Friday, December 27, 2013

Between the dense and the distilled...

As I've been working on these recent collages, it's come to me that as an artist, my studio practice has frequently swung between highly detailed, dense works, and very minimal, materially sensitive, distilled pieces. With these collages, with their layers of printed imagery and cut paper, things feel like I'm currently in a dense stage.

Click on images for larger view.

It's interesting, because after spending months and months making pieces like this one, or this, or this, which are basically just paper, these collages come together in a matter of hours at most. (Although, if I counted all the time that led to the waste prints and paper that went into assembling the collage, it would be much, much longer). Of course, the paper portfolios are also editions, while the collages are unique works.

I think most artists who have made minimal work that is similar to my linked examples will agree that the precision required to work on something that is so exacting and simple is often as equally challenging to produce as something complex and highly detailed. There's just no wiggle room.

However, I find myself wondering what these divergent methods mean to my overall practice. I keep coming back to the concept of distilling when I think of the paper portfolios - I had clarified my vision and ideas down to a material essence and process. Simultaneously, it's a challenge to myself - how good are my skills? (how much can I show off?) Completing such work honors the medium and its potential.

These collages are more ambiguous - multiple nonlinear narratives colliding, a burgeoning lexicon of imagery.

Right now, after all those months of meticulousness, getting to use all that lovely paper that Jerarde gave me last year, to layer, to delight in my love of pattern, it's a release to embrace complexity. It feels like an indulgence.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Studio is operational!!

At least for printmaking. Papermaking set-up still in process. I'm actually working in the space, so that's a good sign. So far, all I've finished is the holiday present above, a woodblock portrait of my wonderful little niece Olivia. But it's a start.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Hamadawashi at Kala

Back in October, during the frenzy leading up to my move, I attended a talk and demonstration at Kala by some Japanese master papermakers - Hiranao and Osamu Hamada (pictured above). Hamadawashi Mill is known for the paper Tosa Tengucho - "Wing of the Mayfly," - handmade paper that has the distinction of being the thinnest in the world. Osamu, who apprenticed at Mino Washi, is a master of rakusui (lace paper).

Some of the talk focused on young artisans like themselves, who are choosing to take up skills such as papermaking in a modern world. They compared traditional papermakers to ghosts, saying that many printmakers never see them.

Two points in particular resonated with me - the first being the farmers and growers of kozo are just as essential as the papermakers.

The second point was that papermaking is more than just a skill set, it's a feeling from inside. Hiranao compared it to cooking, or more accurately, the desire to make delicious food.

Which made me wonder - the desire to make delicious food, for me, is about more than eating. It's about sharing. And I wonder, to them, is papermaking also about sharing? The idea that one makes a sheet, which is then transformed by another? The act of papermaking is then realized as a continuum and community act.

I think my favorite question after their talk was from someone who asked, "How long did it take to get your mastery?" to which they simply replied, "Three years." (I think the audience was expecting them to say most of their lifetimes, although when I mentioned this to Don, he just answered that it used to be seven, but they've reduced it so as not to drive young interested people away).

Following the talk was a nagashizuki demo.

Papermaking is indeed a community act, although I will argue that the community is much more extensive than those who just go on to use the paper. Cellulose, as Don likes to say, is a polymer made up of strings of grape sugar molecules, one of the most plentiful polymers on the planet. To make paper is to be interconnected to a myriad of histories, processes, art forms and sciences.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A form of mourning

A few weeks ago, I was teaching a class involving collage, and the students were using a bunch of old National Geographics. In one corner, a few students came across an article on the Red Panda. "Aren't they extinct?" I heard one of them ask. "Yeah, I think they are extinct," another agreed.

Yet...they aren't extinct. However, what struck me most was their nonchalance towards such an idea. They are so accustomed to such events, that they are barely worthy of note to them.

Last week I was part of a discussion (picture above) at the Spare Change Artist Space, as part of the OFFspace exhibition Brave New World, (pictured above). One of the questions Emmanuelle asked of the group was,"What is the role of art regarding climate change?"

Regarding the works in the exhibition, (such those by Alan, Alicia, and Andreanne), I responded that I felt that one role art can serve in this changing world is an outlet for mourning.

