First – just so you know, I am not an expert here. I only just started doing this sort of thing a few weeks ago, so I'm just sharing with you what I know at this point. You may know way more than me, and if you do, and you'd like to share any tips or suggestions, you're very welcome to do so. In fact, you're encouraged, nay, implored to do so. 'K?
Enough with the drama.
First, a bit of an intro.
How did I even get started on this?
Well, first of all, I've always had it in my mind that I needed to find SOMETHING to do with all the scrap paper around here. Yes, there's junk mail and bills and more junk mail, which we joyfully run through the shredder (because it's fun) before tossing in our green recycyle bin. So that's been kind of good – the recycling part – but still…some things are harder to just toss like that.
I'm talking kids' stuff. Homework and classwork and reams and reams of drawn-on paper here. They like to draw. Color. Sketch. A lot. But here's how they do it – they have a big sheet of paper, and dead center, they draw an animal, and then they're done. Especially Julia. Alex used to do that, but he's grown as an artist and now includes SETTINGS and scenery in his work, so there's usually (I love this stuff so much) a straightish blue line across the top of the paper (the sky) and a green line across the bottom of the paper (the grass), unless he's doing a desert scene, in which case the line across the bottom is tan (the sand). Sometimes there's a scene that includes a body of water, like a lake or pond, so there's a partly green/partly blue line. And he's also been including other stuff like trees or boulders, as appropriate, depending on if the scene being set is in a rainforest (one of his favorites) or in the ocean, or in Africa. So he tends to fill up the paper, is what I'm getting at here.
How much of this am I supposed to save???? I can't save it all. We'd need to build an addition on the house for what we'll ultimately accumulate over the years, and if we build ANYTHING it's going to be an outdoor privacy fence thing for a hot tub. Because that's a much better use of space, I think.
So, again, what to do with all this paper?
A while back – when the kids were in daycare, and they brought home art projects twice a day, it seemed, and I could see where this was leading, and that if I didn't create some rules about what to keep and what not to keep, we'd be drowning in paper soon, I decided to save anything that had their handprints or footprints, or anything like that. Because, really, those little tiny hands and feet? Priceless. And worth saving. So I've got that stuff. Little handprints atop a sheet of paper on which is also typed a sentimental poem about how the hand won't be that small forever, so keep this sheet of paper or your kid will need therapy later. And they'll put you in a poorly maintained nursing home.
So anyway. I started off pretty well JUST keeping hand and foot things. But it's hard to be that strict…and so naturally I slipped and slid and started keeping other things, too. I started keeping them in folders…then in these storage things for people who do a lot of scrapbooking (they have little subdividers for different types of paper – i tried subdividing, too – artwork vs schoolwork, and so on.) but of course, those overflowed eventually, and then my cousin's wife said she kept stuff like that in under-the-bed storage bins. Cool! So I got one for each kid, and sorted stuff out, and that's worked. Except. Now Alex's is close to being full. So I need to weed some stuff out.
And I haven't wanted to and haven't wanted to, because hanging onto all that is a way (not a really good one, of course, because there IS no really good one) of hanging onto the little tiny boy with the surfer dude blonde hair who used to say, in his little tiny voice "Hi! What a doin'?" Sniff.
But still. Too much paper.
And now, (thank you for patiently riding this out) I've got an actual USE for whatever I decide not to keep. It won't just be tossed in the green bin. Which, although I know it's a RECYCLE bin, it still feels like THROWING AWAY. But actually using the paper for something creative – that suits me much better.
So. There's all that for some background.
And then, a few weeks ago, I got a catalog in the mail from House on the Hill. I get a catalog from them once or twice every year. They sell springerle molds, and I only know about House on the Hill because my late mother-in-law had purchesed molds from them. I signed up to be on their mailing list, and I've also bought some molds from them, too, over the years.
So anyway, I received the catalog, and even though I'm not planning to buy anything new this year, I always look through and pick out what I WOULD buy if money were no object and I had plenty of space for all of them.
And then, toward the end of the catalog, I came upon a page that showed what you can do with the molds besides make cookies. One of the suggestions was paper casting. (If you go to the website, just click on the Crafts button.) The other suggested medium was "Delight" which is an air-drying modeling compound. I'm pretty sure I'll give that a try at some point, but right now I'm having plenty of fun with the paper.
