For years I’ve accumulated clean offcuts of cotton letterpress paper. I just don’t have the heart to throw it out in the regular recycling, so I’ve been squirreling it away in the hopes of finding a papermaker who would appreciate having it. Well… I held on long enough for that papermaker to be me. I like the idea of recycling a lovely material into fresh sheets of paper. They come to me as machine-made papers that are manufactured to careful measurements of weight, density, caliper, color and finish. I’m not able to get that level of exactitude with this rustic process, and I’m certainly not able to keep all the bits of the universe out that seem to be DYING to make it into the vat and onto the mould. And I do mean literally DYING, as some insects and arachnids have found their end in the watery vat. But when I show the samples to people, they seem to like it far more than they like the machine-made papers. I guess we all to some extent like to see a little evidence of human processes in craftwork. And while I’m the first to admit that some irregularity can create warmth and charm, I am not the type of person to settle with that. I very much want to make VERY CLEAN BEAUTIFUL PERFECT WHITE HANDMADE PAPER. So it’s practice time, and from what I’ve read, the process of sheet formation at the vat can take years of constant practice to master, and that’s alright with me.
So far we have only begun to test this soft paper in terms of how it folds, tears, and preliminarily takes ink. We haven’t really begun to test what kinds of chemistry (sizing) will be needed to make it optimum to receive ink. For now, we are focusing on getting into a rhythm and learning how to form a nice, smooth sheet without too-obvious problems. Controlling the weight of the paper is also going to be a learning process, as it’s really so much a by-feel sort of thing. How much pulp in the water yields a sheet heavy enough for a business card? How much for a broadside? How much for envelopes? You could go about this two ways… by pure measurement, which is compelling, or by training the sensor. I do so much measuring in my letterpress work, I feel I will enjoy taking the latter method, and training my eyes, hands, and body to develop the sensory understanding of how to get the thickness of papers I want.
It’s kind of funny that after so many, many years of putting ink on paper, I could be THIS excited to create blank paper. Maybe that’s both a logical beginning and a logical endpoint for my work. I started my young life fascinated with paper. Maybe on my last day of life I will create the most perfect sheet of white paper, and it will carry no signs or symbols, persuasions, narratives or exhortations whatsoever. I think that would be a great way to sign off.