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nce upon a time, about 20 years ago, I was working at a company that had a very dynamic CEO. One fine day, he went on a rampage about how much paper was being wasted in the company, and proceeded to take away everyone’s individual laser and inkjet printers, which were summarily replaced by local area network printers. In this way, he hoped to cut down on the amount of wasted paper, thus saving money for the company. I had never really considered the issue before, but that started me thinking about just how much paper was being wasted throughout the company, not to mention the entire country, even with the increasing use of email and other electronic communications.

Fast forward to five years ago...Winter of was cold outside, and I had no projects working, so I decided to clean out my garage and turn it into a workshop. In the course of doing so, I found a box full of very old bank statements. Rather than shred every single one of these, I decided to soak them in water until they just fell apart, and then I could wad them up and throw them away. Easy stuff, right? Of course — and my simple idea worked just as I had expected.

A seed, however, had been planted in my fertile imagination…a seed nurtured by my lack of creative projects and a desire to do something that would turn waste into something…well, less wasteful. Also, a need to do something that used inexpensive raw this case, free (people seem to be very willing to give me all the trash paper I can carry).

So, through many dangers, toils and snares, I eventually developed my process of turning junk mail and boring business documents into something artistic. I see it as a way of returning a modicum of the beauty of the original tree back to humanity.

The following text and photos briefly describe my process:

Fig. 1 - Junk mail and waste paper is joyfully shredded.

I begin by shredding the aforementioned type of documents in a tub of water that contains a cup each of bleach and salt to inhibit mold growth (Fig. 1).

I converted a cheap little drill press into an agitator by inserting a hand drill paint mixer bit into the chuck and immersing it into the water. It sucks all the shreds down into its vortex and spits them out just a little more ragged than they already were. Do this long enough, and you get a tub of slurry about the consistency of cooked oatmeal (look at the "mountain" at the top of the page, and you’ll see what I mean).

Fig. 2 - The SlurryMaster3000™

The SlurryMaster3000™, as I jokingly call it (Fig. 2), produces two grades of paper slurry, owing to the two-chambered system I serendipitously developed. The upper tub retains the longer, coarser fibers, while the shorter, finer fibers filter down through small holes and a nylon mesh screen into the lower tub. The coarse slurry, or CommonSlurry™, is used as the core in the original sculptures, from which the molds are made, and in the full-mold paper castings, which will be discussed later. The finer-grade slurry, which I call ÜberSlurry™, is used both for the detail work on the original sculptures, and to make partial-mold castings.

Fig. 3 - The drain hose

When the slurry has reached its optimum...well...slurriness, a hose is attached to the drain (Fig. 3) and extended into a filter bag inside a small, hand-built centrifuge, which will eventually spin out as much water as possible from the ÜberSlurry.

Fig. 4 - ÜberSlurry filtration and water reclamation

The water is then drained into the centrifuge, filtered through a cotton/poly bag and caught in a big tub, where it is later pumped out and recycled back into the SlurryMaster3000, to be used in yet another batch.

When the water is pretty well drained, the CommonSlurry from the upper tub is pressed by hand and a great deal of its remaining water extracted. Even after pressing on it as hard as I can, the slurry is still approximately 81% water and only 19% paper by weight. It is, however, firm enough to be used for sculpting and casting. In fact, if it were less moist, it would be equally less malleable.

As the water goes through the filter bag (Fig. 4), the ÜberSlurry forms on the sides of the bag. Eventually, most of the the water drains, and the centrifuge is sealed and switched on. After spinning violently for a few minutes, the slurry is peeled from the sides and stored in a plastic can, ready to be art. ÜberSlurry dries more quickly and much harder than the CommonSlurry, but shrinks much more.

Fig. 5 - Left, the core of a sculpture made with CommonSlurry. Right, ÜberSlurry is layered on for the detail of the piece. Different batches show as different shades and colors, the result of whatever paper was used.

As previously stated, when a new sculpture is begun, the core is made with the CommonSlurry (Fig. 5), and then allowed to dry for a few days. This allows for initial shrinkage that might be problematic if left to occur all at once after the completion of the piece. When a reasonable amount of time has passed, ÜberSlurry is layered on top of the core. It is on this layer that the detail work will be executed.

Fig. 6 - Original sculpture, coated with amber-tinted shellac, and the mold made from it.

After an original piece is finished and has dried, which sometimes takes many weeks, it is coated with an amber-tinted shellac. This seals it and gives it a non-porous surface, which is better for the mold-making process (Fig. 6).

After the mold is made, I use it a couple of ways: first, which was my original intention, it can be filled with concrete or some other hard compound that could, upon curing, be placed outside for the whole wide world to enjoy. Second, it can be packed with the same slurry that has been made and used for the original sculptures. Also taking weeks to dry, these “paper castings” are then demolded and coated with the metallic coatings and patinas that are shown in the photos.

Fig. 7 - The evolution of the full-mold paper casting process.

I came upon this second technique as a result of boredom, and a need to do something other than cast concrete, as my limited facilities at home do not allow for efficient production and storage of the concrete castings. So, one day, just for the hell of it, I stuffed slurry back into a mold (Fig. 7). A few weeks later, it had dried well enough to be demolded. After a bit of rhinoplasty, which is almost always necessary, I had a perfectly viable piece that could be coated and hung on a wall (unlike concrete). The dried paper castings have a very rough texture, which adds to the ancient look.

So, I have continued this process for the last two years, and the result can be seen on the accompanying pages. I have worked to make this as green a process as possible. I reclaim and recycle most the water I use. I made a solar oven that can be used (mainly in the summer) for drying multiple pieces simultaneously. Even the excess slurry that comes off the edges of a casting, or bad castings themselves, can be thrown back in the mix and churned up again. There is very little waste.

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