Cycling the paper road has taken us through 22 countries and 3 continents. Our outline plan had proposed cycling through Europe to China. We had gone way beyond this and extended our trip through China, to Taiwan and Japan. Lately to cross the Pacific Ocean on a ship and cycle a little in Canada and more extensively down the Pacific Coast of the United States. When we set out in April 2017 we were ‘green’ and naive in many ways. We didn’t know how the project would progress and we certainly had no idea how it would have been so rich and rewarding. This has been a major part of our journey, willing to plan day by day and allow ourselves to divert and detour. Serendipity has also played a major role in our discoveries which has given us the confidence and ability to ‘go with the flow’ and not over plan. We have also learnt when visiting an expert paper maker or centre, we know very little and come away more knowledgable and grateful of their time and generosity.
We have been travelling south for over 2 months now. Our pace and mileage has slowed down as we saviour our last few weeks on this epic 17 month cycling journey. In this following post we will attempt to recap on 11 unique visits.
Image from Peter & Donna Thomas studio, Santa Cruz
Oregon Paper Makers
Pulp & Deckle
Portland’s visit offered several paper-making visits which had all come from following Pulp and Deckle via social media. We met Jenn and Gary in their studio in Disjecta arts space. Pulp and Deckle was established in 2012. They had moved to Oregon from the east coast and had seen an opportunity to start a paper making venture as they seemed to be little in the area. Jenn had studied fibres in the school of the fine art college and had been a paper maker for many years. Where her partner Gary had worked in media. Pulp and Deckle had began operating as mobile paper making unit from a van. They visited events and held mini paper making workshops until a fire broke out and destroyed their van. With a kickstarter funded project they began to find a space, fund equipment and in the last few years had built up the practice in a studio space in Disjecta.
Pulp and Deckle is unique as it nurtures artists who use paper as a medium. The C3: Initiative, arts funding project allows artists in residency to undertake a programme to utilise Pulp and Deckle studio with support of Jenn and the materials on offer. The work spans a wide range of art disciplines and the outputs seen on the visit range from large sculptural pieces to work exploring local materials and their environment.
Jenn is a board member for Dard Hunter Friends and also works with C3: Initiative, supporting artists and funded projects. Pulp and Deckle’s vision and practice is to create a community of artists and papermakers, where paper is a vehicle for expression. They have worked on several commissions, where companies have requested handmade paper with specific ingredients, which again shows pulp and Deckle’s fluid approach to their work.
During our visit we saw their equipment; a portable beater, Kritter (Mark Lender) from New Zealand and several clever and resourceful hand built drying units and improvised tools. On display were a wide range of papers made from a multitude of materials from Abaca, flax, native plants and Japanese mulberry/kozo.
Jenn has previously worked as the primary papermaker at Oblation in downtown Portland, which was our next visit.
We had made no arrangements to visit the store as we wanted to experience it as a customer, as this was its face. An A framed signage sat outside the store with moveable type saying ‘Press and Print’ and a table, chair and typewriter encouraged passers by to heavily press on the keys. Once inside the large store we mentioned our project which then opened the doors to behind the scenes of this great set up. The store is the selling part of the operation but within the back of the store is the paper making studio, a large archive of letter pressed cards and in a adjoining room, a print shop with several Heildbergs. Oblation has been producing work for 20 years and have created a complete print shop for stationary, cards and bespoke work from the paper they make, to design, artwork and print. As we visited on a Sunday both the paper studio and print rooms where not operating and we unable to met the crafts people involved. However, it was a pleasure to visit an expansive store where the majority of work sold was produced in house.
Not a paper maker – IPRC
Our final visit in Portland was not to a papermaker but to the IPRC (Independent Publishing Resource Centre). As we both have our studio (The Shipping Press) in London which focuses on print and books arts we couldn’t pass this by. The centre had been open for the past 20 years, offering a community print and book binding facility. The centre holds one of the largest Zine collections in their archives with zine supported workshops and zines for sale (even a zine vending machine). The open plan warehouse studio offers both traditional letterpress, silkscreen facilities, as well as risograph and numerous workshops on book binding and print based sessions. Numerous people occupied the open planned space whilst creating digital files for the risograph copier and a male member was using the letterpress equipment. The centre has combined both traditional and digital components to harness the design and print production for the local community of designers and artists of Portland.
