Nikawa Report

By Yuki Katayama

This month we will explore the long but somewhat convoluted and controversial history of nikawa (animal skin glue). 

Nikawa is a solid substance traditionally made out of animal (cow, rabbit, deer, etc) skins or bones or a mixture of both. Primarily used in art and art restoration, nikawa can be melted down into a liquid form to mix with pigments for Japanese painting (Nihonga), sizing papers or mixed with soot to manufacture sumi sticks. Interestingly, one of the main uses for nikawa in the 1900s was for match-making. A mixture of potassium chlorate, sulphur and nikawa is used to make the match tip, but with the invention of the disposable lighter in the 1970s, the demand for nikawa in that field slowly diminished. 

Top: Deer skin nikawa, Bottom: Cow skin nikawa (Credit: “The Journey to Nikawa”)

The origins of nikawa can be traced back to almost 5000 years ago in the northern Eurasia region. Traditionally, the production of nikawa in Japan was done all by hand by descendants of premodern outcast hereditary occupational groups. Any work that dealt with death was considered unclean or tainted in Buddhism and Shintoism and was thus designated to these discriminated communities. Although nikawa making is enveloped in a dark and unfortunate history of Japan, the standard of the nikawa that was made during this time is recorded to have been of exceptional quality.

Preparation of the cow skin – at what was Osaki Shoten (Himeji, Hyogo Pref.)
(Credit: “The Journey to Nikawa”)

The hand processed nikawa (wa nikawa) contained many essential nutrients that were otherwise removed from the later machine processed (yo/western nikawa) ones. The industrial process removes all ‘impurities’, including sodium, potassium and phosphorus which are naturally occurring in the animal skin. These chemical elements aid in moisture absorption as well as water retention which is crucial for traditional nihonga painting and restoration of historical/cultural assets when an artifact needs to be remoistened to remove old adhesives. Wa nikawa is also known as sanzenbon, which translates into ‘3000 strips’, because that is the amount of nikawa sticks that are produced from one cow. The last manufacturer of traditional sanzenbon closed down in 2011, and now only the industrial version (with most chemical impurities removed) of nikawa is being made. 

The Nikawa that we carry at Hiromi Paper is made industrially, and uses a unique process to mitigate the strong smell that traditional nikawa would otherwise have. The quality of the nikawa is similar to that of the wa nikawa, and is widely used amongst artists and conservators in Japan as well.

Different types of nikawa and hide glues (Credit: “The Journey to Nikawa”)

How to make nikawa:

Nihonga artists swear by the ratio of 1 nikawa stick to 100cc of water.

  1. Place the cut up nikawa stick into water, and leave overnight
  2. Heat up the nikawa in a separate pot of hot water; do not place the nikawa on direct heat.
  3. Make sure the temperature does not exceed 60℃ / 140°F. Because nikawa is a gelatin/protein, thermal denaturation starts to occur around that temperature and drastically starts to lose its adhesive strength. 

*This change is irreversible; much like once an egg is boiled it cannot go back to its previous form.


“The Journey to Nikawa – Tracing the Cultural Origins” by Aguri Uchida and Musashino Art University. 2021.

Amanosan Cultural Heritage Research Institute

“Culture of Nikawa” by Tsuneyuki Morita. 2003.

A Papermaker’s Return to the US

By Nicholas Cladis

“A chorus of crickets undulates through green, dewy grass. Crows declare a tree their own, over there, just beyond the field. As I reach down to pull weeds – kusatori – at the base of a kozo tree, spiders retreat from the jumbled root system. I move my hands along the stems of each plant, navigating the bark, removing leaf sprouts before they can become waki-me (side branches). The air is cool, there is shade from a nearby forest, and the tall fences around this plot keep the deer out.

Where am I? A field of kozo, fiber used in Japanese papermaking.

Where am I? This has been a question I’ve asked myself multiple times over the last year. Mid-pandemic, I returned to the US from six years of living and working in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. While there, I became intimately connected to the Echizen papermaking community, and now consider many there to be friends and family, teachers and colleagues. The decision to change my life so dramatically was not taken lightly, but a year later, I can confidently declare that it was the move I needed to make. As a papermaker, and a papermaking artist, I receive so much joy from teaching and collaborating with others. That is exactly what I returned to do as faculty at the University of Iowa Center for the Book.

The “dry room” of the University of Iowa Center for the Book papermaking research center.

