The Art of Making Paper

*This Guest Blog was written by Sienna Cherrico, wife and better half of Joel Cherrico. Sienna is the Office Manager at Cherrico Pottery, and an Artist who makes paper by hand. This blog post tells about her process of creating handmade paper. You can also watch a video of Sienna’s paper making process on Facebook here. Some technical words are bolded and defined in a glossary at the end of the post. 

Why I Find Papermaking Therapeutic

As I sit to begin writing this post, by hand, on paper, I am watching the rain fall and drips splash in the puddles. A perfect reflection of how I view the papermaking process. Respecting the pace at which water drips.

I have loved paper, in the form of books, journals, sketch pads, and cards or stationary for as long as I can remember. My mom is an artist and when I was young she made paper castings. She would get paper pulp1 from the local paper mill in five gallon buckets. Then, she would design and carve her own molds from foam insulation boards. Pulp was pressed into the molds with a sponge, trying to remove as much water as possible, for it to air dry. When dry, she would artistically paint the castings to be hung in people’s homes.

Hence, I grew up with my hands in pulp. I got to help my mom create these forms, while watching the water absorb into the sponge, as the fibers in the pulp formed together. 

(My mother showing me the process of paper casting)

So, when many years later, as a senior art student in college, I was introduced to papermaking I instantly fell in love. The process nostalgically brought me back to my childhood.

Only now, I was learning to manipulate the pulp into forming sheets of paper, and out of local plant material!

When an art form is a direct product of the earth, it is so much more powerful to me. Your body is so involved in the process, from collecting and preparing the fibers to forming each sheet. It’s a healing process for me, my mind is free to wander and my body is so familiar with the process that I get in a calming rhythm. I feel connected to the earth in my own way through this bond of plant fibers and water.

A Brief History Of Papermaking

Humans have been writing and documenting for centuries, perhaps since the very beginning of time. Before paper was invented, people wrote on bones, monuments of stone, papyrus, wood, metals, leaves, and bark from trees. Parchment was used in both Europe and Asia Minor, made from sheep skin, as early as 1500B.C. The true origin of paper has been disputed, an emperor in China was credited in A.D. 105. However, historians have found fragments of paper made from hemp in China that came from nearly two centuries earlier. In the year A.D.615 the papermaking process spread to Japan and finally to Spain in Europe by 1151. The first paper mill was built in England around 1488. Papermaking became westernized and reached the United States, through a German Immigrant in Pennsylvania, in 1690.

In Asia many of the materials that were being used to make paper were bamboo, silk, tree bark, and other plant materials. When papermaking reached Europe they began making paper out of old recycled cotton rags, as the source was abundant at that time and eliminated the steps of harvesting and breaking down the plant fibers. The process of creating pulp started with mallets.  A person would beat the fibers with a mallet until they broke down. Then in 1680 in Holland a beater with a motor and rotating blades that could be lowered to break the fibers into pulp was invented, the Hollander beater, and changed the process forever. This beater and ones similar are still being used today for hand papermaking. Papermakers have been experimenting with making paper out of plant fibers, usually whatever grows in abundance locally. Artists also began experimenting in the 1960s and 70s with painting and sculpting the paper pulp as they continued to develop custom papers with combinations of fibers for prints. The art of making paper is still honored and enjoyed by many artists around the world, as it creates jobs and preserves the process in developing countries and allows many curious people to try the process through community courses and visiting artist’s studios. The variety of ways you can make paper and then what you can use it for is endless, there are so many creations yet to be discovered and made. Here is a closer look at the entire process, on a larger scale.

The Process

To understand basic steps for making paper, I broke them down into 6 simple steps:

  1. Selecting fiber
  2. Preparing fiber
  3. Beating the fiber into pulp
  4. Sheet forming
  5. Pressing: squeezing out all the water out
  6. Drying

I had to leave out many nuances that other papermakers would surely notice. But for the first time reader, I hope to make sense of the process through these basic steps.

#1) Selecting Fiber

Let’s start with selecting your fiber. The options are; recycled materials (old cotton jeans or rags), plant material (cellulose-grass, stem, or leaf fibers), or half-stuff2 (either plant or recycled material already processed once in a larger factory). Personally, I often use abaca3 half-stuff and incorporate my own local big bluestem grasses since a local touch is important to my personal artistic style.

#2) Preparing Fiber

To prepare the grasses, they are first harvested from a prairie or garden, and then cut down into one inch sections. You must avoid knots and seeds, then set the fibers in large pots of water to boil.