Jenn from Pulp and Deckle supplied us a valuable contact for a papermaker and light designer on the outskirts of Astoria, Oregon. After leaving Portland we returned to Astoria where we left a week ago. We cycled along a country road through pasture lands and hills until we came to an idyllic small stead with the wooden sign ‘HiiH Lights’ hanging from the fence. The sound of the Hollander beater rang out loudly as we shouted ‘hi!’ several times as we entered the large barn. Beautiful contorted paper sculptures hung from the high ceiling, tall lamps and lanterns were scattered in every corner around this workspace.
Lâm greeted us as he turned off the beater. We chatted for ages about their work and how he came to paper. He has been making paper for 2 decades and had been drawn to it through exploration and experimentation. He had left the world of computer programming and desired a more tactile and hand making route. HiiH Lights had begun operating from their previous home in Portland by re appropriating old lamps. Making new sculptural lamp shades from their handmade paper which had given new reclaimed pieces a new life. As they moved to the country they could upscale their work. Their practice has developed into more sculptural pieces mainly using Abaca and cotton pulp. Some of the final pieces are then decorated by Kestrel using local plants dyes from Indigo or through wax painting. They also showed us their self sufficient set up with animals, an allotment and they explained how they self school their 2 children.
Our visit to Hihi Lights was a warm and welcoming one, which allowed us to see a unique set up using handmade paper to design and construct individual works that when light was used illuminates and details the contours and texture of their paper.
(Images to be uploaded shortly)
California Paper Makers
Since leaving the papermakers of Oregon our journey continued south down the pacific highway for several weeks until we reached San Francisco and the Bay Area. Before arriving in the city we camped along the way in Samuel Taylor State park. As we cycled along the path we noticed several information signs, which described the papermill that once stood there. There was no trace of the mill but in the 1800 Samuel Taylor set up a large scale paper mill from Jute, Abaca and cotton. Serendipity strikes again and we spent 2 nights at the site which was once a paper manufacture.
Things didn’t go to plan due to the lack of accommodation brought about the marathon and extortionate prices for a room. We planned to stay out in the Marin Headland hostel, which was beautiful but isolated. Our intended rest from cycling days turned into mammoth cycling days in and out of the area. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge about 9 times, each time being whip lashed by the head and side winds. San Francisco area proved to be a rich place for our paper making research and one that just kept opening up.
Don Farnsworth, Magnolia paper/Magnolia Editions
After a long cycle ride, ferry crossing we arrived in Oakland to visit the well respected papermaker Don Farnsworth. We were greeted by Don and Ira in their impressive large studio. For the next few hours Don blew us away with numerous tales of his conquest in search of the ‘authentic’ technique in producing renaissance paper taken from detailed studies of Leonardo Di Vinci’s drawing on hand made paper. His journey took several years in searching for felts from rare breeds of sheep to searching for Irish linen and the degradation of materials. His fascinating accounts allowed for a glimpse into an experts voyage to perfect and produce paper that could closely resemble that of the original masters work. Don told us of his previous 20 years of paper making as ‘being more mechanical and pointless’, as he looked back.
The studio was a hive of activity with several artists and master printmakers at work. They were exploring the use of both etching techniques with the additional layers of acrylic printers. The studio explores both tapestries and ceramics, which highlights the unique blend of both traditional hand crafts with the use of digital and new materials. Don showed us his 3D printed paper moulds and mini paper presses. His tireless exploration of materials and techniques left us in appreciation of his craft and passion.
His numerous books on both traditional paper making and ‘how to make’ 3D printed moulds and paper making using an AeroPress sparked an idea for our publication. His books can be both downloaded or purchased as print on demand via their website.
To read more about Magnolia papers and see their work:
Our next visit in Oakland was to Michelle Wilson, who had invited us to her home after replying to a call out from The Handmade Paper network. Michelle had worked with Don for some years so there were threads of commonality in both conversations. Michelle’s work is based on the locality of materials and her experienced environment. She is a book artist, illustrator and papermaker. As with several of American artists and papermakers we have found that many utilise several skill sets in combining work. Her illustrations use Lino, letterpress and the fine art of book design. She allowed us to look through several of her edition books, each painstakingly crafted.
Carbon, her black cat took a fleeting interest in our arrival but soon left to find a sunny spot outside. In the garden Michelle had set up her paper making space, using plants grown on the land. This gave her additional space outside as her compact apartment and garage studio gave limited space for large scale work. Michelle works collaboratively with other artists and has had work in several exhibition on native cultures. As with many other North American artists many supplement their income with teaching roles.
