Papier Mâché

It started really harmless with a few paper mache miniature kidney bowls that I made for my model hospital room. (In the picture a bit of it can be seen on the table behind my hand.) From there I started making little “pods” and filled them with scrolls and text, which I then put into nests and larger eggs, and by now I am totally obsessed with investigating the medium and technique and see what I can do with it. I have a lot of different ideas, and am working in different directions. Most of what I have now is still just work in progress, play, and a trying out of different techniques. And thus I do not want to show off everything just yet. You can follow my instagram stream, by the way, for – almost – daily images from my workplace. But here’s somewhat of an overview and summary of what I am currently doing and thinking about.

Eggs, Pods, Spheres, and – Libraries

starting with plain spheres

I started using balloons to as a base to put paper strips on. I did that because in the beginning I was interested in making bowls, and I found that both just using the wider end of the baloon and using the whole balloon and cutting the shape open was yielding interesting bowls.

Into these bowls I put “eggs” or “pods”, which are small paper mache shapes that are filled with a scroll.

I hide those in libraries around Nottingham and the Shire. I hide them in libraries because they are places that feel safe to me. The message inside is, in essence, always the same: in many variations and with more or less words, it says: “Don’t be afraid.” Sometimes I add: “It’s o.k. if you are, but don’t let others suffer for it.”

I used a paper shredder and discarted books for some of the paper mache, again, because I think it’s a sympathetic material. The books I have used so far are both math books. – I enjoy the fragments of drawings and formulae that can be seen here or there, and this reference to analytic thinking in combination with the message inside.

some nests and bowls to hide

Over time, the nests turned into closed eggs with a ball with a message inside, and I am working on more versions that are completely closed. They have to be cut open to reveal the text, and I don’t know whether the message ever will be read. I generally like the idea of art that has to be destroyed to be enjoyed. Way back when I met Sarah Bodman for the first time, she showed me a participatory artist book, one where the reader is encouraged to work in and with the material. I asked her whether she did it. And she said, she bought two, and kept one as it is, and worked in the other. – I think that’s a bit like cheating.

drying spheres on a bed of nails

What I like about art that has to be altered/destroyed to be enjoyed is, that it provides a picture for life as such: To live life, you have to give up a bit of it. You have to let go, allow things to change and move. My eggs don’t just have to be changed, you have to destroy them to get to the message inside (although you can repair them if you go about it carefully). For me this is about teasing the viewer: how much curiosity can I build up? But more than that I think it’s a reflection on how humans work: We destroy what we love.

I started a blog with my children that is not really about this project. That blog is about us visiting and discovering libraries in and around Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. But I wouldn’t leave a new library without leaving a gift behind, would I? So if you want to see where these messages are going, and maybe even chase after one of my eggs, pods and bowls, have a look here.


one of the three surfaces where I work on the paper mache

Different paper

Wilbur finds them interesting

These spheres are fairly slow to make. I only ever can put so many layers on top of each other, then they have to dry for a day, and so I am always working on several at the same time. And I sometimes end up using one of them differently than intended when I started it.
Experimenting with different paper came naturally from raiding my paper cut-off stashes, but also from curiosity of exerimenting with layering.

The first trial was with one that I cut open and to use as two bowls: I put on a purple layer first, and then white on top. Afterwards I added some doodles on the inside. – Not really interesting art yet, but pretty.

I am currently experimenting with more layers, used differently, with and without lighting inside… But I have no good results to show off yet, so I might speak more about that in a future blog post, when this investigation has led somewhere.


Of course with my history of making asemic maps before, the temptation to turn one or several of these spheres into globes irresisteble. The process that I use(d) for the first was rather time intensive. – Painting around a sphere isn’t as straight forward as I anticipated. I put on several layers of coffee for major landmarks, then added oceans, depth, writing, cities, and just today some green areas.

fantasy globe

It isn’t completely finished yet, but it is nearing completion, I think.


And of course, while making more and more spheres, the idea to investigate a few other shapes came up naturally. I used a bit of surgery on some spheres so far, and tried a latex glove as a base (I like this one!). I am planning to make some paper pulp paper mache the coming week to use this as a sculpting medium on top of spheres and the like.

