Around 1996 I was forced by circumstances to move my main arts practice from claywork to fibre arts. I had been making reduction-fired stoneware in a wood-burning kiln with fallen timber and mill offcuts, but working full time as a teacher with three children prompted changes. Thanks to a group of active paper-makers around the Sunshine coast, I discovered an art that could be done in smaller increments, rather than waiting for an entire kiln load before the first work could be completed. This is not to say that I don’t miss pottery, but that’s another story. Today’s story is about how one of the skills I had developed as a potter, that of making plaster moulds, could be applied to botanical paper-making.
Many works of my artworks now feature sculpted or cast paper. Cast paper refers to placing the sheet of paper, while still wet, into a plaster mould. The sheets are produced by cooking botanical fibres in an alkaline solution, then blending with other ingredients such as recycled office paper, art paper scraps or cotton linters and forming into a sheet using a mould and deckle. The soft sheet is left on the couching pad or cloth for a short time and a light pressure applied to ensure the sheet has enough integrity to stay intact. When pressed to the plaster, the sheet (“watersheet”) takes the form of the specially-created plaster mould while wet and retains this shape once it has dried.
Firstly the desired shape must be made as a clay “master”. Once the clay form is perfected, a low wall is built up and plaster is poured onto the clay surface. The plaster needs to be gently tapped to remove air bubbles then set aside to harden. After about a week in warm weather, the plaster mould will be ready for use.
To create paper sheets in the mould, “pull” some sheets of paper froma pulp bath (composed of the ingredients mentioned above), using a mould and deckle. The sheets of paper are partly pressed between absorbent cloths to remove some of the water, then draped over the plaster to dry. The plaster form can be used to produce as many sheets as desired, although time needs to be allowed in between sheets for the mould to dry out. I use my own drawings, as well as photographs to create the clay form. I regularly use a number of different moulds featuring the Bunya tree and cone, the female form and others. In a process analogous to creating an edition of prints from a linocut or plate, Multiple versions of the same form can be repeated, although the plaster mould needs to dry in between each pressing. Time for the mould to be dry enough for re-use varies from 2 hours on a sunny day to 3 – 4 days in wet weather. These relief sculpted pages can be treated in a variety of ways, overpainted with watercolours, inks, or combined with other elements including textiles. The images in this post show four different treatments of the work master block Siren in an assemblage featuring cast paper and textiles (felt) “Song of the Seasons”