Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Making Handmade Books: Instructions & Answers

When I write a how-to book I test and re-test the instructions to streamline the wording and make sure everything is clear and works. Occasionally, I get an email asking me to clarify something, which I always answer. Occasionally, a mistake was made in the publication, and I like to be alerted to it. In some instances, a photograph of the structure is a variation of the instructions. Both structures will hold together equally well; both are equally correct.

I'd like to use this post as a place to answer those instructional questions. Please feel free to ask your question as a comment, and I will answer it in the same way. That way we can all increase our knowledge. And, it is to be hoped, increase our happiness!

Here is a recent question I got in email to start us out.

Q: In the "X Book with Pockets" (MHB 33, 34) it looks like there is an extra tab in the photograph. Why is that? How do I make it?
A: To add this extra decorative tab:
  1. Cut a strip of lightweight paper approximately 1/2" - 3/4" inch wide (1.25 cm - 2 cm) by the height of the book, in this case 2 3/4" (7 cm). Before you cut the strip, make sure it will be grained long, or so that the easier fold is along the longest side.
  2. Fold in half, lengthwise.
  3. Apply glue to the back of the strip. Sandwich the edge of page 3 (should be the one with the tabbed edge that was glued together) inside the strip. Press down.

    Sunday, March 27, 2011

    Book Signs from England

    Well, as the Three Dog Night song goes, I never been to England, but I have a spy there now (that part isn't in the song). She's been sending me photos of book-related signs, which I will post now and then.

    Reference Books: Not to be taken to other parts of the building

    Alas, the alcove is empty, "despite the pleas that the books not be removed." It is begging, however, to be filled by the viewer (never mind that I can see Mollie's shadow in it). So much potential! What to fill it with? Do tell!

    Thursday, March 24, 2011

    Secrets in Art

    A provocative starting point for a book project is a secret. It can be uncomfortable, odd, or thrilling thinking about this secret, but that very feeling may help you begin.

    Turning to our ever-present source of inspiration, the dictionary, we see:
    Secret - kept hidden; discreet; not expressed; kept inward; known only to oneself or to a few
    If you are writing, it may be easier to give your secret to another character. If you are working with images, assemble pictures or colors that embody the secret. You might use photographs—either of you or ones you have taken—that you can alter by hand or via Illustrator or Photoshop. You may be able to disguise the secret through a series of images. You can decide whether to show the secret at the end or just leave clues within the work.

    Try doing a freewrite of whatever comes into your mind (without crossing out anything). Afterwards, think about who would be affected if the secret is revealed. What event or interaction might pressure someone to tell a secret? It could be told out of guilt, to gain approval, to relieve stress, to prevent something from happening, or to celebrate.

    Secrets by Carolyn Cuykendall

    You could also deal with secrets or fears by collaborating with a group. Carolyn, then a student at CCA, made an interactive book that had little holders on the pages and strips of paper at the back for writing your secrets. The students were interested to see just how much someone was willing to reveal, especially anonymously. It is thrilling to read someone's confession or find out about another person's transgression. It can either make us feel we are not alone, or it is a way to covertly enjoy something we might think about but would never do ourselves.

    Robbin Ami Silverberg did a collaborative project shown in Making Handmade Books (p. 243), called titok (Hungarian for "secret"). She asked people to send her their secrets, and she altered, disguised, added her own secrets, and destroyed them so they would remain unknowable, still technically secrets to the public. They found their final form in little square boxes that can be manipulated and stacked up into a larger cube. (You can also see her project on pages 85-86, 155 in Unique Handmade Books.)

    A secret doesn't have to be something overly dramatic. It just may be something that is not well known. Joseph Cornell, for example, made many of his assemblages and collages based on personal passions and associations such as homages to his deceased father, his younger brother who had cerebral palsy, and movie actresses that he admired. While the pieces do not present secrets exactly, they do show strong emotions like love and desire, the complexity of loss, and a struggle with religion and sexual feelings. Two of such works are: Untitled "First Collage In a Long Time," 1959 (Navigating the Imagination, 208, plate 91 on page 226); and "The Heart on the Sleeve," 1972 (103, plate 38 on page 143). The first incorporates a tasteful view of a woman, the second includes a piece of artwork by Cornell's brother. In addition to being concerned with aesthetic form and composition and juxtapositions, he included his heart in his work and a little private corner of his world.

    If you still feel reluctant to tell your actual secret, use the feeling—guilt, embarrassment, shame, discomfort, elation, excitement, etc.—and make up a new secret. Hold onto the emotion as you let go to create your piece. You may be surprised at what you can make when you give yourself permission to accept a hidden part of yourself.