So, I repeat: Where am I? The first paragraph could be describing Echizen, where I learned how to cultivate kozo. Or, it could be Iowa, where I teach topics ranging from nagashizuki to sculptural papermaking. When I first stepped foot in our kozo plot at the UICB paper research facility, the smells and sights took me right back to the mountain valley where I had so often tended to trees or participated in a harvest. It was not just the fact that my new position included a kozo plot to care for, but also that caring for it and making paper from it brought forth so much wisdom from the craftspeople and artists who had taught me: Masuda Yoriyasu, Murata Naho, Uesaka Kazuo, Kato Shizuko, Iwano Ichibei, Osada Kazuya and Eiko – naming all who taught me may be impossible, but naming who I can is important.

This, perhaps, encapsulates the UICB nicely: we are a center of analog sleuths, searching the past for ways to express the present and make our way into the future. We do not just teach and repeat our learned techniques, but also advocate for personalized art-making.

A group of students scraping kozo bark in the “wet room” of the UI Center for the Book papermaking research facility

A lot has happened since coming to Iowa. I received two grants, which are enabling the UICB to plan for the future: one grant to bring a group of graduate students to Echizen, and another to bring two craftspeople from Echizen to Iowa. We’ve connected the Center and Echizen through events, as well. Students submitted films which were displayed on large handmade washi sheets as part of the exhibition of contemporary paper art in Echizen. Then last spring, we even held a Japanese papermaking festival in Iowa in honor of the papermaking goddess Kawakami Gozen.

Making paper thread (kami-ito) at the UICB Japanese papermaking festival

I learned about washi from a circle of experts who I will always be indebted to. Equipped with their lessons, and having picked up several of my own along the way, my approach to teaching papermaking emphasizes community. It isn’t enough to learn how to harvest the kozo – I also teach about growing it, empowering students to be well-versed in the full cycle of the material. We work together to prune, weed, and fertilize, and later in the fall, just as we did last fall, we will harvest the trees, strip the bark, and feast on steamed sweet potatoes. I also teach my students about who taught me (in the case of kozo cultivation and care, the wonderful Kato Shizuko, who told me, “Every year I learn something new.”). In this way, we at the UICB continue cycles, create new links in an ongoing chain, and acknowledge that nothing exists in a vacuum.

One of two groups of students who participated in the kozo harvest last autumn.

For a while, the US had a washi issue. Many thought it was rice paper, and Hiromi, among others, has been making strides to educate the public. Now there is another issue, though: the idea that washi is a singular craft with a singular identity. Japanese paper is a discipline, and like any other discipline, it has range. I like to think about washi as if it is music. There is classical music, the traditional washi we all know and love. But there is also punk rock, wherein the maker pulp-paints on massive screens, weaves lace-like tapestries, turns paper into clothing, pours slurry directly onto sandy shores, or fills a room with a world of fiber.

Community, faculty, and student artworks using Japanese paper on display at the UICB papermaking gallery.

At the UI Center for the Book, I am part of a collective of colleagues and students who investigate craft and art with an eye for the details, and another eye for the concepts. I have once again found a place to belong, a community that has drawn me in, and encouraged me to never forget the community I came from.

NOTE 1: If you would like to help promote the craft and art of papermaking, and the other book arts, at the UI Center for the Book, please learn about their almost complete $2.5million challenge grant by clicking here.

NOTE 2: If you are interested in receiving an MFA or certificate in the book arts from the UI Center for the Book, click here.

Thanks Nicholas!


By Edwin Arzeta

There is a a dramatic difference, both physically and visually between our BHU-04 and BHU-07W, Bhutan Mitsumata Thin and White Thick respectively. BHU-04 is quite thin and delicate looking — it is highly translucent and at certain angles under the light has a sheen. BHU-07W is very opaque though some light will pass through it — its texture is like that of the surface of a desert with valleys and unevenness coursing throughout, giving it a rustic appearance when compared to smoother western papers.

Traditionally, Bhutanese paper was made by pouring pulp into a mould and letting the water drain resulting in heavy thick and rugged papers like the Bhutan Shawa or Natural Tsharshos. However, in a cultural exchange between Japan and the Kingdom of Bhutan, the nagashizuki was introduced. Nagashizuki is the process whereby a mould is scooped into a vat of pulp fibers and lifted, and then swift swishing knocks water out of the mould and through it, but this course spreads the fibers more evenly across the bamboo screen housed in the mould leading to thinner flatter sheets. While BHU-04 and -07 are made through the nagashizuki style, they still possess some of the qualities of traditional Bhutanese paper, including irregularities and in the case of BHU-07, a complex surface.

