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Posts Tagged ‘paper

“When I see a white piece of paper, I feel I’ve got to draw”*…

 

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The Nuremberg paper mill, the building complex at the lower right corner, in 1493

 

Paper made its first appearance in Europe in the 11th century, but was expensive and suffered from poor quality.  By the 15th century, it was inexpensive and of good quality– and that dramatically boosted the level of Renaissance art:

Paper created a monumental shift in European art. … Drawing is a primal urge, … but drawing only became a standard art form when paper became available. In the case of Europe, this occurred dur­ing the Renaissance, when paper was still a new idea on the Continent. Previously, there had been very little informal use of parchment for art because it was too expensive and too difficult to erase. At first, European paper was also too expensive to be used to dash off a quick sketch and had too low a standing to be used for serious art. But by the late fifteenth century, this had all changed. Paper opened up the possibility of the sketch. Renaissance artists sketched out their work before they drew, painted, or sculpted it — or, in the case of Albrecht Dürer’s woodcuts, carved it. This new ability to not only plan but toy with ideas raised their art to a level not known in the Middle Ages…

Sixteenth-century artist and historian Giorgio Vasari, whose Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects is the leading source of biographical information on the Italian Renaissance artists [see here], tells the story of a sketch by Michelangelo that was displayed in the Palazzo Medici for art students to copy. Since the sheet, like most of Michelan­gelo’s sheets, had a variety of sketches on it, students started tearing off pieces of it, and they became ‘scattered over many places.’ According to Vasari, those fortunate students who ended up with a remnant treasured it and regarded it as something ‘more divine than human.’

Michelangelo used a great deal of paper, [and] … almost any piece of paper he used contained a few sketches. A few are finished drawings. A stunning drawing of the resurrection of Christ is also marked with a shopping list. Masterful drawings were folded up, with notes about the banal ephemera of everyday life jotted on the reverse side. …

Michelangelo may have been among the first to jot down quick ideas for himself. Some 2,000 letters from and to Michelangelo have also been collected. Letter writing is another practice that blossomed with the widespread use of paper…

Leonardo da Vinci was notorious in his lifetime for his inability to complete projects. … Fortunately, there was paper, on which Leonardo could capture his genius. Though he is usually thought of as a painter, only fifteen paintings, some unfinished, have been found, along with two damaged murals. He also attempted some sculpture, though he never finished one piece. But he left behind thirty bound notebooks. Unlike Michel­angelo, he did want people to see this work on paper, including the notes he made in his mirror-image script — a curious response to being left-handed. He left drawings depicting all kind of inventions, and notes on literature, arts, mythology, anatomy, engineering, and, most of all nature….

Leonardo also left behind four thousand sheets of drawings of stag­gering beauty. He was the first artist to be recognized for his drawings on paper. Leonardo’s work became the standard for art in Renaissance Florence. Studying art now meant working on paper, learning to draw. Leonardo had learned art that way himself, in the workshop taught by Andrea del Verrocchio. Artists have been trained on paper ever since.”

More at “Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Paper,” an excerpt from Mark Kurlansky’s Paper: Paging Through History, via the ever-illuminating Delanceyplace.com.

For more on the enabling technologies of art, see “Primary Sources: A Natural History of the Artist’s Palette.”

* Ellsworth Kelly

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As we sketch, we might spare a thought for Joseph Severn; he died on this date in 1879.  A painter of portraits and literary and biblical subjects, he was a close friend and traveling companion of John Keats.  His works hang in museums including The (British) National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Tate Britain.

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Severn’s portrait of Keats

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Self-portrait

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Written by LW

August 3, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Tossing away a piece of paper is clearly taboo”*…

 

paper

 

Today, in an age of computers, smartphones and e-books, you could be forgiven for predicting the demise of this ancient wonder material. But though there has been a small decline in the demand for so-called “graphic paper”, like newspapers and books, the paper industry is booming.

The world currently uses around 400 million tonnes of paper per year. And from money to cardboard boxes, to receipts, coffee cups, stick-on notes, baking paper, egg cartons, birthday cards, straws, wrapping paper, and, of course, papier-mâché, it’s hard to imagine modern life without it. We might be edging towards a cashless society, but the paperless society, as the American librarian Jesse Shera famously put it, “is about as plausible as the paperless bathroom”.

In fact, demand for paper is growing all over the world, and as we turn our backs on single-use plastic, paper is one of the main contenders to take its place. The last few years has seen numerous retailers announce that they are switching to paper bags, while paper-based chocolate wrappers, ready-meal trays and water bottles have also started to emerge.

In Canada, the government recently approved a ban on certain plastic items, while the EU has pledged to eradicate some of the most notorious by 2021. Some Indian states have gone further, ditching single-use plastic altogether. Many businesses have already announced that they will be replacing throw-away plastic items with paper versions.

