My World

PLANT PAPER LIFE

Stomata painting by Aoife Fia, watercolour on celery juice paper, orange, pink, yellow, blue, green

Fibres swirling, fingers swishing, watching water waiting... for the moment to let go... into something new.

Papermaking is an ancient craft with deep roots in many countries worldwide. When everything that can rot is removed from a fibrous plant through cooking it is possible to form paper that can last hundreds of years. In Japan Kami is the word for paper, and also God, or Spirit. In Ireland we tended towards animal skins to record important information, so there's a freshness to my journey with plant-papermaking here on the farthest edge of Europe.

I was introduced to many crafts at school and Art College, but never papermaking. A fascination with paper was there from a young age, though: rice paper was my sweet of choice growing up in 1980s Nothern Ireland -the ingenuity and prettiness of the sheets never got old and ignited a delight in paper's uses, from the paper sticks of lollipops, to the delicious paper that is nori seaweed.

To make individual sheets of paper handfuls of pulp are added to a tub of water and swished around. A special piece of equipment called a mould and deckle is then submerged into the water and agitated so that the suspended fibres can be 'pulled' on to the screen evenly. Making uniform sheets is an art that requires patience, observation and surrender.

Plant Fibres

Celery Paper

The bog grass had been soaking for weeks when it dawned on me I could probably make paper from my morning celery juice pulp. It was around my 920th glass of juice, so quite the surprise. Celery fibre creates a light, membrane-like paper, like vellum or parchment. When thick is is hard and dense as plastic.

Bog Grass Paper

I first encountered molinia caerulea as a toddler rolling about in its dried winter form. Over twenty years ago I moved to the bog, then in recent years began weaving bog grass baskets. Bog grass paper is also light and strong, but extremely permeable, just like the bog it forms. When thick it is hard as wood and ethererally light.

Celery and bog grass are my two fibres of choice for now. I am committed to going as far as I can with them before experimenting with the many other fibres on my periphery.

Health-Friendly Art

I didn't have a great start to life, so chronic health problems plagued me through my twenties and thirties. I was aware of harmful effects from the art materials I was using, but everyone else seemed fine and there was no talk of alternatives. The thought was that toxins were the price we paid for quality and longevity.

Then in my forties I became so ill I was dying, and I was very blessed to learn, over a gruelling three-year period, that masses of the right fruits, vegetables, herbs and wild foods had the power to heal me.

Then papermaking came along. Papermaking from plant fibres can be done 100% non-toxically, yet hold up to and often surpass archival standards. With paper and natural pigments I am now able to create art that is longlasting and speaks only healing, health and life.

All my plant papers are 100% plant fibre cooked in soda crystals, a non-toxic alkaline cleaner, and the waste water is then used in my garden. For paintings I use lightfast natural earth and mineral pigments in either gum arabic and honey or plant acrylic. The first small celery paper paintings were made with Derwent Inktense watercolours as I phased them out. For sculptures I rely upon the fibre's own structural qualities, but if extra strength is required beeswax or potato starch is used, and to protect the works for exhibition I use plant-based varnish.

Read more about toxicity in art here