Paper Making

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Traditional feelings about shuji (習字) or shodo (書道) hold that there are four treasures of writing. We refer to these tools by the phrase bunboushihou (文房四宝). Brush (筆), paper (紙), ink (墨), and ink stone (硯) make up the treasures. Starting out with a three dollar brush and penny paper, I learned that one can commence with the art very inexpensively; however, once I used higher quality tools, I soon discovered much more can be done. Paper itself can make a huge difference.

Back in mid-October of 2006 I received a package of Japanese paper as a gift. From the first stroke of the brush, I recognized that it was something special. My first work was to write a note of thanks on some of the paper. Japanese paper, called washi (和紙), has a long tradition in Japan. Originally, it was used for copying sutra, wrapping gifts, making windows and doors which pass light, and even as napkins in tea ceremony. The paper varies from place to place, but inevitably is quite strong. Even very thin and delicate looking paper is quite durable.

Cheap factory made paper will turn into soup if one writes on it with a saturated brush, but writing on washi with the same brush would create a beautiful pattern of bleeding without weakening the paper.

Ever since receiving this paper and hearing about its origin in Mino city, I have wanted to visit. Finally on January 27th, I took a trip with a friend whom we lovingly call The Mayor or The Nexus. That is the trip which yielded the manhole cover photo last week. Getting time to write in detail delayed the paper post.

At a paper arts center (美濃和紙の理会館) outside of town we studied about paper from all over Japan and listened to the Q&A session after an artist’s speech. That was all very entertaining, but the main event was making our own paper. The Nexus chose to make paper with maple leaves inside the paper; I chose to make paper which was not all there.

Handmade WashiThe initial process for both was the same. First, we dipped a screen into a bath (which was very cold) and gently tossed the fluid off the screen, forming the first surface. The screen is made from fine slats of wood lashed tightly together. Some varieties of paper show the pattern of the screen on one surface. This screen is called a su (簾), this is the same kanji used in sudare (Japanese window shades).

Next we scooped up more fluid and moved the screen from left to right. This side to side step is a special characteristic of the paper from Mino. After dumping out the fluid, we scooped up another load and rocked the screen up and down, giving the solution a front and back motion. Finally, some fluid is scooped up and thrown off to make the face of the paper.

At this point in the process the paper could be passed over a wide vacuum nozzle to remove moisture, peeled off the screen, and applied to a heated metal surface for drying. Handmade Washi Close-upThis would produce a rectangular sheet of white paper. My paper involved a few creative steps before the drying.

First I chose several plastic cut-outs shaped like dragonflies, bamboo, and gingko leaves and placed them on the wet paper. Next I chose a wire mesh and placed it over the top. I chose the one which had been bent into a semi-irregular pattern. Finally, the assembly was placed on the floor and I showered it with a garden hose from a stool. As the water struck the paper it would push the fibers away from the point of impact. The cut-outs and wire mesh protected some parts of the paper from this process. The resulting paper looks very lacy, but it is still quite strong.

Handmade Washi Edge DetailThe last photo today shows a close-up of the edge of my paper. I like how it looks very fuzzy like frayed threads.

Even though it is quite a trip to get to Mino, I think I will have to go again. There are other types of paper to make and there are a few more things to see in the little town. Also, it is near Seki (関) where I want to watch sword making demonstrations, and Hachiman (八幡) where I want to make fake food.

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4 Responses to “Paper Making”

  1. Just Another Drip « Neo-新びっくりブログ Says:

    […] holiday when I get through it.) This is just a snapshot I took when I went to Mino (美濃) to make Japanese paper […]

  2. Sylvia Says:

    I finally got around to reading this post. Very cool. You’re lucky to be in a country that still values craftwork.

  3. びっくり Says:

    Indeed! I need to adopt your fresh perspective. I sometimes complain that traditional arts are vanishing, but they fact that they still exist at all is pretty impressive. Also, regulations are in place to protect some of them. And eccentrics like me will do their part as well.

  4. Kim Says:

    Oh.. I’m working on a prject and needed more facts. I think this was really cool 🙂

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