Once the fibers have broken down enough where they can be pulled apart, usually after at least 3 hours of cooking, they are done. They are then rinsed until the water runs clear. If using half-stuff, most varieties just need to soak for a few hours prior to beating.

#3) Beating Fiber Into Pulp

Now it is time for beating, which turns the fibers into pulp. The beater is a machine that is filled with water and when turned on, the fibers are added. The blades are slowly lowered and the fibers undergo fibrillation4 changing from their native shape to microfibers. When the pulp is cloudy, without knots or strands, it is finished. Beating can take anywhere from 3-8 hours.

#4) Sheet Forming

Sheet forming is the most active and demanding step of the paper making. A vat5, which is any sort of basin that’s at least 18” deep and 24” wide, is filled with about 4” of water. I start by adding roughly four quarts of pulp and many pinches of lightly beaten grass, as inclusions that randomly scatter the paper to add interest. With my hands, I stir the fibers in the water, this is called charging the vat.

Next, I dip a mould6 and deckle7 into the vat. The size of the mould and deckle determines the size the sheet of paper will be. Once the vat is charged, I slide the mould and deckle into the moving fibers at an angle and lift it carefully in one fluid motion.

As soon as it leaves the water, keeping it level, I gently, but quickly, move the mould and deckle back and forth and front to back. This helps create an even sheet, as the water drains and the fibers undergo hydrogen bonding8 (weaving together) to form a very strong piece of paper.

When the water stops moving, the fibers stop moving too. This is the most fragile stage for the fibers. If they are tilted too soon, touched or have a water bubble, the sheet will be uneven or have visible indentations. When most of the water has drained out of the fibers through the screen of the mould, I carefully take the deckle off and hold the mould with the fibers at an angle, watching the water drip off the corner. Once there is a pause between drips, it is ready for couching9. This is the stage where I am literally waiting and moving at the pace the water drips.

Layers of wet felt and pellons10 are set up to hold the fibers in place as they are transferred from the mould in the process of couching. Lining the mould up with the edge of the pellon or previous sheet of paper, I roll the mould down and press the fibers onto the pellon. As the mould lifts up, the paper fibers release onto the pellon and the mould is now clear. 

I continue this sheet forming process, adding pulp to the vat every six sheets or so, until all the pulp is gone. Now a stack of pellons and fragile fibers in the form of sheets create many layers ready to be pressed.

#5) Pressing: Squeezing Out All The Water

Sliding the stack of pellons carefully into the press, I pump the press to 2000 pounds of pressure. Water gushes out the sides pouring onto the floor and down the drain. 

After 20 minutes I apply even more pressure, up to 4000 pounds, for 5 minutes. This forces the fibers to hold their bond since most of the water has been removed and be able to be picked up, before it is set to dry.

#6) Drying

Once out of the press, I pull off the layers of pellons one at a time, transferring each sheet of paper to the blotters11 of the drying rack, sandwiched between sheets of cardboard. The cardboard allows air from the fan to move through the stack of paper and blotters as the sheets are forced to dry. About two days later, I come back to the studio to turn off the fans and again, layer by layer, reveal the now dry and finished sheets of paper.

Handmade paper appears to be so delicate with the deckled edges and beautiful textures, when in reality it is some the strongest paper that exists. 

Out my window the rain has now stopped, yet a few drips continue falling from the trees. I like to think about these drips growing the grasses that I will go harvest and bring to the studio to again mix with water to bond with the body and the earth in a new form. So we may communicate as we write to loved ones, on paper, and sit and watch the rain fall into puddles, one drop at a time.

Our Collaboration: Why we chose to make this kind of paper for Cherrico Pottery Patrons

Get this handmade paper Art on Patreon

I made abaca paper with big bluestem and reed canary grass inclusions for this project because it’s a lovely rendition of the common papermaking process and incorporation of local materials. We needed paper to clearly showcase the Cherrico Pottery logo, painted with India Ink by Joel, in a unique way. Abaca is made of the fibers from the stem of the banana plant, typically sourced from the Philippines. It’s a strong and predictable fiber that can be manipulated by how long it is beaten in the process of becoming pulp. The longer it is beaten, the stiffer it dries and even has a shrinking quality. When making larger quantities of paper, we use a fiber source like half-stuff so that the quality of the paper can be consistent over 1000 sheets. But I wanted to incorporate a local material as well, which is why I chose to harvest and include grasses from the prairie two miles from our home. It gives a personal touch and when you look at the paper you can think about the story of that grass and the process of how it got to your hands.


