By Jean Duncan. More on Jean’s work with the Living Field.
Most of our paper comes from plants, but the process by which leaves and stems are converted to sheets that we can write on or wrap things in is unknown to most of us.
As part of her work with the Living Field, Jean Duncan has been making paper from plants grown in the garden.
She started with some maize, which is a tropical and sub-tropical species originally from the Americas. Some types can now grow in our climate, and it was one of these that was grown in the garden for its cobs (corn on the cob).
Jean used the maize plants to make the paper. Here is a description of what she did.
Step 1 is to collect maize leaves and stems when they are in good condition, still green.
Step 2 is to cut the leaves and stems into small pieces. Leaf pieces should be about the size of those in the white bowl. The tough stems were cut into larger pieces (right below).
Step 3 – put the cut material into an enamel bowl or pot (above left). Add soda ash to the material, 1 teaspoon for a 10 litre pot, and mix.
Step 4 – cook the plants for 3 hours, or more if the material is tough. At this point you will need pH indicator strips (litmus paper) to check that the cooking is going according to plan. (Litmus can be bought on-line or at some gardening shops.) The pH of the mixture should be around 8, but if it drops to 7 or 6 then add a little more soda ash. When cooked, the fibre should be soft and easy to tear.
Step 5 – rinse the fibre thoroughly in water; when fully rinsed the pH or the water should be neutral (i.e. about 7).
Step 6 – the fibre now needs to be beaten to a pulp. The traditional way is to beat it with a mallet for a few hours. (Craft-workers in some countries still use this method). An alternative, if you have electricity, is a kitchen blender working in short bursts so as not to burn out the motor. Jean uses a machine called a Hollander beater.
Step 7 – the fibres are now ready to be transformed into sheets of paper. The pulp is suspended in water. A ‘mould and deckle’ is lowered into the water (image above) and brought out slowly with a flat layer of fibre on it, or else the pulp is poured into the mould and deckle until there is a flat layer of the right thickness for the type of pulp (which you work out by trial and error); the water drains out through holes leaving the moist fibre.
Step 8 – the moist sheet of fibre is turned onto an absorbent fabric or board or something similar for drying and pressing, a procedure that takes about 3 days (top right in images below).
And that’s it – a sheet of paper!
[Update with minor amendments 10 June and 27 July 2017]
Our artist friend, Jean Duncan has been trying out new techniques, getting inspiration and materials from the Living Field garden and from microscopic sections of roots. Jean writes about her depictions of brassica roots:
“The print is an etching made on a zinc plate by drawing with a needle into soft wax and then etching the lines in copper sulphate. Ink is rubbed in to the etched lines and then printed on wet paper.
“My idea is to print root sections and plant drawings on to plant papers. I want to combine ancient techniques of papermaking with the latest microscopic images in a way that will highlight the plant’s diversity and engage people in how plants can enrich soils as well as provide food.
“For papermaking, the most successful fibres so far have come from maize stalks from the Living Field garden. These are chopped and simmered for several hours in soda ash to break down the fibres. The long fibres are then bashed further in a Hollander beater like a large grinder. Sheets of paper are then formed on a mould and stacked for printing or casting. Wet paper sheets can be pushed into plaster moulds of the plants and roots and when they dry the plant is embossed into the paper.
“So it’s a long process but I am currently working on a latex cast of a plant root and it’s been successful so far. It may even be useful to scientists as a way of preserving the fragile roots in a way that means they can be handled without being damaged.
Jean Duncan on this web site (with links): art/jean-duncan
Here it is.
And thank you for allowing us to use it on this site.
[More to follow from Jean’s experimenting ….]
Through a brassica root by Jean Duncan based on micrograph by Robert Baker. More at Sectioned II …
This is one of a series of works by Jean soon to be shown on her Living Field page.
For the 10-year celebration, Jean spent various times in the Garden looking and sketching, assembling material for teaching and an ebook. The opium poppies Papaver omniferum were a fine sight, but short-lived, this warm year. See also … Jean Duncan’s page, Metamorphosis, the garden’s Medicinals page.
The Living Field is pleased to announce that the artist Jean Duncan has been commissioned to work with us during 2014 on designs and exhibits to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Living Field Garden.
Jean will develop ideas arising from the Living Field’s 5000 years project – the history and use of crops and other plants since the first settlers brought agriculture to these shores in the late stone age.
One result of her work will be educational material free to download from the web or available as PDF files.
You can see more about Jean’s work and her previous collaborations with the Living Field at the Jean Duncan page in the main menu.