Thursday, September 30, 2010

large-scale papermaking

I am very happy to announce that we have just finished building an 8 ft x 4 ft deckle box, to build large-scale paper! When I had my interview at NIU I expressed my desire to my advisor, Christine LoFaso, to make large paper, and she said that we could build the deckle box to make this happen, and that the school would cover the cost of the materials. Since school has started my friend Mary Hintzen (one of the other new Fiber MFAs) and I have been working towards this goal. With the help of Jeremy Gosser, the head of the wood shop here, we were able to see the project through to fruition. We used Andrea Peterson's design, detailed in The Papermaker's Companion by Helen Hiebert.

The deckle box was made of pine, with a simple frame as the deckle, and a more complex frame featuring 19 support slats as the mould. The screen was made of a bamboo window shade purchased from World Market for a mere $37, with a large sheet of pellon on top (thanks for gifting me with yours, Loni!). We attached large brass door hinges on one side so that the deckle will easily lift off of the mould, and eye hooks on the other side.

Janey standing with the deckle box, showing the bamboo screen:
Me with the deckle box:
Janey and Mary, with the plastic sheeting in place, holding the water and abaca fiber:
Yesterday we tested the deckle box for the first time, with the students in Christine's undergraduate papermaking class. Fortunately we have a perfect location to work, a balcony on the third floor of the art building that had been commandeered by the fiber department. We made a sheet of abaca paper, which required an entire large vat's worth of water, 6 hands worth of abaca pulp, and approximately three cups of formation aid.

One of the students in the class, Dan, photographed our first attempt at pulling a sheet. It took three people to pull the plastic sheeting out from under the water and pulp - Janey, Mary, and I. The students braced the other end of the deckle box in case the force pulled it off of the sawhorses.

Christine, the head of the fiber program, is standing on the left side, in the white shirt:

After we pulled the plastic, part of the deckle box leaked on the opposite side, spilling out water and fiber. We will have to address this issue; it happened because there is a natural bend in the wood on that side, and there wasn't complete contact with the top and bottom of the box.

Here you can see that the pellon moved as the plastic was pulled, creating some wrinkles that will be recorded in the finished sheet:
Despite the remaining trouble-shooting ahead of us before we can pull a perfect sheet, I am so excited at the amount we did achieve with our first test! I think that with a little more effort we will be able to form perfect large-scale sheets with this box. We also have plans to build additional boxes in a variety of sizes, now that we see that it is possible!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


While in Chicago for my birthday, my friends Jason, Janey, and I happened upon a tumbleweed in the middle of Halsted street. We were in an industrial area (just north of Halsted and Archer, to be exact) and it was just lying in wait for us in the middle of the street. Naturally we took the tumbleweed back to DeKalb with us, and I have since been gradually building up layers of abaca on it through the process of dipping. Ultimately the tumbleweed will be part of an installation. I plan to build up the abaca until it is a chaotic mass at the center of the plant, where one cannot discern where the plant structure ends and the abaca begins. In that sense I will be controlling the amount of chaos found within.

It will be hung from the ceiling and light will again be used in conjunction with sound, moving, so that the shadows cast upon the wall are constantly changing.

Getting down to business

Here is an image of my studio space, graciously provided by NIU:

Thanks to everyone who helped me outfit this space - Loni Diep, Dani Markova, David Soukup, Lung-chen Wang, and Zoe Bare. Almost the entirety of the furniture was given to me for free, which I deeply appreciate! Also, the former resident left behind their drafting table. I haven't used it much yet, but I'm sure that it will come in handy. This is one of the first times I have ever felt truly organized, and it is a huge relief to have all of my art supplies in a separate location from my home. I come here, and I can work, without distraction. There is plenty of space on the other side of the room (where I am standing when I took this photo) where I can try out some sculpture ideas.

I have been devoting almost the entirety of my time to a project about my stuttering, the working title of which is "I Had a Disparate Nature; My Nature is Disparate Still". From the ages of 12 to 17 I had a debilitating stutter that rendered me almost incapable of communicating. I have been combating these memories through an exploration of paper and watermarking, using abaca as my chosen fiber.

Here is a small test sheet I made to visualize the effects of the watermark:

I first did some stream-of-consciousness writing about the feelings provoked by the struggle of the stuttering. I then recorded myself reading the text aloud, once incredibly fast with confidence, and also mimicking the stuttering as it would have sounded had I attempted to read the text during that period. I then made a computer file underlining the text, and left blanks under the words that I could not recite without difficulty. I then transferred that computer file into a watermark made of 1/8" white foam, cut it out, and placed it on the mould.

I knew I wanted the ultimate paper to be quite large; unfortunately my first attempts to do this failed. The initial large mould I was using was made of a metal mesh, which the watermark did not want to adhere to. Also the mould was far too large for any of our vats to accommodate it. Through some trouble shooting I tried to use the mould and deckle as a deckle box instead of a traditional mould that one would pull from a vat; this would have worked ultimately, but the watermark ended up being ripped off through the force of use. So... back to the drawing board.

I scaled everything down to the next largest mould that we have here at NIU, and began again. This mould was made of a plasticine mesh that held the watermark far better, and I was able to produce the sheet that I wanted. I then wrote in the words that I could not recite over the blanks, writing the text in my hand-writing through hole-punching with an awl.

The image of the sheet on a light box, complete with hole-punching.

I also made a perfect sheet of abaca, and one in which I deliberately caused issues within the paper: holes, unevenness, wrinkles due to air bubbles, etc. I strung the three together and presented them in front of florescent lights. Each sheet is approximately 23" wide x 18" tall.

I am still working through this piece and by no means is it finished; the question of how I will present the sound files to the viewer has yet to be worked out. I also intend to make the paper much larger, and to resolve the presentation of the paper in front of the lights. The lights will ultimately work in conjunction with the sound, so that as I fail to speak a word without difficulty, the lights turn off.

Friday, September 3, 2010

obligatory introduction

I have just begun my first semester of graduate school as an MFA Fiber candidate at Northern Illinois University, and as such, I believe it is time for me to start a new blog to update everyone with the goings on in my work and my life. I will attempt to document all of my work, in process and finished, and discuss my ideas. I would appreciate any and all feedback.
Please check back often!