Tag Archives: apprenticeship

Paella and Artists’ Books

At the end of my last day at Eskulan, Juan and I walked back to the flat in Billabona where he and his wife, Carmen Sevilla live. While Juan busied himself in the kitchen, Carmen, a printmaker and book designer, showed me around their place and the many pieces of art they have collected over the years. Some were her monoprints; all were pieces beautiful in their own right.

I had accompanied Juan earlier on his shopping expeditions, going from store to store to get all the necessary items. And I knew that an artisan like him who enjoys fishing, cycling, and patiently scraping bark would probably be an excellent chef. But the paella he served was absolutely outstanding – wow! What a wonderful gift to partake of, followed by a delicious fruit salad that Carmen prepared.

Cocinero-papelero orgulloso ;-)

El cocinero-papelero orgulloso ¡salud! topa 😉

After this fine lunch, they brought out their collection of artists’ books. I knew that Juan sometimes leads artists’ book workshops, as well as papermaking workshops, so I was interested to see some examples. Several were one-of-a-kind books Carmen had made using letterpress on exquisite hand made papers or her own pulp painting. They were stitched in innovative and traditional ways.

Juan had been telling me how ingenious Carmen is with book design and bindery, and he was right. One of her pulp painting books evokes the coastline and crashing surf of Asturias where she is from; another conjures up forests. Anyone who has ever attempted pulp painting knows how much labour, skill and serendipity go into this process. She generously gave me a copy of a catalogue of her pastels published by the Caja de Asurias in 1997. Sparse, gorgeous work.

Innovative stitching and folding show in this example of Carmen's artist's books.

Innovative stitching and folding show in this example of Carmen’s artist’s books.

Carmen's forest book made entirely with pulp paintings.

Carmen’s forest book made entirely of pulp paintings.

Another page in Carmen's forest book.

Another page in Carmen’s forest book.

Closeup of a page in Carmen's pulp painting forest book; note her "chop" at the corner.

Closeup of a page in Carmen’s pulp painting forest book; note her “chop” at the corner.

Semblanza de Gijón was one of Juan’s first commissions as a professional papermaker. It’s a boxed edition of 75 books printed with letterpress and etchings by Pelayo Ortega on his hand made paper. Traditional Spanish binding allows the reader to fully open the book without it cracking or breaking.

You can see the letter press impression in this title page.

Carmen leafs through their copy of Semblanza de Gijón.
Carmen leafs through their copy of Semblanza de Gijón. The sepia toned etchings bleed off the outside edges.

Juan showed me what he described as his “only book”: a leather-bound journal of stitched, hand made paper. Each page documents a fibre he has made into paper, with its characteristics, time boiling in lye, time in the Hollander beater, etc. Each has a small sample of the paper attached. Truly a one-of-a-kind document in the world – a live, ongoing and dimensional parallel to Lillian Bell’s classic “Plant Fibers for Papermaking”. A life’s work in progress.

All these are precious objects that would win the top prizes at international book fairs. Carmen and Juan, though incredibly modest, are masters of their arts and crafts, among a handful of such people in the world, and I’ve been extremely fortunate to spend time with them.

Visiting the Tolosa Paper School

I met Juan Barbé serendipitously in 2012 through the Tolosa Paper School (EPT). I had planned to visit their facility and gift them one of my prints of Broom silkscreened on Broom paper, but by the time I got to Tolosa, Vicky at the EPT explained that the school would be closed for a holiday that day. However, in lieu of a tour, she asked if I wanted to meet a former student, Juan.

The Tolosa Paper School.

The Tolosa Paper School.

Juan explains how students operate the school's production line.

Juan explains how students operate the school’s production line.

Bill ready to shut down production ;-) (Juan Barbé photo)

Bill ready to shut down production 😉 (Juan Barbé photo)

One of the first rooms we entered has a scaled down version of a typical paper mill production line with rollers, felts and cutters. This permits students to practise their skills and mechanical abilities with real equipment. At the end of the line is a large bin with crumpled paper tests destined for recycling.

Hollander beaters.

Hollander beaters.

Circular paper testing equipment.

Circular paper testing equipment.

Another room has an amazing collection of scales, beaters and pulping machines. Some units are used to make circular test sheets; one device delivers pulp under pressure. The school’s café has wall displays that illuminate the papermaking process. We were immersed in paper theory and practice!

Wall display about paper production.

Wall display about paper production.

Idoia Egurdibe showed us around the laboratory, which is full of microscopes, scales, chemicals for analysis, samples of various wood species and a digital microscopy unit. This is what Juan and others use to examine the fibres they work with. At some point he’ll use it to make micro-photographs of the Rumex crispus paper we made, along with the Fresno and Adelfa.

