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From Dirca to design: printmaking with leatherwood (Dirca mexicana) bark paper

Washi is paper made by hand from the bark of native Japanese shrubs. Washi is a common medium used for printmaking and paper crafts. Artists who have studied nagashi-zuki, a sheet-forming method unique to washi, often import Japanese fibers because alternatives with similar properties have not been identified. We propose Dirca L. (leatherwood), a shrub endemic to North America, as a source of fibers with properties similar to those plants traditionally used to make washi. The thinness and strength of the leatherwood paper allows it to withstand repeated bending, folding and creasing better than paper made from species of Wikstroemia (Japanese fiber), suggesting an alternative for use with various printmaking techniques and paper arts and crafts that involve folding, such as origami. We engaged printmakers and origami artists in creating original pieces using our leatherwood paper and evaluated how the paper responds to various printmaking techniques and complex folding. We identified Dirca mexicana as a source of fibers with similar properties to species of Wikstroemia used to make gampi washi. Handmade D. mexicana bark paper was successfully used as a paper medium for intaglio, lithography, relief, digital, and screenprinting printmaking techniques, as well as, complex folding origami sculptures.