1) pulp: the result of plant fibers being turned into a viscous, cloudy looking slurry.

2) half-stuff: plant material that has been pre-processed in a factory and are purchased from a supplier. They need to be rehydrated before beaten, versus processing the raw plant material. Common “half-stuff” materials are: abaca, cotton linter, hemp, sisal, and flax.

3) abaca: a bast (taken from the inner bark of plants) fiber from the leaf stalk of a type of banana tree found in the Philippines and South America.

4) fibrillation: act of changing the structure of the fiber from its native shape, refining it to delamination and microfibers.

5) vat: a tub or container to hold your slurry of water and pulp.

6) mould: screen surface, similar to a window screen, stretched on a frame.

7) deckle: a second frame with an opening that sits or fits onto the mould, creating edges to hold the fibers.

8) hydrogen bonding: hydrogen & oxygen atoms and water are attracted to each other through similar polar charges and attach like magnets, through the process of bonding, and hold water and the fiber molecules together.

9) couching: the fluid act of transferring the fibers of a sheet of paper from the mould to felts or pellons.

10) pellon: a sheet of non-woven polyester cloth with absorbent qualities to hold and help release the fibers from the mould. Pellons are usually cut to the size of your press so that everything fits together.

11) blotter: a large sheet of processed cotton that is absorbent and acts as a barrier between the paper and the cardboard in the drying process.


Notes from my college course in the fall of 2011 at the College of Saint Benedcit/Saint John’s University Art Department

“The Papermaker’s Companion; The Ultimate Guide to Making and Using Handmade Paper” by Helen Hiebert

BONUS: Handmade Paper and Pottery Giveaway, $418 value

Giveaway, no purchase necessary: 2 people will each win one of Sienna Kuhn’s handmade paper Moon Cards ($29 value) paired with one of Joel Cherrico’s “Cosmic Mugs” ($180 value: $165 + $15 S&H average), totally free! To enter, leave a comment on this blog post before 1pm CST March 8th, 2019 responding to the following question:

What is one important thing that you learned about the art of making paper?

Simply leave a comment before 1pm CST Friday 3/8/2019 telling us one important thing you learned from this blog post. The Cherrico Pottery Team will select 2 different people to win. Each winner will get one of Sienna Kuhn’s newest handmade “Moon Cards” ($29 value) paired with  one of Joel Cherrico’s “Cosmic Mugs” ($180 value: $165 + $15 S&H average), shipped almost anywhere globally, totally free!

To enter, you must leave one, genuine comment on this blog post, or the moderator will not approve your comment or include you in the giveaway. Please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Please allow up to 48 hours, or sometimes even a bit longer, for the moderator to approve your comment. Limit one comment entry per person. Void where prohibited, over 21 years of age only. We will pick winner Tuesday 3/12/2019 at the latest (Sienna Kuhn is currently scheduled to choose winners around 1pm Friday 3/8/12 and we will try to make this deadline and announce winners on Facebook Live around 2pm Central that same day) and winners will also be notified via email.

The winners will receive the gifts shipped to them nearly anywhere globally. You can view more details at the Cherrico Pottery Giveaway Policy here or the Cherrico Pottery Terms and Conditions here. If you have any more questions or concerns, or please reach out to Joel Cherrico, anytime at our email here:

StarTalk Blog Post + Giveaway

Joel Cherrico has long drawn inspiration for his pottery from Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson and his show, StarTalk Radio. Last year, we wrote about many of the reasons why, in this blog post: “Art and Science: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Thoughts.” To avoid repeating, here is a key point:

Dr. Tyson is a man of massive influence. He wrote for The White House newsletter, appears regularly on TV Talk Shows and his work in Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey was enjoyed by millions of people. He laid the groundwork of inspiration for Joel’s creation of, “Cosmic Mugs” which you can see in this early, goofy YouTube video:

Cherrico Pottery has been supporting StarTalk Radio on Patreon for years, to draw more inspiration from the cosmos, and then filter it into art. This past January, Joel and Sienna were given an amazing opportunity: take the perfect business trip to The Big Apple (StarTalk’s headquarters in New York City) to meet Dr. Tyson and the StarTalk Radio Team.