I really enjoy investigating this new thing, and have a lot more of ideas of how I want to tie this up with a really old project: ruled worlds. And I have some “fishy” ideas, and, and, and…

I just wished, learning a new technique wouldn’t require so much time and patience. I also have older projects to finish. And because the last one or two years were rather difficult for a variety of reasons, I feel like I should really finish and produce some stuff now, get out there, be seen. But instead of drawing on older ideas and churning out some quick zines, I rather start learning a new thing. Of course…


Fear Manifesto

Fear is a good emotion, it’s life saving. It can help you if you have to make a really quick decision from the pit of your stomach. But if you can afford just a few seconds to ponder, then fear is not a good basis for decisions.

Don’t let fear win – a Challenge

That it isn’t a good basis for a decision doesn’t mean fear is bad, though. Often it’s been said that we shouldn’t let fear win, but to do that you mustn’t ignore it either. So I challenge you (and myself) to an introspection, a form of handwritten meditation:

Step 1: Write down everything you fear.

No-one will read this but you, so be honest. Of some of the things you want to write down you might know from the moment it comes to your mind that it is irrational – write it down anyway. Even if while you are  writing it, while reading it, you know it’s an irrational fear. Others you might know they are soundly based, for others you might not be sure. At this moment it doesn’t matter, let’s list them all.

Have a look at your list. Some fears might be more concrete than others.

I am afraid of pain when I go to the dentist next week

is for example very concrete.

I am afraid of dying

could be vague or very specific depending on your circumstances. Try to spot vague fears, like:

I am afraid of being laughed at.

Can you make these more concrete? Like: When are you likely to be laughed at? Is that a situation that you might fear or even try to avoid? If something like the above turns into

I am afraid of the snarky comments of the girl sitting at the desk across the floor in my office,

then you’ve come a great step forward.

Step 2: Think about consequences of these fear in the past and future if you change nothing

At this point we still don’t care about whether or not a fear might be solidly fact-based and reasonable or irrational, because the fear is real even if the cause is not.

We tend to avoid things and situations that we fear. That’s the function of fear. So have a hard think – this can be harder to spot than you might imagine – what does your fear make you do or avoid?

If your fear of your office mate lets you hide behind your computer and miss out on important career opportunities, then this has a serious impact on your life.
If you can’t shower anymore because if your fear of spiders, then you have a real problem.
Did you stop going out on your own because you are afraid of being alone on the street? – If you are a woman you are probably not alone in this.

Make sure that for all fears you listed in step 1, you also go through step 2. You might have something to add to your list, too.

Step 3: What is the worst that could happen / why do you fear it?

For the first time we now come closer to the question of how rational your fear is. Let’s think about what’s the worst that could happen: So you are afraid of spiders. What exactly do you think will happen? What is the worst that could happen? And is it really that bad? If you are living in the UK, like I am, then all the spiders you’ll encounter are harmless, and nothing bad really can happen.

There might be more fact-based fears that still seem bigger in your head than in reality: What does happen when the girl makes that awful comment about you? Maybe you’ll imagine how hot you’ll get, and everyone will look at you. And then – what?

Play it all in your head, and work out how you would like to react, what you could do to make it maybe a little bit better.

This is now the step where you will really have to do some fact checking and put in some work. You fear that more Urainians could arrive in your country? And then what? They’ll steal your job? – How likely is that? What are you doing for a living? – They’ll talk in the underground and you won’t understand it? – Why do you fear that? (maybe expand your list and start over from top)…

You fear that global warming will result in your house being flooded? Are you living close to water? How likely is that indeed to happen? In what time span?

While I personally do not regularly go through all these steps (I am thinking maybe I should!), I do go through step 3 every time I am a bit worried. When I go on a train trip, for example, I find myself frequently worried I might either board the wrong train or get off at the wrong station. It’s always good to remind myself in that case, that I have a credit card with me, which will allow me to buy another ticket. That the worst case that can happen is that it will take me longer to get home. And if I am stuck anywhere after the last train left, I can always check in to a hotel. – Once I reminded myself, the fear’s gone. (It happened only once to me, by the way, although I traveled a lot by train, and it wasn’t even that bad. I was able to go back one station in the same ticket; so it apparently isn’t even likely to happen.)

Step 4: Are the steps you go through to avoid your fear (step 2) in a justifiable relation to the risks you worked out in step 3?