(I also feel strongly that art can suggest solutions, but that is another discussion.)

The discussion ranged more broadly than just the idea of mourning, but it was something I've been thinking about since. I'm not sure we as a species are psychologically capable for the losses that are predicted, such as the potential for mass extinctions, global warming refugees, even changes in the food supply. This is an overwhelming subject, one that many people feel helpless against, and would rather avoid. For my students, it's become something that is normal. Most of them have never even seen a Red Panda, or say, a Western Black Rhino, so why should they care?

It's cool not to care, to not be impressed, to not be moved (especially to teenagers). And when you do care...there is so much to care about. It's overwhelming.

Yet we will need to mourn. We should mourn the black rhino, the baiji, the golden toad. We should mourn the loss of diversity, things that will never been seen again, which is also to me, a loss of wonder and possibility. But I'm not sure we will know how. Extinctions and dramatic shifts have happened before, but not on the scale that is currently predicted, and not in such a measurable and documented fashion.

I'm not entirely comfortable with this role that art is taking on - it seems in part, a form of giving up. Yet, it seems a vital role that will be needed in the time to come. I think right now what I am witnessing in this trend is mourning, but also the looming knowledge that there will be more to come, if we let it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tabula Rasa

I have just signed the lease for a new studio space. Part of the reason I've been too busy to update this blog is because we're moving out of our little boatlike Richmond house to an apartment in Oakland, so my workspace will now be in a building outside of my home.

There have been so many developments in the past few months, good directions, yet I've got mental whiplash. I feel like I've reached the calm after the storm, and I'm realizing I've survived. Time to pick up the flotsam and rebuild.

At the same time, this move and a new job make me feel like I'm running away from the last two years, physically and mentally. Or maybe a better word is escaping.

I'm going to miss my basement studio with a door to a garden (with easy access to water...). Doing my best to stay rooted in the present, while looking forward to the future.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Introductory Papermaking at Magnolia Editions

While almost all my paper buddies were in St. Louis for Dard, I was teaching an Introductory Papermaking workshop at Magnolia Editions. Above is a shot I took from the new space above the beater room, where the drying box now lives.

We also went over beating fiber, showing students that paper is really made in the beater, even more so than in the vat.

My workshop included a special appearance by Don Farnsworth. Don is one of those people who can take any subject, and relate it to the whole world. For instance, when I was discussing hydrogen bonding in papermaking, he mentioned how that is the same reason that water has a meniscus, and how this related to water's behavior in both laboratory settings, but also lakes and rivers. Towards the end, Don did a quick Japanese paper demo.

I was sorry to miss Dard (although I was there in spirit), but felt so honored and grateful to teach at Magnolia. And due to popular demand, they offered a second session on November 16! I believe there is still a slot or two left, email to reserve one of the last spots!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Too busy to blog!!

So much has been happening, and I am overdue to post so many things...and will soon. Meanwhile, I completed the print above. It's grown out of the collages I've made over the spring and summer.

On another note - due to popular demand (!!!) Magnolia Editions is offering a second Introduction to Papermaking workshop with my on November 16. For more information, or to register, please email

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Upcoming Papermaking Workshops at Magnolia Editions!

We are pleased to announce that Magnolia Editions will be hosting papermaking workshops in our newly renovated paper studio!

Please reserve your spot by emailing, and don't hesitate to pass this info on to anyone you know who might be curious about how paper is made:

Introduction to Papermaking
Instructor: Michelle Wilson
(special appearance by Donald Farnsworth!)
Saturday, Oct. 19 from 10 am to 4 pm:

Learn the basics of creating your own handmade paper in the European tradition with Cotton and Abaca fibers. From the linter and beating stage to finished sheets, you will learn the process for making paper with different moulds and in a variety of colors. Students will learn to set up vats, pigment fibers, form and embellish sheets of paper. We will begin with a brief introductory lecture and spend the rest of the day making paper. Students are encouraged to bring items to use as inclusions such as dried flowers, lace, fabric, or old printed materials that will not bleed when wet. Please note: this is a wet class – participants are encouraged to wear clothing and shoes that can get wet.

Instructor Michelle Wilson is an artist in whose work handmade paper plays a central role, whether in printmaking, book arts, or installations. She teaches throughout the Bay Area, most recently at San Francisco State, the San Jose ICA Print Center, and the Kala Art Institute.