Photo by Justin Starr Photography

While in NYC, they also saw a piece of artwork that was another major inspiration for Cosmic Mugs: Vincent van Gogh’s historic masterpiece The Starry Night

StarTalk Blog

Thanks to the generous team at StarTalk, Joel was invited to publish a guest blog post titled, “Why ‘The Starry Night’ Is Universally Beautiful.” This blog reflects on several key ideas that help inspire Cosmic Mugs. These include how “Technology, Generosity and Kindness” have all helped create and sustain success for Cherrico Pottery.

Giveaway: $540 Value, 3 Winners, No Purchase Necessary

Please feel free to enter our newest giveaway, where three different people will each win one of “Our Best Cosmic Mugs.” Find all the details on how to enter by reading through Joel’s Blog on, which can be found here:

Dr. Tyson sipping wine from one of Joel Cherrico’s “Lunar Cups”….how cool! Photo by Justin Starr Photography

11 Cosmic Quotes: Why Are They Called “Cosmic Mugs” Anyways?

Why are Joel’s mugs called “Cosmic Mugs” anyways? Wikipedia says, “Cosmic is anything pertaining to the cosmos” and the cosmos “is the Universe regarded as a complex and orderly system; the opposite of chaos.”

Our Universe is vast and mysterious, far more mysterious than what human beings can comprehend. But the cosmos also defines anything close and familiar in our modern, complex society, like a cup of coffee.

These “cosmic quotes” tell about just some reasons why Joel Cherrico chose to model the cosmos with clay and fire:

#1: Author Ryan Holiday captures this quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson in his book “Ego Is The Enemy.”

#2: Bill Nye (The Science Guy) shares his favorite scientific fact on CBS “This Morning.”

#3: This quote from Carl Sagan comes from his famous and humbling video properly named “Pale Blue Dot.”

#4: Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel to space, had this to say about how art and science are related.

#5: One of the greatest minds in our history, Albert Einstein wrote this passage about his respect for the cosmos and the mystery it represents.

#6: Stephen Hawking, a leader in the scientific field of cosmology, ends a talk with this memorable quote.

#7: President John F Kennedy was committed to further space exploration, science and innovation. This quote is from his Inaugural Address.

 #8: Galileo Galilei, a pioneer in the field of astronomy, had this to say about mystery, science and art.

#9: Chris Hadfield directly wrote this quote to Joel about his Cosmic Mugs. Check out this Blog Post for more information about Hadfield.

#10: Charles Bolden was part of the crew that successfully deployed the Hubble Telescope. Hubble’s incredible pictures inspire Cosmic Mugs.

#11: The last quote is written by Joel himself in the magazine CeramicsTECHNICAL.

Art that lets you taste the Universe everyday

Every Cosmic Mug is crafted with this purpose in mind. Joel’s goal is to give every owner of a Cosmic Mug the chance to touch, taste and reflect on the Universe every morning by doing something as simple as drinking a cup of coffee.

Astronaut Mark Vande Hei with a Cosmic Mug gifted from Joel. Vande Hei and Joel Cherrico are both alumni of College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University. Astronaut Vande Hei is currently enjoying a tour on the International Space Station during the writing of this post. His “favorite office mug” stayed here on Earth.

Joel brings the cosmos into your home by choosing glazes that are made up of the same elements that are found in the outermost galaxies in our cosmos. Check out this early video below where Joel was first beginning to develop the ideas behind Cosmic Mugs a couple years ago:

Spirals are seen throughout the Universe and are at the foundation of Cosmic Mugs, which are formed by twisting clay on a pottery wheel. Scientists don’t know why spirals are so common, but like most things in the Universe, it is a mystery waiting to be unraveled. Read more about why spirals are so common in our Universe in this Discover Article.

One of Joel’s newest pieces in his Big Jars and Wall Platters collection brandishes a spiral as a stunning Cosmic Wall Platter. Joel modeled it after what astrophysicists have determined about the Milky Way’s spiral shape, with subtle textures and colors that are entirely an expression of the art.

Do you have a favorite quote about the cosmos? Share in the comments please!

Image sources: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10

Cherrico Pottery BIG Pots at Midwest Art Festivals

Art in Bayfront Park

Joel Cherrico will be exhibiting and performing live pottery demonstrations on his York Kick Wheel August 19th and 20th in Duluth, Minnesota at Art in Bayfront Park. One of Joel’s best BIG pottery jars will be on display, as well as a few of his best Cosmic Mugs. This will be Joel’s 7th year participating in this festival. He will also be crafting Cosmic Mugs live and anything else he’s inspired to throw, while breathtaking Lake Superior shimmers in the background.