But how sustainable is paper really? And what can be done to reduce its environmental impact?…

[Consider, among other factors, like deforestation…]

Almost every phase of paper manufacturing involves water. Scaled up to the magnitude of the industry today, a vast amount is required. To make just a single A4 sheet, you need between two and 13 litres. In China, which remains one of the leading players in the paper trade, the industry sucked up 3.35 billion tonnes (roughly three trillion litres) in 2014 – enough for about 37 billion baths.

After the pulping and bleaching is over, paper mills end up with water containing a cocktail of organic compounds, alkalis and bleach, which must be treated so that it can be disposed of safely. This can be a huge technical challenge, and some paper mills simply discharge the effluent straight into the local water supply, where it’s acutely toxic to fish and other wildlife  – even at concentrations of just 2%

For better and/or worse: “How paper is making a comeback.”

* Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

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As we muse on materials, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that London suffered “The Great Beer Flood Disaster” when the metal bands on an immense vat at Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery snapped, releasing a tidal wave of 3,555 barrels of Porter (571 tons– more than 1 million pints), which swept away the brewery walls, flooded nearby basements, and collapsed several adjacent tenements. While there were reports of over twenty fatalities resulting from poisoning by the porter fumes or alcohol coma, it appears that the death toll was 8, and those from the destruction caused by the huge wave of beer in the structures surrounding the brewery.

(The U.S. had its own vat mishap in 1919, when a Boston molasses plant suffered similarly-burst bands, creating a heavy wave of molasses moving at a speed of an estimated 35 mph; it killed 21 and injured 150.)

Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery

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Written by LW

October 17, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The peppery-sweet perfume of pinks”*…

 

Think of the early American pencil industry as the Wild West of office supplies.

Starting in the 1820s, pencil manufacturers popped up across the United States in an effort to secure their own piece of a booming, million-dollar business—quickly followed by a flurry of innovations and inventions. “A lot of people were developing similar things from similar ideas in different places, not knowing that somebody else had already done it,” notes Caroline Weaver, owner of Manhattan pencil shop CW Pencil Enterprise. “There was an enormous amount of competition.”

Today’s office supply industry is not characterized by the same sort of frenzied lawlessness. But we still owe the look of our writing instruments to the marketing decisions of those early 19th- and 20th-century pencil mavericks trying to stand out from the crowd.

Take the eraser. In 1770, a British engineer named Edward Nairne produced the first eraser using a South American tree rubber known as caoutchouc. English chemist Joseph Priestley was quite impressed with the results, dubbing the substance “rubber” that same year, after its ability to rub out black marks from pencil lead…

Explore the aesthetics of eradication: “Why Erasers Are Pink.”

* Kate Atkinson

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As we reach for the rubber, we might might send a hand-made birthday card to William Joseph “Dard” Hunter; he was born on this date in 1883.  Active in the Arts and Crafts movement, he was an American authority on printing, paper, and papermaking, especially by hand, using the tools and craft of four centuries prior.  Hunter produced two hundred copies of his book Old Papermaking, preparing every aspect of the book himself: he wrote the text, designed and cast the type, did the typesetting, handmade the paper, and printed and bound the book.  A display at the Smithsonian Institution that appeared with his work read, “In the entire history of printing, these are the first books to have been made in their entirety by the labors of one man.” He later wrote Papermarking by Hand in America, a larger, but more conventional undertaking.

Dard Hunter’s self-portrait in watermark

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Written by LW

November 29, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Being virtually killed by a virtual laser in a virtual space is just as effective as the real thing, because you are as dead as you think you are.”*…

 

Long before Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the paper peep show—a small, layered diorama that expands like an accordion to create the illusion of depth—was a way for audiences in the 19th century to peer into times and places beyond their own experience. A popular souvenir in their day, peep shows brought to life scenes of the completion of the Thames Tunnel and the Great Exhibition of 1851 to masquerade balls and theatrical stage sets. Now, they’re delightful pieces of ephemera from another time that suggest that desire for immersion in other worlds stretches back centuries…

Peep shows, also known as tunnel books, are widely considered to be the ancestors of animation and film. Peering through a peep show in the 21st century might as well be an analog version of virtual reality—one that transports you to a different time altogether…

Take a peek at “Paper Peep Shows Were The Virtual Reality Of The 19th Century.”

* Douglas Adams

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As we don the goggles, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908 that Émile Cohl‘s Fantasmagorie was released.  Considered by film scholars to be the first animated cartoon, it had tremendous influence not only on the future of animation, but also on early nature films.

 

 

Written by LW

August 17, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Life is about using the whole box of crayons”*…

 

How Crayola Crayons Are Made

* RuPaul

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As we muse on Mango Tango, we might recall that it was on this date in 1895 that Frederick E. Blaisdell of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was granted U.S. patent No. 549,952 for a paper pencil, (self-sharpening pencils, on which the tip could be renewed by peeling away some of the paper barrel– the type better known as “china markers” today), as well as patent number 550,212 for a machine for manufacturing pencils.

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Written by LW

November 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

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