Paper wasps gather fibers from dead wood and plant stems which they mix with saliva, and use to construct water resistant nests. These are usually made of grey and brown material. Paper wasps will only sting if provoked, unlike yellow jackets and hornets. They will eat other insects and they are considered to be beneficial to gardeners.
I began to take the paper out of the box and separate it into useable layers, separating the old discolored pieces and then pressing the bigger sheets to flatten them. I enjoyed the beauty of the lines within the paper, and I was impressed with how fragile yet how strong the paper could be. The paper was built up in layers in some areas, (no doubt to circulate air throughout the hive or to make some parts stronger) while other areas were much easier to dissect. I wondered at the different colors in the paper; different shades of grey, pale yellows, burnt umbers, coming together in thin swirls and waves. I thought about how much time and dedication came from such a team effort, and what it could teach me in my own life.
I had thought of several ideas how to use the paper, the best of which was putting it on canvas like a type of organic painting. I didn’t want to rush into anything though, working with a medium like this would be tricky and there would only be one shot at it. I felt that in a way I was working with a valuable commodity because there was not much of the paper to work with, which meant there was not a lot of room for error.
I decided to do some research on the internet for some ideas and some insight into the perfect adhesive for the project. I found to my surprise only two sites that had anything to do with the medium. One was a man named John P Finley, who actually used the wasp paper as a canvas for acrylic paintings. As an artist who dabbles in acrylics, I could appreciate the amazing skill of this man to actually paint on such a delicate canvas. You can find out more about him here: http://www.johnpfinley.com/Acrylic%20Gallery.html
The other was a woman from Toronto who drives around the city collecting the abandoned nests in November and December. Then she takes these sometimes enormous nests and cleans them out and then turns them into gorgeous examples of organic art. You can see how she harvests the nests and take a look at her finished products here: http://www.underatree.org/WNboxes/WNboxes01.html
Next on my list was finding the right adhesive. I tried an idea that one of my artist friends mentioned; lacquer as an adhesive would be like killing two birds with one stone. But unfortunately it didn’t have the effect I was looking for. Another artist mentioned superglue; I thought this would be a great idea for someone without my accident prone nature, in the end I found that regular everyday white school glue did the trick.
I was nervous about where the box attached itself to the lid though, would there be enough space in between them? Or would some of the adhered paper rip off? Would lacquer be a solution if the paper did tear? Would it be slippery enough to allow easy removal of the lid? Or would I have to go back and
The next step was covering the whole project with varnish. I use Liquitex Satin Varnish on my acrylic paintings to protect them once they are finished, so it seemed a logical step to use it on this as well. It was an easy application with a paintbrush and I made sure there were no bubbles to ruin the sheer effect. I was worried the first time I used this product because of the milky bluish color while applying, but to my relief I found that it dries clear. Another benefit to this varnish is that it won’t yellow over time and you don’t have to be outside, or in a ventilated area to use it. It does take a while to dry though, for best results you should let it cure for three days. The clean-up is simple too; a little dish soap and some hot water is all you need. When the varnish dried I was happy with the results and gave the finished box another coat.