Mitsumata, the fibers with which BHU-04 and BHU-07W are made, comes from the Mitsumata plant, known widely as Edgeworthia Chrysantha. Edgeworthia Chrysantha is a flowering shrub or bush that is known for the many bundles of yellow flowers that remain after its leaves fall, tipping the ends of its branch systems. Its Japanese name, Mitsumata, refers to the way that its splits into three branches at every joint. Edgeworthia is used ornamentally in landscaping around the world and is known to repel insects. The fibers of the Edgeworthia are long but still shorter than Kozo fibers and can be finely beaten resulting in lustrous sheets that range from visually textured and velvety to slick like fine Gampi. 

The flowers of the Mitsumata in full bloom
Mitsumata flowers in full bloom
The slick luxury of HM-68 Mitsumata
The slick luxurious HM-68 Mitsumata — an example from Japan of finely beaten Mitsumata fibers to create a crisp sheet.

Mitsumata is known to naturally hold an inkjet print well despite its lack of sizing or inkjet coatings, and I was curious about how the thickness and texture could affect the same image. I spend most of my day at Hiromi Paper conjecturing answers to the many projects presented by our customers, banking on precedents from feedback about our papers and products. Moreover, I have always had a fondness for both the Thin and the Thick Bhutanese Mitsumata papers so finally, I decided to try printing my own image on each sheet to examine the qualities that they possess when they are used to hold a printed image. 

Still life on two bhutan mitsumata papers

I must DISCLAIM now the fact that I am not an experienced printer and I print using my humble home studio machine, an Epson Ink Tank which is efficient for smaller tasks and maybe for printing photographic work — that is if I had the time and patience to properly adjust the printer settings. For this test, however I simply wanted to capture the effects of the ink on the surface of the two types of paper which I trimmed to 8.5″ x 11″ to be able to fit in my printer. Some day though, I might make a proper print. 

At any rate, I set up a still life and quickly took a cell phone picture that I then uploaded to Photoshop where I keyed out the background in order to get a floating still life. Then I clicked ‘print’ and allowed the paper feeder to work on its own. I didn’t fidget with any ICC profiles or printer settings and just let Photoshop manage the colors.


I really pushed my machine to work with this paper. It is a bit thick and when it first entered the machine, it hit the printer heads and you can see scuff marks at the top and bottom where it was an issue. Despite that, the velvety surface of the paper absorbed the ink nicely while retaining the capacity to show detail where some of the text on the backside of the bottle in the still-life was legible. The ink did not bleed. Because of the texture of the paper, the image will compete with the paper itself which might be desirable to some artists or home printers.

I was really impressed by the way that this paper printed. At first, because of its thinness I mounted it to a carrier sheet, but quickly found that my printer did not ingest paper in a way that worked for the carrier sheet process. So, I fed it through without a carrier sheet! It is up to every person working with their machine to determine if their printer can run a thin sheet without a carrier. The print was quite sharp and whole, meaning not-porous or having gaps in the ink. The image on this sheet was made smaller because of its thinness; I didn’t want to damage my printer with such a large amount of ink attempting to land on a larger swath of sheet surface. Mitsumata thin did NOT warp when the ink dried and it gave very sharp resolution. While the laid line is highly visible in this paper, it was a non issue because the image was so vibrant, it came off the page and did not compete with the paper.

Bhutan Mitsumata Thick will have a sharper image because it is less porous than Bhutan Mitsumata Thin. It seems that the ink will absorb into the fibers of both papers making the image look rich in color, but it will not bleed profusely — the fibers tend to contain the pigment. These images are not crisp the way they perhaps might be on Asuka papers which have an inkjet coating or Surface Gampi which has very densely compacted fibers, and both which will hold the ink on the surface, but Bhutan Mitsumata paper will provide a beautiful dreamy image that provides a meal for the eyes as the viewer moves closer towards and deeper into the image laid upon its surface. 

