by: Thomas Ivory, Jr.
As the laser printer singes the first lines of the etching, Kevin Buecher studies the effect of the heat on the paper. He watches through a glass window into the table-size enclosed capsule where a small moving laser glides horizontally along a vertical moving arm. The cream white hemp paper inside is lightly burnt only where the high-powered laser has been programmed to direct heat. Light brown wording, and then slowly an image, appear as the laser cascades down the paper.
“Exploring laser printing onto hemp paper,” says Buecher of TreeFreeHemp, “gets some really beautiful outputs.”
This particular paper he is etching is the first of its kind: It was “grown,” processed and manufactured in Colorado. (In Sterling, Fort Lupton, and Boulder, CO, respectively.) The Colorado-grown hemp stalks were separated into pulp, lignin, and sugars, and the paper is a blend of hurd and fibers mixed with locally sourced, post-industrial recycled material.
According to the Artisan Hemp website: “As a material for paper making, hemp is superior – the fibers are very high in cellulose, making them strong and durable; and low in lignin, making it easier to process into pulp without toxic acidic chemicals.”
2000 sheets were produced for this first all-Colorado handmade small batch of 14×19 size pages. TreeFreeHemp incorporates the domestic supply of what is available on the market to create new and original products. This first go-around brought PureHemp Technology and their counter-current reactor technology into the fold as PureHemp Pulp was used to create the first ever batch of Colorado HomeGrown HempStalk Paper.
“Right now, we’re an artist-driven specialty printer that focuses on hemp paper,” said Morris Beegle, founder of TreeFreeHemp and the maker of HempStalk Paper. But Beegle says he’ll soon expand from providing hemp paper for collector prints to supplying hemp paper for industrial markets such as commercial print rolls and master cartons, board stock for packaging, paper towels, toilet paper and more. “We’re looking to add the U.S. and Colorado to the list of places that supply hemp paper to printers in this country.”
Back at the Loveland Creator Space, Buecher checks his laptop configurations and dials in the laser printer to a slightly higher temperature. The laser is literally burning the etching into the paper, and too high of heat would burn right through. Sometimes a burn through the paper is the desired outcome. He earlier tested the power of the laser (and the strength of the paper) by cutting out a design – a cannabis leaf. He put a small hole in the top and called it a Christmas tree ornament.
As for these prints, “Each one is unique,” said Buecher, holding up the first sheet to the shop lights. Some words are burnt right through , while areas of the image – a man in overalls raising his arm – are browned around the edges. The shop lights warm the various burnt-depths in the paper.
“Kevin is all about the paper and doing cool stuff,” Beegle says. “He goes off into these other areas, goes off the path, ‘into the trees,’ as we like to say. And who knows where that might lead.”
“Hemp paper is really just the start for us,” said Buecher, using magnets in the printer to secure the next blank sheet. “We’re exploring all of the artistic connections we can create with hemp, hemp products and the arts community.”
In the shop, the laser printer rests in standby, and Buecher retrieves the paper from the machine. The image on the sheet is a man thrusting a leafy hemp stalk over his head, with the words: “This is my BoomStalk!”