That’s a very important step. Avoid showering in fear of harmless spiders? – Might not be appropriate. Cancel a mountain climbing trip because of fear of falling – might be a yes.
It’s your call in all cases. You are to judge to whether you want to make this sacrifice. Therefore make sure you spend enough time on fact checking.
For all of which you answered no, you’ll have to carry on to Step 5.

Step 5: What could you do differently, not to avoid the fear but to change the situation

Have a talk with that girl? – That would be hard, for sure, but maybe the best solution in the long run? Or maybe talk to others at the office if talking to the girl herself is no option.

One of your measures might be to think about therapy (if your fear seems irrational and you feel you have to go through great lengths to avoid situations).

Whatever you do and decide, changing perspective and taking on fears is a hard choice, but one that can only pay off in the long run. This is what it means to:

Don’t let fear win!

If you took on my challenge, when you are through with your list you probably have a couple of tasks ahead of you.  I’ll go to work on mine now, and I already know what will be top of that list: quit at least one of the four jobs I am currently doing.

Never let fear win. It wants you to hide and avoid. Instead: evaluate, think, and change.

P.S.: The photos accompaning this post are from a new project about which I don’t want to say too much. Only this: The seeds and eggs I made as part of it, all contain scrolls, and the most recent all have part of this manifesto in them.

Eggshell Panels

As you might have seen in yesterday’s article, I am currently working a lot with egg shells. Mostly I put cut-out panels in front of printed images and like to think they are related to tunnel books.

Working with these, I ended up with a lot of broken eggshells, too. Just to get rid of them, I thought: Why not make an eggshell panel? I remembered vaguely having read a tutorial before, and it was pretty straight forwar: 1) break egg, 2) glue to paper, 3) cover in black, 4) sand the hell out of it.

And since this was just a by-product anyway, and being the person I am, I just set out to make my first panel without looking at any other instructions.

First Panel I ever made; halfway through the sanding process

This first attempt, made a few days after my open studio in beginning of May just totally blew me away, and I have been making loads of them since then. – And I am going to make more, since: How could you better display eggshell-tunnel-books than in a eggshell-panel covered box?!

For the first panel, I really struggled with the sanding. It took me several hours, spread out over two days to sand it to a state where I could reasonably let it be without thinking I had given up. But that was mostly, because I was on my last sheet of sandpaper, and it was a, I don’t remember, maybe an 800. By the time I had finished the first, a new delivery of paper reached me, and along with it, a delicious amoutn of No. 120 paper which really cut sanding significantly shorter. I learned to give the sanded piece a last polish with really fine paper; in the new pack was a No. 8000! I next experimented with colour. For my first gold piece, I also polished the coated panel, and then gave it another gloss coat. And look how it shines and reflects the sunshine:

two eggshell panels in the sunshine

I also did a first box-covering trial and covered a matchbox with the golden eggshell panel:

eggshell covered matchbox

In the meantime of course I read up on the subject. Online the best resource for me was this blogpost by Jana Pullman. It turns out, I am doing a few things a little differently, but all in all the process is pretty straight forward.

So how do I do it? It’s really simple:

  1. Remove inner skin of the egg from the shell. This fine skin (there are at least 2 I believe) keeps even cracked eggshell together, and so we can’t have this.
  2. Glue the eggshell to the paper. I prefer washi for this (some left-overs from my scroll printing). But I tried different papers: When using black paper for the white on black panel, then little left-out spots don’t show. I leave it to you to decide whether that’s an advatage or disadvantage. Press down the pieces firmly. I pulled larger pieces away from each other, but left pieces with hairline cracks lying next to each other. For glue I used my usual bookbinder’s glue.
  3. Cover the whole thing in gesso.
  4. Sand it all off again.
  5. Coat with a gloss varnish.
  6. Use on your next book.

I am going to make a Coptic book from these pages and covers.

I experimented enough with these panels, that I felt confident enough to record a skillshare class about the whole process. So if you want to learn in more detail about the process, head over here:

The link will carry you to skillshare where you can see the first introductory video of the class. You’ll need to sign up to the plattform to see the whole tutorial, and you’ll have to pay for your membership. But once you paid, you have access to a cornucopia of tutorials, including all my classes, but also everything else on skillshare on a whole range of topics.

