Paper Mills

WE ARE LONG TIME FANS OF AMY MILLS, FOUNDER OF PAPER MILLS. WITH AN EYE FOR COLOR AND TEXTURE, AMY CREATES A STUNNING COLLECTION OF WALL COVERINGS & TEXTILES.  KEEP READING TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HER UNIQUE PROCESS CARRIED OUT ENTIRELY BY HAND FROM START TO FINISH. 

WHEN DID YOU FIRST FALL IN LOVE WITH WALLPAPER?

In 1993, a year after art school, I worked for a company in NYC making hand painted wall coverings which was a lifesaver of a career for someone with a fine arts degree in printmaking! There aren't a lot of opportunities for woodcut artists to make a living, as it turns out. I loved working on custom wallpaper solutions for our regular customers. We made wallpaper for retail stores and there was a lot of turnover as well as a need for the wallpaper to be unique. It was challenging and fun. I felt as if I was a forensic artist in those days, always experimenting with new techniques and materials.

YOUR COLLECTION IS ENTIRELY MADE BY HAND, COULD YOU WALK US THROUGH STEP BY STEP HOW YOU PRODUCE YOUR PAPERS?

I usually have some idea of what I want to achieve with each new collection. The methods of how I want to achieve the new pattern is usually obvious with my first inkling of new ideas. If it's going to be a hand painted design, I get the colors together and just start painting and aiming for the look and feel thats in my head. If the new concept is to be block printed, I start drawing out the pattern with brush and ink on tracing paper. I like the way the ink reacts to the tracing paper,  also it's very easy to edit using a transparent medium.

For block prints you need a reverse of the image so, once I have the final drawing on tracing paper I just have to turn it over and transfer it to the block. Depending on the complexity of the design carving the image can take anywhere from 1-3 weeks. Once the block is ready to be printed I mix up the colors that I think will work and then I print. I try to make 3 to 5 colorways for each new design. We can always custom color our patterns to fit designer’s schemes. Since we are making everything to order its really no problem for us to just mix up whatever colors the designer wants.

WE KNOW THAT PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT IS AN ESSENTIAL VALUE TO YOU, TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR ECO-FRIENDLY METHODS AND MATERIALS.

I knew I wanted to work with water based inks from the get-go, 15 years ago. When I was formulating the idea for Paper Mills, I knew already which company produced the inks I wanted to work with from my past experience. They make high quality ink that can handle light and they are formulated for interior design uses. I also spent some time trying to find a local made in the USA paper company that was offering sustainable products. This was really the hard part because paper making can be so detrimental to the environment- not only to forests but also to waterways. Once I found this paper I was glad because it is made entirely from post consumer material (recycled pulp) with the durability and strength I was looking for.

Then there is my process, which can if I am not mindful do its own damage to the environment. Every action I take is all about conserving resources, I reuse the paints and re-mix them so I’m using everything. I use my scrap paper and I don't waste any water. My water system is something I’m extremely proud of living in a state with water issues... California has been in a constant drought for the past 7 years. In the last year I have reduced my water usage by over 90% annually in the following way: All water that I draw off the well gets collected into 5 gallon buckets and is used to clean my production brushes and containers. To start with I need about 10-15 gallons of water to clean one week worth of dishes. This initial 15 gallons is then treated in order to separate the paint from the water, I run it through four industrial sized coffee filters to separate the paint and leave me with clear water. Next the “treated” water goes into a 35 gallon water tank. From that tank I can pull the next 15 gallons, I also take water from that treatment tank and water my fern forest.

The “waste material” from the water treatment process can then be safely put into a landfill once it is dry but I have found that its the perfect color grey - which I am trying to use as paint for my fine art projects. I have yet to put much of this material into the landfill, except what ends up in the coffee filters. In the last 6 months using this water treatment system I have drawn about 60 gallons from the well and as I continue I am working on taking better and better measurements so that I can more accurately measure usage with the goal to continue to minimize water usage. My goal is to use no more than 5 gallons of fresh water a month with the majority of my water coming from my treatment tank, though my obsession with the ferns might get in the way here.

IT'S HARD TO PLAY FAVORITES BUT WHICH OF YOUR DESIGNS IS CLOSEST TO YOUR HEART?

Symbolically Little Havana started Paper Mills and it has been a best seller ever since we created it. What is not to like about that? It's a block print, which is great because that is what I love to do. It nods to Matisse who is an artist who informs me the most about light, line, color and seeing.  It is a cheerful pattern which beautifies the spaces its used in. The goal is to make people’s homes beautiful and happy places.

From another angle - the pattern that inspires me the most right now, is the Kelp Tea wallpaper. It's exciting, it's random and it allows me to act like an action painter while being its own thing. Creating a giant kelp forest atmospheric experience in a room, it excites me the door open to bold expression in surface design. 

YOU'VE RECENTLY STARTED MAKING FABRICS BY THE YARD, WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START WORKING WITH TEXTILES? 

I guess it's always been on my radar. From the start of Paper Mills people have always asked if Little Havana was available as a fabric so this is where we started. It was a very safe bet, and buying and keeping inventory is a new business model for me. With the wallpaper I’m painting everything to order so I don't have to hold inventory, there is risk in holding inventory. It made sense and so I finally created a budget to carry the fabric line. We are now branching out into some interesting embroidery ideas that match my drawing style and so I’m excited intellectually by fabric production as an art form, but we are taking baby steps, and in general I’m much more reserved with the fabric offering than I am with the wallpaper.

WHERE ARE YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO GET INSPIRED IN THE BAY AREA?

 l love the ocean. The Pacific Ocean is in particular a forceful mysterious ocean. You don't typically swim in the ocean here. Growing up in Jersey - I think I spent summers at the shore- swimming, riding the rides in Seaside Heights but you don't swim here. It is cold and there are sharks, so the ocean is inspiring and when the fog rolls in and out, it is a beautiful silvery phenomenon that is very different from what I am used to.

The Legion of Honor and the DeYoung museum are places I like to visit for viewing art. However now that we have moved to the Sierra - I need to go to Mannetti Schrem where Diebenkorn and Thiebaut are often on view, the California artists have always inspired me. We are now living in the mountains and we have a big vegetable garden I call #papermillsfarm, the flora and fauna here capture my interest. 

WHAT'S COMING NEXT?

Oh my goodness... what’s next. The possibilities are endless. 
On deck I have a couple of new fabrics in the queue. New embroidery ideas and a block print mixed with embroidery is also in the works. There is also a possible screen printed fabric to come Winter ‘19. I just launched a new wallpaper collection so I’m not sure what’s next there but with summer arriving I’m hoping to just get some time to do some watercolors and ink drawings of the garden primarily and see what comes from that. I’m over due for multicolor block print and I think I desire to get traditional, perhaps I will take a stab at another block print mural, which can be a hard sell but its an amazing thing to manufacture!