Converting Waste Paper into Paperclay and Paperslip

Converting Waste Paper into Paperclay and Paperslip

Written By: Seth Czaplewski

Living in the West paper is constantly being given to me whether I like it or not. Receipts, junk mail, old drawings, and advertisements. There is no stopping it. I probably would have recycled if it were available, but it isn’t where I live, and that challenged me to find a use for my waste paper. Being a ceramic sculptor, pushing the scale of my work larger and larger as I developed skill was only natural. Then a friend turned me onto paperclay. I could build bigger with it and have less cracking. I was hooked after making my first piece with it. So I want to share how I process it so other ceramists can put their waste material back to use and not have to purchase additional paper pulp.

  • It starts with junk paper. We all know what that look like. I do however try to avoid uv coated paper (like the postcards artist make). It does not seem to break down well.
  • I then weigh the paper dry. How much you want to put in is up to you. I suggest doing several small scale test and see what works for you. Personally I have never exceeded 10% paper by weight in my clay body.
  • Then shred the paper by hand or with a shredder and soak it in water in a five gallon bucket for 24 hours.
  • Once 24 hours is up blend it up with a drill and paint mixing paddle. Like you might already be familiar with from mixing glaze. This will take at least 15 minuets. Often paper pulp gets stuck on the paddle and you have to pull it off and keep mixing. It will not be completely smooth and will look something like this
  • Please note this is on the extremely thick side. I did not use this whole bucket full in one clay batch. I made it very thick to break down into 2 or 3 batches of clay. From here I throw it in my trusty clay mixer.
  • I then add 2 gallons of slurry and my sand or grog that go into the clay body. Next, turn the mixer on and let the paper pulp, slurry, and sand or grog grind up for 15 – 30 minuets. This is important to break the paper down finer. It’s a little too lumpy for me otherwise.
  • Add dry batch and your ready to go
  • Some people and books say you should use it immediately but I have let it sit and still had good results. It does get smelly though. If you are in a group studio you might offend some noses. You should also note I did all of my firings, bisque and glaze outdoors. The paper does burn off and you would not want to fire them in a confined area.
  • Here are some of the larger works I have made with it. They all have at least one dimension 3ft or more. You can find more of my work at
  • Here is the clay body I use. It is cone 10 grey stoneware and if you don’t add the paper pulp and as much sand it makes a nice throwing body.

– Paper pulp (to taste)

– Sand (to taste)

– 36% Hawthorne Bond Fire Clay

– 18.5% EPK

– 18.5% Gold Art

– 9% Ball Clay

– 9% XX Sagger

– 9% G200


Paperslip – Cone 6

While at Washington University in St. Louis I was exposed to paper slip. I am familiar with the capabilities of paper clay so this intrigues me a lot although I am not using this method to make a body of work. However one of my colleagues Alex Orosco is using it in depth. It can be used in a plaster mold but you don’t need paper in it for that. The most unique quality of this is that solid objects can be dipped in it, essentially making a shell of whatever you dip.

  • The process again starts with making paper pulp like described above. How much you use is key to success or failure. Ill start with the recipe on this one so its a little easier to understand the process.
  • The artist Alex Orosco I mentioned uses abaca paper pulp instead of waste paper, but I have seen both used successfully.

– 80 LBS water

– Minimum 3 pounds Paper pulp

– 25 lbs EPK

– 25 lbs Ball Clay

– 25 lbs Silica

– 25 lbs Neph SY

– Suspension agent of choice, I use Darven 11

  • So I have seen this method used 2 ways. The first is making the slip as one usually would minus the paper. Once it is mixed thoroughly, 3 gallons is poured into a five gallon bucket and a pound of paper pulp is added. Then objects are dipped in the slip from the small bucket.
  • The other way I have seen it used is by adding the paper pulp into the water at the beginning of the process. I have seen a range from 3 pounds of paper pulp to 10 pounds of paper pulp used with varying degrees of success. TEST EVERYTHING YOURSELF! So with the paper pulp in the water you let it blend up another 15 – 30 minuets to break it down finer. Typically in a large trash can on wheels.
Here it is whipping up!

Here it is whipping up!

