings my mom would take me to a little hole-in-the-wall art studio for oil painting class. I spent a few hours in the studio every week and brought back small paintings each time.

Here’s one of them. Notice my not-so-subtle initials in the lower left corner:

I continued to take art classes both in and out of school and I was first introduced to printmaking in 7th grade. My favorite black boots inspired my first print. After drawing my right shoe on the linoleum block, I carved out the negative space, the areas that I did not want to be printed. Then I rolled ink over the block, placed a sheet of newsprint on top and used a wooden spoon to press the newsprint onto the block where the image was. Linoleum cuts are like large rubber stamps, but instead of stamping the paper with the block, you lay the paper on top of the block and apply pressure to transfer the image.

Here’s the final print--black ink on newsprint:

I did not revisit printmaking again until the end of high school, when I experimented with more linoleum cuts and monotype prints.

Here is an example of a linoleum block & the resulting print (a self-portrait):

For this print, I drew onto the linoleum block from a photograph, then carved away the negative space. Then, using a hand cranked printing press, I printed the linoleum block onto a sheet of paper. However, before I printed the carved block, I first printed a solid block with the pink background color. Once the background color was dry, I inked and printed my carved block on top. This required a process called registration to ensure the blocks were printed exactly on top of each other. More on registration in a future post.

Notice that the image on the block is the reverse of the printed image. This is an important aspect to note because it can change the way you approach carving your block, especially if you want to have text in your final print (hint: practice writing in reverse).

You’ll notice in the bottom right corner of this print, I’ve written 1/24. In printmaking, editions are numbered sets of prints that have all been printed from the same plate(s), usually at the same time. This print is from a limited edition of 24 self-portraits that I printed to give away to friends and mentors after high school graduation. Each was numbered, signed, dated, and included a personal note on the back.

Monotyping is a painterly type of printmaking that produces one of a kind prints as opposed to editions.

To create the next image, I first rolled black ink over a plexiglass surface. Using brushes and rags with ink solvents, I wiped away the ink to create the teapot, like drawing in reverse. Then, I printed the plexiglass plate onto a sheet of damp white paper to achieve the final image:

After my interest was piqued in high school, I went on to major in printmaking and drawing in college where I experimented with many different techniques: woodcut, collagraph, etching, silkscreen and digital prints.

If you would like to learn more about printmaking, here is a great interactive guide with explanations of the four main techniques and a gallery showcasing prints made using each technique. Though linoleum is not represented on the guide, note that it uses the same relief printing process as woodblock prints, but linoleum is a much softer and easier material to carve.

I will continue to share images from my artistic past in this notebook, as well as give you an in depth look at my current work, including materials, processes, and inspirations. If there are any specific topics or ideas you’d like me to cover, I’d love to hear from you.