Just one of his Big Pots will be on display in Duluth. They take a LONG time to make. In a hurried month, Joel can throw, fire and finish 100+ Cosmic Mugs in under a week and have them ready to order, but one Big Pot takes several months from start to finish. Just the drying takes a few months! Read about how Joel creates these beautiful works of art in a blog post he wrote back in 2012:

Big Pots deserve to be displayed on a stand as beautiful as the Big Pots themselves. So, Joel and his team have been creating beautiful wooden slabs over the last month to use as pedestals. The pedestals also help to level the jars on uneven ground. Four different types of wood slabs were harvested in sustainable ways from the St. John’s Arboretum with the help of a full-time forest technician: Aspen, Maple, Sugar Maple and White Oak. Slabs were dried slowly in Joel’s pottery kiln at 100 degrees C. for a few days, and then hand-planed, sanded and finished with love by local woodworker Tom Kuhn.

And yes… that is actually real gold in the bottom right corner of the gorgeous red jar. That is the Cherrico Pottery jar Joel plans to display in Duluth. Hope to see you there!

Millstream Arts Festival

September 24th, Joel’s artistic talent will be on full display when he participates (for the 7th time) in the Millstream Arts Festival, located in his home town, St. Joseph, Minnesota. This is where Joel lives, works and operates Cherrico Pottery. They even generously put his work on billboards around the city.

Joel will be set up with 3-5 more of his best Big Pots right in front of the Local Blend coffee shop, where you can eat an entire meal from his artwork everyday. This interview with the American Craft Council tells how they developed an innovative business model. A few things have changed, but you can still buy pottery everyday and anyone can still go eat an entire meal from innovative pieces of Cherrico Pottery. Hope to see you at Millstream!

Joel is passionate about supporting the community of St. Joseph, and his unique partnership with the Local Blend is a perfect example of that support. If you’re not too busy, come see Joel create his famous Cosmic Mugs and learn more about his artwork by absorbing the energy of his specialty “Big Pots” in person.

“The most important thing is communicating with the user. It is only when the user feels the presence of the hand of the potter that communication truly exists.”

– Warren Mackenzie, 1999 Distinguished Artist Award” The McKnight Foundation

Momentous Pottery Giveaways Inspired by NASA

July 20th, 1969 was when humans first set foot on the Moon. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin (who owns a Cosmic Mug thanks to our friend Stacey at StarTalk) is 87 years young and he’s STILL active on Instagram, reminiscing about the experience:

Joel studies astronauts because it inspires him to filter ideas into is artwork, towards achieving greatness. Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Col. Chris Hadfield both have Guinness World Records titles. Both directly inspired Joel to attempt and achieve the title for, ‘most pots thrown in one hour by an individual.’

Astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield also let us send him a Cosmic Mug. In his book, “An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth” Hadfiled tells how his childhood dream was to walk on the moon. That goal wasn’t reached, but it put him on a path towards successfully becoming an astronaut and achieving his Guinness World Records title for ‘first music video filmed in space.’ Joel studied Hadfield’s work, sent him a Cosmic Mug and got an inspiring letter in return. He said:

We also send free pots to other astronauts occasionally, like Lt. Col. Mark Vande Hei who graduated from Joel’s alma mater CSB/SJU. He is in line for a trip to the International Space Station.

Not the best photo, but hey…that’s a NASA Astronaut enjoying a Cosmic Mug!

“Why climb the highest mountain? … We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”

– John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962

Entrepreneurship is one skill that has many of the same core values that propelled the United States to the moon. Entrepreneurs are required to spend years overcoming failures and striving towards success. You can learn how Joel launched and sustained his pottery business immediately after college graduation in this eight part authorship series for American Craft Council:

A Potter’s Journey: The Beginning


Momentous Pottery Giveaways

Houston, we have liftoff! Here’s what you need to know:

If they’re sold out or too expensive for you, don’t worry! Here is another awesome giveaway we just launched, totally free:

Free Giveaway: $680 in Free Cosmic Mugs

  • Cosmic Mug and Moon Mug Giveaway, totally free: $680 in free pottery.
  • Enter for free by simply entering your email.

Joel will also be releasing more pottery later this month: Cosmic Mugs, including $79 Random Cosmic Mugs and $49 Flawed Cosmic Mugs, before August. Stay tuned to the newsletter to get notified about availability first: