I love paper. It doesn’t matter where it comes from as long as I can touch it. This causes my boyfriend no end of consternation. “Don’t touch that!” he’ll screech as I spot something sticking out of somebody’s trash container. “You don’t know where it’s been!” For me, it doesn’t matter where it’s been, as long as it inspires me.
My love for paper started when my mother, who was a secretary at Ford Motor Company, “borrowed” some letterhead paper for me to draw on, since sketchpads were beyond her financial means. I was thrilled, and the paper seemed extra special since it was stolen. I pictured the Big Ford Bosses somewhere, happily assured that their employees were using the paper for official use. Meanwhile, I sketched, cut, and folded my way into other worlds with it.
Now I make most of my own paper. But I still need inspiration. So I go to places like Kate’s Paperie in New York City, where I live. Kate’s is one of those very fancy-schmancy downtown stores that charges you twice as much so you can tell people you shopped at a “paperie.” All the paper samples are large sheets draped over wooden dowels, lining the walls like huge squares of toilet paper for dignitaries. Once I made the mistake of walking up to one of these samples to feel the paper’s texture. A chorus of frowns was hurled at me from my fellow shoppers. Apparently, I was supposed to merely contemplate the paper from a distance, like Martha Stewart contemplating a new color of paint meant to enrich the lives of Kmart shoppers.
When I feel like being totally bohemian, I go to Pearl Paint in Chinatown. Pearl Paint is the largest discount art supply store in the country. It’s like a six-story rat’s nest painted like a barbershop pole. The paper floor is crowded and claustrophobic. The help behind the counter seems to have every area of soft tissue on their heads pierced and adorned with rings. But Pearl Paint is like Kate’s Paperie in one very special way: nobody really wants to help you at either place (at Kate’s I’m not rich enough; at Pearl I’m not grungy enough).
But it doesn’t matter where I am at or what I’m doing or who I’m doing it with, interesting paper (even from a trash can) makes me want to sing! (Although you don’t want to hear my singing. Trust me.)
From the March/April 1998 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Picture Books.