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…


3 replies on “Papier Mâché”

  1. Hilke I love your new experiments! The map sphere is especially appealing. But they all are – the nests are so great. And I love the visual texture from the bits of book. I get it that you are working on new experiments rather than finishing old projects. Do you feel the old projects become too “stale” to go back to? Some of mine may never get completed. Today I started tearing watercolor paper into signatures to do some eco dyeing. I have several other projects I should work on, but suddenly thought “it’s fall and the good weather will end soon, I want to take advantage of it.”

    1. Thank you, Judith, I am much encouraged by your nice words.
      There are so many reasons for jumping on to the next best idea, I suppose. Indeed I find that some old project just can’t be revivied when they are too stale. I have some I started just in May which I am in principle still eager to finish. But I am at the point where I would have to sit down with a pen and a piece of paper and give it some serious thought. And then I enter my studio and think: Well, I’ll first do a couple of layers on some sphere so that they can dry, and then I’ll start with other work. And even before I am done with that, my work time is over, and I have to care for my child.
      Or: I’ll do the spheres, and while I am doing this manual work I can think about that other project. But that never works for me. I don’t know why I don’t learn. The most I can hope for when doing repeptitious manual work, is a Zen state of mind, and in the middle maybe even a fresh idea. I can never systematially think while I am doing this kind of work. The thoughts start playing and tumbling in my mind, and I need to pin them down with a pen onto paper. Despite knowing, I fall for this trap frequently.
      In part it is probably procastination: In trying out something new, in playing around with a new technique lies no failure. Nothing can go wrong, you can’t get stuck… It’s easy in a way.

      Eco dyeing is so much fun! I am looking forward to seeing what you’ll make. In the worst case, you’ll “just” end up with a beautiful journal, but having seen your process online for a while, I am almost expecting some clever idea and creative turn. (No pressure :-).)

  2. I think many ‘makers’ find it difficult to go back to older projects when the new ideas keep coming! You are certainly not alone in this. ; ]

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