For most of us, paper is an everyday essential; something we have way too much of cluttering up our desks or our offices; something we’re told we should be able to function without – does anyone really have a paper free office? – but which is as necessary as, well, caffeine. Or it’s the paper that fills our books or magazines. Essential paper, but paper that, if we’re honest, we probably take for granted.
But speak to paper artist Rachel Hazell and it quickly becomes clear that the humble sheet of paper is much more than a disposable everyday essential. In Rachel’s hands, it is crafted into a beautiful and unique piece of art. Her work ranges from exhibitions and solo shows to workshops – including forthcoming workshops in Paris, the Shetlands, and Venice – through to site-specific installations that are minimalist and sculptural.
One such installation can currently be found in Moleta Munro on London Street in Edinburgh. Moleta Munro launched in 2007 with a shop in the city’s Old Town, and the business relocated to a bigger showroom last year – twelve months ago, to be precise, as Moleta Munro is celebrating its first anniversary in London Street this September.
To celebrate this, Moleta Munro commissioned Rachel to install a window display made entirely of paper (previous displays Rachel has created include an installation at The Conran Shop in London). And Rachel will be running a drop-in paper folding workshop in the showroom this Saturday, September 20, between 2pm and 4pm, which is open to everyone.
I caught up with Rachel to ask about the process of paper art, and what led her to this creative path.
Why paper? And why books? What led you to do what you do?
Paper is versatile, malleable, easily available, tactile and beautiful. As Ian Sansom says in his book Paper: An Elegy: “We are a paper people.” We couldn’t live without it.
The book form is instantly recognizable – so it’s an iconic medium to work with. The satisfaction of making a book is unparalleled. A reader is always learning. I love how far you can travel in books.
For as long as I could make sense of words, I’ve taken a book to bed, and find it hard to sleep without a chapter or two. My journey to now has a theme:
– English Literature degree from Edinburgh University. (Read in bed.)
– Studied bookbinding and bookarts in London. (Made books in my bedroom.)
– Set up Hazell Designs Books. (Whole house taken over by books. Bookcase in loo etc.)
– Set up Paperphilia. (Stationery and washi tape collection challenges expanding library for space.)
And I have a thing for repetition and order – books give both.
What are the tools of your trade? And the things you can’t work without?
Bone folder, cutting knife, metal ruler, a Swann Morton scalpel, cutting mat, linen thread, size 18 bookbinder’s needles, and paper!
Can’t work without a) BBC Radio 4 b) chocolate.
Where do you take your inspiration from?
Experiencing the natural landscape and built environment through travel and noting down the detail. Could be just as stimulated by the packaging in a Japanese bakery, a magazine illustration or a well designed café.
Last week someone showed me rare concertina surveys for a train line in Devon – all hand-drawn in Indian ink, graphite pencil and watercolour. Such precise representation and skill made me want an instant appointment to visit the National Railway Archive; to produce a whole exhibition in response. I am addicted to maps and charts.
What were the ideas behind the pieces you created for Moleta Munro?
Since paper is the conventional material for a first anniversary gift, it seemed obvious to fill the window with books and strings of origami lights to celebrate a year at their spacious elegant showrooms. We wanted a bit of pop and zing, so there are orange flashes of neon. Building up a composite whole gives greater visual impact. It was important to hand sew each book and fold each origami box shade. A well-crafted installation to reflect the quality and craftsmanship of the goods within…
Are there other designers/makers whose work you’re really admiring at the moment?
Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?
– The National Library of Scotland: having been involved with some workshop events when the fabulous John Murray Archive first became part of the library collection, it would be incredible to delve further into those particular stacks with an open remit.
– Wigtown: this Dumfries and Galloway book town has a concentrated wealth of specialist shops and a brilliant festival. I am putting together a proposal for a bookshop related residency for sometime next year.
– Any map archive. See answer to earlier question regarding inspiration.
What would your dream commission/project be?
I would relish making a permanent installation or book sculpture for the heart of a building, old or new, public or private, with a generous budget and ample time for research and construction. Oh the cogs of imagination are gearing up at the mere thought…
When and why did you start to run the workshops?
I’ve always fervently ‘spread the word’ about the satisfactions and pleasures of making a book of your own. After training in traditional bookbinding and conceptual bookart, I returned to Edinburgh and taught small groups, with homemade soup and plenty of biscuits. Initially the courses were purely functional, crafting blank books and albums. Over fifteen years these have developed to include the creation of content. I want people to tell their own stories, in their own books. Workshops have broad themes such as Personal Geographies, Illuminated Letters or Collage Collections to focus the mind for best results.
What can people expect when attending a workshop?
Useful techniques and skills, stimulating ideas, patient encouragement and the motivation to carry on discovering long after the weekend is over. The possibilities of paper are endless – it is the artistic medium of wonder.
What excites you most about what you do?
The potential to inspire. The purpose for travel. The prospect for self-expression, both mine, and others. The desire to do more, and do it better, and reach further.
What are the main challenges?
Lack of routine. Organising logistics. And all the general trickiness of self-employment which involves needing to be administrator, marketing manager, copywriter, photographer, book keeper etc. before getting down to the business of art.
If you could choose any three pieces from Moleta Munro, what would you choose?
If you weren’t working with paper, what else would you be doing?
– Honing my vision for the best ‘literary let’ in Edinburgh – Bed With a View – to make it a unique package of comfort and curiosity with intriguing details.
– Due to a fascination with dovetail or mortice and tenon joints I’d build one-off wooden furniture reusing old doors, shelves and window frames.
– If wielding a chainsaw is impracticable, I’d experiment with shaping narrative jewellery…
What’s your next project/workshop/event?
– Starting to cut and fold and construct each individual flower for a special Bookquet commission.
– The all paper world-wide e-course PaperLove starts on November 3rd.