Diane Johnson is a Fine Ecological Artist whose roots are firmly planted in the soil of Kent

More Information About Mother Earth Prints

The Processes

Making Paper

pap3It is relatively easy to make recycled hand made paper, but there are three basic rules. Make sure it is a good dry day or that there is somewhere that the pulp can dry. It does not become a solid sheet of paper until it is dry, and the wet pulp is extremely fragile. When making a large sheet of paper, ensure that there is enough pulp.

There are many types of paper products that are suitable for making paper pulp. Old paper, junk mail, envelopes and anything that does not have a glossy finish, or have glue on it will work. It is best to sort the paper into different types before beginning to make the pulp, keeping white and coloured separate. To make a coloured paper, keep paper (envelopes, circulars, etc) of a similar colour to use for that batch. The paper to be used needs to be shredded or torn into small pieces, prior to soaking.

There are two ways to get pulp. Firstly, when making coloured paper, it is best soak it over night in a bucket of water and a spoonful of disinfectant. This makes the paper soft enough to pulp the next morning, and will have retained some of the original colour.

Secondly, it is possible to make pulp without soaking the paper. Boil the shredded paper in a large saucepan with a tablespoon of bleach, for approximately thirty minutes. This will then be soft enough to pulp. By adding the bleach, it will have lost its original colour, and will make a pale off white/grey paper, depending on how much black/blue ink was on the original pieces. This is a good way of obtaining a uniformity of coloured home made paper.

When making the pulp, it saves a lot of time and effort, if it is pulped in an old food processor. Put a golf ball size amount into the bowl with about 10 fluid oz’s of water, and blend until it resembles porridge. The pulp can also be made without a processor or a blender. It is possible to use a potato masher that looks like a Z or a rotary hand whisk. Take the same amount of either boiled or soaked paper, and water as before, and pulp. It may take a little bit longer but it will still work.

Tip the pulp into a bucket and add plenty of water, treble the volume is about right, and mix well. This separates the fibres. It is at this point, that other things can be added, like cotton fibres, the fluff from a tumble dryer, strands of rope, strands of hair, leaves, sawdust and anything else that can give strength, texture or interest to the surface.


What is a deckle and how to make it?

A deckle is a frame with mesh stretched across it. It is used to separate the paper pulp from the liquid.

Make a frame or use old picture frames, and either sew or staple a piece of net (an old curtain will do) on to it. It needs to be pulled quite taught, as it will stretch when using and give an uneven finished sheet. To get an even edge, use a second frame to hold the pulp in place but this is not essential.

Making a sheet of paper

paint paper makingTake a container big enough to fit the deckle (a bath will do). Fill with enough water to submerge it, plus about two inches above the deckle.

Add about half the pulp (half a bucket full for average bath) and mix well so that there are no lumps. Dip the deckle into this and move from side to side with a gentle rocking motion. Lift out of the water to drain. If there is still any net visible, repeat the process until all is covered, this may take a few attempts at first, but gets easier with a little practice.

To make large sheets, raise the deckle up and pour the pulp directly on to the net, starting at the middle and working outwards to the edge. Tilt the deckle slightly so that the excess water runs off.

Deckle cloths need to be placed over the pulp, this will hold it together when it is turned over. J, cloths, or similar work well, turn onto a flat board. To help bind the fibres together, gently rub with an absorbent cloth, over the back of the net, once it has been turned it over onto the board. This will also remove some of the excess moisture, and help speed up the drying process. Slowly lift the deckle away, leaving the sheet of pulp behind, if it begins to stick, lay it back down and rub your fingers gently across it should then lift away easier.

With larger sheets it needs to 3 or 4 cloths to hold the pulp in place, until the fibres set. Place these in different directions other wise there will be week spots that often tear. Continue this process again for each sheet, adding more pulp to the water each time and laying it on the previous sheet.

When all of the pulp has been used, place a final clothe on top and then a board. To get a flat sheet it needs to be weighted down. When making a small sheet then three or four heavy books will do, but on a large sheet it is better to stand on it for a minute or two. This will squeeze out a lot of excess water. It is best to leave them under the boards for about thirty minutes before separating the sheets to dry. Do not take of the deckle cloths until almost dry. To help with the drying, It is possible iron them, this also helps to smooth them, but place a sheet of clean paper between the iron and the pulp, as the sheets will still tear easily until they are fully dry. Store between books or boards.

Making colour

nv07 007It is possible to make a range of colour's within your own kitchen, with just basic equipment. The easiest to make are with earth, chalk, and charcoal Earth.