If you sign up through the link above, I’ll receive a referal-bonus, and you’ll get the first two months for free (this was the deal when I last checked, offers vary through the year, but it will always be beneficial for you to sign up through a referal link rather than from where you directly access the website), so win-win for both of us. – I hope I’ll see you there!

Oh, before I forget:

If you do mount your eggshell panel onto a book cover, you’ll need to do something more than just glue it down. Even if you sanded your piece a lot, it will still have a substantial thickness, and if you just simply glue it to your cover, it will peel up over time. If you are attaching a rectangular or otherwise very regular piece, then setting it into the cover might be the easiest choice: remove part of the cardboard, and/or part of your leather cover, and inset your eggshell panel.

I had such an irregular shape for my cover above, that I decided to pare down the leather after glueing it on instead:

That was a lot of work, but worked perfectly.

So have fun with this technique!

A work intensive but successful May

When logged in to my page to write this post, and of course first took a look at my last blogpost. How can it be that more than a month has passed since I wrote it? I remember in the old days, I would blog about what I did during the day, and I sometimes struggled to find enough slots on my blog to post all that I wanted to say and had written. Back then I had a lot of work in progress, tutorials, and experiments on this page. Nowadays it seems that my blogpost are most of the time wrap-ups of what happened since my last blogpost. (Although I have some new and hopefully exciting new work to share below.)

This is not only happening to my blog: It also happens to my facebook page. Since I opened an instagramm account, I now post images of work in progress there, and my facebook page sometimes seems like a wrap-up of what happened in the last week.

But I think this isn’t necessarily bad. It comes from my attempt to cross-post not too much. I myself am a little annoyed when I see the same stuff of the same people over all platforms they are active on, and try to spread what I have to say over my different channels. And so this blog space has morphed into a low-frequency, summarizing kind of platform. And maybe that’s exactly right for some people. I figure. I hope, I suppose.

So just a reminder, and a summary of what platforms I use these days and where you can find me:

  • Instagram for in-the-moment, this-is-what-I-am-working-on-right-now kind of posts. (@buchertiger)
  • Facebook for slightly more developed, but still rather fresh content, including longer posts than on instagram and event announcements (buechertiger fanpage)
  • Skillshare for tutorials and workshops. This is a pay for content plattform. If you sign up through the following link, you get the first two months free at the moment; offers vary over time: I am going to post my new class (see below) any day now, and once you signed up, you can see all of my and all other skillshare teacher’s classes. – A girl gotta earn the money for her ink somehow.
  • This blog for longer, less frequent posts, summing up progress and plans. I also plan to take up my artist interview series again, and maybe post my literature posts again.
  • My newsletter for even further spaced out announcements of mostly finished work.

And now, without longer addo, here’s what I have been up to:


Leading up to the open studio, I went to finally finish copies 3-10 of 346. These are the scrolls in a box without a model.
When I wrote my last blogpost, I still thought I might add a swaddle to the box. Well, I gave this up pretty soon as it was a) very, very hard for me to make, it b) looked weird and c) I came up with a much better idea: Around each box I put a wide, white cotton strap, fastened with velcro. It holds the scroll in place, and symbolizes my being bound to the bed. Which is much more appropriate than a reference to a baby, as this is more about me being pregnant than about babies being born.

I also got to work a little more on model for copy No. 2. The first model has some problems which I naturally want to avoid with this second copy. One of those was the nightstand: It stands on four beads (that represent caster wheels) and with the outstreched tray it has an unfortunate weight distribution that does ill with so little area for glue to hold it in place. So in model No. 2, a book fell under the nightstand, giving me a larger area to apply glue and looking nice:

I finished the box for the model to sit in, and many aspects of the model. What still needs doing is not little, but I’ll finish it one step at a time.