One side of the school's laboratory.

One side of the school’s laboratory.

Idoia Egurdibe operates the school's micro-photography unit.

Idoia Egurdibe operates the school’s micro-photography unit.

Pablo and Idoia were very generous with their time and kindly gave me and Juan copies of a new DVD history of the school. Eskerrik asko! To learn more about the school, visit their website.

Bill Horne, Idoia Egurdibe, Juan Barbé & Pablo Eguskiza.

Bill Horne, Idoia Egurdibe, Juan Barbé & Pablo Eguskiza.

Inner Bark

Part of my apprenticeship at Eskulan involved investigation of plant fibres that none of us had ever made into paper. When I taught a class at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas in Managua, Nicaragua in 1986, we made small test batches of paper from gato tree seed fluff, breadfruit branches, pineapple leaves, coconut fibre, palm, plantation bark and several other sources abundant there. This got me interested in other potential fibres that could be made into paper, and inspired me to do a series of silkscreened plant papers in the early 1990s.

Last year I learned that Juan Barbé has been experimenting with various fibres for many years, documenting them in a marvelous hand bound book that notes each paper’s properties, the length of time the fibre boiled in lye, time in the beater, properties, etc.,  each with a sample attached. A life work at a professional level.

As a complementary business to Eskulan, he operates Paperlan, a paper and fibre supply. In addition to storing traditional paper fibres like kozo, gampi and abaca there, he stashes and dries new ones that he collects for use in trials when time permits.

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So while my Curly Dock stalks were soaking, we started preparing two other plant fibres: Fresno (ash) and Adelfa (Nerium oleander). I had read about using inner bark for paper, but this was the first time I had worked with it from scratch. All very interesting to me, because my own previous plant paper making efforts had been crude by comparison, often using parts of the plants that contained little or no fibre. I had read about the use of inner bark with certain important species, so I was excited to be investigating these ones.

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Juan had soaked a bundle of Fresno bark in water for a couple of days, not so much to loosen the outer bark as to
make it possible to flatten the curved, curled bark for scraping evenly.

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It’s slow, finicky work, and we agreed that it’s the kind of meditative task to submit to, not to hurry, but to enjoy. Put on the radio or some music and start scraping.

I used a small, curved knife. Some segments were much easier to peel and scrape than others! I wished I had brought an Inuit ulu knife with me – scraping bark is not too much different from scraping hides.
Over the course of several days at Eskulan, I scraped all of the Fresno bark and a portion of the Adelfi, which wamore fragile and difficult to work with. Hand made papers, especially from plant fibres, are extremely labour intensive.
Short video clip: scraping Fresno bark.

At some point Juan will make them into paper and I’ll find out the results. Then we’ll each start our next tests…

The Nepalese Style

For their typical production runs, Juan and Javier use a classic western paper making technique which consists of scooping from a tank of pulp onto a screen with a deckle attached. This requires an excess of pulp and regular top-ups, as well as skill and acute awareness, in order to maintain sheet consistency.

At a certain point, though, there’s not enough pulp in the tank to dip a screen into, so they drain and strain the tank, then squeeze the remaining pulp into balls. Dried out, they can be rehydrated later and used again in another batch.

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With the Nepalese style, it’s possible to use all the pulp, which offers an important advantage when working with a small test batch, especially a plant fibre that has required so many painstaking steps.

For our Rumex crispus test, Juan filled a small rectangular container with water beside our bucket of fresh-milled pulp. He placed a screen at the bottom and held a deep-walled deckle tightly to its upper surface.

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With his free hand, he scooped a cup of pulp from the bucket and poured it into the deckle, which was 3/4 full of water. Then he lifted the screen and deckle straight up. The water poured out and the pulp remained on the screen, ready to be couched onto felts.

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Each time he poured the same volume of pulp into the deep deckle, which ensured consistent sheet thickness. Very simple, very efficient.

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Paper Test Batch: Rumex crispus (Curly Dock)

Before I left Wells in late September, I prepared a bunch of Curly Dock fibre. My neighbour Catherine, who has a fierce allergy to the plant, gave me several bags of it that she had cut down around her house.

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Humans can eat Curly Dock leaves in small quantities, but it’s noxious to livestock and generally seen as a nuisance weed. For me, however, it’s a bit nostalgic: the very first paper I made back in 1981 in a studio on Beatty Street above Pulp Press (where the Stadium SkyTrain station is now) contained Curly Dock seeds! So I thought that making some 100% Curly Dock paper with Juan would bring me full circle, and he was enthusiastic about the idea.

