Last week, with the sun shining on Beaver Island and a little extra time, I decided to make a batch of paper. An idea has been playing around the edges of my mind, and I was anxious to begin. Anxious, because sometimes beginning is all it takes to prove to myself that the whole idea was crap…but also for the possibility that it would work out. That might mean that it goes as planned, or that it leads to something even better, or simply that I learn something.
I’ve been toying with the idea of a series of handmade paper bowls to be used as a basis for encaustic painting. Keeping an open mind to the idea that they might be beautiful on their own, without embellishment. Also allowing for the prospect that the bowls might not be strong enough to be used as a painting surface, or even to stand on their own. Papers, especially those made of hemp or abaca fibers, are extremely strong. My materials, though, might not be so. Only in getting started would I get any answers.
The material for my first bowl would come from a large bald-faced hornet’s nest. The size of a peck basket, I’d picked the nest out of the snow several years ago when it fell out of the high branches of the maple tree in my side yard. Because the nest is a kind of paper, I saved it to show to classes when I taught paper-making. It was getting fragile, though, as well as being quite a dust-collector. It was time for metamorphosis!
I started by breaking the nest into fist sized clumps and piling them into my kettle. Covered with water, I simmered the paper for an hour to begin to break down the fibers. Then, the paper was poured through a wire mesh colander and rinsed. One small handful at a time, I blended the paper with fresh water to make pulp, and collected it in a pitcher. When the pitcher was full, I’d pour it through a screen so that the water could drain away.
The resulting pulp, I used to line a mold. I have a large beater bowl from a retired commercial bread machine that was my first choice. Less than a third of the way through, I could see that the sides were too deep and straight; the paper was collapsing to the bottom. I switched it out for a broader, more shallow mold, and continued the process.
When the bowl was complete, I used a large sponge to draw out as much moisture as possible. While the sun was shining, I set the bowl out into the snowbank to help. For the rest of the time, which was more than a week, it sat near the heater, where I changed its position regularly, so it would dry evenly. It’s dry enough now to handle, and to contemplate where to go with it from here!