[The following are selections from the Paper & Book Intensive newsletter "The Whittier Whittler," published by Susan Sayre Batton (PBI Journalist) during the period of June 10-21, 1998, Week 2.]

the whittier whittler

"hew to the line, and let the chips fall where they may"

camp whittier, santa barbara, california, 1998

Adhesives & Sizing Agents with Cathleen Baker

The Girdle Book with Pamela Spitzmueller

Paper Engineering for Artist's Books with Carol Barton

Plant Dyes for Paper with Merilyn Britt

Punch Cutting with Stanley Nelson (coming)

Adhesives & Sizing Agents with Cathleen Baker

Day one - Cathy Baker quote of the day: "This is not rocket science" Says who? By the end of day one our synapses were on overload as we struggled to comprehend and catalogue the properties and uses of various adhesives and sizing agents, and to learn the definitions of terms like emulsion, dispersion , and colloidal solution. Fortunately, one of Cathy's greatest talents as a teacher is her ability to make chemistry understandable to non-chemists, and to translate techno-babble into useful information for conservators and artists. She also provided us with a set of detailed handouts explaining everything, and after two or three read-throughs we felt ready for our new jobs at NASA.

Some highlights of what we learned during day one: Choose your adhesive according to what you want it to do. Do you need shear strength (to counteract sliding-type stress) or tensile strength (to counteract stress that would pull the two bonded pieces directly apart )? Can you work with an aqueous adhesive like paste or do you need a "dry" adhesive such as a heat- or solvent-sealing resin? Rhoplex AC33 and BEVA both heat-seal at fairly low temperatures, so your paper won't fry. Rhoplex N580, which is a contact adhesive, sounds great. It can be applied to one or both surfaces, allowed to dry, and then used as a pressure-sensitive bond. Used on one surface it's re-positionable, on both it forms a more permanent bond. (Not for original paper artifacts, but great for things like bonding layers of matboard together).

Do you need a weak adhesive or a strong one? The adhesive bond should always be weaker than the materials to be bonded, so that the adhesive will fail before your art work tears. Starch paste is an incredibly strong adhesive, and when used in high concentrations it also shrinks a great deal upon drying. The dry film is very brittle. Methyl cellulose, on the other hand, has virtually no adhesive property, and dries to a very flexible film. A mixture of starch paste and methyl cellulose combines the best of both worlds, creating an adhesive that sticks better than methyl cellulose, but is viscous enough to be convenient to work with, and dries to a film that is flexible and shrinks less than starch paste alone.

Speaking of methyl cellulose, this is a material that is more complicated than the uninitiated would guess. It is manufactured in a variety of molecular weights, which means that it is available with short, medium and long polymer chains making up the methyl cellulose molecule. The longer chains yield a higher viscosity material than the shorter ones when mixed in the same concentration. Cathy described these in terms of rice (short molecules) and spaghetti (long ones), with paper as the colander. Rice grains can get into and maybe through those holes, while the spaghetti will tangle up and stay on top. Even if there's only one strand of spaghetti in the colander, it probably won't go through. Therefore, it's useless to dilute a long-chain methyl cellulose for use as an internal sizing for paper.... Is this making sense?

For most conservation applications, Cathy recommends Dow Methocel A4M (molecular weight 4,000 - a long chain), which is available through many conservation suppliers including BookMakers. If you don't know what your vendor's source is, ask - They are usually repackaging material from a large chemical manufacturer.

Methyl cellulose is actually only one of a huge family of materials called cellulose ethers, all of which are based on molecules made from chemically-altered cellulose. There are many different cellulose ethers available, with a dizzying array of molecular weights, solubilities and characteristics. One of Cathy's favorites is sodium carboxymethylcellulose, or sodium cmc - it has greater adhesive properties than methyl cellulose and is almost as stable.

The long-term stability of adhesives and sizing agents is always an issue, and in general, it seems that water-based, water-reversible adhesives are the best. Methyl cellulose wins here - it lasts forever, and won't support mold growth! Paste ages well too, as long as it isn't overcooked, and is made from precipitated wheat starch, which contains no gluten (an acidic protein). Aytex-P and the Japanese starch zin shofu are both purified wheat starches commonly used in conservation. Solvent-based adhesives score lower, though some are acceptable for conservation use. Poly(ethylene/vinyl acetate) dispersions, which most of us know as PVA's like Jade 403 and Elvace, have their practical uses for binding and conservation, but should not be applied to original art work because they are extremely difficult to remove. THE GOOD NEWS is that glue sticks (which, in case you wanted to know, are poly(vinyl pyrrolidone) compounds) appear to age very well. They don't turn brown, and they remain water-soluble for a long period of time. The only caution is to avoid the ones that change color on the paper, or that smell of ammonia, since they probably have a very high pH that could cause problems over time. And remember: Rubber cement is the worst thing in the world, masking tape is the 2nd worst, and YES! PASTE, NO, NO, NO!!!

