Creaturiste's Laboratory

Techniques, works in progress, and everything that doesn't fit in the portfolio. Comments and questions are encouraged, custom orders are welcome!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Paper Mache experiments and leads

Or... getting back to old forgotten methods.

Here I'll be talking about Corn Starch Glue, Waterglass, and an appeal for traditional paper mache methods of the past.

Corn Starch
I'll soon be trying corn starch glue for paper mache very soon.
I was prompted by a constant inclination to move towards more natural and basic materials.
Non toxicity also has a strong appeal to me. I've met too many artists with health problems related to toxic art supplies. I was lucky to learn about proper safety practices early enough in my career to only suffer from dry hands as a long term condition. Before I knew the danger, I was instructed by my employers at a store to wash metal shelves regularly with methyl hydrate! It lasted a few months (maybe one session every two weeks) before I learned the danger. I've been dependent on hand creams ever since.
But I digress...

Corn starch again...
If corn starch is good enough for Bread & Puppet Theatre, how could I refuse to try it for so long? Well, there are the traumas of the past, when using food-based adhesives in paper mache (mold growth issues) , that caused me to stop their use altogether.
That and the risk of insects and rodents attacking my creations in storage.
And the fact that those food-based adhesives have a very limited shelf life. I like convenience of use, and hate wasting. Of course now that I actively compost everything I can, I could very well stop considering spoiled glue as a waste...

I am still wondering what the advantages would be of using corn starch over that of using methyl cellulose, which I already know from experience has an indefinite shelf life and nice handling properties. Methyl cellulose also gives a nice smoother result. I have yet to test it properly for strenght on its own. I abandonned its use years ago, from lack of proper knowledge about paper mache and how it's made. I thought the result was too weak, and the first layer was too much trouble to apply. I moved on to using diluted white glue because it was so tacky and strong. I was a total beginner, frustrated with no access to proper information, so I blamed the glue, but now I know it was my innapropriate methods. Live and learn. Nowadays, I make pretty much anything with paper mache, and it remains my favorite category of mediums.

I'll have to try corn starch glue to find out if it's what I really need. If not for all my purposes, maybe for some specifics. I was delayed in this experiment by getting another contract which required synthetic materials (a plastic) as the base, so I opted for a synthetic adhesive, to ensure proper adhesion, as there was no time for experimenting. I shall be done with this project shortly, so the corn starch experiments should come soon.

In my internet searches recently, I stumbled upon an interesting chemical named Sodium Silicate, also known as "Waterglass".
It has many uses in a few industries. Some of them: crackling glaze for ceramics, fresh egg preserver, waterproofing paper and fabrics, and as an ingredient in a recipe for a home-made cement like super-glue.
This really got my attention, as I am always searching for truly waterproof finishes for my paper mache creations. If i can make a waterproof glue to paste my strips with, maybe I'll get something similar to the old industrial results, when they used to make fine lacquered furniture.
My interest doubled when I found out my pigment supplier happens to carry sodium silicate!
I'll get some soon, and keep you updated.
In the meantime, some info about Waterglass:

"Frogotten" Traditions
What appears to be second nature to some artists living in the old European countries, still seems a mystery to us Canadians and North Americans. We seem to be limited to using flour pastes or pva glue, and fuzzy methods at best, compared to what used to be made in paper mache in the past, and is still produced by a select few in the old countries.

Artists in countries such as Russia, Czech Republic, and Italy, have mastered the art of high quality paper mache. They have come to a point of making their creations look like detailed porcelain or wood or plaster, their results are strong and lihtweight, , and some of them can create these items extremely fast. I currently know of one such method, but it's not a true traditional approach, as the artist who uses it already has converted to diluted white glue.
I don't dismiss the use of modern materials, I believe in convenience and economy, but I'd rather know the original recipes, in order to have all the information to make my own decisions.

The dream is this:
Ideally, I'd love to see videos of the entire process of some of these traditional high quality paper mache methods. Of course, text descriptions with images would still be appreciated.
Rest assured that the information I receive will keep on spreading here on this blog, and shared with my colleagues and students. Every effort counts in the goal that paper mache can come back in full strenght in the Art world's field of vision. Because right now, it's hardly ever seen as more than a cheap, disposable arts & craft method. It's only gained this bad reputation because of neglect. The plastics industry has been blamed before for the downfall of paper mache industries, but that excuse does not stand the test of reason. Many other "obsolete" methods still thrive, because artists have kept working them, and have elevated them to the status of Fine Art methods and materials. If art printmakers had stopped using copper plates, stones, presses and paste inks when the advent of industrial machines came, we wouldn't have the Art Print businesses we have today.

I think the over industrialization, and the constant application of Planned Obsolescence practices have caused a major loss of quality and originality in the world.
For a a fascinating and infuriating read about today's consumer world:
Planned Obsolescence.

Part of the population is now becoming sensitive again to hand-made, unique and durable objects. Something more tangible, in a world where most of our posessions are from a store, and we are mostly left in the dark where exactly they come from, who made them, what processes were used, what environmental impact did it have, and what it's made of.

Paper mache is one answer to all these problems.
It can be made in ways that are non toxic, economical, environmentally friendly and very durable. It is such an extremely versatile medium, it can be used as a main materials, as a finishing product, and as a link between various mediums. It can be made in very small scale, and giant sculptural applications. Houses and the occasional boats have been made with it. Combined with lacquer, paper mache was once used to make armors in Japan.


Monica of the Masks said...

Looking forward to hearing about your paper mache experiments!

Branden said...

Do you have any examples of artists using traditional paper mache methods from European countries? I am interested in investigating this further and online or book examples would be helpful so I know what you are referring to.

Also, where do you get Methyl cellulose other than Elmer's Art Paste?