  • I can’t help but overstate this, test everything yourself. Once the paper slip is done mixing you can start dipping objects. Dont just dip them and pull them out immediately though. They need to stay submerged around 15 minuets a dip, and this will have to be repeated. Shoot for around three times. But again test things. Try once, twice, three times a lady, and see what is giving you the results you desire.
  • Whatever the object you’re dipping, you will need a string attached to pull it out so you don’t distort the form to much. With a string you can also suspend the objects so you don’t get a flat or thin spot.
Image of Margaux Crump's work 

Image of Margaux Crump’s work

  • Since there are objects inside when fired, it is best to do this in a gas kiln outdoors or well vented. I have never seen these done in an electric kiln indoors due to the smoke that occurs.
  • Some objects may also require that they be dipped or sprayed in paper pulp before dipping them in paper slip. This allows for some shrinkage and bonding to happen. This is absolutely necessary with harder objects. Things like clothing, foam, teddybears, and small couches (just a thought) do not need this extra step since they are so absorbent.
  • Here are a few ceramic object from Alex Orosco using this process. Check his web site out for more



Cool Happenings at the Green Task Force Booth #137

Cool Happenings at the Green Task Force Booth #137

This year the Green Task Force will be back in the Resource Hall at booth space #137, Look for the NCECA GTF Banner.  We have several special guests that will be in and out of the booth during the course of the conference.  I want to give a huge thank you to all of the people that are contributing to the booth this year and are really making the GTF shine.  Here is a brief bit of information on the people that will be in the booth:

Sustainable Ceramics: By Robert Harrison: We will have a copy on-hand for you to take a look at, this is a great publication that was mentioned in an earlier blog post, the GTF is highlighted in the book and it is jam packed full of information.

Dawn Soltysiak: She will have some solar panels with her and be ready to talk solar, here is her story
A visitor to Fernwood Farm in Fennville, Michigan, would likely note the usual collection of barns and sheds clustered about the typical Midwestern rural farmhouse.  A walk down the drive past the house, however, would reveal something unusual about the long barn that extends into the back pasture.  All along the pitched roof lay 78 solar panels, absorbing sunlight and converting it to just under 25,000 kilowatts of electricity each year.  Owners Dawn and Rob Soltysiak operate the 30-acre sustainable farm where Dawn, a ceramic artist, runs Khnemu Studio and gallery and fires her kilns on solar power.  Khnemu Studio offers classes, visiting artist workshops and a gallery which features over 25 regionally and nationally known ceramic artists.

With Fernwood Farm well established in its sustainable agricultural practices, Dawn started to think about alternative energy sources.  Intrigued by alternative energy sources, she wrote a proposal to the USDA’s Rural Energy for America program and was awarded a grant that provided up to 25% of the cost of renewable energy for rural small businesses and farms.  Her north/south positioned long barn offered the perfect place for solar panels and installation of the 17.94 kilowatt-hour solar array of 78 230-watt panels was completed in December of 2012.  The electricity produced by the system is used to power the studio and the kilns.  The daily average production is about 68 kilowatts a day, with a yearly average of 25,000.  Dawn says that the average household uses about 10,000 kilowatts per year.  She explains that the production is managed on a credit system: if on a given day, her production exceeds her needs, she earns credits.  The energy is channeled into the nationwide “grid,” and is not stored in batteries.  Dawn says, “If I make more than I need, why shouldn’t I share that with my neighbor?  I would rather share it than store and potentially lose it – storage is limited and eventually lost.”  On days when Dawn uses more than she produces, her credits make up the difference.  For the most part, the system has met her needs, except for periods of excessive firings, for example, to meet a large commercial order.  She estimates she will recoup the $53,000 cost of the system within five years, including the grant funding.

For more information visit

Robert Oakes:
Robert is the owner of CI Products, the maker of the Cink.  This is an awesome product that recycles the same 11 gallons of water for use in all studio clean-up.  I have three of these in the studio at Chaffey College, two for clay clean-up, and one for glaze.  They make it a snap to take the sediment and put it back into use when you clean out the Cink severely cutting down on studio waste.  Robert will have a Cink there for demonstration so we can all see the magic happen.

Laura Cohen and Herb Massie:
Baltimore Clayworks’ Community Arts Directors demonstrate how quality ceramics programming aid adult men in substance abuse recovery through discussion and a documentary screening. The film created with The Fetzer Institute, who made this project possible, recognizes Clayworks as an exemplar of love, forgiveness and compassion in craft.

Laura is a community artist, arts administrator, mentor, organizer and Director of Community Arts at Baltimore Clayworks. She has her B.S in Art Education from the University of Vermont and a Master of Arts in Community Arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She is a licensed art educator and has been directing the Community Arts department at Baltimore Clayworks since 2009. Laura works collaboratively with her Co-Director and various communities to overcome stereotypes, prejudices, misconceptions and other barriers through access to high quality clay programming.

Herb Massie is a community artist, organizer, teacher, sculptor, mosaic artist and Director of Community Engagement at Baltimore Clayworks. Herb is self-taught, pulling from experiences having grown up in Baltimore,MD. Herb uses clay as a vehicle for healing, relationship development and community building. He has been leading the ceramics program at Tuerk House since 2009, where he works with adult men in recovery who are non-violent ex-offenders. Herb works collaboratively with his Co-Director and different communities to overcome stereotypes, prejudices, misconceptions and other barriers through access to high quality clay programming.