An Examination of the Legacy and Archives of the Rainbow Bridge-Monument Valley Expedition, a book by Hans Baumann

This month, we hear from artist Hans Baumann who was commissioned by The ONWARD Project to research the archives of the Rainbow Bridge-Monument Valley Expedition, eventually binding the found knowledge into a single edition handmade art book.

This project – titled “An Examination of the Legacy and Archives of the Rainbow Bridge-Monument Valley Expedition” – is the culmination of an approximately 18-month period in 2019 and 2020 studying the archives of the Rainbow Bridge-Monument Valley Expedition (RBMVE). It was commissioned by The ONWARD Project, a nonprofit that (in their own words) “inspires new understandings of history and place in the American Southwest.”

In addition to the material held by The ONWARD Project, I had the opportunity to visit the RBMVE archives at UCLA, as well as archaeological sites in Tsegi Canyon – specifically Bat Woman House and Twin Caves.

The project is structured around my interactions with these data and places in the present day, and I use the format of a handmade art book to attempt to contextualize the legacy of the Expedition from my (contemporary) perspective as an artist with a deep interest in the land.

In an attempt to make this document of interest to the specialist, I include transcribed interviews with various academics, archaeologists and media specialists and use our exchanges to guide my historical inquiry.

All materials for this project – paper, inks, binding, clay – are archival quality. This was my initial criteria for any material selection, as it is critical that this book be durable and have a viable trajectory (as an object) into the future. It is intended to communicate with generations beyond our own. Beyond this, I wanted the book to evoke the subject matter that it addresses.

Not only did I want it to feel “of” the archive, I wanted it to combine the colors and textures of Tsegi Canyon, as well as the grand transit of time that the book’s text addresses. The book’s enclosure is a ceramic slipcase and I went through an extended process of experimenting with various additives and finishes such that the ceramic feels somewhere between red Navajo sandstone and the many fractured and eroded potsherds found throughout the Canyon.

The book is bound in a post and screw style with nickel hardware and uses an undyed, half linen, half cotton book cloth, and the endsheets use an Amate paper made by Otomi craftsmen in Central Mexico.

detail of Amate paper (pinto)
sheep’s wool drying in the Tsegi Canyon

This paper was chosen because its ivory and walnut tones call to mind the stacks of undyed sheep’s wool that can be seen drying on racks outside homes in Tsegi Canyon. This is a very specific and personal memory, but also a visual reference point that many others will have if they have been to the Canyon during shearing season.

The interior pages of the book use two types of paper. An acetate film is used when overlays are needed. Otherwise, I use a pure white Asuka paper from Japan.

I spent several weeks finding this paper, as I wanted to use something that would hold an image well but also be a pleasure to touch and to turn. Every archival quality Western paper that I encountered failed to meet all of these criteria, and I eventually chose this midweight washi paper for its distinct paper grain, its unobtrusive but pleasant texture and its ability to accept printed images with no bleeding or image degradation.

Hans’s book in its slab box slip case

I would like to give special thanks to the Littlesalt and Austin families for allowing me to visit Tsegi Canyon. I would also like to thank Elizabeth Kahn, Madi Fair, Allison Fischer Olson, Ron Maldonado and Marydee and Chris Donnan for their time and assistance with the research component of this project, and to Prof. Snead, Eric Hanson and Andy Christenson for time and consideration throughout the interview process. Thanks to Joel Freeman for his assistance throughout the project. Additional thanks to Wendy Teeter and Sedonna Goeman-Shulsky for their generosity, patience and expertise as I explored the RBMVE archives at UCLA.

Paper Kits for University of Wyoming Laramie Art Classes

Last year, after the pandemic caused many schools to close and convert all of their classes to virtual ones, Professor Mark Ritchie at the University of Wyoming Laramie Art Department called me up with an idea.

Usually, art students would purchase their class materials at the university store, but with the schools having been shut down the students were all off campus or some even out-of-state, getting ready to begin their printmaking/book arts classes online. With no access to a physical university store to shop at, Mark thought it would be a good idea to curate paper kits specifically for printmaking or book arts, that these students could have sent to their homes.

These paper kits had about ten different types of Japanese papers, with differing sizes, colors and weights so that those not yet familiar with Japanese papers would be able to print on various papers and get a feel of what works for their methods.

It is wonderful to see the wide variety of printmaking methods that the students displayed on the Japanese papers.