Best of all, you can download a pdf file with instructions on how to do paper casting. I did, of course, and that's what got me started.
But I didn't use the springerle molds I have. For one thing, they were packed away with all my Christmas baking stuff, deep in a hope chest, and I didn't feel like digging for them. But also, I didn't want to somehow ruin the cookie molds with paper. So I started with what used to be the inside of an Advent calendar from last year or the year before. It's basically a large candy mold – a big sheet of plastic with assorted little mold shapes to house all the little candies you discover as you open the cardboard doors to your Advent calendar. I KNEW there would be some reason to save the plastic thingies, so I did. And – ta-da! I was right.
I made my first batch of paper pulp and used it with those molds, but I've branched out, and so now I use either molds or cookie cutters. I'll show you all of the how-to stuff right now. I think it's time.
First, you need to make your paper pulp.
Fill a blender about 3/4 of the way with water. (We have two blenders – and we rarely use either. So I figured one can now be the paper blender and we'll keep the other for those rare times we blend foods or beverages.) Now you want to put several sheets' worth of paper in there. You can either harvest what's in your shredder, or you can just tear the paper into little pieces.
See it? There's some ripped up light blue paper resting on the water. Push the paper down into the water and add more.
In this series of pictures, I'm going for purple. So I've got an assortment of paper scraps to get me there.
Now let this just sit there for at least fifteen minutes, so the paper absorbs the water and becomes soft. I leave it longer, most of the time. Maybe half an hour.
Then, put the lid on the blender – tightly – and go to it. I have a "liquify" setting on this blender, and that's what I use. Puree it in there for a minute or so, and then stop the motor – take a look and see if it looks like all the paper has disappeared and left behind a cloudy, gloopy mess.
Personally, I don't mind seeing very small bits of paper still intact. I think it looks cool. But it's completely up to you. If you want an entirely homogenized pulp, then keep running the blender until it looks the way you'd like it to look.
Now, here's where I part company with the pdf file I downloaded. That one says to strain the pulp quite a bit. I've read other directions elsewhere online that tell you not to strain it at all. I've ended up somewhere in the middle. I strain it briefly and then dump the (still very wet) pulp in a bowl.
This is (clearly) a different batch of pulp. You can see it's pretty wet. And I know, it's kind of an ugly color. Ah well, that's all part of the adventure of paper casting.
Once you've got your pulp, whatever color it is, you can start making things with it. I'm showing you two ways to get started.
Like I mentioned earlier, the first thing I learned to do was to press the pulp into a mold. The instructions from House on the Hill said to squeeze out a lot of the water first, and I think, if you're using something like a springerle mold that is basically flat with a picture or something carved into it, then this is the easiest way to do it. But I haven't been using my springerle molds. I've been using these plastic hearts, which are actually halves of little plastic heart-shaped containers I bought at some point years ago. I don't even remember why – I just thought they might come in handy.
The other molds I like are these silicone snowflake-shaped things that began life as a 6-section silicone snowflake muffin pan that I bought last year (after-Christmas clearance sale), figuring I'd use it for something. And I am! But I didn't want molds that deep, so I (horrors) cut the pan up and trimmed the molds to about half an inch in depth. I like them because they're flexible and a bit stretchy, which makes unmolding the paper very easy. I use those molds to make these –
But I need to back up.
Place your deep (not the springerle kind) molds on a towel on the counter and fill to the rim with some of your paper pulp.
With a towel, gently press down on the pulp to squeeze some of the water out.
Work carefully, because as you're squeezing water out, you're also pressing the paper into place, and you don't want to create gaps in it. I work my way around the perimeter, pressing down right up to the edge, and then turning the mold a bit and repeating.
You can also use a little knife or spatula to scrape down any paper that's stuck to the sides of the mold. Or you can leave it there and the resulting product will have a sort of cupped look to it. It's up to you.
Anyway, once you've got the pulp pressed down evenly, you can stop. I don't go crazy trying to squeeze every drop of water out – that's what air is for.
So you can see that the heart in the front is done (or as done as I want it to be). Next, if you're going to make a gift tag or an ornament or something like that, you need to make a little hole so you can thread twine or ribbon or something through when the heart is dry.
I use a toothpick to gently "drill" a little hole in the wet paper. While the paper is still wet, you can press down on the edges of the hole so they don't stick up like a barnacle.
Repeat with all your other hearts, or snowflakes, or whatever you're working on, and then just let them air dry.