Japanese Papermaking
Instructor: Carol Brighton
Saturday, Oct. 26 from 10 am to 4 pm:

Japanese paper (washi) is world famous for its beauty and strength. Learn to make traditional washi step-by-step from cooking and beating the fibers to sheet formation and drying. We will make sheets on sugetas (Japanese moulds) and Western style moulds, learn to laminate inclusions in collage, and explore other techniques for decorative papers. Students are encouraged to bring items to use as inclusions such as dried flowers, lace, fabric, or printed papers that will not bleed when wet.

Instructor Carol Brighton is an artist whose handmade paper expertise can be seen in her printmaking and pulp paintings. Brighton teaches papermaking at the Academy of Art and also conducts printmaking workshops in her own studio.

The fee for each workshop is $120 per person; classes will be limited to 8 participants each, so early reservations are recommended.

Again, to reserve a place in these workshops, please email

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Un/Natural Occurances at Central Booking (and other stuff!)

Chacaltaya is part of this exhibition opening this week at Central Booking, now at its new location on the Lower East Side! The press release can be read here, and a catalog of the exhibition can be purchased here.

Book Bombs will also be part of the citywide exhibition Intertext in St. Louis this October. And Carbon Corpus is going to be part of the OFFspace exhibition Brave New World, at the Spare Change Artist Space.

All in all, going to be a busy fall.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Maps in Pulp Paint

Things are coming together, or maybe back together, on a project I began and put aside years ago. I started an artist book I planned to call Future Tense, which was an intersecting narrative between endangered languages and birds. I'm actually glad for the delay, as it's allowing the book to incorporate some materials and methods which, while not part of the original idea, I think make it more interesting.

Since getting interested in paper, I've been intrigued with the idea of material=content. However, I'm starting to think that material is more a signifier for content. In this case, I'm working with invasive plants (broom), however, here I'm using it to reference the Westernization of indigenous cultures, invasive European plant as a representative for invasive Europeans.

Friday, August 9, 2013


This is Dulcinea, beating a load of a friend's jeans. All those suds? That's detergent. Detergent that didn't wash out of his clothes when he washed them.

Any papermaker worth their sizing knows this. You only need the barest amount of detergent - in fact, you can sometimes skip it. Detergent not only stays in the fibers of your clothing (where, in my case, makes me itchy all day), it builds up in your washing machine.

By the way, I scraped suds off the top of this load SEVERAL TIMES.

Washing machines and dishwashers are made to use far less water now than older models and, therefore, need less soap. And detergents have also become increasingly concentrated. So a little goes a long way.

“Most people use 10 to 15 times the amount of soap they need, and they’re pouring money down the drain,” Mr. Schmidt said...

... “If people see suds, they think their clothes are getting clean, but that’s wrong — it means you’re using a lot of extra detergent,” Ms. Notini said.

Here is Mr. Schmidt’s test to determine if you’re oversoaping. Take four to six clean bath towels, put them in your front-loading washing machine (one towel for a top loader). Don’t add any detergent or fabric softener. Switch to the hot water setting and medium wash and run it for about five minutes.

Check for soap suds. If you don’t see any suds right away, turn off the machine and see if there is any soapy residue. If you see suds or residue, it is soap coming out of your clothes from the last wash.

“I’ve had customers that had to run their towels through as many as eight times to get the soap out,” Mr. Schmidt said, who lives in Indiana.


Laundry detergents contain sodium triphosphate, which causes eutrophication. Green laundry detergents do better, but maybe, also, consider using less laundry detergent?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Wildcat Canyon - new artist book

Some shots of my newest artist book, Wildcat Canyon. It's a unique book, made of handmade paper with pulp paint and inclusions, using some of the techniques I will be demonstrating at my upcoming pulp painting workshop.

This book is an example of something I encourage people to consider when making paper and pulp painting - is the piece finished when the paper is dry? Or does something more happen to it (drawing/printing/painting/collage....). In this case, I assembled the various experiments into a book.

