Recycled Papermaking: Nature Artists Camp at the Louisiana Children's Museum
Nature Artists Camp:
What does it mean to be a Nature Artist?
As artists we explore creativity, use our imaginations, exercise our observation skills, and experiment to find the potential within materials. To be a Nature Artist means to tap into these practices while making art inspired by, as a steward of, and in collaboration with the materials of nature.
My favorite kind of project to work on with kids is one that explores a few different media or processes and then combines them together into a culminating piece. During Nature Artists Camp our exploration invitations included recycled papermaking, cyanotype “sun prints”, symmetry ink painting with oil pastel, and expressive painting with natural ink using plants and sticks as our brushes. These individual projects were later collaged into a larger piece that represented our learning and thinking about nature.
INVITATION 1: RECYCLED PAPERMAKING
As we investigated the process of making recycled paper, we reflected on the lifecycle of paper, our ability to be creators by rethinking the ways we can use and reuse materials, and our role as stewards of nature by conserving natural resources and diverting materials from the landfill.
As inspiration, we first read the story Rosie Revere, Engineer about a young girl who dreams of becoming a great engineer and makes all kinds of inventions out of trash, turning old unwanted or broken things into new creations. She experiences failure, and tries again, learning that perseverance and creativity are more important than getting something right the first time.
We had a discussion about paper: Where does it come from? What happens to it after we recycle it or throw it away? We talked about how long it takes a tree to grow from seed to a big tree, where things go after we throw them away, and how we can be resourceful Nature Artists by recycling our used paper into new paper.
Then we jumped in to the process!
Step 1: Find old, used, unwanted paper (no plastic like envelope windows or acrylic paint! it'll get caught in the blender blades) and tear them up! Have fun with it! Put on some music for a paper ripping dance party! Practice fine motor skills by using scissors! See if you can cut straight lines, zig zag lines, wavy lines! Aim to have pieces smaller than your hand to give some love to the blender motor.
Step 2: Place some paper shreds in the blender (about halfway full), fill it with water, and pulse until it is pulpy and soft like a cloud! You can blend separate batches to different pulp sizes if you want some bigger specks of color or texture on your paper. You'll need to mix a few batches in order to get enough pulp for pulling a few sheets of paper.
Step 3: Pour the pulp into a big tub filled with water. Your tub needs to be larger than the dimensions of your papermaking screen (more later on where to find / how to make a papermaking screen).
Step 4: Swish around the pulpy water to stir up any pulp that has settled to the bottom. Hold your papermaking screen like a steering wheel with the flat side facing you with your hands on 3-o-clock and 9-o-clock. Slide it down against the back of the bin. When you hit the bottom, lay the screen flat and slowly lift up, letting the water "rain" from the screen! The paper pulp will settle on top of the screen as the water drains down. Watch this process in the video linked below!
Step 5: Let it dry! Depending on whether you are using a homemade screen or a shmancy papermaking kit, you can let the paper air dry on the screen (even faster in the sun!), or transfer it onto another surface like a towel or piece of felt to soak the excess water up with a sponge. The paper is still very fragile at this step, so you'll want to cover it with a piece of felt or cloth to avoid picking up pieces of pulp with your sponge.
A bit about equipment: For camp we had a shmancy Arnold Grummer Papermaking Kit purchased from Blick, but I've made and used DIY screens before. The kit is nice if you're working with a lot of students and need fast turnaround for each child to pull their own sheet of paper within a short period of time. The kit is also handy for making many sheets the same size. The DIY screens are perfect for at-home use, reinforce the focus on reusing materials and reducing waste, and are perfect for individuals or smaller groups with a more flexible timeframe. You can learn more about recycled papermaking, how to make your own DIY screen, and watch the papermaking process in the video below!
When you're done making paper, experiment using it in different ways! We cut and collaged with ours during nature camp. You can paint or draw on it, frame it as its own work of art, glue a photo on it, or try printmaking on top of it. Experiment with the papermaking process too! You can try including pressed leaves or flowers in the paper, dryer lint, pencil shavings, seeds, or other materials around your house. Discover the possibilities!