If you want to do a quick-and-dirty accelerated aging test at home (so you can really feel like a rocket scientist), put samples of papers with various adhesives on them into your oven, set at 200 degrees F. Put a pan of water in the bottom to create humidity in the oven, and "cook" for 3 or 4 days. Adhesives that do not fare well will darken, become brittle, and become irreversible in water or whatever other solvent normally releases them. Better adhesives will change less. Accelerated aging does not simulate natural aging, but can provide a point of comparison between various materials. In Cathy's class we learned that darkening is caused by oxidation, embrittlement comes from hydrolysis, and irreversibility is the result of cross-linking.... but that's the theoretical stuff.

Day two - Cathy Baker quote of the day: Upon hearing that somebody had questioned the utility/advantage of adding cellulose ethers to starch paste - "Well, he's wrong".

Today was spent preparing stock solutions of gelatin, starch paste, methyl cellulose and sodium cmc, and then creating a large and diverse palette of mixtures (17 altogether) with which to stick and size our papers, including "The Mix", Cathy's own brew of one part starch paste (20% solids) and two parts Dow Methocel A4M (2.5g/100ml). Between discussions of degree of polymerization, degree of substitution, and the role of alkalinity in increasing hygroscopicity, we brushed and dipped and cast films onto paper.... Test results to follow, watch this space... degree of polymerization, degree of substitution, and the role of alkalinity in increasing hygroscopicity, we brushed and dipped and cast films onto paper.... Test results to follow, watch this space... - Maria Fredericks

The Girdle Book with Pamela Spitzmueller

The Consolation of Binding: A Grind of Girdler's

As the weary cenobites of the book reentered the dark lodge, they trimed the feast candles of the nearly forgotten chapel of Saint Pamela DeGirdle. The niche held the mysterious reliquary of the Girdle. The monks marveled as to how such a book could be made. Grabbing the girdle by the knot the book fell open to a passage by Boethius...

"...You too, if you want bind books in truth and to sew the right stich straight, cast out joy, cast out fear, rid yourself of hope and grief. The mind is clouded, checked, where these hold sway."

All of a sudden a bright warm light filled the room and a marvelous vision of Saint Pamela appeared cradling a bolt of chamois. A divine voice said "roll out the chamois, these book styles are interesting and fit to bind." From the chamois multifarious girdle examples fell to the monks below. The cenobites gave thanks and began to bind a new binding.

Historical wonders and visions filled the souls of the cenobites as they learned arcane binding secrets in the presence of Pamela the Divine. The book, the girdle, the skirt and the knot: these were mysteries to be revealed. To believe that the girdle book is a mere relic of the past, is to mistake the coat for the person, the girdle for the book. No more were the believers to forget their books in forsaken locations.

The book became a girdle unto their waists, the Word covered in flesh.

The Feast Date of Saint Pamela DeGirdle Devine is June 19 - according to the Cachuma Grind of Girdlers Calendar.

Note: a group of girdle binders is a 'grind of girdlers.'

It has been confirmed that this PBI girdle book class is the largest to be taught in recent modern history - Richard of Spelker

Paper Engineering for Artist's Books with Carol Barton

Day one - The goal of this workshop is to be able to acquire an understanding of structural models and ideas for sculptural book forms such as the historical (mid-1700) tunnel book (theater format.) Other forms such as the carousel (which creates a shallow space) will also be demonstrated. We were all relieved to hear that allowing ourselves to experiment (and fail) is a big part the learning process for pop-ups and that we aren't expected to have completed well-constructed projects to take away with us. It is hard to believe that some of the most amazing pop-ups make use of the simplest forms, but after seeing a number of Carol's examples, we became believers very quickly.

We played the soap opera game to get acquainted, using our middle name and street we grew up on. Some of our soap opera stars are: Ann Robinson, Duane Skyview, Edward Delaware, June County, Beck 31, Marie Hilltop, Helena Biscay, Ann Dee, Sarah Five, Ann Haskin, June Rockdale, Antoinette Shellpod. The second part of the game was to use a childhood pet as first name and our mothers maiden name as last name. These characters include: Chamois Merks, Bibsie Wassa, Champagne Cooke, Bon Bon Kleinsorge, Beau Seck, Shotzie Maucher, Ginger Hudak, Gigi Eaton, Poopsey Bloom, Candy Crow, Whitey Talent and Heini Stuckrath. Can you guess who they are in their real life as "bookies"?

Carol demonstrated the basic shapes and forms. Through the valleys and mountains we trekked to discover all the wondrous possibilities of simple, paper tricks. We found out everything we ever wanted to know about symmetrical, single, double and angle cuts, but were afraid to ask.

