New Hampshire artist Roland Simard takes papermaking to the next level with his pulp paintings.
by Stephanie Kaplan
2007, fiber, 24 x 18. Collection the artist.
New Hampshire artist Roland Simard’s paintings are all about creating layers of texture. While this is common for many artists, what sets Simard apart is that he uses fibers instead of paint. Although he began his art career working predominantly in oil, a graduate course in papermaking gave Simard a finer appreciation of working with fibers and inspired him to take papermaking to the next level. “I was attracted to how luminous the fiber pigments were in contrast to what you see in paint,” the artist explains, “and it’s a lot of fun to work with the pulp.”
Simard begins his multistep process with a sketch of his composition. “Depending on the image, I will do a very detailed sketch in pastel if the colors are important, or in graphite if they’re not,” he says. “I do a grid drawing to scale because I can’t draw in the water.” The artist draws inspiration from his natural surroundings in New Hampshire’s White Mountains—as evident in Shadow Pool and Shelburne Birches.
Simard forms the sheet of paper in a large vat of water that sits on a table. A deckle, or frame, is placed in the vat to keep the fibers in place and to maintain the desired size and shape of each sheet. The artist places this drawing on a table next to the vat to provide a guide for the placement of the pulp, and places a mirror above the vat at a 45-degree angle, so he can see the drawing and maintain the correct proportions of the composition.
2004, fiber, 30 x 24. Private collection.
Simard uses 90 percent cotton fibers in his work because they are easy to process; Spanish flax and abaca make up the other 10 percent because they add strength to the sheet and because the fibers are longer. The fiber combination is processed in a machine called a hollander where a paper beater shreds the fiber to a pulp for approximately 30 minutes to keep the fibers somewhat long. Liquid sizing is added to the processed pulp to strengthen and waterproof the finished sheet.
Next, the artist colors the pulp with pure pigments that won’t fade. “Coloring the pulp is like making your own paint,” Simard explains. He finds great joy in using a kitchen blender to mix various combinations of red, yellow, green, blue, black, brown, and white to create the palette for each work.
The artist favors several tools as “brushes” to place pulp in the water—he places the pulp pieces side by side and on top of each other to create the desired image. His favorite tool is a kitchen fork that only has two tines. He also uses wire pieces and paper clips to create small lines, and uses a string as if it were a pencil—“place the string in the wet pulp, lift it up, and then you get a line” Simard explains. This can be seen at work in the line of the fence in Out to Pasture. In this piece he also relied on other tools to create the varied texture in the sky and wheat field. Out to Sea also demonstrates Simard’s ability to manipulate the pulp into a textured, detail composition—the different layers in the sea mimic waves, while the piece of rope hanging over the bottom edge of the work gives the composition a greater sense of three-dimensionality. The artist also loves using various turkey basters to suck up the pulp and distribute it in the vat of water. He also enjoys pouring and splattering the pulp to achieve his desired effect.
|Out to Pasture
2006, fiber,18 x 24. Private collection.
|Out to Sea
2006, fiber, 18 x 24. Collection the artist.
Since the pulp remains in the vat of water during the entire process, the individual fibers weave and interlock with each other to form a single sheet. Once the artist is satisfied with the composition, he uses a vacuum system he designed to remove water from the vat. “The trick is to keep the water level equal to the level of the fibers,” Simard explains, “so that the fibers float around and find their own level. You want the fibers to move around a little bit, but if there is too much water in the vat then the pulp sinks and you loose a lot of control.” The vacuum system slowly removes the water from underneath the vat, which prevents the fibers from moving. “You can still work on the texture of the piece once the water is removed—even at this point, you can add a small amount of fiber to make things look more 3-D and to fine-tune the image,” Simard states.
Once the sheet is removed from the water, it is placed on wool felt and left to dry for several days. Once the artwork is dry, the sheet is coated and sealed with a clear, liquid polymer and mounted on museum board. This coating archives the sheet for thousands of years. The final product is a hand-cast sheet of paper that, when seen up close, displays abstract layers of texture and color—yet depicts a unified landscape from afar.