Friday, September 27, 2013

Guest Blogger Ashley Ivey, on Big Ass Paper at PBI

Ashley Ivey is my guest blogger today. She is a designer and maker living in Tallahassee, Florida. She spent the past year working at Florida State University's Facility for Arts Research and Small Craft Advisory Press ( Ashley and I met at PBI, and spent some time chasing wet paper around the grounds of OxBow, in the middle of the night, as a thunderstorm was rolling in around us. But that is not what she is writing about. Ashley has very kindly written a post for us about her class with Julie McLaughlan, where she made some REALLY big paper.

Big Ass Paper with Julie McLaughlan was incredibly fun, rewarding, and truly hard work! Julie began the workshop by showing us examples of finished papers. Julie's fantastic, corset-inspired sculptural art pairs handmade Kozo paper with steel armature. She often dyes the soft, tissue thin sheets with Indigo or Kakishibu.

Julie McLaughlan

Julie and Andrea Peterson had worked the fiber to the final stages by the time our workshop began, but they explained the whole process from growing the Kozo plant (commonly known as paper mulberry in the US) to harvesting it, stripping off the bark, drying, boiling with soda ash, rinsing, and finally beating the fiber to pulp. We all took turns hand beating many pounds of rinsed Kozo. Each pound was beaten with wooden mallets until it reached the consistency of mashed banana and dispersed easily in water. This was seriously hard work, but really fun to do with cheerful classmates overlooking the positively lovely lagoon at Oxbow.

Ashly (far right) & classmates beating kozo.

While part of the class began beating pulp, others began assembling the huge portable screens Julie brought for forming our Big Ass sheets. The 8.5' x 7' (2.6m x 2m) frames are made from 1" (2.5cm) aluminum tubing and are designed to break down easily for storage and travel. A system of threaded rods, bolts and washers connects and tightens the frame after each side is run through the corresponding pocket in the screen.

Our class worked with several screen designs and as the workshop progressed, we found that we liked a new version of Julie's screens that had sleeves covering the majority of the metal frame sides. The 5" (12.5cm) wide pockets held strong against the weight of the water, pulp, and formation aid and were easier to grip than older versions that attached to the frames using tabs. Julie has experimented with several screen materials and recommends sunshade screen or heavy mosquito netting.

The pool (please forgive me for this breach in proper terminology! I detest the word v-a-t and in this case it was so large that 'pool' seems a more proper description anyway!) was made from 8' and 10' lengths of 2"x12" boards (2.4m and 3m lengths of 2.5cm x 30cm boards). The frame was placed over a heavy blue tarp and then thick plastic sheeting was layered over the frame to hold the water. Julie warned us not to use cheap tarps as the fiberglass they contain can make it into your feet!

Eight people pulling a sheet of paper.

The "pool" was filled about 3/4 full with water and then the beaten Kozo and a healthy dose of PEO formation aid. To keep the pulp as clean as possible, pairs of us took half-day shifts in the pool dispersing fiber and guiding in screens. Pulling each sheet required 6-8 people: 2 in the pool to carefully drag the screen across the bottom; 2 on the end to guide the screen in and hold it down; and 2 - 3 on each side to help lift the screen slowly and evenly out of the water. Each frame was then carried out into the sun to dry.

Big Ass sheets of paper drying in the sun.

When the sheets were dry, we rubbed the backs of the screens to loosen the fibers and then carefully ran our hands between the screens and the paper. The cracking sound of pulling large well-formed sheets off was ecstasy, however we also had many spiderweb thin sheets that took great patience to remove.

Carefully removing paper from the screen.

Stacks of beautiful handmade paper.

In addition to the mass production of giant paper, Julie demonstrated Kakishibu and Indigo dying and we all made tons of smaller sheets of paper (with and without inclusions). It was an amazing class and we all left with tons of paper. Three cheers for Big Ass Paper!

- Ashley Ivey