SFCB (San Francisco Centre of the Book)
We were given the contact details for Cheryl, the studio manager by our friend Simon Goode from the LCBA (London Centre of the Book Arts), who had travelled in the States researching book art centres in preparation of setting the London one up.
The visit to the centre was another side project as it doesn’t directly make paper but it utilises paper in it’s letterpress and book arts workshops. The centre was extremely impressive and the decades of building up the equipment, resources and expertise was clear to see. The building is a large warehouse which has divided up its usage well with a gallery, exhibition space sitting next to the print workshop and entrance space. We arrived towards the end of the day and several workshops in bookbinding were drawing to a close but we managed to see eager students making a Dutch style leather edge books (over a week workshop). Dom and Michael from England were teaching in the workshops. They travel to the States for several months to teach specific bookbinding sessions in several states. Barbara found that Dom had studied at the London College of Printing and knew mutual friends and tutors. It really is a small world.
The centre offers several ‘core’ certificate courses in letterpress, bookbinding and other print related skills. When a person has completed the course they are then qualified to use the machinery and equipment within the centre as a member.
We spoke at length with Cheryl who was full of enthusiasm for the centre and the members. She explained how the centre engages with school students to encourage both the written word through the art and design of making their work into a book. The centre offers many traditional craft sessions but also fosters the use of digital skills and their up and coming use of the risograph in exploring zine publications was due to be launched.
We headed out with further information on papermakers down the coast and a offer of launching ‘our publication’ in their space in the future!
Shotwell Paper Mill (Pam) words by Barbara
The visit of this artist ended up being done just by me, Barbara as Jack, who was supposed to join me was stuck for a very long time on the Golden Gate Bridge, which was closed for a while, due to someone who attempted suicide.
As the door opened, a big black dog greets me, Rugs is her name and she could not have a better name. Pam’s 4 legged friend does not just have a cute name but she likes chewing dry pulp. Pam and Rugs make a great team! Pam has a background in textile; spooning, weaving and even raising silk worms. This passion would have a strong influence later on when she decided to learn how to make paper. Everything started with her interest for natural fibres. She wrote a book on the subject and as the publisher wanted to make changes on her writing she decided that she would have made the books herself. Of course she had to learn to make paper and soon after she learned the skills she bought a pulp beater. Then other equipment started to arrive, some given and others bought. The need for a studio space came and six years ago she moved into the Mission District, the actual studio I am visiting.
The studio is very special, a sort of warehouse with high ceiling and good natural light. There is a lot of space around and even a loft where Pam stores all her raw material that she patiently stores in boxes or clear containers. I have seen a lot of studios in my life but this one, I noticed, has something truly special and different. Pam made part of the equipment as she said “I wanted to make sure I can lift and use things myself” (Pam is shorter than Jack). The drying press, cabinets and other ingenious touches, makes the studio a truly unique space.
The paper that Pam makes reflect completely her sense of experimentation and personal touch. The interest in fibres and found raw material gives her the chance to explore and consolidate her knowledge and sense of adventure when it comes to use something new. From Pampas grass, cat tail to agave for natural plants, to recycled t-shirts, denim or coffee sacs for textiles. She also experimented with waste materials such as used paper coffee filters or waste grains from a brewery. Every paper made is catalogued with its recipe in a book.
Pam is trying to expand and find a market dedicated to mainly paper while teaching. As we noticed with other independent artists it is hard to promote themselves without being hit by high costs for commissions and finding a customer base can be challenging.
Peter and Donna Thomas
Our next paper research stop along the coast was Santa Cruz, an artistic and holiday town. We had 2 visits planned and we spent our first night in the garden of Peter and Donna Thomas, who kindly had invited us to camp out. We pitched our tent and waited for their arrival home were we then sampled home made plum wine. We chatted briefly about our trip and their work but left more in-depth discussions to the next morning. After breakfast Peter showed us around their extensive studio set up in several rooms of the basement. They had been making books for 40 years and the set up surely echoed this in the established set up. Letterpress printing, bookbinding and papermaking rooms where all separate with the addition of a ‘making’ workshop. Where their was machinery for wood and metal work. Their work incorporated a range of skills and techniques from paper making, illustrations, letterpress and book arts. They have worked within the sphere of miniature books and these works had been taken around the states in their wooden wagon as both a touring shop and exhibition piece.
