I was fortunate to meet Beijing-based US artist Elizabeth Briel this week. Actually, we’ve met (briefly) once before, but that was “BPO” – Before Paper Obsession, so I did not make the most of the opportunity. Elizabeth works for the same international school foundation as an “artist-in-residence”. Most of the time she is based in Beijing, but visits other campuses for week-long residencies. A very cool job and there have been many moments this week when I have cursed my fears that prevented me from following my heart to become an Art Teacher, but such is life.
Before Christmas, as my paper obsession was just beginning, I stumbled on Elizabeth’s website while searching paper in Asia. I discovered that she had pretty much “gone before me” and she had written a manuscript about it!
After a few brief chats with Elizabeth this week I now realise that if I allow my paper and papermaking obsession to grow, it is going to take over my life. I’m okay with that. I may also be having a sort of mid-life crisis, or perhaps it’s the whole “Year of 35” thing, and the realisation of not just my mortality, but the end of my youth? Perhaps there really is a crafty grandma inside all of us, and this is me tipping over the ageing edge? There’s an element of rage against the machine though – I could also blame this rotten job, that has challenged me in all the wrong ways and burned my interest in teaching and earning money to a crisp. Who knows, but I am suddenly possessed with the desire to pursue all the art I left behind as a teenager. I also realise that I don’t have to fit anyone else’s idea of me. Gah – what a paragraph of cliches! But it’s true – I am overwhelmed by this feeling. If I was to suppress it I would be utterly miserable.
To this end, I am pursuing every opportunity I can to make stuff, to find out which making has the most allure for me. Easter holidays are only a few weeks away and I am returning to northern Thailand, this times sans Ms10 (who departed one VERY happy girl for a month-long holiday with my family in Australia last week). I have only a few days there due to the irritating flight connections from my 2nd tier Chinese city, but I plan to use Elizabeth’s manuscript as a guide to make the most of it, visiting paper street, and joining a papermaking course. I’ve also signed up for a screenprinting workshop in Hong Kong on the way back. Printmaking and papermaking seem to go hand-in-hand in the book arts world. In fact, it seems papermaking is the introverted, closeted sibling to the wildly popular printmaking. Weirdly printmaking was my biggest obsession at school. I was woefully inadequate at linoprint, but screenprinting…my mum even purchased a kit for me one birthday, and I spent many an evening printing random words (can’t remember any pictures or patterns) onto old clothes.