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Papermaking for Editioning

March 16, 2021

This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #91 (July, 2010).

If you’ve created a post of wet sheets, you’ve used a fundamental technique of editioning—registration—to place your wet sheets in the same spot on your felts to build up a pile that will press evenly. If you want to create an edition of paper art—multiple pieces of the same image, either as a finished piece or as the basis for incorporating printmaking techniques—you will build on those same registration skills to create a consistent edition of handmade paper.

How might one reproduce imagery in handmade paper? There are a number of stencil techniques that one might use in editioning, paralleling the printmaking techniques of pochoir or screenprint. One might also use a watermark as part of the process, arguably a process parallel to relief printing. (See the next issue’s column for an in-depth discussion of watermarking for the beginning papermaker.) The basic principle is that one can create a registration system to land all elements of the image in the same place every time by having one mould for each layer of paper pulp, and keeping all moulds to the exact same size. Thus your registration system becomes the simple act of lining up two adjacent edges of the mould with the edges of your felt or pellon, just as you would in building up a post of plain paper.

One generally wants to start with a base sheet of paper created from a stronger pulp. A cotton-abaca mixture is my most frequently used base sheet. If processing in a Reina beater, I would beat this mixture of half-stuff for an hour to an hour-and-a-half at a level of 5. In other words, I’m beating it long enough to form a nice smooth sheet, but not so long that it will be slow draining or shrink very much as it dries, and I’m keeping the roll bar high enough that the fibers will stay on the longer side to create a stronger sheet. I size the paper internally with ketone dimer sizing, available from your papermaking supplier. The base sheet creates the canvas, or paper, upon which one can build imagery (to mix metaphors thoroughly).

There are multiple stencil materials that one can use to create imagery. A different pulp is ideal for building up these shaped areas of color. I make a veil pulp from cotton rag beaten for four hours in the Reina beater, and gradually taken down to a level of 2 during the beating process. This creates a finer pulp, with shorter fiber length, that will fill in the irregular shapes of a stencil more crisply than would the longer fibers of the base sheet pulp described above. This pulp should be sized as well, and the ketone dimer sizing acts additionally as a retention agent to aid in pigmenting the pulp to your liking.

Stencil Technique #1:

A pellon stencil can be created. Cut a piece of heavy-weight non-fusible interfacing to the size of your mould. Then use an X-Acto knife or scissors to cut out the shape of your first layer of imagery. The pellon can then be wetted and lined up on your mould before you put the deckle in place. The more exactly you cut your pellon to line up with the edges of the mould, and the more exactly you line it up as you place it on your mould, the more exact your registration, or placement of the image, will be on the base sheet. Note that the pellon must be placed on your mould backwards, or wrong-reading, so that when the layer is couched onto the base sheet, it will end up right-reading. You may want to mark your pellon with permanent marker to give yourself an extra visual cue as to which way to place it. Once your pellon stencil and deckle are in place, pull a sheet of veil pulp. Once the excess water has drained, you can remove not only your deckle, but carefully remove the pellon from your mould. Then couch the shaped sheet of veil pulp directly onto your base sheet, using the same registration edges you used to place your base sheet onto your felts.

Stencil Technique #2:

There are a number of adhesive-backed materials that can be cut and adhered directly to the surface of your mould for the duration of your papermaking session, thus eliminating the need to continually re-place your stencil on your mould and resulting in more precise registration. Materials such as magnetic sheeting and “buttercut,” sold by papermaking suppliers as watermark materials, can also be used as stencils. These materials can also be found at office, art, and craft suppliers. As above, cut the sheet to the size of your mould. Place the material with the adhesive backing facing up. Draw your stencil on this backing so that it appears right-reading. Use a knife to cut out your stencil. Then remove the adhesive backing, flip the stencil over, and place it directly onto your mould. Now the image appears wrong-reading. Flip your mould over and apply pressure by hand to fully adhere the stencil to the mould.

Now you can place the deckle over the stencil and pull a sheet. Because this stencil will remain in place as you couch the sheet, you will need to pay attention to how densely the veil vat is charged. If your sheet is too thin, i.e. the drained pulp on the mould is thinner than the stencil material, you will have trouble couching the veil layer and you should add more pulp to the vat to achieve a thicker veil layer. Once your layer has drained, you will likely notice extra pulp on the surface of the stencil that will adhere to your piece when you couch the veil layer unless you clean it off. I recommend using a dental syringe filled with clean water to wash excess pulp off of the stencil before couching.

If you have access to a vinyl cutting machine, a successful adhesive stencil can also be created this way.

If you are adding more than two veil layers, do a light hand pressing every two or three layers. Place a piece of pellon over the paper, and use a sponge to apply light even pressure over the whole piece, absorbing excess water in the process. This helps adhere previous layers for stability, reducing the danger of pulling anything up as you couch new layers. Once you have built up the needed veil layers, place a sheet of pellon (note that pellon is less likely than the traditional felt to disturb fine veil layers, so even if you are placing felts between each sheet, I recommend including a layer of pellon over the top of the sheet as well) over your completed sheet, and start over again with the base sheet, using the same registration system you used for the first piece.

Thus you will be able to construct an edition in handmade paper, suitable for incorporating with print techniques if desired. If you use these papers for printmaking, consider trimming the deckle edge if tight registration is needed.

by Mary Tasillo