The writing is on the plant

The Yukon is known for its vibrant fireweed; it’s used to make jelly, soap, and artwork. For Yukon-based artist Helen O’Connor, fireweed provides material for artistic paper.

But the Yukon’s official flower is not the only plant she grinds to a pulp. The art adventurer has also used grass, clover, and even flax to make different kinds of paper. Having done a workshop during Whitehorse Culture Days this past September, O’Connor is keen to get back in the studio to experiment with more creations.

“One of the best parts about making paper from plants is anticipating what the final product will look like,” O’Connor says.

Learning to make decorative paper from plants has been no walk in the park. A few years back, O’Connor travelled to the Emerald Isle for an artist residency to learn some ancient secrets about the process. She discovered a plethora of knowledge.

“I was very intrigued how the plant, stinging nettle, was used to make paper. It’s such a strong tall fibre, I would have never thought you could make paper from it,” she says.

While in Ireland, she also discovered some old-world methods of bookbinding. Bookmaking goes back 2000 years, with its origins in China and Japan. 

With a new wealth of artistic knowledge, O’Connor became inspired to film her work. She has plans to release it at a future exhibit alongside a collection of new creations.

Once back in the Yukon, O’Connor continued to practice what she learned while abroad.

“Making paper out of flax is by far the most challenging method,” she says.

The pioneering artist even went as far as growing her own flax in five varieties. After years of experimentation, she finally mastered it. 

The way natural light interacts with the paper further captures the O’Connor’s mind.  Occasionally, she will create paper sculptures to display this abstract balance.

Next on O’Connor’s roster is experimentation with paper patterns, shapes, and possibly clothing to showcase the intricate concepts of sexuality and shame. She also has plans to integrate industrial and technological mediums, and collaborate with other artists. She is still working out the ideas and details of her next exhibit, and hopes to showcase her work in the spring of 2015.

“Artistic paper is an obscure medium, not too many people do it. In a world that constantly relies on technology, I hope to keep this art alive.”

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