Tag Archives: paper

An Excursion to El Hacedor

On our way to an International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) conference in Montesclaros, Spain in 2011, Claire Kujundzic and I visited Dorien Jongsma at El Hacedor – Imágenes y Palabras in the tiny village of La Aldea del Portillo de Busto. We each did some hands-on printmaking, and I did another screen printing demo there last fall. In our conversations with Dorien, we could all visualize the logic and beauty of a papermaking workshop there. When I told Juan Barbé about this unique art centre, he was immediately interested in meeting Dorien. And Dorien was interested in meeting Juan.

I realized this could also be an opportunity to demonstrate a sunlight photostencil exposure and at the same time make an Eskulan logo stencil that Juan could use for printing on his papers or packaging, etc. So one morning during my last week in Tolosa-Billabona-Zizurkil, Juan and his wife Carmen Sevilla picked me up and we drove to La Aldea, with a blank silkscreen in the trunk and the jar of photoemulsion I had bought from Garikoitz at Boxa Arte Elkarte (see previous post).

On our return from La Aldea to Tolosa, we took the BU-520 shortcut over the mountains to avoid looping back through Oña.

Our route from Tolosa to La Aldea. On our return, we took the BU-520 shortcut over the mountains to avoid looping back through Oña.

Pancorbo, between La Aldea and Miranda de Ebro.

Pancorbo, between La Aldea and Miranda de Ebro.

It’s a spectacular drive through mountainous terrain, into La Mancha, and then back into wide mountain valleys. On our way, Juan and Carmen picked up some prize winning organic sheep cheese in La Barcina de los Montes from Isobel & José who are friends of Dorien’s – a gift for the table.

Isobel, Juan and Carmen at the cheese shop in La Barcina de los Montes.

Isobel, Juan and Carmen at the cheese shop in La Barcina de los Montes.

With Emilio and Carmen in the gallery. Juan Barbé photo.

With Emilio and Carmen in the gallery. Juan Barbé photo.

After a tour of El Hacedor, the gallery, and encantapajaros, plus a delightful lunch hosted by Dorien, Edo, and Emilio Zaldívar, I set up Juan’s screen outside. I had coated it with photoemulsion on arrival and set it to dry in a dark cupboard.

Coating Juan's screen with photoemulsion. Juan Barbé photo.

Coating Juan’s screen with photoemulsion. Juan Barbé photo.

Ready to tidy up the emulsion. Juan Barbé photo.

Ready to tidy up the emulsion. Juan Barbé photo.

We were using two photocopies of the Eskulan logo on acetate, doubled up and taped together to increase the density of the black. The always-enterprising Dorien found me a piece of foam rubber and a sheet of glass, and I set them up outside in the daylight.

Using a window as a light table to align two photocopies on acetate. Juan Barbé photo.

Using a window as a light table to align two photocopies on acetate. Juan Barbé photo.

Sunlight exposure setup. Two weights tighten the contact betwen the glass, positives and screen.

Sunlight exposure setup. Two weights tighten the contact betwen the glass, positives and screen.

It was overcast, and I wasn’t sure of the sensitivity of this batch of emulsion, but I set a timer for 12 minutes. It’s always better to slightly over-expose and risk losing detail, because underexposed emulsion can be very hard to remove from a screen.

Rinsing the exposed screen under a tap before using a plant sprayer with more pressure. Juan Barbé photo.

Rinsing the exposed screen under a tap before using a plant sprayer with more pressure. Juan Barbé photo.

I thought the photocopy toner was a little too thin and grey, not black or opaque enough, and should have taken the time to reinforce the logo’s lines with a film marker pen. When I rinsed the screen, sure enough, the sun’s UV rays had penetrated the toner and hardened too much of the emulsion. It wouldn’t print well. However, we did succeed in demonstrating how it’s possible to expose silkscreen photostencils without fancy equipment! And we learned that a mid-afternoon exposure on an overcast day in early October needs about 10-12 minutes 😉

Dorien, Juan, Carmen & Emilio with overexposed screen.

Dorien, Juan, Carmen & Emilio with overexposed screen.

Dorien showed us how to drive back to Tolosa without going through Oña and bid us farewell. It was a long day, but rich with conversations, laughter and camaraderie. I’m grateful to Juan and Carmen for the excursion, and to Dorien, Emilio and Edo for their warm welcome. No doubt it won’t be long before Juan returns to El Hacedor to lead a workshop in papermaking or artists’ books.

Dorien & Juan in conversation.

Dorien & Juan in conversation.

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.

image

image

image

image

image

image

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.

image

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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!

image

image

image

image

image

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.

image

image

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.

image

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