To create her paper paintings, Ronni Jolles uses many different kinds of paper from all over the world. The rich colors and textures in the paper artistry are further enhanced by a deeper understanding of the medium.
Paper is made of soaked and softened cellulose fibers suspended in a vat of water, then put on to a mold or screen to dry. To make paper is an easy process, but to make good paper takes years of learning and labor.
Invention of Paper
China is credited with the invention of paper, a creation so highly prized by the emperor that he guarded the secret of how it was made. Eventually, the secret was discovered and papermaking spread to Japan and then to Korea, Nepal, India, to name a few. Much of the strength of paper comes from rag clippings recycled from the textile industry, and sisal, jute and flax straw from local farmers. Many paper mills have survived for centuries, through wars, floods, economic troubles, and famine. Each kind of paper comes from a different village in the world, and they all have a story.
Japan took the art of papermaking and found many different purposes for it – more than any other country. Japanese papers are used for lanterns, room dividers, screens, clothing, fans, toys, wallets, wrapping, calligraphy, painting, etc. Families pass down the secret of their papermaking from generation to generation, always using the natural fibers and natural dyes that come from the local clays, bark, and plants.
Over centuries, each country has developed its own unique system of papermaking, utilizing locally found materials. Some papers from Germany are made of thin layers of vegetables and fruit pressed together and dried (using the same technique that Egyptians created thousands of years ago with their papyrus paper). Nepalese papermaking was usually performed by shepherds caring for their flocks near the forest edge.
Do you have to cut down trees to make paper?
No. In fact, paper making often utilizes “waste” materials from farming, and by recycling these overly abundant natural products, the ecological balance of the forests and the animals is protected. In India, Gandhi helped to establish the first handmade paper factory in Poona, which utilizes unwanted rags from the garment industry and provides many jobs. The governments of many countries encourages papermaking, not only because it uses recycled materials that help with ecology, but also because papermaking provides jobs.
Paper Used in Ronni Jolles Paper Paintings
Using a sustainable resource from all over the world, Ronni has created a globally “green” art form. A list of the places she gets the papers from includes: England, France, Italy, Germany, Bhutan, China, Japan, Korea, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mexico, and Holland.
Note from the artist: Sometimes I use what is could not really be defined as a paper in the purest sense. For example, I use Papel de Amate (bark paper) from Mexico, which is made by shaping cattail and sansevia fibers onto a flat surface, and then placed in the sun to dry. Examples of this kind of paper has been traced back to the ancient Aztecs.
When I was last in Italy, I found a paper mill outside of the town of Amalfi, Italy that produces some of the finest paper that has ever been made (and exported to customers such as Napoleon Bonaparte and many ruling families of Europe). I looked for the “reject” pieces that had wrinkles and “mistakes” which I loved. They were pleased to have someone who wanted the paper that couldn’t be sold to most people.