I spent an afternoon in Wells trimming leaves from the stalks, and removing any seeds. Then I put the stalks on roofing tin to dry out in the sun.

Later, I cut it to bag-sized lengths and gave it a further drying in the oven before vaccum sealing it in plastic to eliminate any risk of contamination in travel.

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At the Eskulan studio in Zizurkil, I cut all my dried Rumex crispus stalks into shorter pieces with a guillotine.  After soaking it in water for a few days, we started boiling the fibre in lye in a stainless pot on a gas burner.

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Our goal is to break down the lignin that binds the fibre. But it turned out to be very hard: some plant fibres are ready in less than an hour; this was still a bit rigid after six! Finally after six and a half hours, we put a lid on the pot and left it to steep overnight.

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After draining the pot, we rinsed the fibre thoroughly with cold water, and put it into a bucket of water. We used a large industrial blender stick to help break up the fibre.

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Then we transferred this to a small, stainless Hollander Beater that Juan had filled with water.

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It didn’t take very long to pulp the fibre. Juan tested it a few times by putting some in a clear bottle with water and shaking it to see if the fibre was hydrating and going into suspension. The process took about 20 minutes in total.

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Juan made about a dozen sheets using the Nepalese style in order to be able to use all of the pulp and not waste a drop. (More on that process later.) They went into the press – at a lower pressure than the production cotton rag paper – then were peeled out and hung up to dry. By now it was getting late and time to clean up for the day.

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Juan came into the studio on the weekend to use up the rest of the
Rumex c. pulp. A few days later we peeled off all the paper from the drying sheets, then gave it some compression time in the press for its final flattening.

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The result: a gorgeous, caramel coloured paper. The short fibre of the Rumex doesn’t yield a strong paper, but it’s very pretty. Both of us are very happy with it.

My First Attempts at Production Papermaking

Juan lets me try dipping some of the deluxe 6-up sheets, and I don a giant, waterproof apron and long rubber gloves. I had never made such a big set of sheets in my life, and my technique was pretty bad!

My first attempt was a total write-off and we had to rinse off the screen to start over. The next ones were marginally better, and luckily for me, the press compressed the flaws enough that they would be invisible to the untrained eye.

The trick is to plunge the screen & deckle vertically, quickly & deeply into the tank of pulp, until it’s immersed about 75%, then smoothly start pulling up to the surface, ending with a subtle rocking motion.

The deckle is made from a dark glue-lam with the sheet forming areas cut out and a narrow border of sponge crazy-glued around all perimeters. It’s fragile; another item to handle carefully and methidically.

We couch the wet sheets onto a table at waist height, and I manage to place the edge of the screen at its correct middle point on the edge of the table, then quickly tip it down, press firmly, rub each channel and snap it up to release. To do this without the wet paper falling off the screen takes skill and confidence. This part I can manage.

It’s very hard to teach the correct pulp dipping maneouver, however, because the tank of pulp is opaque – it’s impossible to see exactly what Juan’s hands or the screen are doing below the surface. Something to learn by hand with lots of practice. My next attempts are with a smaller screen and a single sheet deckle!

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When the fresh paper has dried enough on its drying sheets that hang off lines upstairs, Javier peels them all off and piles them meticulously onto a heavy PVC sheet. These go back into the press for a final flattening at a lower pressure. When they emerge, he stacks and counts them, then packages all up for eventual shipping. But it will take days of production to fill this order.

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The day ends with cleanup. The screens and deckles get hosed down to avoid any pulp drying on them – very hard to remove later. Like silkscreen printing, cleanliness preserves the investment in equipment, as well as making it possible to produce a quality product.

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All photos of Bill in this post courtesy of Juan Barbé.

Thank-you

The exhibition Claire Kujundzic and I had at GKo Gallery in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa would not have been possible without the generous support of:
Charlie Roots and Mary Ann Annable, Whitehorse, Yukon; the Kujundzic clan; Gillian Walker, Alan Zisman and Linda Reid, Susan Madsen and Stephen Mitchell, Vancouver, BC; Nik Semenoff, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Sophia Isajiw, Toronto, Ontario; Anne Fullerton in Kitchener, Ontario; Whitegold Adventures and Caroline Zinz, Wells, BC; Chris Harris and Rita Giesbrecht, 105 Mile House, BC; District of Wells: Murray Gudmundson at Tier One Travel, Victoria, BC.

Eta eskerrik asko -> Garikoitz Cuitlahuac Murua Fierro, Kizkitza Lasa Agirre, Box.A Arte Elkarte, Brian Cullen, Zuloaga Txiki, Juantxo Garmendia 😉
Forest carpet (yellow), cropped