Inside of a 400-year-old mill in the UK, Jim Paterson, Neil Hopkins, and their single apprentice create a paper that looks nothing like the pile you slid into your printer. It’s uniquely textured, measured with a precise, masterful eye, and perfectly imperfect in every way. But their work is about way more than just making paper, and how they describe the process of bringing paper to life will leave you thinking about your own work with fresh eyes!

The folks we’re meeting today operate one of the last paper mills to exist in the UK. Every day, they work to create the material that will hold the ideas of our generation for years to come. It’s important (and often underappreciated) work! But, for masters of an ancient craft, their thoughts on what they do aren’t what you might expect. No, at the end of this, they’ll have you thinking a little differently about whatever it is that you do every day.

Image: man painting ink on a piece of paper

Jim Paterson
Source: Eyes & Ears

“Someone may be looking at a painting on a piece of our paper in a couple thousand years time! If we’ve done our job correctly, that paper will have that level of excellence to it.” — Neil Hopkins, papermaker at Two Rivers

Paper is everywhere: in our notebooks, on the streets, tacked to our office walls, and even found in the ruins of Herculaneum. I thought I knew paper; I mean I’ve used it forever. It’s what where I scribble notes, fold cranes and “cootie catchers”, and hold the words strung together by great authors in my hands.

But oh, my friend, the world of paper is more vast and wholesome than I could’ve ever imagined.

Even with my years working in the copy department of the office supply superstore, Staples, none of the many types of paper I felt were anything like these handmade pages. They go far beyond the identical, mass-produced smoothness, to something with personality and textures that were brought together by hand, decades of mastery, and a careful eye that makes them last ages.

Take a look into what’s happening in one of the UK’s last paper mills, Two Rivers, to discover what it is about this craft that can get you excited about your own with this beautiful film from our talented friends at Eyes & Ears.

(You can almost feel the pulp under your fingers!)

You can discover more about Two Rivers, over on their website! For more from Eyes & Ears, head over to their library. (We’ve curated a few of their articles here!)

If you’d like to try your hand at papermaking, this video tutorial shows you how to make your own using some picture frames, a window screen, and a bunch of paper you’d like to recycle!

And if you’d like to see how papermaking has stolen another man’s heart in England (as well as how people make paper from elephant dung!) check out this article next.

12 minutes

The Craft Behind Paper

When's the last time you stopped to appreciate how beautiful paper can be? Papermaking may be seen as a dying art form, but artisans like Gangolf Ulbricht are keeping the tradition alive!

Read More

“I often tell people that we sell imperfection, that’s what we do.”

— Jim Paterson, papermaker and owner of Two Rivers

As a printmaker, this quote really excites me. One of the biggest challenges in growing my skills in this art form has been grappling with the imperfections; knowing that the ink will most likely smudge, I’ll leave my fingerprints on a few, or that I had a slip of my carving knife and sliced off a bug’s entire leg.

But like Jim said in the video, anything that is made by a person has imperfections. Those random textures are what make handmade papers so special, just as the ink blotches on my latest print make it entirely different than the last. You get a glimpse at the humanity in each piece—and that’s exciting! There’s a rich story to every sheet of paper. And it goes way beyond the whirls of the mechanics we’ve created to spit out identical copies.

So, whether you love helping people find the perfect home or growing vegetables, congratulations! You’re mastering your own craft. There will be mistakes, hiccups, and goofs along the way, but in the end, no one else can do it like you.

An experience with an online search will never give you the same sense of security as having a real person ensure work alongside you to find your dream home, just like vegetables from the grocery store will never be as flavorful as those in the stalls at the farmers market.

What do you like to make? Cakes? Metal sculptures? Lamps out of gourds?

Like paper creates the space for artists to do their work, I’m sure that whatever service you provide helps someone else on their journey; even if you’re just putting a smile on their face. If the humble dung beetle has managed to master their unique craft and make the world a better place, I fully believe you can as well.

Stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  — Albert Einstein 

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Notes:

  1. Ears, Eyes. “TwoRivers.” Vimeo, 19 May 2020, vimeo.com/409191271. Accessed 19 May 2020.

Sam Burns

Editor in Chief

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and procurer of cheeses.