Papermaking for me is cathartic. Part of the appeal is that it's very physical—toting buckets of water, beating large quantities of pulp, hand mixing huge vats of color…It's wet, messy, and wonderful. I haven't picked up a brush or a colored pencil since I discovered papermaking.

Pulp painting is easy to demonstrate, but difficult to explain. But I’ll give it a go.

Cotton rag fiber suspended in water (a wet, messy, colorful slurry) is poured through hand-cut stencils (made from foam meat trays) onto a screen (a window screen will do). The result—an image in handmade paper. The paper is the picture. The picture is the paper.

The advantages of this technique are many:
• I now have a use for all those discarded yogurt containers and hair coloring squeeze bottles; they make excellent pouring cups and drawing tools.
• I’ve developed marvelous upper-body strength, without the cost of a gym membership, from hauling forty-two pound pails of damp fiber (pulp) around the studio.
• At the market I’m known for my fashion sense; my pulp splattered clothing makes quite an impression.
• I’ve discovered that a bucket of pulp is the better mousetrap (I am withholding the disgusting details).
• Looking for additions to my motley collection of blenders (used to mix pigment and chemicals) gives me a reason to stop and shop garage sales.
• Friends have found that the five-gallon pulp shipping pails make nifty nesting buckets for Rhode Island Reds.
• And, of course, there is the pleasure of swirling my hands through five gallons of glorious color to mix fiber and pigment.

The drawbacks are few:
• Cotton rag fiber spoils, and it is no secret when it does. Open the doors and windows and turn on the fans!
• Then there is the problem of color test strips catching fire in the microwave — quite a dramatic touch, but a bit dangerous.

So why pulp painting? It works.

—Published in the March/April 1998 Horn Book Magazine

A Visit with Denise Fleming - An interview and pulp painting demo on YouTube

Pulp Painting

Pulp Painting




last updated July 15, 2014

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