Open Studio

My open studio was a great success in many ways just not when it comes to visitor numbers: I think it was 5 or 6 parties in total. Those that did come created some wonderful stamps (I especially liked the robots that a team of visiting twins made with the help of their parents). Low frequency of visitors meant that I had time for those who showed up. And one of those visiting was Jet, a wonderful lady, who marched into my studio with a smile that dropped the moment she was properly in. She looked around with a doubtful expression on her face and introduced herself with the words: “Hello! Well, I thought this was bigger, do you know what I mean?” I answered honestly, surprised and intruiged: “No, I don’t. What do you mean?”. That’s when she started laughing, and we went on to have a really good conversation. Turned out she expected a larger space because I called it “Büchertiger Studio” rather than just “Hilke Kurzke” in the brochure that came with this series of connected events. But at that point it didn’t matter anymore anyway.

stamps made by visitors to my studio

German has, other than Enlish, a low-context culture: English people call us too blunt, we call English speakers overly polite. It’s a difference that’s easily overcome, but it can be a hurdle in a conversation nonetheless.
Jet, however, was refreshingly direct, making this one of the least straining conversations I have had in a long while. And when she strew in a few Dutch words, I asked her whether she was indeed Dutch. – I found it much easier to believe that a Dutch woman got rid completely of any accent than that I could have a conversation like this with an English woman. But she isn’t Dutch. There are people like this here.

It wasn’t just her direct speech. Something just clicked for me, and I find her and conversations with her hugely inspiring and energizing.

New Work and a Workshop

Jet and I spoke for several hours, and a lot of art and results have already sprung from that conversation. First of all: There will be a (private) workshop in September about tunnel books, prepared by me, delivered by all of us, at Jet’s (apparently her studio is at least four times as big – her estimate went down considerably while we were speaking), and you might still be able to sign up if you want to. Please contact me directly if interested.

As she was so interested in the tunnel structure this renewed my interest as well, and got me working in a wider range of directions.

In the tins on the left: the beginning of a first, still mysterious tunnel experiment

I was going to take part in Backlit‘s Open Studios two weeks later, and started working on putting this together – and got into making all kinds of things will tunnels; I shall show you one of them in a minute.

Backlit provides studio space to artists in Nottingham and is an independent gallery. I am an associate member there, and was delighted when Tracey Kershaw (do follow the link she does some really interesting work; look at her “mother bowls”!) offered me her -at the time of the open studio event virtually empty- studio at Backlit, so that I could participate.

Events like this are big driving forces for fme: I made (a first 20 out of planned 50) “Nottingham” prints, inspired by Nottingham architecture and atmosphere with a screen printed, mono-type background and a lino-print in the front.

But as I would bring in my things just for the event, I decided to exhibit mostly recent work in progress rather than finished art. And thus one wall (which you can see above on thw right) was occupied with work I have not shown online before, or at least not in greater detail. The working title currently is “Learning to Crochet”, and it deals with the narrow expectations toward women’s feeling regarding reproduction. In that it shares the broader topic with 346. This work, however, deals with miscarriage. The pictures that you can see at the wall are not ultrasound images. They are digitally altered prints which I made in a technique that I developed for these prints using unbaked polymer clay. Since I was working with tunnels, and Jet mentioned in a later conversation over skype and egg, it felt natural, to mount these prints at the back of an egg:

Learning Crochet, by. H. Kurzke

As you can see in the photo further up, I currently have a variety of things belonging to this project, and I don’t know yet how they will all fit together. I thought they might end up in a zine-like publication, I don’t know how to fit the eggs between the pages, though.
The same images that are at the back of the eggs I also printed larger on photographic paper and adorned them with asemic writing, representing the wordlessness many women and men feel when they experience a miscarriage.

I also have pieces of writing in various stages of unfinished, one of them is actually in the photo above. I also have some crochet prints, but I am not completely sure yet, how this will all fit together. It kinds of works in my head but not yet in the real world. Work in progress.

And while I was working with eggs anyway, I also made eggshell panels. I shall talk about this more in a blogpost to come. But just to mention it here: I made eggshell panels, generated a skillshare class about them (I am still editing, but almost done, and a taster can be found here) and am currently binding a book with an eggshell panel decoration on it and eco prints inside.

yummy paper for my new book block

Birthdays and Bottles

Right after Backlit’s Open Studio, there came half term, with the kids enjoying a range of art activities with me. – That was great, and a novum. Apparently they are finally old enough for this. Little man did a lot of printing of his own and even enjoyed accompaning me to some open studios.