By Zoe Parks
Rooftop Lounge, Monotype on SH-16 Kitakata Natural by Anna Naig
Ghanan Tea Time, Monoprint on HP-61 Okawara by Anna Naig

Thank you to Mark Ritchie and his students for giving us the opportunity to create these paper kits, it was a joy to curate and select papers that would work best for printmaking, which hopefully leads to the students learning more about the possibilities of using Japanese papers in their work.

If you are interested in having a bundle of paper kits made for a school/institution, please let us know! We are able to work around various budgets and paper specifications.

Print on Niyodo Kozo 25g by Alex Box

Hidakawashi: Kozo Kawa Hagi Experience Event

***Disclaimer: All images are from events prior to the pandemic. All pictures taken by Hiroyoshi Chinzei.

Below, Hiroyoshi Chinzei – President of Hidakawashi in Kochi, Japan – discusses their annual Kozo harvesting event, which this year has been scaled down because of COVID-19.

The harvest time for Japanese mulberry(Kozo) has come!

Inside of this barrel, Kozo branches are laboriously steamed. Steaming softens the outer bark making it easier to strip.

Every year between December to January, the local group of Japanese mulberry farmers and Japanese hand-made paper association have an event called “Kozo Kawa Hagi (mulberry peeling) Experience Event”.

Professional teaching how to strip Kozo bark.
Children and non-professional paper makers gather to learn how to strip Kozo bark!
Children working together to separate the outer bark.
Each person gets a bundle of Kozo to strip.

Usually, local elementary school students, and people who do not know how to make Japanese paper’s raw material are widely invited to experience their first trial.  At the event, Special Japanese soup and steamed sweet potato are treated as their compensation for labor. 

Steamed sweet potato!
Special Japanese Soup!


This year ,however, was totally different from normal event due to the pandemic situation. Very few people could participate and worked silently. It felt like a quiet prayer for good harvest and quick recovery of world’s peace from the pandemic situation.

Spaced out stripping Kozo.

Safely handling the massive bundles of Kozo.

Even though the event was very small this year, we’ve got a whole bunch of shiny fresh new mulberry (Kozo) fiber!  Those Kozo fibers are waiting to become this year’s beautiful Japanese paper and delivered to your hand pretty soon!

Hiroyoshi Chinzei

Hidakawashi Co., Ltd.

Letter from Japan: Sō Kubota of Sekishu Kubota

Above is a picture of the Sea of Japan from Sō Kubota’s point of view

Sō Kubota is the esteemed papermaker of several of Hiromi Paper, Inc.’s conservation papers including: HP-06 Sekishu Tsuru, HP-07 Sekishu Mare, HP-60 Sekishu Torinoko Gampi, and Sekishu Mitsumata Postcards! Below he shares an update on the happenings at Sekishu Kubota.

Kozo fields ready for harvesting at Sekishu Kubota

Hello! My name is Sō Kubota, Sekishu Banshi papermaker at Sekishu Kubota.

We are located in Shimane Prefecture along the coast of the Sea of Japan (East Sea). Like most papermakers in Japan, the effects of COVID-19 have definitely had an impact on the papermaking business here as well, as we have been experiencing a decrease in work loads. 

Inside the studio at Sekishu Kubota

Luckily there have been special orders for conservation papers and hand-written sutras that have kept us busy for the past few months.

HP-60 Sekishu Torinoko Gampi made by Sō Kubota picks up any hint of light

Now we are fast approaching the busiest season in papermaking; the harvesting of kozo and stripping of kozo bark. High quality kozo is a necessity for Japanese papermaking, so the whole family and staff members get together every year around this time to work on preparing the kozo. 

Sō Kubota and family pose for a picture!

Although we now live in the new normal with the pandemic regardless of where we are, I hope the coming year will be an improvement for Sekishu Kubota and my fellow papermakers. 

Collision of Moments: A Photographer’s Encounter with Japanese Washi

Written by Robert Morrison

Gaze of Orpheus, 2019, Artist’s Proof 
Fine art digital print on Handmade Gampi Paper 
Movement collaborator: Emma Kury

My love affair with Japanese papers is nearly lifelong going back to when I first saw Frank Lloyd Wright’s collection of Japanese art many decades ago. It also stems from the concept of wabi-sabi (侘寂), or accepting, if not delighting in imperfection, something which was essential to me when I was a painter and sculptor.  It’s ironic that years ago, when I first visited Hiromi Paper Inc. in search of Japanese papers to try with inkjet printing, I used printers loaded with custom grayscale inks, and used exotic workflows and drivers in quest of the perfect digital fiber-based “silver” prints, no wabi-sabi allowed.  It took years for commercial printers and papers to evolve, but now we have the ability to make beautiful archival fiber-based BW and color photographic prints.  But in spite of all of these “perfect” prints that I produce on a daily basis, I still crave wabi-sabi.  

