Saturday, April 16, 2011

Papier-Mache Art Bowls 8: Further Experiments

A mixed bag produced this past week, with some mixed feelings. Not every piece came out as well as I'd hoped.



This time out, I tried using a little more glue in the papier-maché matrix of white glue and water. I am still trying to find the exact right proportions of glue and water—and frankly doing it by feel and eye rather than measuring cups—and I think I may have erred on the side of too much glue this time out. I'll show the results of this possible error, below.

I made this group of decorative papier-maché bowls early enough in the afternoon, on a warm day, that I was able to put them in the sunlight to dry for part of the afternoon. Drying them in the sunlight made for good results with the black paper bowls, but the other bowls still needed to dry out overnight.


Black Bowl and Vase

These two black bowls, or rather bowl and vase combination group, came out fine. They are a reproduction in heavy black torn paper of the bowl and vase I had made earlier out of a similar weight of torn purple paper. (I have since gifted the original purple bowl and vase to a friend.) I am now contemplating doing a series of bowl and vase combos, like these, in a rainbow of colors, as a set. It could be an interesting large set, with possibilities for arrangement and display in various groupings.



I think the particular success of these combos is the vase, which, if you put some small stones in the base, is very stable and doesn't tip over. I imagine one could put small stones in the accompanying bowl as well, and put dried flowers or some similar decorative touch in both, and use them as a designer centerpiece. The unique aspect of such a decorative set, of course, is that you made the containers, as well as the arrangement. There are several possibilities here yet to be explored.



For another new group of decorative papier-maché bowls, what I experimented with was making an original illustrated paper to use. I have been experimenting already with making bowls illustrated with my paper prints of my own photographs—for example, the Stone Circle Nest Bowl—but I've been using existing prints from my back catalogue. This time out, I wanted to try creating a paper specifically intended for making into a papier-maché project.


Crocus flowers, Beloit, March 2011

This photograph of blooming crocus is my personal favorite photo, and possibly best photo, this year so far from my garden. Since spring was in the air, I decided to use this image as the basis and inspiration for a larger, designed art bowl.

So I took the crocus photo and ran it through Photoshop, creating a distressed-paper look that I intended to appear, when finished, like hand-made paper incorporating the flowers into its texture. It's an illusion made entirely in Photoshop, of course, but it looks like some of the handmade papers one can find at fine paper stores such as Hollander's, that mecca of book design and decorative papers in Ann Arbor, and that was my intent. Here is the result of this paper-imaging experiment:



I then laser-printed several sheets of this designed paper, and used it to make the larger bowl I had envisioned. I had enough left over to also make a smaller, square bowl.


Crocus Paper Bowls

Both bowls use the Crocus Paper on the exterior, leaving the interior plain. I envision these bowls being used as containers for cut flowers, later this spring, as part of a decorative table display.


Crocus Paper Bowl II

This is the smaller of the two Crocus bowls, and perhaps the more successful. The problem I mentioned with the glue earlier is visible here, on the bottom of the bowl. There was so much glue in the matrix, that the two Crocus Bowls took a long time to dry, and when I pulled them from the mold, each was mottled on the bottom. Imprints from the plastic wrap I use to line to molds were clear in the base, making for a roughened texture I hadn't anticipated. That isn't so visible here, in this photo, but one can still feel the wrinkled texture. What is visible here is the shiny, almost plastic-coated appearance of the base of the bowl, after the bowl had completely dried. It actually looks okay on this smaller of the two bowls. It might also make the bowls slightly more waterproof.


Crocus Paper Bowl I

The larger bowl, approximately nine inches in diameter, had similar issues with extended drying time, wrinkled texture caused by the glue, and shiny appearance. In addition, the plastic wrap tore the paper in a couple spots when I removed the bowl from the mold, leaving a couple of visible imperfections. Maybe it's just my perfectionism striking a muted tone against my expectations, but I was a little disappointed with the end result here. It looks better in the photo than it does in the hand, to be honest. it doesn't look bad, it just wasn't quite as good as I had envisioned.

As a technical point, you can see from the group photo above that I lined the inside of the larger Crocus Bowl with black paper. This is the same heavy black paper that I used for the bowl and vase combo above. Inside this larger bowl, I made a spiral of small black triangles that spin out from the center and halfway up the wall. This was done mostly for structural support, to give the bowl some extra heft. As a structural element it's quite successful; as a design element, less so. The spiral itself looks pretty good, reminding one of organic plant forms, but the black paper darkens the bowl's appearance from the outside, because the printed Crocus Paper is not completely opaque. Fortunately, the black interior will be mostly unseen when the bowl is filled with objects, for example cut flowers. I think that next time I try this structural support idea inside a bowl I will use either more complementary-colored paper, or pure white watercolor paper. That will give a lot of strength without color-shifting the bowl's appearance.

So, these were experiments with, in my opinion, mixed results. In some ways, the purely black bowl and vase are the most satisfying pieces this time out, because of their simple purity of color and design. The Crocus Paper bowls were an experiment in making an illustrated image bowl, with more mixed results. I've learned from the process, though, and will probably try to make better objects later using this same Crocus Paper. What I think works here is the original design and illustration, the concept of custom-making an image intended to be made into papier-maché. The execution was not as good as I had envisioned, however, and I'll do better next time, having learned from my errors.

I readily admit that this is the artist's expectations in play, here, and others may find these "imperfect" objects to be beautiful and pleasing just as they are. When you're experimenting, you have to expect a few "mistakes" and "failures" to occur, as an artist. Then you learn from the process, get better at what you're doing, and experiment anew. No artist ever gets it right every time—and the audience almost never gets to see the mistakes made during the creative process, or the process of learning to work with new materials. I'm being pretty open about my feelings about my art, here, as a way of both recording my learning process, for myself, and as a way of passing on what I've discovered along the way. Thus, I'm documenting the process as much as the results.



As a lagniappe, I am offering for download, for free, the original full-resolution print-size JPG version of this Crocus Paper here. (Just use your usual browser download procedure to download the JPG file to your desktop.) You can use this as a stock image for a poster or other piece, or for your own papier-maché projects, or even as your computer screen backdrop. Please, if you do use this Crocus Paper image for a project you've designed and/or illustrated, send me a JPG of your work, just for my own pleasure. I always enjoy seeing what people come up with. Thank you.

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