Crow paper – Collaboration with Industry 12.3.19

I have been collaborating with technical demonstrator Sue Debney of Salford Art School. This was the third session of papermaking that had developed into pulp painting with Sue – a new area of development for both of us. It is a long, technical, creative and involved process. This time I brought in meaningful items: two 100% cotton faded black martial arts t-shirts that my son and I had worn up to brown belt grading over three years. They represented the battle, internal struggle, technical development of form, awareness of flow, family connection, legacy, evolution, strength, and growth.

To convey a sense of the complexity and length of the process involved, I have included some photos and notes made at the time:

Afore mentioned martial arts t-shirts.
Cotton t shirts cut into small squares with the help of Sue Debney and Alexis Reeves.

The small squares of cotton were then added to the Hollander Beater to be gradually pulped over the morning.
The pulping process, using up to 2lb of dry weight natural fabric, circulating in the Hollander Beater

It took several hours but finally we were rewarded with a beautiful black pulp to work with.

We lined the large deckle box with a sheet of plastic
Then added half of the beautiful black pulp.
It took three of us to pull out the plastic , like a magician’s table cloth, whilst one held the deckle box. Then we had to cause constant ripples by shaking the box, first one way and then another as the pulp set and the water drained.
The sides of the box were removed leaving a sodden, smooth pulp rectangle. This was the resulting thick black sheet. I then tweezered out anything that had invaded the piece – like straw.
Then it was carefully couched onto a flat absorbent surface and the process from deckle box onwards was repeated to get 2 decent substantial sheets to work with.

I had brought two reels of cotton from my mother’s sewing box that I inherited from her. To keep a limited palette I chose a deep crimson and white. I then ‘drew’ with the threads on the sheets before pressing.

I used actual crow feathers to create stencils and pulped recycled art paper in a blender to papermake. This stencil was held on the mould screen and dipped in a vat of pulp. The stencil was removed and the pulp pressed carefully onto the black pulp and thread.

I finally finished by pulp painting the thread and feathers with a watery slurry.

The paper was then pressed and took the rest of the week to dry.
It can’t be worked upon for another week.

Although this seems lengthy for our modern day instant culture mindset. Sue described this as ‘speed paper making’ as in Japan this process can take up to a year.

I am very inspired by this whole experience, from selecting threads and materials imbued with meaning right through to seeing the results of this intense creative process…

Crow by Boria Sax

As I am working with crow symbolism and meaning, I am currently reading this captivating book by American writer Boria Sax. It spans science, folklore, history and mythology of the corvid family across different cultures. What is fascinating in chapter three is the account given by the Roman historian Livy of single combat between a giant Gaul and Valerius Corvus, ‘Valerius the Crow’ (p56) where a raven landed on his helmet and helped the warrior win the battle by swooping on his foe. This idea of a raven/ crow helmet is further exemplified in the chapter:

“A Celtic helmet of Iron from the second or third century BC, found in Ciumesti, Romania is topped by an image of a Raven with hinged wings.” (p57)

I found that this idea of a raven or crow helmet fired my imagination and wanted to incorporate it into the current work I am creating about my father, his links to Celtic and Irish history and our original ancestor: Caoilte. The crow or raven is intimately linked to the Celtic battle goddess: the Morrigan, ruler of war and fate.

What is also fascinating is the ambivalent symbology of the corvid over time:
“The crow or raven might represent extremes of good or evil, depending on the context in which it appeared” (p80)
and the alchemical symbology of the Corvid:
“The raven eating carrion, even the dead bodies of human beings, signified the transformation of all things as the world, slowly but inexorably, moved towards perfection.” (p81)

In corvids, I find the reflection of human nature and the symbology of the internal/ external battles we face as individuals: the armor we wear and the allies we choose.
As humans, we see through our own lense of perception; we anthropomorphize the nature of corvids which is essentially something ‘other’.

Crow Paper

Crow Feather Paper
Created by a stencil I cut from a crow feather and using pulp painting with thread added too. Made with the help of Sue Debney In the Salford Art School Print Room. It has the suggestion of a feather through reshaping the form by hand whist allowing the pulp and thread to fall and flow where it will. The process is fairly long and involved and I am busy collecting meaningful shreds of paper and detritus to pulp…

In this process , discussed with Sue, I was mindful about the space around the feather shape, the flow and impermanence almost like a zen paper painting. This would become an exhibited piece and part of the group exposition.