STEVENS POINT - College and professional artists need special cotton-fiber paper for painting, drawing, and printing.
Story By Ben Meyer
UW-Stevens Point's art students bought that expensive paper from traditional European mills for years.
Meanwhile, UWSP's Paper Science and Engineering Department taught students about the papermaking business on its huge paper machine just a building away on campus.
The logical tie between art and engineering came together, and is now going national.
"It was a natural. We use paper, we make paper. I think there's something we can do together," says UWSP Professor of Art Bob Erickson.
UWSP students used to pay four to five dollars per sheet for imported European fine arts paper.
All the while, students at the university's Paper Science and Engineering Department were producing roll after roll of other kinds of paper - just steps away on campus.
Erickson took a sheet of his paper over.
"I said, can we make that? They said, yeah, we can make that. So I thought, that's great. We need paper, they make paper," he says.
That conversation led to years of tinkering with formulas, ideas, and the university's paper machine itself.
"The challenges came when we started trying to meet the specifications of the artists, and translating what the properties of the paper they were telling us about, translating those into something we can actually measure," says UWSP Paper Science and Engineering Department Chair Karyn Biasca.
"About a year ago, we started to get a good paper that we felt we could use and market," Erickson says.
The finished product Erickson gave students like Josie Balk?
A high quality, cotton-based, fine arts papers at an unbeatable price.
"It was kind of nice because he says, use this paper, it's free. As a college kid, it's hard, budgeting as an art student, and paying tuition, and all of that other stuff," Balk says.
"They can experiment, they can try papers, they don't have to worry about, oh my god, I'm using a four-dollar sheet of paper," Erickson says.
Art students stay in touch constantly with the papermaking students, sharing what they like about the paper, and what they want done differently.
"They say that the properties of the product are equivalent to any of the much more expensive papers that are made overseas that they've used before," Biasca says.
The paper went over so well, its reach has expanded far beyond campus - making a brand called RiverPoint Paper.
"We've filled orders in at least fifteen different states to artists, other educators, students, and we always encourage them to let us know how it's working," says Ron Tschida of the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology, a group associated with the university that focuses on entrepreneurship.
Buyers love the paper quality, but that's not the only upside.
"(They like) not only the paper itself, but also the idea behind the paper, that it's being made at a university, by students, by faculty. We're not a company. They like the idea that it's being made that way," Erickson says.
That pride holds true for UWSP student artists, too.
"Being able to present it to people, saying, hey, this was used on campus, this paper is from the campus," Balk says.
It's an idea gaining national attention, all starting from a seemingly simple cross-campus connection.
"They are very excited about making paper," Erickson says, simply. "Our students are very excited about using the paper."