Donna and Peter have also undergone many journeys as part of their work, retracing John Muir’s hiking paths and documenting their journey through poetry and illustrations. Peter is an avid Ukulele player and has woven this into performing pieces where the Ukulele reveals a book. These two are no run of the mill book arts!
Peter and Donna have produced several books on book binding and book arts and have both taught and lectured around the country. With our 40 years of experience in paper making and book arts they were a great wealth of knowledge. As we planned our next Santa Cruz visit they informed us that John was a good friend and they also gave us contacts for future visit to Turkey Press in Santa Barbara.
John Babcock words by Barbara
When John kindly offered to pick us up on his car in Santa Cruz, we didn’t have a clue where he lived and after checking the distance we thought it would’ve been nice to go and ride up through the hills. The ride wasn’t long but as soon as we started to climb the hill we understood why John offered us a lift. After pushing the bikes up into a beautiful and peaceful wood we arrived at our destination. Just time to wipe our forehead and take a breath, John with a big smile came outside his studio to greet us.
As soon as we stepped inside we dived straight away into a unique studio space and stunning artwork, all made of handmade paper.
John Babcock is an artist who started in the 70’s as a printmaker, graduated from San Francisco State College in experimental printmaking. In those days, as he told us, nothing was published so there was a lot of experimentation. After years and years of practice, research and experimentation he moved from printing (etching) on paper to use the paper itself as a media. Paper became the object itself rather than the carrier of an image. His work is incredible and full of surprises, especially when you have a chance to see it directly. Colours and light play together changing constantly from morning to afternoon and the way the light hits the surface of the paper, change again according to where you stand in front of the piece.
John’s has researched on different kind of pulps, pigments, cement colours and way of working. He combines pulp made from cotton and Abaca as they react differently when mixed with pigments. John is not just a printmaker but also he has been teaching ceramic and his knowledge of the use of pigments plays a big part. What is really overwhelming is the knowledge behinds his artwork, which has been built up over 5 decades of work. From working “wet on wet” to building his artwork blind, so he doesn’t get to see what he his doing until it is done (as with many printmaking techniques). He also discovered the beauty of Abaca shininess when placed next to cotton or the use of mosquito net to be able to use one screen and make one layer after another creating beautiful gradient of blended colours.
John took us on a journey like our cycling adventure through his landscapes of textures and colours of his paper. After a tour through his artwork the time for goodbye arrived over a slice of a homemade banana cake and a sweet peach. “What a day!” we thought and we then rode downhill feeling full of beautiful colours, textures, inspiration and Banana cake.
Hiromi Paper Inc.
Our very last paper visit took place on our final full day in Los Angeles and the trip. We cycled to the store in Culver city along a good cycle path next to a rather sad looking concrete creek side. It was a rather momentous day one filled with mixed emotions of the paper project and the trip coming to a close. We couldn’t have been more lucky to visit Hiromi Paper as the store was ambassador for Japanese paper making.
We were greeted by Edwin, one of the knowledgeable staff. He spoke enthusiastically and passionately about Hiromi papers philosophy and commitment to the craft of Japanese paper making. He discussed the premise of the store and also walked us around it. The store (the concept) was created 30 years ago by Hiromi, a Japanese woman, living in America, who we also met. They had recently celebrated their 30th birthday which was marked by a special paper making event within the store.
Edwin, told us that Hiromi provided expert knowledge for artist, designers, photographers and people looking to use and buy paper for many needs. He also explained that they were directly in contact with the papermakers in Japan. Being able to communicate any changes in paper production to maker and user. Hiromi seem to be central in paper making and the distribution of the materials, which we had not encountered in previous visits. Their knowledge and guardianship of Japanese paper making outside of Japan is astounding, which has influenced the artists and designers of west coast America. They also run Washi tours in Japan each year.
Hiromi also stock handmade papers from Mexico, Bhutan and some European ones. They sell a wide range of book binding, conservation and stationery items. They are not just a store supplying papers but they are providing a vital link to uphold the craft of handmade paper, showcasing master craftsmen/women to their customers. While we were shown around we were happy to see many papers from our many areas of Japan we had visit and especially from our national treasure Ichibei Iwano in Echizen.
As we come to the end of this research journey we are looking ahead to consolidate the documentation in the future to produce a publication, which will go much more in depth about the paper makers and our own narrative. Stay tuned…
All photography by Jack Blake & Barbara Salvadori 2018©