It never made sense when we used it in school, but no one seemed to know what to do. It always seemed to be the inflated balloon project, I think every child has done that. It's pretty uninspiring.
But then there was a program on children's telly called Art Attack and the artist / host Neil would create the most wonderful models out of torn paper and PVA glue. It just stuck with me. The idea that you could create things with paper. But I never really tried it until I was in my 20s.
In my early 20s I was part of GFS Platform, young women's project, sexual health team and we wrote a play called, 'it'll never happen to me' about teen pregnancy HIV and STIs. We performed it at the GFS Platorm Great Yarmouth conference. Around that we were part of a sexual health awareness day, where school kids spent the day with us and they took part in workshops with us learning about the importance of sexual health in a relaxed environment.
I set about making props for our event. My kids were toddlers at the time, so I'd put them to bed then get PVA glue & newspaper out. I made all kinds of over sized fun sexual health themed props and painting them crazy colours.
I was going through a divorce, I'd re done my GCSEs and new I wanted to continue with my education and I was finding it hard to stick to one direction. One night as I sat making a world AIDS day giant ribbon I sat thinking. What would I have liked to have done? I thought, it my wildest of dreams, what would like like to do? And I suddenly thought the craziest of all dreams for a single mum, 'I'd want to go to art school and get an arts degree!' I dismissed it at the time and burst into tears. I proper sobbed that evening. I thought it was the most unrealistic thing for me to dream of. I didn't know how that could happen and I thought I'd missed my chance of being a full time art student. Plus I had kids, I'd need a normal job.
(Little did I know that roughly 10 years later I'd be starting at Norwich school of art.)
Zoom forward a couple of years... When I went to college to do art & design diploma we were given a textile project brief that involved working in groups with only paper, masking tape and staples. I created a huge pair of angel wings on our mannequin made with paper and masking tape. I'm not even sure that's what I was meant to be doing, but I completely lost myself in the process.
I didn't work with papier-mâché again until after I graduated. I was short of money and didn't have any art supples but I was feeling creative. Then the weekly free advertising newspaper got pushed through our door. It was a taadahh moment. I had PVA glue. I set to work. Tearing paper and sticking it back together.
I find it such a relaxing process. It reminds me of you can feel torn to pieces emotionally and you think you'll never feel strong again. But you slowly do and become stronger than you were before with more experience. That is the papier-mâché process for me, tearing the paper, destroying it, weakening it with moisture. Then sticking it, moulding it into something new and something different. But all the original material is there, it's just rearrange and reenforced with glue. At first it's soggy and soft, then it slowly dries out and becomes a rigid strong thing. And it is unbelievably strong.
The process and my emotional connection with it makes papier-mâché my favourite medium to work with by far.