June 2006: Halves
After the Sketch
Color Theory, Part 2
Heraldry, Part 2; Color and Fur
Beyond PaperHealthy Green Artists
by Janet Chui
Artists are spoiled as far as paper goes. If you're anything like me, you probably use more paper for drawing on and painting than for, say, printing out documents. Last month, we covered the chemical processes and environmental destruction that go into produce regular wood-chip paper. Today, I promise, the alternative papers, supports, and art forms we're going to explore in this column are going to make you salivate.
Tree-free papers, or as close as possible*
The first paper made in China was made out of fibrous scraps (plant material, rags, old fishing nets, and reportedly, no trees). Alas, in the last century the papermaking industry has shifted to using wood chips, and in many places, old-growth forests are not protected in the rush to give us our books, magazines, and junk mail. If you'd like a shocking statistic, if everyone in China did start using paper at the same rate the average American does (close to 600 lbs. of paper per year), all the world's trees would be wiped out—in a year. Yikes!
With the current attention being paid to global warming, it is interesting to note that the rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rising not only due to fossil fuel use, but because of deforestation (since trees help "fix" and remove carbon dioxide from the air). Tree-free papers are a great way to lessen the destruction on the earth's forests. (As an aside, the other ways to minimize one's impact on forests are to watch one's diet and furniture purchasing.) Tree-free paper is now made from materials such as 100% post-consumer recycled paper, old denim, dryer lint, shed tree bark, dried flowers, rice straw, hemp, cotton rag, linen, bamboo, nettle, rattan, jute, flax, kenaf, papyrus reeds... and this list is hardly exhaustive!
The environmental benefits of using and purchasing tree-free paper are at least treefo-, I mean, threefold:
If you're a crafter, you may already be making paper as an art from your own combination of scraps! Or if you make things with paper, you're probably familiar already with the infinite scrumptious colors and textures offered by tree-free and handmade paper coming from places such as India, China, Japan, Thailand, and Tibet. In the West, hemp and kenaf papers are proving great for stationery, office, and general use.
If you're a painter, sturdy papers from 100% cotton rag are available, and Green Field Paper Company has both drawing and watercolors papers made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper and hemp. (In the Simply Cool category, Green Field also offers a paper that you can plant after use; the paper contains viable wildflower seeds! A note from my personal experience: It's tough to paint on.) If you're into calligraphy (Western or Eastern) or Oriental painting techniques or crafts, rice paper, made from rice straw, or Japanese papers like mitsumata-gami and gambi-shi are wonderful surfaces to try.
Mitsumata-gami and gambi-shi may or may not be tree-free depending on your definition—they are made from the limbs and branches (more specifically, the bark) from bushes in the Daphne family. Typically only parts of the plant are harvested for papermaking, not the whole plant. The Nepalese and Tibetan counterpart of this paper is called lokta. Conservation programs help the makers of these papers manage their forest resources sustainably. This won't apply to all papermakers working with the Daphne plant though, so try to investigate your paper sources if you can.
Other novelty papers or art forms to consider for those of us addicted to working with paper:
- Altered Books: If you aren't familiar with these, enter "altered book" into a Web search engine and be prepared for hours of visual bliss. Altered book artists start with old books (usually) or components of old books and basically paint on, collage, stamp, write, draw, rebind, and just transform these objects into beautifully textured and wonderfully layered pieces of art. Done right, you may not need to buy anything to make an altered book! It's an art form that's great on the wallet.
- "Zen" or "Brush-Up" paper: Remember those "Zen writing" sets from a few years back that retailed for US$30? The main components were a wet horsehair brush and that magical paper that darkened with water. Ten seconds later, the paper would be blank again as the water evaporated, and was ready to take a new doodle. The good news is, you can buy this paper on its own for less than $5 a sheet. In Chinese painting, where brush technique is crucial, this Zen paper can either help you discover Zen, or perfect your brush technique without wasting ink and miles of rice paper. The downside, of course, is that your marks on the paper don't stay. But that, grasshopper, is Zen for you.
Yupo is great if you like your watercolors to keep that "wet" look.
- Yupo: This isn't really a paper, but is pretty paper-like. It is made from polypropylene (one of the recyclable plastics that is, alas, not commonly recycled). It is great for experimental watercolor techniques. It's a brilliant white surface and keeps your watercolor washes looking wonderfully wet. I would keep pencils and erasers off this surface entirely; use it to try some wild and wacky painting. If you mess up, you can actually wash your colors off and try again!
- Papier mache: Well, I shouldn't need to explain this art form to anyone who has kids or who has been through pre-school! It's fun (if messy) and a satisfying way to use one's paper scraps to make home accessories as well as figurative sculptures. The examples one can find online are inspirational.
- Art, after all, can come in all forms. With the right materials or primers, an artist can paint on glass, furniture, clothing, tile, metal and/or reclaimed wood. The one big advantage of exploring these possibilities is being able to offer objects that may serve dual or multiple purposes—art and utility. Like altered books, the process may transform something old and ordinary into something new and extraordinary. An artist can further lessen their impact on the earth's resources by looking in flea markets and thrift stores for these materials instead of buying materials new from craft stores.
- Leave the old world behind: Digital scanning photography is here, and since the world of photography is huge, I just want to quickly touch on how "traditional media" artists can think about using these tools for relatively fast art. Two-dimensional and "3D" physical collages, instead of being permanently glued together, can be scanned or photographed instead and then disassembled into its components to make new art. Still-lifes from found or natural objects can be photographed so that an artist can concentrate on combinations and compositions instead of the techniques of rendering them. And then of course, there's the crazy amount of special effects one can do with any images at all to turn them into art that looks traditional—on the computer screen, anyway!
More strategies for art-making and general ways to use less paper:
Bookmaking from found paper: The below book, which is less than 2 inches tall, was made from used teabags and watercolor paper scraps.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle your paper. Too much recyclable paper
is still winding up in landfills—in fact, paper is still the biggest
material (by volume and mass) that winds up in landfills.
If I haven't failed miserably with this column, you may now be researching new art materials, or eyeing your room for never-before-used materials to make art with, or to package your products with. An artist working as little paper as possible? It can be done, and you may even save money and have fun doing it. Good luck!
*All EMG prints are produced on 100% tree-free paper!
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