A cross-campus relationship, now garnering national attention, has benefited paper science, engineering and art students with the production of specialty art paper.
Four years ago, art students were still paying $5 per sheet of art paper shipped from France for drawing, painting and printing. The paper was so expensive that it made students afraid of making mistakes.
Meanwhile, students from the Paper Science and Engineering Department were making roll after roll of paper themselves. Printmaking professor Robert Erickson took a sheet of their art paper over and asked if the engineering students could make it. That was the beginning of a new mutually beneficial relationship.
“The whole process was a creative and cooperative experience that is a great use of our Economic Development Incentive Grant,” said professor Karyn Biasca, the chair of the Paper Science and Engineering Department. “It was really a fascinating project overall that yields really good grade of paper.”
Engineering students reverse-engineered the expensive art paper, learning the properties of it and figuring out what materials they would need to recreate the texture and color of it themselves.
Art students then examined the samples that the engineering students created and told them what they liked and what could be improved. This fine tuning gave engineering students a real life application of their testing and analytical skills acquired in the classroom.
“This was a great opportunity to communicate with different groups of people and arrive at an end result,” said Lindsey Hoffman, a senior paper science and engineering major and head of the project. “Whereas we tend to be more quantitative, art students are more qualitative.”
For example, art students would frequently ask for more or less “tooth,” meaning surface roughness of the paper. They also asked for the colors to be warmer or cooler. After tinkering with both the texture and color, the two groups of students arrived at a favorable result.
While engineering students have gotten valuable experience setting up equipment and constructing paper themselves, art students benefit by getting free paper from their own university.
“They help us out quite a bit,” said sophomore studio art major Nathanael Bewick. “Prices in paper go up every year, so our relationship with the Paper Science and Engineering Department is very important.”
This specialty paper is not just popular here on campus. It has been branded as RiverPoint paper and is being marketed and sold to artists all over the country by the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology.
“We have shipped RiverPoint paper to people in at least 15 different states,” said WIST communications manager Ron Tschida. “Artists like the quality of the paper and tell us it performs very well. They also like that it was developed in this collaboration on campus with student involvement.”
Along with the specialty paper, engineering students have also developed two other quality grades of paper.
“We look forward to the future,” Biasca said. “Our students love working with other creative people and are always up for a challenge.”