Robert Morrison Bricked, 2018, Artist’s Proof 
Fine art digital print on Handmade Izumo Mingei Gampi Paper.  Movement collaborator: Corah

Recently I’ve been working on printing work from three different series of art (Moving Meditation, Take the No. 9, and Collision of Moments) that both formally and conceptually called out for Japanese papers that partner with the images to make them more than just photographic prints.  I’ve tested more than 30 different Hiromi papers at this point including both machine and handmade papers made from a variety of fibers both inkjet coated and uncoated. The papers range from tissue thin to more substantial washi.  Currently I’m printing in both color and grayscale using Colorbyte Software’s Imageprint Black RIP with a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 17-inch printer.  

In this article we focus on prints from my Collision of Moments series which are color. The images are light-painted time exposures that I began to experiment with about two decades ago.  They involve collaborating with movement artists (yogis, modern dancers, belly dancers, or artist’s models) who move through space for up to 10 seconds.  During their movement I hold the shutter open and watch, triggering several flash heads placed around the room to punctuate moments, glimpses of mindfulness, in a stream of movement.  The process is very rich and I’m forever grateful to my collaborators for their experimental spirit.

Mindful Flight, 2019, Artist’s Proof  
Fine art digital print on MM-20W Gampi Paper.  
Movement collaborator: Marley Hornewer

An essential aspect of this project, and also of my love for photography, photographic printing, tea, and all things Japanese is a now more than 20 year friendship with Antonis Ricos.  I trust Antonis’s eyes (and brain) more than any other human to evaluate a print both technically and artistically.  He’s been more than generous to pour over my print samples, evaluating the papers, profiles, and most of all the wabi-sabi to give you a glimpse into what you can expect from inkjet printing on Japanese washi.  He has also beautifully photographed the samples to demonstrate all of these features and provided detailed observations on what he sees. See his comments as well as demonstrative photographs here.

There is still much to do in the project including selecting the final paper for each series and fine-tuning profiles and images, but the journey so far has been most rewarding, and I look forward to showing these once we are again free to roam the planet.

The Circle, 2004, Artist’s Proof  
Fine art digital print on Inkjet Coated kozo and pulp machine-made paper (IJ-48W) Movement collaborator: Shahina 
Detail Photo: Antonis Ricos

To see more of my work please visit or follow me on Instagram (@studiotheia) or Flickr (@studiotheia) to see what I’m looking at recently.

The New Hands of Cave Paper: Zoë Goehring

After more than 20 years of leading the beloved Cave Paper mill, Amanda Degener — who founded Cave Paper alongside Bridget O’Malley in a cobble-stone lined basement in Minneapolis, Minnesota — has retired from Cave Paper. Cave Papers are made of Egyptian or Belgian Flax, often heavily sized, and extremely durable. They are used often for bookbinding, box-making, decor, design, and artwork. At the helm now, is new generation owner Zoë Goehring who shares her story and excitement below!

Zoe in the new Cave Paper mill forming new sheets of Cave Paper

Hiromi Paper: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background with art/papermaking?

Zoë: I was born in Tucson but lived in the northeast from the age of two. I feel lucky that I was encouraged from an early age and throughout my young adult life to look, to ask questions, and to create, and I spent a lot of time playing in the woods when I was growing up. I think those things were pivotal in shaping who I am and my creative practice — most of the time I am just trying to tap back into those questions and ways of playing. I’ve never had just one thing I’ve wanted to do. When I was in college at Carnegie Mellon University I studied art and creative writing as a part of their Bachelor of Humanities and Art program. I started making my own paper during my time there in a kiddie pool in my studio and in my bathtub at home, just with a blender and window screens from the salvage shop. It was a process I really enjoyed but did not dive very deeply into the world of papermaking at the time. While I had some incredible teachers, by the time I graduated I felt pretty disenchanted with both academia and the art scene as I understood it then. I left Pittsburgh (although I loved living there, it’s a great city) and moved to Maine for an apprenticeship on an organic farm and really connected with the work. After a couple of years, I helped manage a small organic vegetable operation Dig Deep Farm, founded by my friend Dalziel Lewis. There came a natural point in the growth of the farm and our own lives for us to part ways, and I returned to the southwest to be closer to family. I made a decision then to center my creative work in my life in a way I had not been able to while farming.

