Last week I had the chance to spend a week in the city of Montreal to present a workshop for the annual Canadian Society of Soil Science meeting. I took the opportunity to enjoy the city. Amid reading in some great coffee shops and viewing amazing artwork in the city’s galleries, I also spent a day learning how to make paper at the Papeterie Saint-Armand.
The Papeterie Saint-Armand, began making hand-made papers a little over thirty years ago. Today, their papers are prized by artists all over Canada, and can be found in art stores coast to coast. Beyond their regular range of papers, David and Denise (the owners) have also been involved in a number of interesting art projects.
When I met Denise a few years ago, we talked about the different local colours I was collecting and a conversation began about my pigment’s possible use in colouring paper. During my week, and with her very kind invitation, I walked down from McGill University to their studio along Rue Saint Patrick to play with paper-making first hand.
Entering their basement manufacturing space, David welcomed me, and happily showed me around, then I got my first lesson from Denise. Using a medium-sized screen and a big vat of cream-coloured pulp I practiced stirring, scooping, lifting, and laying layers of pulp which could be pressed into sheets of paper. Throughout the process everything was very physical and done in a precise set of moments which added up to be almost a little dance. I loved it.
What surprised me most was the omnipresence of water. From the paper pulp, to draining, to laying it down, there’s water everywhere (I’m not sure my boots are completely dry, even now …). The whole process begins with a huge vat in which pulp is suspended, and as the paper is made, the water slowly drains away, leaving the form of the paper sheet behind. Even once its pressed, the final stage of the paper’s creation is letting the water evaporate.
After lunch, I began making paper on a little screen using the pigments I had brought. These were all local colours that I know well and have used in many art pieces over the years, but their behaviour in colouring the pigment was full of surprises. The raw Conestogo ochre paled a little, but the green from Agawa Bay almost completely disappeared (but left interesting chunks of colour on the pages). Most surprising of all was the elk antler black from Saskatchewan, which is a wonderful, greasy black in paint, but produced an almost blue paper. It was a lot of fun to get to know each of these colours in a new way.
Paper making is a beautiful process. And, now that I’m back in my studio, I’m beginning to play with the paper, too. Stay tuned for some new artwork soon!
A special thank you to Ken van Rees, who kindly took the video footage I used in the video above.