– And then it was the twin’s birthday! Seven years old now. No idea how that happened. To celebrate their birthday, we went to the coast for the weekend, and I dropped some bottles. The drop-off post can be found here, and the finding post will come up soon. – As soon as I can find the time to write the blogpost…

As it says in the title: A work intensive, but quite successful May. And now I got some more work to do…

I’ll leave you gessing what new idea I came up with and what work is in progress here.


Open Studio and 346, finally some Progress, and other News

I am participating this year on the Open Studios Notts event. Almost 300 artists in all of Nottinghamshire are openening their studios in May and June. Mine is going to be open to the public on 12/13th May.

printed catalogue with my fingers and 346 on the lower left

That’s in just over a week, and there’s still tons of things to do to prepare for the event. Money that was raised by ourselves (everyone paid a bit into the pot) was used for advertising, of course, but there was enough to pay a professional photographer to take photos of a couple – was it 10? – artists. I was one of the lucky ones chosen. So I had a curious visitor and an exciting photo session a couple of weeks ago. He wanted to see everything and makes photos of a lot of my processes, and so I printed on a screen, and bound a book, and cut some lino, and he made a lot of in-action-shots, and also took a couple of photos of artwork.

These photos are now on display in three libraries in the shire, and in the nearest one, in Beeston, there are also two pieces of work of mine: absences and message in a bottle no. 99 (yes, I made 99 bottles to date, more about that in a minute).

I went to look at the exhibition yesterday, and I must say I was almost disappointed by spotting just one photo of me and my studio there. This one, however, is more than life sized, and I might be a bit frightened by it:

gallery space in Beeston library with OSNotts photo exhibtion
yours truly, cutting away on a piece of lino
showcase in the exhibition

In preparation of the open studio, I finally managed to cover and box all eight 346 scrolls. As you know, the text is about how pregant women are treated and seen in a medical setting in general and particilarly it’s a day by day account of my 7 week hospital stay when I was pregnant with the twins.
The text with illustrations sit on a scroll when can be read by pulling out the paper from the circular box. Thus the time passed can be seen, but the reader cannot guess at how much paper/time is still left until it’s finally over.
I placed these scrolls into boxes, and my initial idea was to add a simple lid to these boxes. But I found first trials much too solid and clumsy, and the scroll itself is already very well protected. The box is more a feature to ease the storage, than to protect the contents. And so I had the idea, of wrapping them in fabric instead, maybe reminiscent of a swaddling cloth. – I am still working on that!


Much of other work I got done was in the spirit of getting ready for the open studio as well. When the catalogue arrived a week or two ago, and I found out that my studio and work was described (probably that was my doing, but I didn’t remember before), with the words: “printmaking, book art, messages in bottles, miniatures”. So I figured, I should make sure, that visitors to my studio are going to see all of that on the Open Day, and so I made a couple of new messages in bottles. You can head over to to see them all in more detail, here’s a picture with three of them (the fourth was in the picture in the gallery above):

As you can see: there’s miniatures and books and printmaking (on the left that’s a sunprint) so I am covering all my bases with these.

I am very proud and happy how the miniature book in the bottle on the very right came out. It contains a whole story, and I think the binding is sound, too:

The book block has four (if I remember correctly) signatures from washi paper, and I covered it in eelskin leather which has a natural ripple in its centre that just covered the spine of this miniature book nicely.
The belt in darker (also eelskin) leather can be simply slid off. It helps this little book to stay nicely closed.

Well, and then of course I needed some business cards to go with the artwork into the library, and I decided to print them from hand. (In part because I didn’t manage to get organised in time and get them printed.)
Although this was done in a great rush, I am very, very happy with the results.

I am in face so happy with the cards and the background, that I prepared a lot more “blank” cards for the planned printing demonstration during the open studio. At the end I had so many beautiful cut-offs that I didn’t want to toss.

And what do you do with cut-offs that are too beautiful to throw out? – Exactly, you make miniatures (or at least I do):

Mini Cards. See a regular business card for comparison on the left

Of course a lot of other things were and are happening at the same time. Last month I participated for the first time in the “AreYouBookEnough” challenge on instagram which was a lot of fun with a lot of map cutting, but I wasn’t entirely happy with the book I produced in the end, but there were a lot of intersting photos – at least.

Well, I hope I’ll see you not the coming but the next weekend – until then!