A few months ago on a gloriously hot spring day I went with a friend to Pitt Mill in Watchet, Somerset.
I had heard about Two Rivers Paper on the internet and covetously read enticing descriptions about its magical properties: its double sizing, its rough deckle edges and its content of cotton linters and linen.
But for a while I balked at the slightly more expensive price than I could manage.
Then I finally gave in as I thought – why not try the best.
TRYING THE EXTRAORDINARY
So having ordered some online and seen and tried it I felt compelled to visit its place of birth. As I started painting tentative washes on the paper all I can say is that I began to just slow down , my shoulders dropped and I honestly felt as if I were working with rather than on the paper. It had a character of its own and received washes and did lovely things with them!
THE ARTISANS (Jim Patterson – in third photo along below)
The paper is made by Neil Hopkins (below)
and Jim Patterson who started working under his father in the paper-making industry at aged 16.
They are steeped in paper-making wisdom and have been working at this 400 year old mill deep in a quiet leafy coombe for 30 years. They also have an apprentice paper maker called Zoe and a lady who does the administration called Jane. Jim’s home is attached to the mill and is hugged by a stream on one side and a meadow and then banks of trees on the other – a little piece of heaven he shares with his wife Lynne.
Wisteria was in perfumed profusion all over the end of the loft and my friend and I sat by the loft steps and inhaled its scent.
The set up is humble and manual to a large degree. They use exquisite handmade wooden and metal paper moulds which are in themselves antiques and examples of amazing craftsmanship. The wood is water resistant teak.
At the water and pulp trough there is only room for one person to work at a time so you can be assured that your sheet will have been made on its own by one human – incredible really when you consider that they now ship worldwide.
Neil showed us the whole process and what blew me away was the sheer depth of pulp that sat on the mould after the water had strained away – it was at least an inch.
That was then couched between felts, squeezed under huge pressure and eventually hung in the loft to dry ending up about 2mm thick.
This just shows you the quality of the paper. It is so robust that oil painters can paint directly on it with no need for preparation. It also takes acrylics, pastels and any drawing media. Incredibly versatile this paper comes in different weights, surfaces and forms. You can half large or small sheets, pads and more as shown in the photo below.
The shop is up a rickety old stairs and has very low beams – totally wabi sabi and a den of paper treasures. The a further staircase takes you to the drying loft with its lovely open door looking out onto the grassy fields.
Everywhere nature is trying to grow in – tendrils ease themselves through old cracks in the whitewashed mortar, cobwebs are never disturbed and each nook is filled with a natural accumulation of leaves, dust and paper pulp. The source of heat on dark, chill winter days is a single ancient Aga positioned in the corner by a window graced with a cauldron. Windows are not wiped clear and the whole is a little burrow of mossy green and shadows…I would move in tomorrow…
Most of the processes are manual and carried out using very old machinery including this letterpress which embosses the Two Rivers logo – simply “TR” onto each sketchbook.
The watermark is also made at the point of straining the woodpulp through the aforementioned antique moulds as there is a small metal T and R fixed into the bottom corner of each mould. If you look hard you can just make this out – sorry – my photo is a bit blurry.
So if you feel like trying out this poetic paper I would highly recommend it – and perhaps one day even take a visit but be sure to just ring ahead and see if it is convenient for them to receive you.
To shop their items click here – https://www.tworiverspaper.com/shop/