By: Claire Reynes
When people meet an artist one of the first things they usually ask them is, “what materials do you use?” For a long time I didn’t have an exact answer to that question. I love making art and I love teaching art but I really didn’t have one medium that I felt connected to. During my junior year of college that all changed when I studied abroad in Cortona, Italy through the University of Georgia-Athens art program. It was there that I made paper for the first time in a papermaking and book arts course.
I immediately felt like I had found my medium and I wanted to make paper all the time. There were so many things that I loved about it right away, like how forgiving it was and if you made a bad sheet of paper all you had to do was “kiss“ it back in to the VAT of pulp and water and make a better one. I love the versatility and the fact that you could make a plain piece of paper to write a letter or you could make a full blown completed painting all out of pulp in just an hour. Paper can also be sculptural and turned into jewelry or a decorative wall hanging.
As much as I love to make paper, I love to teach the art even more. When I got home from Italy I sought out opportunities to intern, apprentice, and assist papermakers in their own practices and teaching. And then I started to teach my own workshops and classes and felt like I could do it forever. There’s so much magic in papermaking and I get to see the wonder on peoples faces when I show them how to make a sheet of paper for the first time.
I’m especially interested in the possibility of materials that you can use to make paper. Plant fibers, recycled paper, cotton and linen fabrics – these are all used to make handmade paper and paper artworks. In this way, paper can have infused meaning with every sheet depending on where the fiber comes from. For example, if you take your bed sheets from your childhood bedroom, cut them up, turn them into paper, and start a dream journal, you are writing on pages that were once the very thing you dreamt on – you have layers of meaning in one piece of work – a meaning that is invisible to the naked eye.
My personal artwork always starts with handmade paper. I make paper using different fibers including abaca, cotton, flax, and kozo, each giving me a different quality that helps determine the final form of the piece. Some pieces may become more sculptural than others due to the way the paper was made or dried.
The papermaking process offers so much opportunity for experimentation, serendipity, and play so I try to take advantage of that. Typically the final stage in my process is embroidering the work, completing an image or binding sheets together for more dimension. I am most often inspired by the human body and human experience, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, and the interplay between those two things.
I currently teach visual arts for grades three through eight at Mark Twain elementary in the Chicago public school district. When I’m not teaching at school I’m trying to find ways to engage with children, teens, and adults in different making practices, especially papermaking and paper arts.