Adventures of a New Papermaking Instructor

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During this semester, in addition to my own studies, I’m teaching an undergraduate papermaking course. So far, I have enjoyed myself immensely. There’s something so fun about watching people learn something for the first time that you know really well. The girls in my class (because yes, I have 9 students and all of them are girls – it is so fun!) are so brave when it comes to technique and experimentation. They just jump in and try stuff out. Because of that they’ve been making some really interesting work.

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Having never taught a class on the college level before, I was pretty intimidated when it came to writing a syllabus and planning a semester of assignments and work. To figure things out, I ended up piling up all of my old syllabi from every papermaking class I’ve ever taken and just started combing through. I tried to remember the things that I’d liked the most about the classes I’d taken and the things I would have done differently. Some of the things I wanted to make sure I did as an instructor were:

  • give the students a solid technical base in papermaking
  • give them choices and freedom when it came to their projects – they all come from very different areas of art making – from film and video to acoustics.
  • introduce them to both the history of papermaking and the contemporary world of papermaking as fine art

After I looked at all of those syllabi and established my own personal objectives as the instructor, the planning kind of flowed. Right now I have the class set up so that we learn a new technique pretty much every week. The students then have to use those techniques to complete three projects throughout the semester.

So far, I’ve taught them basic sheet pulling, pulp painting (see the image of the giraffe below), and laminates (when you sandwich objects between two wet sheets of paper). They are rocking it.

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One of the best things about teaching so far is that I really do feel like I am learning right along side the students. I’ve been making paper now for six years. Sometimes, because I’ve already been participating in this practice for so long, I find it hard to take a fresh look. Teaching has really, wonderfully, stimulated my thinking about my own work. It’s really good to see this medium that I’ve been up to my ears in for a long time in a new way.

I hope to do a few more updates about teaching as the semester moves along and I get a little bit more experience and perspective. It’s still all so new! So, check back!