This information is reprinted from the Beginner Topics column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #67 (July, 2004).

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Dimensional Paper Art

Let’s add some dimension to your paper life. There are many ways to bring paper “up” from its normally flat existence. Here is a simple method you can’t go wrong with. Begin by making a stack of sheets using the basic sheetforming techniques you have already learned. You should use cotton or recycled pulp beaten for a fairly short time. If you wish to move to the head of the class, there are some staple cottons made for casting, but these must be processed with a beater or purchased from suppliers in beaten form.

Now, find an interesting, detailed object, anything with a flat back. This might be an old piece of jewelry, a wood carving, your ornamental table knife, etc. Make sure there is no “undercut.” This means that you can see the entire pattern by looking down on it; no part moves “under” or out of view. Such objects are perfect to start with, then you might graduate to a mould that you cast yourself, or existing moulds such as cake moulds which provide two parts and therefore become more fully dimensional.

Some type of release agent needs to be applied to the object. This might be non-stick pan spray used in the kitchen, or “green soap” from the pharmacy. The latter provides a non-staining release; simply make a lather and brush it on the object.

You are ready. Lift one sheet of the damp paper you have already made, and set it on your object. If the object is larger than your sheet, start in one corner and work across. I have found it easiest to use a stencil brush for this work. Tap the paper down into the hills and valleys of your object. If you tear the surface, get a small mending piece from another sheet. Continue tapping the paper against the object until the surface is covered.

At this point, if you are using a dimensional mould, you may wish to add layers to make a thicker and sturdier object. I like to use methyl cellulose as a glue. This is available from paper suppliers in powdered form and should be mixed to a stiff consistency. Sometimes you can find this material as wallpaper paste but be careful: most wallpaper pastes have changed their ingredients. Apply the paste to the paper you have put into the mould and then begin again tapping the next sheet against the surface. Do this with as many sheets as you like until you have a sturdy base for your object.

Now you wait for it to dry. It is extremely important that it dry thoroughly. I am always impatient at this point so if my object is metal and sturdy I slip the project into my oven (will we ever get papermaking out of the kitchen?) and heat it at a very low temperature for an hour or two. Coax the paper from the object, and you will be amazed by the fine degree of detail it has captured. If you use two-part moulds you can have a fully dimensional object.

As a general rule, I believe in starting the preceding projects by making flat sheets of paper. Many will say you may use a handful of wet pulp in a mould, but I feel you will be happier with the detail transferred and the strength of the finished product if you begin by making a stack of sheets. And this rounds out my article (pun intended!). Have fun.

Copyright 2004 Hand Papermaking, Inc.