Think paper is boring? The Paper Guild might change your mind

Aug 1, 2013

Handmade paper by Joan Khaled. (This photo has been edited to make details more visible)
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Though we’ve become a digital society, there’s still probably at least a few pieces of paper in your desk or a receipt in your car. In some ways, paper reminds us of the drudgery of daily life: memos, school papers, to-do lists. But spend just a few minutes with The Paper Guild in Kalamazoo and paper might amaze you.

The Paper Guild is a group of artists who make pretty much anything that includes paper. The hold their meetings at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center.

“Marbling paper, various surface techniques, paper mache, book binding…some of our members are printmakers…,” says Lorrie Abdo. “Some of them work 2-D, some work 3-D. Some prefer natural fibers, some like bright neon type colors. Some make bowls, some do vintage collage…”

A work by Lorrie Abdo
Credit Lorrie Abdo

Among other things, Abdo layers paper on canvas to make what looks like a 3-D topographic map.

“This kind of was inspired by the pictures that the astronauts were taking from high up and seeing the world view," she says. "Because then you’re not seeing people, you’re not seeing buildings, you’re not seeing cars, you’re not seeing roads—you’re seeing the texture of the Earth. And that’s what I’m trying to represent here.”

Eve Reid started the guild more than 20 years ago. She uses colored paper pulp as a kind of textured paint.

“Every color in here is a different layer of pulp, very thin. So there’s a wet-base sheet that I work on," she says. "And I have all these different colors around me. And I might make a partial dip and then layer that down and then another one on top. And I work from bottom to top.”

Then Reid puts items she’s found on the work.

“This is mica which someone gave me, a little tiny bag of mica chips, and a sheet of handmade paper, copper—comes from the ground, and this is a coffee stirrer,” says Reid.

Only a year ago the group was called The Handmade Paper Guild, but they dropped the ‘handmade’ to allow more people to join. Reid says that was a tough decision because there is only one other Handmade Paper Guild in the U.S.

Despite the change, guild members like Lauren Matacio still enjoy making handmade paper. Matacio is a librarian who also makes books by hand.

“I took a class at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in natural fibers like from your garden," she says. "And I was intrigued with that idea that you could just go out into your yard and you could just gather things like hostas or Japanese iris foliage or whatever. And you soak it and boil it and pound it and beat it…and it would become a piece of paper."

To make a piece of paper, guild member Joan Khaled starts out with some brown paper pulp in water. Khaled says she usually puts additions like leaves, flowers, or even glitter right into the pulp mixture. To separate the water from the pulp, she uses a screen and a decal—which is just a frame that helps to shape the wet paper.

After that, it’s drying time. If you want thin, smooth paper you’d use a press or even a phone book to squeeze the extra water out. Abdo says if you want a thicker, rougher sheet, you just let it air dry. But no matter what you decide to do with your paper, there are infinite possibilities.