Now, I am not the most patient person, and I don't want to wait for these to just air dry. So I put them on cooling racks on the back part of my stove, and then I bake cookies or bread or make a lasagne, so that the oven will be on and the heat that blows out through the vent in the stovetop will gently warm up and dry out my paper things. I don't do this constantly, but it definitely helps. So we've got 57 loaves of bread in the freezer….and I've got my dry paper creations. Okay, not 57. Just two. But you get the idea.
You could also set them to dry near a radiator, or near your wood stove (if you have one) or hey, I could put some on top of the lizard's tank, near his little heat lamps! Fill your home with little molds of drying paper pulp! And if anyone complains, just say "But I'm RECYCLING!" and they'll have to shut up about it.
So that's one way.
I wanted to be able to utilize my cookie cutters to do this. After all, I have a gajillion of them, and they might as well do something to earn the right to take up space, right?
The thing with cookie cutters, as you've probably sorted out for yourselves, is that they are just outlines; they don't really work well as containers. So you need somewhere for the water to go.
So you need a screen of some kind. I dug around in my pantry and found the tamis I'd bought years ago for very fine sifting. I never use it. Or, rather, I very rarely used it, and then stopped using it altogether, and now I use it almost daily.
What is a tamis? Imagine a springform pan, with a screen in place of the bottom part of the pan. That's what a tamis is. And it's pronounced "tam-EE."
OH! Speaking of pronouncing things, I happened upon a fun website that teaches you how to pronounce things. A friend of ours and his little daughter were here, and at some point, late in the day, he and Bill were having some kind of mixed-drink discussion and it came up that they weren't 100% sure how to pronounce "Angostura," as in Angostura bitters, one of the components of a Manhattan. I came into the room at this part of the conversation, and I didn't know for sure how it was pronounced, either. So I typed in "angostura pronunciation" and ended up at www.howjsay.com. And then we spent oh, I don't know, five or ten minutes just saying angostura the way the voice on the howjsay site says it. Because he (the Howjsay Voice Guy) really does accents well. Think Ricardo Montalban and "Corinthian leather." In fact, we looked up Corinthian leather, just so Howjsay Voice Guy would have to say it for us, but it didn't recognize "corinthian" as part of any "leather" phrase. Ah well.
Anyway, here's where you can hear Howjsay Voice Guy say angostura. ANG-go-STOOO-rdah. Like that. With the rolling "R." Go. Now. Click on angostura (in pink) on the howjsay page and listen. ANG-go-STOO-rdah.
Fun, huh? And now it is impossible to just SAY the word in our normal voices. We have to say it in HIS voice. The voice of Howjsay Voice Guy. Have to.
Okay, back to the paper stuff. What the heck was I talking about? Oh, yes, the tamis. Unfortunately, howjsay doesn't have tamis on their site. The closest match is "taxis" and that doesn't work at all. Here's one, in case you need a visual. Mine's a little different, but either style will work.
Anyway. You get your cookie cutter and place it on the screen of the tamis and put some paper pulp in it.
you can gently and carefully remove the cutter. I pull up on the cutter with one hand and slowly press around the edges of the paper, until the cutter pulls away and the paper sinks back down to rest on the screen.
Also – I like the tamis for drying things out – the structure of it kind of funnels the heat (when I've got it on the back of the stove) up through the screen and really dries things out quickly.
Now, if you think the tamis is a wicked cool idea, then you'll like this even better – I've also got the screen section from Julia's bedroom window, and I've been using THAT! So go on now, take apart your windows, and you'll have TONS of space to make your little paper things! When I use the screen, and I want to set it somewhere so the paper can dry, I set one edge of it on the display panel part of the stove (the part that sticks up), and I prop the opposite edge on the top part of this four-tiered cooling rack I have. And that thing doesn't really fit well on top of the stove because the burners are in the way, so I slide the narrower, front portion onto the front of the stovetop until it won't go any farther, and leave it like that, perching precariously atop the stove and supporting half a window screen upon which are assorted stars and pumpkins and things made of pureed paper.
Yes, I'm the neighborhood crazy lady. Or at least I'm in contention for the title.
So that's my tutorial. Puree a bunch of paper, and get creative!
Soon every flat surface in your house will have these things in various stages of drying.
Oh, and just one more time, say it with me: ANG-go-STOOO-rdah!