How to make paper to fit your artistic needs

handmade paper with flowersWhy make paper when you can just buy it? I have heard this in classes many times and the answer is simple. You can make unique papers specific to your wants and needs. For example, paper can be made very thin for making collages or covering an object. Fun items such as scraps of fabrics or sand from a trip to the beach can be added to customize the look and texture of your papers. Special pigments allow one to create just the right colors for a specific project.

Paper has a long history originating in China with the earliest known piece of a paper map from Gansu province  dated  between 140 BC and 86 BC. Papermaking spread throughout Asia where it was used for everything from walls to clothing to scrolls.

Traditionally, plants such as Gampi, Abaca, Mitsumata, Kozo and Kenaf were processed to make beautiful papers. I use Kozo for my sculptural artwork because it has long, strong fibers. Today, a lot of paper is made from trees because it’s cost effective for mass production and readily available.

To start experimenting and making your own paper is easy and inexpensive. There are such good books at the library with the basic information on easy-to-find equipment needed to get started. You will find directions to make and use moulds and deckles to form your paper.

There are also hundreds of ideas for projects! Make paper from recycled or natural materials from your garden. Add herbs or spices for pleasant aromas. Create different kinds of textures with found objects for embossing. Then use your handmade paper to make a book, a bowl or a clock. What will you make?

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Betsy is the associate curator and museum educator at the Sabatini Gallery. She has an MFA from the University of Missouri with a major in Fibers. Betsy has taught art classes at UMKC, Kansas City Art Institute and Washburn University. As an artist, her work is sculptural fibers and focuses on ecological concerns such as the preservation of Kansas prairies in the Flint Hills.