I am interested in the physicality of the paper that I use for my prints, and aim to enhance the viewing experience in such a way that the here of the paper is recognized—as refined intermeshed matter that carries impressions that come from somewhere else to present a blended reality. I also seek to reveal the now, through surface nuance and illusion, to present the printed-ness and unprinted rawness of realizations that offer questions of “What is happening here?”
The paper I use for printing is integral to the quality and content of my work. I generally use Japanese handmade paper of kozo (paper mulberry) fiber for its aesthetic qualities and working properties such as scale, translucency, its light weight, fabric-like fluidity, capacity to transmit and reflect light, and receptivity to the ink from woodblock printing. As artists have known for centuries, there is a special affinity of Asian bast fibers of kozo, gampi, and mitsumata for the relief printing process, and I know of this effect from experience and study. The fibers affect how the ink becomes part of the paper; it does not sit on top of the surface, but saturates “inside,” allowing for multiple colors and layers of ink to have clarity, crisp-edge quality, and bonding. These qualities have occupied my own aesthetic throughout all my works on paper. I have, additionally, made a personal challenge to play a “visual game” to honor the paper by consciously leaving at least one unprinted area within each work, while integrating the paper and image by creating bleed prints. In this way I offer an illusion of deep space in comparison to surface ambiguities. I acknowledge that paper has an inherent meaningfulness as I consider where the image goes, how to reveal the paper itself, and to play with the transitional “between,” made by my characteristic printing techniques of blending and “fade outs” with ink applications.
To describe these qualities more precisely, let me bring up two examples. In my woodblock print Formulae (2009) I strived for a clear emptiness surrounding the main forms, where the Japanese paper beautifully serves as space and offers the now of depth and surface; these are simultaneously contradictory yet this is often how space works as reality and illusion. In Persian Flower (2014) there is a density and exuberance in the filled landscape, with many special openings in the cut marks that show down through the printing to the paper level. There is also one special untouched void in the small square accent, achieving a kind of unprinted here-ness that honors the paper itself. For my Aqua Alta Series (2011) of which Bay and Dawn are two parts of a six-part work, I experimented with printing on both front and back of the Japanese papers, exploring the see-through of ink, the bleed of watercolor stains, and the interiority of the paper itself that allowed for unexpected effects. In making this series I inevitably channeled the works and concepts of Shoichi Ida, an artist I have admired since my student days, whose print series The Surface is the Between (1977–1987) similarly suggests the two-sidedness of the single sheet of paper and the transitional space inside.
I have made my own handmade paper in the Western style and in the nagashizuki methods over many years. My papermaking knowledge has grown from hosting visiting artists and attending various workshops by colleagues such as Kathy Clark, Timothy Barrett, Amanda Degener, Helen Hiebert, Margaret Prentice, Joan Hall, Peter Sowiski, Shannon Brock, Radha Pandy, Steve Miller, and Andrea Peterson. What a great rundown of significant experts that I have been lucky to have encountered, and who may be surprised to know that I took a workshop with them so long ago! Through these interactions over many years, I have been able to explore and blend a variety of techniques in my own work, and share the knowledge with students I have taught.
My largest works on my own handmade paper sheets are At the Shoreline (2010) and In the Depths (2010). These were created by pouring pulp mixed with formation aid from buckets into a large papermaking mould lined with plastic sheeting. To form the sheet, I did the tablecloth parlor trick: taking hold of the plastic sheeting on one end and pulling it out, sending the pulp slurry around the inside of the mould, then rocking the mould as the water drains to even out the distribution of pulp. After the water drained through, I added a colored-pulp “drawing” on top of the wet bed of pulp using squeeze bottles to create a luminous base of washy veils, and air-dried the sheet on the mould to be peeled out later. The woodblock printing onto the sheet added more translucent layers, with hand-painted accents that float here and there.
Making handmade paper has been a novelty practice in my body of work, and only occasionally have I been able to make enough of a specialty paper for an artist book edition, or a variable edition of pulp paintings, such as Dichotomy (2019) that I made recently for an exchange portfolio. However now I have a great papermaking space at my own Constellation Studios, where I teach workshops and work on my own projects. I plan on making a variety of small handmade sheets to have around to use for bookbinding and boxmaking projects. And while it is a perennial dream of mine to make paper for my print and book projects, to personally match material with content, I know that I would never be able to make enough paper to satisfy all that I would need, nor could I match the qualities I have come to rely on in the handmade Japanese papers I use. I would have to give up my printmaking if I were to be a papermaker, as I know that both are demanding disciplines, requiring extensive time and commitment. I am also committed to supporting other papermakers who are really the experts, and have the knowledge and skill and dedication.
In this regard, I am particularly proud of the collaborative artist book I created with Helen Hiebert, LandEscape (2016)—a work that reflects our equal-parts effort to challenge what paper can do: how it can exist as a thin sheet, but move into light, shade, front and back; so many things happening at once to fulfill that integral relationship of image and material.
My recent series of artist books, including Treatyse (2017), Glass Towers (2018), and TypeCity (2018), all use handmade paper, some with specially designed watermarks and pulp painting. When making my own paper for my projects, and custom ordering paper from colleagues, I always plan one step ahead, so that I am confident that the paper will perform well with my printmaking: etching, relief, and letterpress.
I love paper, taking each sheet through the many stages of printing; it gives me a respect and endless pleasure and awareness. I will continue my private pursuit of leaving some amount of the paper untouched within my printing, so it can speak for itself, and to us, as it does, of the here and now.