On Recycled Paper

This post is all about process. In particular processes with recycled paper. Printing on it. Tearing it up. Building with it.

Paper surrounds us. It’s in our mail. It’s at our jobs. It’s even used to package the gifts we give each other. I know this is starting to sound like a doomsday newsflash, but paper is so ubiquitous it’s almost invisible. Because of this, I tried to no longer see leftover paper as a burden, but, rather, as a resource, a resource I could use for my own projects. To make something fresh. Something new.

My career path has led to more paper use than maybe most. An unfortunate outcome of being a writer–especially with short stories–is amassing stacks of drafts, my peers’ work as well as my own. So, it wasn’t long into my MFA that I realized I was routinely ending up with a foot-tall pile of paper per month.

I’d taken a book arts course while I was still an undergrad at the University of Toledo, and that’s where I learned how to recycle my own paper with the hope of actually printing on it. But after some time away from the process and using my handmade rudimentary tool-set, my paper ended up much more rigid than soft and flexible like your typical sheet.

A few process images from my first in-home paper venture, 2014-15:

I set up a plastic bin in my bedroom and filled it up with water from the bathtub across the hall. The mould and deckle were made from fairly cheap wood I bought at Lowe’s. I don’t have a recommendation for any wood over another. It just needs to hold it’s form with a few nails. For the screen, I used at aluminium window screen. I recommend not using fiberglass screen, because it has a tendency to warp and stretch over time.

Once I moved to Philadelphia, paper for printing, 2016-17:

When I moved to Philadelphia, I had a bit more outdoor space and produced a much higher volume of paper. I wanted paper I could print my own business cards on, so this paper needed to be smooth in order to register the details of my lino-cuts. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to removes the larger chunks of pulp as well as I’d wanted to. This resulted in an uneven texture which, while cool looking, was tough to print on. I decided to step away from printing for a while.  

Early experimentation of paper for sculpture, 2016-17:

So, the prints didn’t turn out the way I wanted, but now I was left with all this extra paper I’d created. One of the cool things about making paper is the variety is can come in. It forced me to consider the question: What is paper? How is it defined? How thick does paper have to be before it’s more like a chunk of dried pulp? Is paper just tried pulp?

I experimented with these in a few different forms and asked more questions. Can I draw on it? What happens if it breaks or tears? Can I build with it?

Some works with cardboard, 2017:

Little known fact about myself: I’ve always been interested in architecture, sculpture, and three-dimensional design. When I moved to my new apartment in the first half of 2017, I discovered a space for creation. Where before I’d always been worried about taking up space on the dining room table and leaving things out, here I could experiment with form and structure, light and shadow. I had just moved so I had an abundance of cardboard (yet anther overlooked resource!!)

The present, 2018:

Which of course brings us to the present. It’s January 2018. (New year, new me? Anybody?) And I’ve run out of the miscellaneous cardboard I had last year, still wanting to keep a few boxes in tact.

I remembered that old rigid paper, batches from 2015, 2016, and 2017. I wondered what it would be like to cut that up.

I’m looking to push further into 2018 with many more sculptural works. Maybe even into forms larger than the desktop pieces you see above. I’m hoping to chronicle this process more. It help me to see patterns and personal history.

Sidenote: I had this thing about documenting my plastic usage. Turned out to be a fools errand. But I swear I tried. Plastics were everywhere, too.

There’s a lot more to say about all this, but I wanted to get something on the page. If you want to donate some scrap paper to me, need some tips on how to recycle your own, or even have your own tips or experiences you want to share with me, feel free to leave me a comment below. Thanks for reading!

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