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 www.seth-czaplewski.com
  • 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 www.alexorosco.com