An Ode to Paper

I have tried to paint on many different surfaces, but none gives me so much pleasure as paper.


I think paper must have got under my skin early. When I first left university I started working for a paper company. I saw how it was made, and all sorts of different types of paper too - from high quality cotton rag, to specialist printing papers and tracing paper. In fact I even had a few shifts, during my induction, spent underneath the large roller at the end of the paper machine, watching for holes in the sheet as it came through the dryer phase. There was a sofa to sit on - the machine is huge - and above my head a 4 metre wide continuous sheet of tracing paper flew by. (To this day I do not know if it was a real job or just something they gave the grad trainee to do to keep them out of the way).


There is a kind of alchemy to paper making. You take something dry and firm, mix it with loads of hot and steamy water to break down the cellulose fibres; spread it over a fine mesh, let all the water drain away, dry it out, size it so it can take writing or printing, roll it up and, or cut it and there it is reconstituted as something else entirely.


Paper makers are also environmentally conscious. They used reusable wood pulp sources - there was no deforestry involved, and replanted trees to ensure supply. It makes sense. Why would they just cut down the things they needed to sustain their business and drive up scarcity and supply prices? They use a lot of power to heat and dry at various stages (not so good), but they are scrupulous about water management and recycling and returning any effluent in pristine condition. I was always very proud of the processes I saw - and this was thirty years ago. I am sure they are even more stringent now.


When we used to consider the future we always talked about the risk of the paperless world or office. But I wonder - technology seems to have actually driven more paper use.


And in my world as an artist paper was an automatic choice. I didn't even consider other surfaces until much later, and I have never taken to them either. I am not sure if I use it correctly but I use it for everything. It feels comfortable, familiar even. I love the different surface textures you can get. And the heavier the better, 300gsm minimum for me. This is great feeling paper.

I buy large 10 metre rolls of it - some I cut up into door size pieces 150cm high and 90cm wide for big abstract work and once I even made a whole piece of work on one as a continuous scroll.


I also buy smaller sheets, from postcard size, to A1, which I think is my favourite size, and I just create my images across them. If I feel the urge to paint larger I just join some sheets together; and I love the feel of pulling them apart and getting multiple new images from one.


I have tried canvas and board, neither of which quite felt right for me. Canvas was particularly unpleasant - though I cannot put my finger on why. The only thing I have retained from all of that work with other surfaces is that on larger works that will predominately be in acrylic I start with a few layers of gesso. There is something about its chalkiness that appeals to me, at least when it's on paper it feels chalky.


I think perhaps there is a cross over in my practice too that lends itself to paper. I am inclined to work with both the written word and images, so books and scrolls are two formats that hold interest for me. Seeing my work in both these forms, rather than framed on walls, holds greater appeal for me I think, but I have yet to explore them fully.


Fundamentally it is the tactile quality of paper that I love. That it can be held and treasured and touched, gives it a deep emotional connection.


in progress - first marks on an A1 sheet of 300gsm Arches Sanderford paper

a large doorway-sized work 150cm high x 95cm wide. 350gsm fabriano paper

The Icarus Scroll - in mid production - 10 metres long by 1.5 metres wide

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