Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist


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Beating Bark in Beijing

Since moving to Beijing, I've been on the lookout for partners on a quest to make unique art books. Something like the special edition of Paper Pilgrimage, but with a more creative synthesis of Chinese and American (okay, Western) techniques.

During a visit to Paper Pounder Press, the assistant Leyah told me about a brand new papermaking studio he'd visited, near the Today Museum.

Here's their business card, letterpressed by Paper Pounder, onto (of course) handmade paper:

Beijing Paper Studio biz card

Studio assistants were helpful, and even found an English-speaking friend to help translate. They shared cigarettes and tea, showed me a Chinese language book on papermaking plants where we found common ground on Latin botanical names, and were curious about the paper notebook where I scribbled notes, made by Supan in Thailand. One of them, an artist, carefully razored out a page and experimented with ink painting on a brand new surface. He was intrigued by the sizing Supan uses, the ink reacts so differently from Chinese papers. Assistants admitted to making some 'crazy' experimental papers too, rough and in unconventional formats, embedded with twigs and ephemera. Like the papers all over Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang, they were more like cloth than paper. 

"The Master is up in the mountains," apprentices said, "but he should be back by the end of the summer."

He's collecting bark and, I think, meditating after the insanity of setting up a studio in the capital city. Originally from Anhui province, long famous for the high quality of its handmade Xuan art papers, the master has expanded his ambitions to Beijing.

As soon as I walked into the papermaking studio, it was obvious this guy knows what he's doing.

This is by far the biggest paper beater I've ever seen. And the paper made here is all beaten completely by hand:

Beijing papermakers: beating area

Naturally the huge beater is complemented by a massive paper vat:

papermaking vat beijing

A generously-proportioned couching area (for taking the papers off the screens)

Beijing papermakers: couching area

How many more synonyms for "huge" can I dredge up? Some impressive screens hanging on the wall:

beijing papermaking screens

And a heated drying wall that's larger than my living room:

Beijing papermakers: paper drying area

once they would've used ovens like this one in Vietnam to dry their papers.

And oh, a smoothing board too. This is a good way to add a silky texture to the paper.

Beijing papermakers: paper drying board

"These are the Master's papers," his assistant said reverently, at the end of the tour. 

Beijing papermakers: paper made by the master

So next month I hope to meet the man himself, and discuss book paper ideas — the crazier, the better. 
 

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