It is surprising at the different tonal range of browns that can be achieved from just earth. Part of its colour, will depend on where it came from, also a major factor is how long it is heat-treated, as this can make considerable difference to the final tone.

On collecting the earth it advisable to collect it from a number of different places, even in a small area, there may be different tones. This will also help to show a visual colour difference, and make it easier to choose a wider range for use.

To dry the earth, it can be spread out onto newspaper, to dry naturally. But because it can contain bacteria, it is advisable to heat treat it. Small stones, glass, twigs, wire, or any solid objects must be removed first, as there is a risk of explosion, fire, and injury if they are not.

To heat treat the earth, it is best to process a small amount at any one time, as this enables some control over the final tone. It is very easy to burn, and this will change your final colour. Treating small amounts, this will insure that most bacteria (if any were present) have been destroyed.

Place a small amount, about 4 tablespoonfuls into a pan, and cook over a high heat, stirring all the time. When it has all dried out, it will change colour and texture, remove from the heat and push through a sieve. This will remove any small debris that may have been missed.

Once the earth has been treated, it needs to be ground to a fine powder with a pestle and mortar. It may still be too coarse for use, and some may need to be ground further. To find which needs more, stretch a stocking/tights over a margarine tub and secure firmly, tip the powdered soil onto this, any soil that is not fine enough will remain on the stocking, to be ground further. The finest will fall through. Repeat this process until all of the earth is used, then store it in either an airtight container or a well-sealed plastic bag.

garden woadWoad

Woad is the only plant to give a natural blue in this country. It is best known for its use by the saxons who painted themselves in it before battle. It is an odd plant it has yellow flowers and when you soak the plant before processing it makes a bright red liquid you have to add ammonia to obtain the blue. In saxon times this was obtained by the locals using the vat as a public convenience but now days a trip to the local supermarket suffices. It was classified as a weed and was virtually eradicated from this country, but is now getting a revival as a cultivated plant.

Chalk and Charcoal

Both charcoal and chalk are processed the same. There are many places to find chalk. The chalk that has been used in many of my example prints comes from an old chalk pit. But many pieces can be found on country walks or near cliffs. It does not have to be a perfectly clean piece, you can get some subtle creamier tones with chalk that has been exposed to the elements. It is best to collect a good amount at a time as it can be kept for further use.

Break up into small pieces as this helps it to dry out quicker, and spread out on some kitchen roll or tissue. Leave somewhere warm and dry. When it is ready to use, it will be powdery to the touch. When it is ready, pestle and mortar it and sieve through the same as the earth.

oc20 005The charcoal comes from my garden waste burner, an old metal dustbin with holes cut along the sides at base level. If you have not got a burner you will often find charcoal in the remains of a bonfire, this will work equally as well. Once it is thoroughly dry, process the same as the earth. It is advisable to wear a mask when grinding these, as some of the dust can be an irritant.

Hens Egg Shell

Another good source of white is hen’s eggshell, simply boil the empty shell for about twenty minutes, then drain and leave to cool. Once the shells are cold remove the white sinew as this makes it impossible to grind down.

When the shells are completely dry, they will be brittle and break easily. Break down into small fragments. Its is best to leave them to dry for a further 24hrs on some absorbent cloth, but they can be ground immediately.

It is quite difficult to get this to a fine powder, so it is best to pestle and mortar, small amounts at any one time, and sieve until it is fine.

Brick and Roof Tile

Brick is very easy to find and process. It needs to be completely dried before use. Break into small pieces and either leave to dry naturally or it can be dried in the oven on a low heat (meringue setting, slow cook), making sure it does not bake further, as this will make it extremely hard and difficult to break down. When it dry, put a small piece in a plastic bag, and hit with a rolling pin, or wooden mallet. It should crumble easily.

For use, it must be ground to a fine powder. It can be deceptive. To test to see if it is fine enough before it is sieved through, just rub a little between your thumb and fingertips. If it feels gritty, it is not ready, and needs to be ground further.

bricksIt is surprising the amount of different shades of brick that can be found.. Their colour ranges from a very rich dark red, through bright orange, and onto yellow It is quite difficult to grind slate down enough to get a fine powder. It can be processed the same as brick. It can be broken into small pieces with a hammer, but even then it is still extremely hard to process. With much research, the easier way is to use an old metal cheese grater and rub the flat slate onto it. It may take a bit longer to start with but, will save time with the pestle and mortar. Sieve in the normal way.

All of these powdered colour's, can be mixed with either oil, or water to turn them into ink. If you use water, you will need a fixer, when the print/painting is dry, to stop the colour from falling off, unscented hair spay works well.