Paper Casting: The Amazing Art of Allen and Patty Eckman
Paper casting is one of the simplest techniques to learn. It requires little in the way of specialized supplies and equipment, and yields quite lovely results with minimal training. With simple household tools and scrap paper, paper casting techniques can be used to create exquisite decorations for handmade greeting cards, scrap-book pages, and special gift wrapping tags.
Paper casting is truly a green activity, and a great craft to do with children. By using scrap paper, paper that would normally be consigned to the recycle bins or dumped straight in the land-fill - fliers, junk mail, and old catalogs - you can create delicately tinted handmade papers that can be embossed, or directly cast into almost any shape you can imagine.
A Brief History
The art of making paper has a long and interesting history. Every great civilization has adapted or created some form of material on which to record its history and create its works of art, and we are certainly not the first to create lovely embellished papers.
The Ancient Egyptians used papyrus , a form of paper made from Nile reeds. Papyrus is extremely fragile, though, and immersion in water will quickly dissolve it into soggy, mushy fragments.
Conspirators in the Middle Ages are said to have used this to safeguard their secrets, knowing any secret writings consigned to papyrus could be quickly and easily destroyed should discovery become imminent.
Vellum was used extensively, along with the sturdier parchment, for books which, until the appearance of the printing press, were hand lettered. Making a copy of a book was an extremely skilled, time-consuming, and arduous task, most often undertaken by scribes in monastic orders. A decorated manuscript or small volume could take many months to complete. Only the very wealthy could afford to own books or commission them.
These books were often works of art in their own right, with intricate decorations and hand-painted embellishments. A famous example, "Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry ", the Duc de Berry's Book of Hours , a book of prayers to be recited by the faithful at each of the canonical hours of the day, contains many such exquisite illuminations.
Commissioned by Jean, Duc de Berry around 1410, it is probably the most important illuminated manuscript from the 15th century. The manuscript includes 131 with large miniatures and many border decorations, along with 300 decorated capital letters.
Textiles and Totems
Some cultures, such as our Plains Indians, the west coast Salish peoples, the Inuit of Canada's Arctic, and the original totem carvers of Haida Gwaii, who relied on oral tradition to pass on their stories and legends, have left a different kind of legacy - in their textiles and carvings.
Because these cultures had no written language, their civilization tended to be viewed as somehow lesser, or, perhaps, less civilized then those cultures with a written record.
It is fitting then, that the art of Allen and Patty Eckman celebrates the icons of an oral tradition, not with words, but with the medium that in their talented hands contains so much more than words to showcase the culture.
The Basics of Paper Casting
Paper casting is one of the easiest and least expensive crafting techniques. In a short time, you can produce beautiful paper castings.
- paper - any kind will do and junk mail works well
- clean tap water
- a clean, empty, 4 liter (4 quart) ice cream pail
- a blender - second hand is best, but clean it very, very carefully if you plan to re-use it for food
- a sponge - the inexpensive kind work well
- a strainer - old is fine, as long as it's not rusty
- some paper towels
- a mold - many companies sell beautiful molds for paper casting. You can also use candy or cookie molds, or even rubber stamps
- tear paper into 1" pieces
- pour a cup of water in a blender and add 8 - 10 pieces of paper
- blend at high speed for 20 seconds, or until paper is completely pulped
- holding the strainer over the ice cream pail, pour the paper pulp into the strainer
- pour the drained pulp into the mold, patting it in place with your hand
- pat the paper with a sponge to remove excess water
- squeeze out the sponge and continue gently pressing out the excess water
- gently pat the paper casting with paper towel and carefully lift the casting out of the mold
- set the casting aside to dry
The finished castings, once dry, may be colored with chalks, inks, water color paints, acrylic paints, or even make-up - different shades of powder eye shadows and blushes.You can also use dry, carefully sieved tempera paints.
To decorate or color your casts with paints or ink, seal the casting first with a thin coat of a mixture of half water and half white glue, or a spray sealer.
The drying time can be shortened by using a standard hair dryer with a diffuser attachment.
Some raise simple casting to a fine art form, but the basic techniques are the same, regardless of the end product.
You can reuse the water from the strained pulp but when you are finished your projects, make sure you dispose of the used water safely.
Once you are completely finished casting, take the bucket of used water outside and pour it on the driveway or directly down a sewer grate where it can dissipate without harming anything.
Pouring the water from the strainer down your sink or into the toilet to dispose of it may cause a blockage. The paper pulp left in the water will harden like concrete and you run the risk of blocking your pipes.
Bathroom Tissue Method:
Creating Art From Toilet Paper
- set a rubber stamp on the counter design side
- lay a sheet of bathroom tissue on top of the stamp - single ply paper works best
- using a mister or spray bottle, spray the paper with tap water
- with a small brush, work the paper into all the crevices of the stamp design
- continue, adding 7-10 sheets of paper
- when damp dry, remove from the casting from the stamp and decorate
Simply made, these unique castings can be used to decorate cards, make one-of-a-kind photo frames, scrapbook pages and gift tags. These unusual embellishments can enhance gifts and memorabilia, creating pieces that are sure to become cherished treasures.
Allen and Patty Eckman
Raising paper casting to high art is all in a day's work for Allen and Patty Eckman.
After stress-filled careers as advertising artists, Allen and Patty decided to try a new path. In 1988 the couple began investigating the fine art of cast paper sculpture, a medium Allen had discovered while working as an art director photographing a brochure.
Their exploration with paper casting turned into a love affair with the expressive and versatile medium, leading to the creation of an incredible collection of pieces that celebrate a variety of cultures and eras. The Eckmans' artwork is on permanent display at the Booth Western Art Museum, Cartersville, GA.
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