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Sculpt with paper pulp

This activity sets out how to make paper pulp and mould it into sheets. Once dried, students can use the paper sheets as they would any other textured paper, for example for collaging with or painting on. However, you may wish to explore with your class the opportunities damp or semi-dried paper pulp sheets present for sculpture.

Several artists have used paper pulp to create 3D artworks. Valérie Jolly presses layers of sticky, wet tissue paper onto objects or architectural features. Once dried and carefully peeled away, the paper produces a lightweight cast of the original object. Anthony Caro would press paper pulp onto smooth plaster forms, then cut, fold, squash and join the dried sheets to create sculptures. Susan Cutts moulds sheets of damp paper pulp over human forms that she makes from fabric and stuffing and coats with wax, so that the dried, rigid paper clothes can be removed from their form and stand on their own, as if worn by an invisible person.

Materials

Moulds and deckles for papermaking can be purchased in art supply shops but can be expensive. To make a mould and deckle you will need:

  • two wooden picture frames the same size, glass removed (these must fit comfortably into your tray or bowl – see below)
  • fine nylon mesh
  • staple gun
  • duck tape

To make paper you will need:

  • plastic sheeting to protect work surfaces
  • a deep plastic tray or washing-up bowl
  • a liquidiser
  • shredded white paper (printed paper is OK)
  • a sheet or two of coloured paper
  • at least 10 cloths, dampened

Method

The method demonstrated in the film above:

  • Cover your work surface.
  • Build a mould using one of the frames. Cut a piece of nylon mesh to the size of one frame. Staple the mesh to the frame, keeping the mesh taught. Tape the edges of the mould.
  • Put a small quantity of paper in the liquidiser.
  • Add a small quantity of water to the paper and pulse the liquidiser to make a pulp.
    If you want to make coloured paper, add a little torn coloured paper and pulse again.
  • Tip the paper pulp into a deep tray or washing up bowl.
  • Add water until the pulp has a soupy consistency.
  • Place the empty frame (deckle) on top of the mould. Quickly and confidently dip the mould and deckle into the tray, then lift and allow the water to drain back into the tray.
  • Lay out two or three damp cloths, stacked on top of each other.
  • Remove the deckle. Place the left-hand edge of your mould on the right edge of the stack of cloths and, in one movement, press the mould firmly down on the cloths.
  • Carefully lift the mould away to reveal the new sheet of paper.
  • Lay another damp cloth on top of the paper.
  • Repeat the process until you have all the sheets of paper you need.

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