Meg Roberts:

Meg Roberts is a North Dakota native who grew up in a household of makers, which informed her studies and eventual BFA degree from North Dakota State University in Fargo in 2012, where she founded the grassroots community benefit organization, Plants for Patients. Building on the history of ‘craftavism’ and research on nature’s impact in the healing process, Plants for Patients creates an anonymous post-abortion network of support for women through the gift of a ceramic planter and handwritten note from a member of the community. Roberts continues to serve as the Executive Director and primary ceramic artist for the program which has served more than 1,300 women since its humble beginnings as her undergraduate thesis. Roberts attended a short-term artist-invite-artist residency at the Red Lodge Clay Center in 2011 as well as a short-term residency of her own at Red Lodge in 2012. She presented the theory behind the program on a panel at the 2013 National Women’s Studies Association conference, the 2014 Abortion Care Network annual meeting, and is slated to partner with the Plains Art Museum in 2014 as they host the traveling exhibition, Living As Form.

 Meg spends her time away from studio managing Plants for Patients, working at a coffee shop and a women’s health center, and posting photos of her cat to Instagram.

Steven Lemke: The Saint John’s Pottery
Steven Lemke apprenticed for nearly five years with Master Potter Richard Bresnahan at the Saint John’s Pottery. Bresnahan founded the Saint John’s Pottery in 1979 and produces wood-fired pottery using local clay and natural glaze materials. The two artists were recently featured in the apprenticeship documentary and exhibition tour Minnesota Potters: Sharing the Fire.

Located at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, MN, the Saint John’s Pottery includes dynamic Artist-in-Residence, Visiting Artist, and Apprenticeship Programs as part of its mission to increase the use of local and natural materials through generational learning. Bresnahan and his studio host annual firings of the Johanna Kiln, the largest wood-burning kiln of its kind in North America.

For more information, please visit<>.]

Of Course there will be representatives from the Green Task Force there as well to talk shop about sustainability.  We look forward to seeing everyone in Milwaukee.


Sustainable Ceramics by Robert Harrison

Sustainable Ceramics by Robert Harrison


There is a new book that is now available and will be at the NCECA GreenTask Force booth to view.  This is an excellent book full of information about sustainability within the field of ceramics.  Written and edited by Robert Harrison, with contributions from nearly thirty national and international makers, experts and luminaries in the field.  This book covers all the factors to consider when going ‘green’ from fuels and alternative firing technology to energy-saving methods, sustainable ways to collect and use clay itself, and ways to deal with waste materials and save water.  You will even find a section written about NCECA’s very own Green Task Force!!  If you are looking for simple and achievable methods to reduce the carbon footprint of ceramic art look no further, Sustainable Ceramics  offers examples throughout of potters and clay artists who reclaim, reuse and recycle.  Whether you work in your own studio, a community center, college or school, Sustainable Ceramics contains information that will change your approach to how you create in clay.

Robert Harrison is a practicing artist in Helena, Montana working for more than 40 years doing site-specific large-scale architectural sculpture and smaller sculptural works that reflect his interest in architecture.  He holds both a BFA and MFA in Ceramics, a member of the International Academy of Ceramics, and is a founding member of WABA (World Association of Brick Artists).  He has held the positions of Director at Large, Publications Director, and President for NCECA, and during his tenure as President formed the Green Task Force.

Thank you so much for bringing this book to Life Robert Harrison, the Green Task Force applauds you!!

Tenderloin Dirt Harvest: Please be seated on the ground

Tenderloin Dirt Harvest: Please be seated on the ground

Ilana Crispi (a past conference presenter for the Green Task Force) is once again showing her latest work in San Francisco, California.  This is a fantastic project that is worth looking into even if you are not in the area.  below is some text taken from a press release from the first exhibit in November of 2013.  take a look at her Facebook page, a YouTube video about the project,  and the information about the upcoming show!!

San Francisco, CA – On February 20th 2014, conceptual artist Ilana Crispi invites the public to sit on, drink from, and eat out of urban dirt transformed into ceramic vessels and furniture.  John Metcalfe of The Atlantic calls the harvested dirt “needle-infested plague-turf of San Francisco’s famously filthy, drug-infested neighborhood, the Tenderloin.”  “Most people demonstrate visible disgust at the idea of touching the ground here.  I want to challenge that stigma and help people feel a direct connection to this soil”, shares Crispi, who linked and taught in the area.