Zoë couching freshly formed sheets on wool felt

Hiromi Paper: When did you start gathering steam or know that you would be taking over Cave Paper? How did it unfurl?

Zoë: I had been renting a small studio in Tucson that I set up primarily as a sewing space, and was trying to get a small sewing business in motion. I’d spent most of the last decade waiting tables in the farming off-season and working as a baker, trying to find that balance between making enough money and having the time and energy to focus on my own work, and it wasn’t working very well. Running my own small business seemed like a way to create that balance for myself. I was talking to my dad one day about sewing with paper, and he called me a few days later to tell me I needed to meet Amanda Degener. He met her at a co-operative conference (he is a co-operative consultant, and Amanda was there representing her local food co-op) and she was wearing a vest made out of her Persimmon paper. He texted me a photo of her! It was very funny, and a very typical thing for my dad to do — he is very enthusiastic and always connecting people. Amanda and I began talking and she told me she was open to selling her business. There had been some movement to turn it into a co-operative business so that she could retire, but that hadn’t panned out as hoped. It was a lot to think about right away but the timing was right! I took a trip to Minneapolis to meet Amanda and tour her studios, and I felt connected to her and her work right away. One thing she said that really resonated with me was that she started Cave Paper as a way to support herself and to always have her hands in the work, even if she wasn’t able to make her own art every day. After that visit with Amanda, we worked on the details of the transition for about a year before the move took place. I’m very grateful for the assistance I have received in start-up costs and Amanda’s openness to a payment plan, both of which made the shift actually possible.

A view of uncolored Cave Papers on drying racks and Cloudy Sky hanging out

Hiromi Paper: When did moving commence and how long did it take?

Zoe: The move itself only took about a week, but both the preparation and setting up in our new location took much longer. We’ve been operating out of the new space for almost three months and it is very much a work in progress! After we moved the equipment, there were some renovations needed to the space including building a heavily insulated room around the beater and making sure we had the right electrical set-up to run it. Amanda came to Tucson for about a month to help me finish setting up the equipment and continue our training which was crucial. And of course making sure we were all staying safe and healthy during the pandemic added another level of complexity to the move.

Brushing unripened persimmon juice (kakishibu) onto Cave Paper sheets

Hiromi Paper: Do you have a favorite Cave Paper to make?

Zoë: I love layering indigo and walnut together!

Hiromi Paper: Do you have new Cave Paper styles that you hope to realize soon?

Zoë: This first year I am planning on keeping the current Cave Paper catalog as it is, but I will be adding my own designs down the road. I look forward to experimenting more with sisal and other southwestern fibers and colors.

Hiromi Paper: How do you see Cave Paper evolving due to the new climate/geographical location? Do you find that some of the Cave Paper varieties benefit from the change of environment?

Damp sheets coated with walnut dye enjoying the Arizona air

Zoë: The biggest difference is our relationship with water. In Minneapolis, water was Cave’s least expensive resource — here in Tucson that is definitely not the case. I save most of the water from production to reuse, and I’m looking forward to finding the right system to make that process easier. And our indigo vat is very happy in this climate!

A crowd favorite: Indigo Layered Day with White drying outside in Cave Paper’s new backyard

Hiromi Paper: This might be coupled with the previous question, but what do you hope for the future of Cave Paper?

Zoë: This has been a challenging year for all of us. I think there are many projects awaiting Cave in the future, but for now I am most looking forward to opening the studio up to the community for classes and workshops, internships, and events. I feel very fortunate to be operating Cave Paper and hope it can continue to be a resource for others as well.

To view our selection of Cave Papers click HERE.

Kobayashi Hake on Japanese Brush making

Hello, World of Washi readers!

My name is Kohei Tanaka, brush maker of Kobayashi Hake.

Kobayashi Hake was established in 1907 by my great grandfather in Ueno Ikenohata located in Tokyo. The studio primarily made brushes for bookbinding but transitioned into brush-making for conservation use. Now Kobayashi Hake is run by my father (third generation) and myself. Today I would like to share with you the brief history and production of hake (brush).

