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Working Large Without Limitation

March 16, 2021

This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #81 (January, 2008).

This is the first of two columns addressing the incorporation of recent printing technologies with handmade paper.

One of the challenges of making art with handmade paper is that sometimes your ideas are bigger than your moulds and deckles. Especially early in your papermaking career, you are unlikely to have access to the space and equipment needed for working large. Here is one way you can work as large as you’d like with nothing bigger than a 12 x 18-inch mould and deckle.

Let’s discuss a project I worked on that involved the entire text of the State of the Union Address. I had to get that text onto a large swath of paper somehow. The process I describe is but one solution to the problem. Between the limitations of the moulds to which I had access, and the capacity of most printers and photocopiers, the maximum size sheet I could make was 12 x 18 inches, which then had to be cut down to 11 x 17 inches. However, that wasn’t the size I was going for. I was going for a large, overwhelming State of the Union Address on bright red--about 6 feet by 9 feet, to be specific. This meant I was going to have to tile those sheets together.

Access to decent graphics software was crucial here. I needed to be able to create a file that was the actual size of the finished piece, and then crop that image down into smaller images in a document that had rulers and the ability to draw cropping lines for my reference. For me, this was a combination of Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, and PageMaker. I created a document in Illustrator that was the full size of my piece--6 feet by 9 feet. I used that file to create my piece. Please note that you’ll need a workhorse of a computer if the information in that file is very detailed, since it is such a large area to cover. Mine was black and white, no color, which was less taxing on my computer than it might have been. Once I saved the finished full-sized file, I drew guidelines to break the image down into the tiled pieces -- six columns of 17 inches each, and six rows of 11 inches each.

Next I created a document in PageMaker of the thirty-six (6 x 6) 11 x 17-inch pages I would need for the piece. I went back to my Illustrator document, selected an area that was a little bit larger than the 11 x 17-inch block I had marked off, copied it, and pasted it into the first page of my PageMaker document. It would, of course, be easier to keep organized if I followed a system. I started with the upper left corner, making that page 1, and worked my way left to right across row 1, then worked my way across the next row and on down the page. For each page, I selected an area slightly larger than the box I had marked off with guidelines, maintaining the top and left edge I had marked with the guidelines, and allowing extra at the bottom and the right. If I’d had a laser printer, I would have been able to print directly onto my handmade paper. However, I had an inkjet printer, and was concerned about the image bleeding should it get wet. (Later on, I would need to paste the pages together.) Thus I inkjet-printed the pages onto plain printer paper, and then photocopied them onto handmade paper. I retained the deckle edges.

So now to piece old Georgie’s text back together. I wanted to retain the deckle edges around the edge of the piece, but did not want them and indeed could not retain them at the center of the piece. The top row would remain untrimmed at the top to retain that outside edge. The left-most pieces would not be trimmed for the same reason. Pieces 2-6 would be trimmed along the left edge of the image. Precision was crucial here. Next, the pieces had to be lined up. I placed piece 2’s left edge overlapping the right edge of piece 1’s imagery, adjusting them to line up perfectly. I weighted the pieces down to hold them in place as I worked, and used wheat starch paste to adhere them to each other. The advantages of wheat starch paste are the slow drying time, so that I could make adjustments if necessary, and the reversibility, which is largely a conservation concern (or a “I might mess up” concern). Depending on your paper and the effect you are going for, you may find it useful to allow the seam to dry under a blotter under weight. I was going for a textured sculptural effect, so I brushed my wheat starch paste over the surface and allowed the page to wrinkle at will.

Work across the top row in the same manner, trimming the left edge and slightly overlapping the last page you put down, lining up your imagery with care as you go. For the second row, you will be trimming the top edge of each page, as well as the left edge of all but the left-most page. Now you will line each sheet up both with the sheet above it and the sheet to the left as you go. I was even able to work some sculptural detail into this piece. To do this, I created a paper-mache face. I left an opening in my tiled sheet where I wanted this face to appear. I adhered the tiled sheet to the edges of the sculptural face. Then I magnified the text of the pages that would cover the face into two to three times as many pages of larger text. I covered the face in these magnified pages, creating the appearance that this sculptural element was pushing at the piece’s surface and stretching the text. This dimensional tiling was a more approximate art than the flat tiling.

With proper care and precise tiling and seaming, you should be able to create the appearance of an image on one giant sheet of paper, complete with computer type. The seaming virtually disappears, even at a short distance.

by Mary Tasillo