There is still room for a few more people in the workshop on July 27. Hope to see some of you there!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Upcoming Workshop - Pulp Painting

The Bryant Street Studios Papermaking series has started up again! I'll be teaching Pulp Painting on July 27 - info is below. To learn more about other papermaking workshop at Bryant Street Studios, please check here.

CLASS DATE: July 27th, 2013
CLASS TIME: 10am - 4pm
1890 Bryant Street, San Francisco CA 94110
Finely beaten paper pulp can act just like paint to make brilliant imagery in handmade paper. When dried, the painting is an actual part of the paper, which can stand alone or be transformed further through drawing, printing, traditional painting, or whatever you can think of for a mixed media creation. This class will cover various pulp painting techniques including direct painting, stencils, collage inclusions, and other means of pulp-based mark-making. Sheets will be air dried and some left to dry under pressure for several days and mailed to students.


Materials are included, and there is a short tool list which will be emailed for the class once you are enrolled. To register, visit here.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Moringa Paper

A few months ago, I was invited to experiment with some Moringa fiber for Signa-Haiti, an NGO that is developing a biodynamic and sustainable economy in Haiti. They are promoting the growing of Moringa, a plant native to subtropical Africa whose leaves may be a superfood. However, as they continue their development, they are considering developing a artisanal paper out of the leftover stems and petioles.

Above, you can see the stems that were shipped to me. (For some reason they are being wonky about uploading, sorry if they are awkward in whatever platform or device you are viewing this on). I started by "pond"-retting the fiber. After the fiber had soaked for a few days in the sunshine, the bast fiber easily peeled off the inner stalk.

Click on any picture for a larger image.

I divided the fiber into two batches for cooking, so the second batch kept soaking while I cooked the first. I discovered that with this additional soaking, the outer green bark dissolved away, and was easily just brushed off the bast fiber with my hands! No picking chiri! However, even after cooking, the outer bark was fairly easily washed away, but if there's a next time, I'll just soak the fiber a few more days.

I was asked to keep in mind water disposal and water issues while working with this fiber, so I decided it would be better to cook the fiber in wood ash over soda ash (see here for an explanation of cooking with caustics for fiber preparation). However, I found the fiber extremely tough. I kept using the Korean fiber test, and the fibers would not tear and seemed reluctant to split. In addition, to my eye, the fiber itself just seemed harder than I felt comfortable putting in my beater. Yet after ten hours of cooking and no softening of the fiber, I switched to soda ash and cooked it for several more hours, yet the fiber still seemed like it was not getting any softer.

The second batch I began cooking directly in soda ash. Again, I cooked the fiber for almost fifteen hours, and it seemed pretty tough. However, at this point, I decided to give it a go with beating.

The fibers as they go into the beater:

After two hours or so:

After three:

To my surprise, the fibers broke down easily. I'm wondering now, if for large-scale production in Haiti, if they might not need the amount of cooking I did. Some of that might also vary on when the fiber is harvested, and of course conditions like soil and water quality. However, to answer these questions, I'd need to do more tests.

Another concern would be the smoothness of the sheets. Perhaps if I'd cooked them less, the fiber (and thus pulp), might have had a rougher quality.

Sheets were pulled without formation aid (remember, water quality), and the pulp drained on the slower side, but not ridiculously slowly. I used two moulds (Western style), trading off between draining into a small vat and pulling.

The final sheets - I got about 30 or so from the amount of fiber they sent me - are a golden color with a soft texture and little rattle. Signa-Haiti had originally asked me about bleaching sheets and mentioned their concerns over using severe bleaches, disposal, and water supply, and I had countered this with the idea that maybe they didn't need to bleach them. I personally love the natural color, however, further experiments with pool-grade hydrogen peroxide (which, I believe, would break down into water and oxygen) might yield a whiter paper.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tiny papermaking

What is it about small things? Even as an adult, I want to play with them.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

New collages

Infrasound I

It is turning into a spring of collage. For these pieces, I've abandoned any and all "rules," that I usually enforce in my studio practice, and have given myself free rein to just explore any half-formed idea that comes into my head.

Infrasound II

Although I have to say, using handmade paper in collage is pure bliss. Of course, using handmade paper for anything is a joy, but handmade paper really does behave better than commercial paper. Overall, it seems to respond to wet glue better, with less curling and warping, while also contributing its natural luminosity.

Infrasound III