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Pulp, mold making, and water:

Paper Casting and Handmade Paper


Paper Making

Paper is essentially shredded up pulp, suspended in water and cast into a water resistant mold of some sort. As the water evaporates the strands of pulp reform a bond and become solid again. The pulpy mixture will take on the form of the mold it is poured into. It is possible to make paper our of almost anything you can grind up and re-cast into a mold. Most art papers are made from 100% cotton rags (hence the term, "rag paper"). Papermaking is a form of printmaking because the "matrix" (the mold) is repeatable. All those pieces of paper are really just huge editions with no images printed on them. Making paper by hand is an exciting and unique experience. Artists can use a typical approach to papermaking and create flat sheet using a screen - or it is possible to create shallow sculptural paper castings. To create a paper casting you must begin with making a mold of some sort. the mold must be waterproof (particularly if you want to repeat the casting). Clay is the easiest and most accessible way to begin making a mold. The smoother the clay body used the easier it will be to create your mold. Roll the clay out in a thin slab and use any tools you can find to sculpt a shollow relief image. Whatever you sculpt here will become your paper casting - so what you see is what you will get (with some luck and skill!) Be careful of undercuts in the sculpture since the paper will need to be pulled out of the mold when it is dry.

Sculpt your image using clay tools. or anything else you can find that will leave marks and/or smooth the clay out .

Work for a gently sloping relief that does not have any undercutting or sharp edges....

Paper Casting

You can scratch marks into the clay, but try to keep them clean and smooth


NO - The paper will catch in the mold and rip before it releases

Yes - The paper will pull free easily...


Mold Making

Once the clay positive sculpture is complete you must create a negative mold out of plaster, rubber, resin, etc. Plaster of Paris is the easiest and cheapest method of creating a mold. Buy cheap plaster at a home building supply store or more expensive artist's plaster at an art supply store. Place the lay relief positive on a flat surface (cardboard boxes work well for this) and then create a "dam" that will allow you to pour at least 2 inches of plaster over the top of the clay positive. Spray or paint a release agent over the lay positive (for example dish soap, non-stick spray, etc) Mix the plaster thoroughly so that there are no lumps or bubbles in it. Carefully pour the plaster over the clay positive and agitate it as it sets up to get any bubbles out. Let the plaster dry for several days and carefully remove it from the "dam" and turn it over.

Create a "dam" of some sort to contain the plaster as you pour it over the clay positive.

Mixed plaster

Draw down...

Poured plaster - make yout plaster layer at least 2 inches deep in order to keep it from breaking accidentally.


Let the plaster dry for several days and remove it from the "dam," then turn the plaster bock over. Carefully remove the clay from the plaster mold (they clay positive will be destroyed in this process). Let the plaster dry for another day and then use a toothbrush and water to gently clean any muddy residue left in the mold. You have now created the matrix for a cast paper multiple.

Peel the clay out of the plaster mold - and clean it up with water and a toothbrush



Making Paper

50% pulp - 50% water

Paper pulp can be created out of cotton rag "linters" or any other material you can grind up in a blender. It's a great way to recycle the leftover junk rom our overindulged consumer society (old paper, newspapers, etc). Tear the linters (or other materials) up into small chunks and let them soak in a bucket of water for at least 24 hours. Take the soggy paper scraps and place them in a blender (about 50% soggy chunks - 50% water). Any blender can do the job, but industrial strength blenders (garbage disposals and special paper mills) do the job faster and will last longer. Grind the paper chunks up until they are a smooth paste. Any lumps or clumps will only cause you problems later, so do a good job of making a smooth, refined, pulp. You might want to add some sort of sizing to the pulp at this point. Sizing is like glue, it is a binder that holds the shredded paper fibers together once they are dry. You can use real papermaking sizing (Gelatin, Methylcellulose) or try experimenting with small amounts of matte medium or other glue. If you want to make flat sheets of paper you may use a screen as your mold. To create a paper casting you should spray some sort of sealer on the plaster mold before you put the paper pulp inside. Sanding sealer works well, and matte medium may be uses in a pinch. Once the mold is sealed and dry grab handfuls of paper pulp and pat it down into the mold.

The pulp should look whipped cream, not like tapioca pudding or lumpy mashed potatoes.

Pat the pilp down...


Find a thick, absorbent sponge and press down on the paper pulp and mold with a much pressure as you can use without breaking the mold. The sponge will absorb water from the paper pulp and the pressure will force the pulp down into the grooves and lines incised in the mold. Wring the sponge out and repeat the process until the paper pulp is as dry as you can make it. Let the paper pulp dry and clean up the leftover mess. Be sure you never wash paper pulp down the sink (it will clog the drain and you will have to become a plumber). Scoop the paper pulp out into a garbage can and then rinse out the sponges and blender.

Lots of pressure - but don't break the mold...

Fill up the sponge, wring out the sponge, repeat, repeat, etc...

Always throw paper pulp away - never wash it down the sink drain!


Let the paper dry for at least 24 hours. If necessary you can speed up the drying process by using a heater, hair dryer, etc. Whatever you do, DO NOT remove the paper before it is completely dry or you might end up tearing it out of the mold. Once it is dry it should be ready to be carefully peeled out of the mold. Take your time and enjoy the results. The clay mold should be ready for you to use again - one more matrix ready for editioning...

The finished product

As the paper pulp dries it will shrink a bit and pull away fromthe edges of the mold. This will help you pop the paper casing out of the mold as long as you avoided undercuts in the original clay positive.

The original clay positive and the paper casting


Troubleshooting Papermaking

Paper tears as it is removed from the mold: If you have undercut forms in the mold the paper will tear. If the paper is not dry enough it will tear as you remove it. If the paper was not packed into the mold tightly (or if the paper was not ground up into a fine pulp) it will tear and separate as you remove it from the mold. The only thing that might help is to use a release agent on the mold before you put the wet paper pulp into the mold. Spray a professional sculpture release into the mold or experiment with "Pam" no-stick cooking spray or soap. The best way to avoid the problem of tearing is to design the original clay relief sculpture carefully so that the paper releases easily.

Be carefl not to exert too much pressure on the mold or it might break...



10 pages

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