Full Circle

A paper mache sculpture in progress by MJ Seal that resembles an expanding honeycomb-like structure

After more than a decade of intermittent painting I am back to pretty much were I began in art school- sculpting with paper clay. For my senior project I made these allegorical dioramas with sculptures made from air dried clay and paper mache that I would then photograph. I haven’t done much sculpting since except for some functional ceramic pieces.

I dunno, I’ve just had these loose ideas for projects that wouldn’t work as paintings- if I made paintings of them they would be illustrations of the potential art piece rather than an art piece. I began thinking why not just make a physical, 3-dimensional object out of the form that’s floating around in the back of my mind?

Expanding honeycomb-like structure made from ephemera and dried out flowers

I just needed a sculpting medium that wasn’t a crack and split prone as actual ceramic clay and didn’t need firing. I remembered the Cellulaclay I used for my dioramas and decided to look into that. I had read about ways to make paper pulp out of old junk mail and receipts, and if you can make paper pulp you can make paper clay. So following a recipe I found for paper mache pulp I shredded up a few weeks of junk mail (it accumulates very quickly), soaked it, ground it up to a slurry in a blender and added some glue and calcium carbonate. The first batch was a bit thin and sloppy. I didn’t think to drain the paper pulp beforehand so the clay came out more as a slurry. No problem though, I poured it over a plastic tarp and the resulting textured sheet has already given me ideas that can evolve from this “encrustation”.

Encrustation 01
The splattering of the paper slurry on a plastic tarp created some very interesting texture.

I made a second batch of paper “clay” with a different recipe and after draining the paper pulp this time I added glue, drywall joint compound, mineral oil and flour. The resulting clay was very sticky and pasty and would need to be spread over an armature like frosting- it would not work as a real clay would. It did give me an idea though.

The first “shell”. It looks like a cross between one of the local mountains and the fossil of some primitive sea animal.

I’ve wanted to make an abstract sculpture of forested hills in winter so using some thick aluminum wire I created skeletons of these smooth, mountain ridge-like forms which I covered in a plastic tarp so the “clay” wouldn’t glue itself to them. For the first (the larger) mountain I spread the clay over the armature as the base layer. It took forever to dry and required a lot of clay. For the smaller mountain I decided to use old school paper mache strips whetted with glue water. It was much faster and easier and the paper shell dried much faster.  I will soon be applying a top layer of clay. and will hopefully have pics of that soon.

Wooded Hills in Winter 02
The smaller mountain with holes pre-drilled in it for the “trees” I will be attaching soon.

I’ve also started on a long term project using junk mail, receipts and other detritus (like hair, nail clippings and dryer lint) to create a paper sculpture. The detritus will be ground to a slurry with water and starch like regular paper and poured over a drying screen layer by layer throughout the year.  Unfortunately I don’t think I put enough starch in the first batch as the paper was very fragile and tore apart as I peeled it from the drying screen- oops. It’s still workable though, and I think as more “deposits” are layered on it should hold together better.

Paper Stromatilites week 1

I’ve also begun work with a project using ephemera and memoranda as the base for the paper pulp-

This form looks like a cross between a honeycomb and some of the primitive fossilized coral I’ve found on my hiking trips.

I’ve had this idea for some sort of honeycomb-like object filled with gold for awhile now. I have plenty of gold leaf leftover from picture framing projects and as I was purging old envelopes of receipts (including the receipts for the gold leaf itself) I decided they would make the perfect physical medium for the “honeycomb” itself. I just like the idea of objects describing memory made from objects that trigger memory- like the receipts, car registrations,  old xmas cards and so forth. So I shredded them, added a little calcium carbonate (to neutralize the acids in the paper), some drywall joint compound and tons of glue along with a few drops of various essential oils and a cup of German chamomile flowers. The flowers and oils give this piece a distinct spicy, floral, honey scent.  This clay was much thicker and less sticky than the clay the other recipe made and I could sculpt with it freely without supports. It also dried fairly quick (and set up like concrete) so I will hopefully be gilding it shortly.

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