Saturday, February 13, 2016

Dipped versus Wrapped

In papermaking, there is a type of paper sculpture that uses "overbeaten" abaca. This term, which some say should really mean that the fiber is beaten "just enough," refers to the fibers spending a long time in the beater, sometimes as long as 6-8 hours. This long beating allows the fibers to absorb a great deal of water, and when draped over an armature made of wire or reeds, the fibers shrink dramatically. I swoon over sculptures like this. Papermakers like Rhiannon, Megan, and Helen are amazing at using this technique their work.

Despite assisting Rhiannon when she has taught this technique, I haven't explored it that much in my own work. I've been more a cast paper person myself. Rhiannon usually has students start by making small armatures to use, before working up to something larger. During one of our workshops, she mentioned when she started exploring this technique that she made a whole series of little forms to see what high-shrinkage abaca could do. I decided to try this myself.

Two techniques for working with armatures and high shrinkage abaca are dipping and wrapping. When dipping, an armature is made, then dipped in the vat and fiber is allowed to collect over the structure. When formation aid is added to the vat, the paper sculptor can dip multiple times to build up more fiber.

Wraping requires a papermaker to pull sheets first, then press them. The pressing gives the handmade paper almost a "wet-noodle" quality, so it's easily handled while draping over an armature. Wire and reeds will give different affects, and there is a whole variety of gauges and reeds to select from that will also vary the end result.

I decided to make pairs of similar forms to try both dipping and wrapping, and see which I liked better. I wasn't too exacting, so there are some differences in the forms, but they were close enough for my purposes. The armatures are made from 24 gauge wire from Dick Blick. I chose that wire because I had it around, and after seeing the results, I think they might have been more interesting with something finer.

I also realized that I failed to photograph these with something for scale. The pieces below are all around the size of the palm of my hand, so not that big. For the four photos below, the wrapping is on the left, and the dipped is on the right. For the fifth, my tired brain confused this order, so the wrapped is on the right. Click on the images to see them larger.

A few I dipped and immediately didn't like the results, so just ended up wrapping them, like these:

While playing with the wire, I ended up coming up with this form, which after the experiments above I chose to wrap. I'm not sure what I think of it right now, or even if it's a finished piece or a study for something larger, not sure.

These forms were inspired in part by Nami Yamamoto and Allison Smith. The cut paper projects linked seem to me about how the act of isolating an object transforms it into a specimen, a representative, or a fetish object. Yet, it's out of context. So much of my work is always about site, location, hereness, considering the opposite direction is raising some interesting questions that I find myself thinking about.

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