Food grown atop Glide Memorial Church was served in Crispi’s work in November of 2013 at the first “Tenderloin” exhibit.  For these exhibitions, Crispi single-handedly excavated 90 gallons of dirt from sites like Tenderloin’s Boeddeker Park, where she taught art to neighborhood kids.  At that time, Crispi’s students could not use the soil becauth the park was littered with needles and a prison-like fence was needed to address the number of bodies found in the mornings.  “I want people to experience a beautiful version of this place.  People once picnicked here among dwarf oaks and blackberry bushes.  Now there’s no green space”, reminds Crispi.  Declaring a costa point where visitors are directed to stop, sit, look, eat, and drink “is a celebration of our neighborhood, past and present.  She’s excavating the history of the Tenderloin through its dirt, ” appreciates Frank Merritt, Co-Founder of Tamon’s Tailor.

Decades deadlier, when the Tenderloin catered to the white middle-class and bourgeois, “people came together to enjoy theater, dance, skating, and bowling in the past incarnation of Boeddeker Park.  Now the site’s dirt is being transformed again.  The Tenderloin – like the Filmore, Wester Addition, and Mission – struggles against losing its sense of place and Crispi’s project calls on us to deeply consider its rich history and future,” shares Betty Traynor of Friends of Boeddeker Park.  Sarah Wilson of Uptown Tenderloin Museum adds “We welcome contemporary artists like Ilana Crispi who engage with the community to shed light on the Tenderloin’s past.”  After all, Crispi observes: “In the Tenderloin, much of the history of this place, like the dirt, is not visible.”

Emotional Sustainability, By Maret Miller

Emotional Sustainability, By Maret Miller

Emotional sustainability, as I define it, is the ability of an object to maintain perpetual relevance through how we understand the meaning of the object. In short, how we treat an object is dependent on how we feel about or understand an object.

For example: my mother is a “sentimental” person – and will keep old gloves from her great-grandmother that are practically falling apart because of her emotional attachment to them.

The physical aspects of environmental sustainability are usually the first things considered when talking about “green” ceramics. Proponents of environmentalism in ceramics are open to sharing knowledge and interested in the latest technology that makes the studio practice more efficient and earth-friendly. However, I have also heard skeptics say that ceramicists only use a nominal amount of energy compared to other industries, that our energy consumption is only a “drop in the bucket” in the world-wide basin of pollution. This may be true, however, a majority of ceramicists remain reliant on industry to fulfill their needs. This hypocrisy got me to thinking about the conceptual side of sustainability – and prompted some research into how the emotional value of an object influences sustainability.

In an increasingly capitalistic consumer culture, many decisions are made about where the materials for products come from, how the products are manufactured, and what expenditures will be made on behalf of the consumer versus the environmental costs of production. Oftentimes these considerations in addition to aesthetic characteristics add to the “emotional value” of an object. It is a well-known concept to potters who may have explained to a consumer why their product is priced higher than a ceramic mug from Wal-Mart.  This clip from Portlandia is maybe a stretch – but it stems from something so true about what people value! What many ceramicists have to their advantage is the uniqueness afforded by hand-making their wares and spending time on design. From a standpoint of economics, emotional sustainability is something an artist can provide to consumers. And, if a consumer has a sentimental attachment to a product, they are less likely to view the object as disposable (therefore decreasing a widespread problem of environmental efforts). What I urge from the readers is to not only look at the environmental impacts produced from physical manufacturing, but also look at what sort of mentality fuels production. Environmentalism is more than “going green” in physical efforts, and proponents of the movement may even stifle their efforts in not considering the holistic approach to what sustainability is.

I have identified a few ceramic artists here that use the idea of emotional sustainability in various ways (which goes hand in hand with environmental sustainability). Please comment with thoughts, ideas, or other artists to add to the conversation.

 Linda Sormin

“Nothing is thrown away. This immigrant lives in fear of waste. Old yogurt is used to jumpstart the new batch. What is worth risking for things to get juicy, rare, ripe? What might be discovered on the verge of things going bad?”

Sormin values how the physical can be re-contextualized by words and emotion.


Esther Dirkx

Daily used products or found materials get a different look by making a small interference. Inspiration comes from her working experience, travelling and experiences using the screenprint technique in any possible way and on any possible material.”

 Dirkx’s work also benefits from a reframing of the physical. She is re-using, which is environmentally and economically sustainable – and consequently will cause consumers to value the wares.


Richard Bresnahan

“Artist-in-Residence Richard Bresnahan and the Saint John’s Pottery engage students, apprentices, and visiting artists in the work of artistic creation, discipline, and research and preparation of natural materials. These dynamic experiences are framed by questions of what it means to envision and create a sustainable lived system.”

Bresnahan basically works in a closed system of creating his own glazes, clay, and wood for firing. His pots may look similar to those made my someone else, but the fact his wares are imbued with a spirituality of sustainable practice is what gives them unique value.