We all put our favorite words on paint chips in a large box to generate writing ideas, with many grumbling about the writhing, writing process. We'll design some business cards and collaborate on a recipe book as our group projects. Carol's numerous handouts (suppliers, artist book organizations, writing reference books, adhesives, etc.) will be handy after we finally lay down our exacto knives and glue sticks and return home.

Remember all you paper junkies, this is the perfect activity for an obsessive-compulsive personality type. "Parents, do you know where your children are cutting up after 10:00 p.m.?" They're probably "popping up" all over the Lodge.

Day two - The first order of the day; asymmetrical structures (perfect for book artists who look at things from a different perspective.) Plot, plot, plot on graph paper before cutting. Remember, failure is an integral part of our learning and the piles of colored paper overflowing from the trash can are evidence that we are really "booking" now! Next, the wondrous "V" fold and before lunch we learned the laws of and construction for a "floating plane." The morning was jammed packed, indeed. In the afternoon we experimented with "volumetric" pop-ups, also known as the pyramid, simple tent (hey Ken, let's go camping!), parallel box, dimensional can (YES, we CAN do this!), Volvelle simple rotating disk and half-rotation dissolve.

Well, by supper time, we felt like we had really made a significant contribution to the recycle bin and we're all looking forward to looking down the "tunnel" book format tomorrow.

Kudos go to Carol who is such a patient and accomplished instructor. The materials and handouts for this class are extraordinary and she makes sure that everyone is "getting it." It is clearly evident that she was well prepared to give us a jammed pack four days of paper engineering.

Day three - Today we "tunneled" our way through the complexities of tunnel book structures. - Judy Moss

Plant Dyes for Paper with Merilyn Britt

Day one - Merilyn has worked very hard to create a comfortable place for us to focus and work. A place to harbor a completely different frame of mind. Our paper dyeing domain. The tent is our library which we treat just like a library. We also have a cook area and a dyestuff area outside the big top. Today we learned the fundamentals of the plant dye process. There are more steps to this process than I would have thought. And it is so important to record every step in detail. As Merilyn says, "there is no need to reinvent the wheel". The dyestuff that we worked with today came from the San Diego area. We drew color liquor from Allium (yellow onion skins), Anthemus Cotula (Stinkweed, Mayweed or Fetid Chamomile), Phormiun Tenax (New Zealand Flax Flower Pod), Prunus sp. (Red Plum leaves and stems), and Cae Salpina (Brazil wood powder). Merilyn had soaked the plant matter in bottles in the sun for three days. We cooked the dyestuff in non-reactive pots to speed up the liquor extraction process. After we decided the level of color we wanted (by placing a small test strip of paper in the pots of dyestuff), we strained the matter from the liquor. At this point we prepared the dye bath, measured the pH level of the liquor, and immersed our paper. Later, we will learn the effects of blooming and saddening color and over-dyeing.

Throughout this entire process, it is important to remember that with Merilyn's guidance, we are learning the principles of collectting, documenting and using plant dyes which we will take with us and create our own individual experiences. The process of dyeing with plant matter is not an exact science. We view it as opportunity for personal interpretation. Plant dyieng is so much not an exact science that Merilyn is looking forward to wonderful "mistakes" which may actually be discoveries. It's important to realize how all-encompassing this process really is. Not only do you take into account the direction of the sunlight, weather patterns (El Niño) and seasons, but also the sensory experience of touch (harvesting and collecting), smell (any odiforous plant will dye), sight (color interpretation) and finally, the overall meditative experience of preparation and discovery.

We learned that paper doesn't begin or end with it's formation. It isn't finished or a name isn't given to it until it is formed, colored, printed, bound and the names of all involved are listed on the colophon page. All paper has a memory. It remembers color and how it first interacts with the fibers. Merilyn has guaranteed that this will be an incredible experience. It already is.

Day two - When we arrived this morning, we all just kinda knew what had to be done. There was dyestuff to prepare, baths to make, and paper to dye. And as the day went on our class got into a natural rhythm of tending the color-filled bins. Class projects had to come first and then we were able to go off on our own, collecting what we wanted for our own dye pots to share with the class. Yesterday we happened upon an interesting plant along side the path. We gathered some this morning, identified it down to it's family (Stachys sp.), and boiled it gently to extract the natural dye. Some of you may have smelled a minty aroma wafting across Camp Whittier (we apologize if it made you nauseous). It's color is even richer than it's odor.

We are reminded again and again by Merilyn that the general principles are underlying and that we can bend the rules. She tells us how personal it can be to each of us and to go with what fascinates us. She ended today's lecture by saying, "You can do this over and over and over but there's nothing over and over about it."

After being in this class, walking through the woods is a new experience. The mind's eye sees all the possibilities of color. - Rory Sparks & Kirstie Zahansky

Top of the page

Back to the PBI 1998 homepage