(From left: 4th generation (me), 5th generation (?), 3rd generation at the studio)
  1. History  of  Hake

  Originally, hake is a variation of fude (in English, both are generally translated into “brush” but, when the two need to be distinguished, they may be referred to as “hake brush” and “fude brush,” respectively) that began to be used from the Heian period by craftsmen who mounted sutras and paintings in the form of hand scrolls, a process which required joining of paper and lining.

  Among documents and other bibliographic materials there are many paintings (Senmenkyo, a national treasure in the collection of Shitenno-ji temple, a national treasure, to name one) in which people are depicted washing or drawing water at the side of a well or the water side or washing a box, which appears to be coated with urushi (Japanese lacquer). In one of these paintings, two hake can be seen.

  In the Muromachi period, especially at the time of Yoshimasa(1449~1473), mounted hanging scrolls became indispensable items in the alcoves of shoin-style rooms. In paintings depicting artisans of various trades, craftsmen are seen using hake to mount paintings or calligraphy. It seems that around this time the craftsmen made their own hake, while in the Edo period people who specialized in making hake first appeared in areas around what is now Kyoto and then in Edo, today’s Tokyo.

  According to documents, Kyoto-style hake was soft while Edo-style hake was firm. In order to make hake, hair with tips were selected and bundled. The root of the hairs was wound with several layers of washi that had been glued together to a certain thickness. This was then pressed between boards and finally bound with thread, in the past made from human hair and in later days from silk thread used for shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese musical instrument).

Binding the hake brush

2. Materials for making hake brush


   – Animal hair : horse, goat, raccoon, weasel, pig, cow, deer, etc.

   – Plant fibers : coarser bulrush, hemp palm.

Several more types are used in addition to the above, but all high quality hair (mane, chest, tail) is chosen.

Horsehair is firm and will absorb paste well. Goat hair is soft and will absorb paste well.


   – Cypress, spruce(pine),etc.

   – Water-resistant, easy to process.


   – Silk thread for shamisen.

  – Strong, tends to tighten when moisture is absorbed, easy to process.

 Cherry bark

  – Water-resistant, will not weather easily

Making the finishing touches

3. Process for making hake

1. Boiling

Hair that has been sorted in step 1 is tied tightly and boiled in a big pot to undo any unmanageable characteristics and to get rid of oiliness.

2. Sorting

Hair is selected according to quality and grade of the material as well as to the purpose for which the brush is to be used.

This is one of the most important steps in the process since it will determine the overall quality.

3. Sorting

A comb is used to sort the hair tips. Then hair is separated into bundles of long hair, short hair, etc. and further sorted by cutting the roots to make bundles of same hair length.

4. Assembling, mixing

Several types of hair are assembled and then combed together according to use.

This is a time-consuming work since hair must be assembled uniformly.

5. Straightening with heat

A heated iron is used for straightening hair. Oiliness of the hair will ooze out when heat is applied.

6. Rubbing with ash

Ash made by burning rice husk is used to rub the hair well to remove the oiliness that has oozed out in the previous step.

Hair will become less slippery through this process, making the process to follow easier.

7. Suretori

Hair is arranged in the same direction and hair with split ends or no tips are removed by using a small knife.

This is a very important step. The tips of hair will be aligned straight when paste is applied.

8. Sandwiching

Hair that has been thus adjusted is sandwiched between two cypress boards in uniform thickness. Then the left and right ends of the sandwiched bundle of hair are secured with  barks of a cherry tree.   

9. Binding

The brush is placed on a tightening tool and bound with silk shamisen thread.

10. Finishing

A small knife, sandpaper and the like are used to adjust the shape of the handle.
Hair tips are adjusted.

Current Situation of Hake Brush Making

In recent years, it has become more and more difficult to obtain the animal hairs used to make the hake brushes. It is especially hard to acquire high quality deer hair used in Mizubake (water brush) and horse tail hairs.

More so than before, it has become important to inspect the hairs and distinguish their quality.

On the other hand, there has been increased demand from sushi restaurants that use small hake brushes for sauce application. The brush handle is made of bamboo and the bristles are Japanese weasel hairs. Fortunately, these brushes are becoming increasingly popular within sushi restaurants around the world.

 We at Kobayashi Hake will continue to make hake brushes of the highest quality for our customers in various fields around the world.