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    When Is It Fiction?

    A neighbor, upon finding out I was in graduate school for creative writing, asked somewhat hesitantly, "Do you write about…real life?" I told her that real life was a jumping off point for me. Then I told her a shorter version of the following true story.

    I go to the wine aisle at the supermarket. It's a disaster. The aisle is completely blocked with cases of wine, baskets filled with bottles, carts—an obstacle course of about seven or eight large challenges. I leave my cart at the end and navigate through and around.
    "Help you find anything?" A clean, trim man smiles at me.
    "Where have you moved the Ravenswood Zinfandel?"
    He walks energetically around. "There are three kinds. Which one did you want?"
    "The eight dollar bottle," I say.
     He laughs, then leads me over to a full shopping cart. He pulls out a bottle.
    "Here's the ten dollar one."
    "White label," I say. "I guess that's right." 
     They have a 10% discount on four bottles of any wine, and I tell him I want three more.
    "If you like that, you'll probably like this." He holds up Running Bull or Raging Bull or something. A seven dollar bottle.
    "It's comparable?" I ask. I take it and put it under my arm with the Ravenswood.
    "Yes, here's another." He holds it out to me.
    "Well, I haven't tried it yet, so how do I know I want two?"
    He looks at me and says, "I could crack one open for you."
    "Really? At eight-thirty in the morning?" I'm pretty sure he's serious.
    "Maybe not." He backtracks.
    "Are there any more Ravenswood?"
    "I'll check."
    He asks a guy with a larger belly and a smaller hairline at the end of the aisle, who thinks they are at the end of the meat aisle. The guy takes a walkie-talkie off of his belt and holds it to his mouth.
    "Grrlmrphgrrmrgl." He pauses, then says, "She's in the liquor aisle." He clicks off and turns to me. "She's bringing you a couple."
    Where they are, I don't know, but if I knew I could get them myself. I carry the two bottles, one Ravenswood, one Raging Bull, as I go find my cart. I see a pleasant woman also carrying two wine bottles, and I wave my two bottles at her. I thank her and continue shopping. At the other end of the store is an enormous display of Ravenswood wines. I have my four bottles, though. I'm okay.

    But what would have happened if I'd told the man to go for it and crack open the Raging Bull? Would he have gone to the picnic aisle and come back ripping open a package of cups? Whip a baguette off the bread shelf? Cheese, anyone?

    I guess this is where nonfiction ends and fiction begins. I've written it in detail as I believe it really happened, but it could be snappier with a little editing and shaping. Additionally, since I was relying on my memory when I wrote it, not all the true facts might be true. In fact, I just checked the wine label: it's Dancing Bull.

    In memory begins fiction…

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    What Does the Character Want?

    The phrase follows me like a curious dog: what does the character want? One professor asked these questions, "What are the best things that can happen to the character? What are the worst?" One would hope that the character would want one of the better things.

    Another said, "and does the character get what he wants, or not?" What happens when the character does get it? What can change if s/he doesn't? He stressed putting "pressure on the character." This is a concept similar to challenging the character, but for some reason I have an easier time visualizing something heavy sitting on the character.

    In earlier posts, "Stakes of the Story," and "Challenge the Character," I began looking at ideas on how to create and push a plot forward, and I think they are linked to this idea of pressure.  Challenging questions are: why does the character want this so badly and why now?

    I started brainstorming about ways to put pressure on the character:

    • S/he has a deadline in which something must be done or decided by a certain time.
    • S/he must get to a place or face the consequences.
    • S/he needs to get out of a difficulty.
    • S/he reacts to a new piece of information, which may leading to a change of heart or mind. 
    • S/he character reacts to another character, who wants something from him/her.
    As mentioned in another previous post, the book Fortunately by Remy Charlip is a simple and clear example of putting pressure on a character. The need for change is what propels the story, what gives it movement. By exploring this further in your own storytelling,  you can discover how a character can come up with a solution (or wrestle with it and come up with no solution) and reach a new point of view by the end.

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    The Twist & The Turn

    Book artists for years have talked about the little twist at the end of the book, the little surprise that is concealed and then revealed, but after reading about Hitchcock and seeing his films I am coming to the conclusion that the twist is not what I want: it is the turn that is more satisfying.

    Twist and turn. Twist and shout. Martini with a twist. Pardon me while I riff a little. If the twist is a surprise, we have no way of knowing it is on its way. It's the punch line. Or maybe we do get clues, but then we are just bracing ourselves or waiting for the end. Oh, the story is told from a dog's perspective, I had no idea. How clever. Now I have to read it again to see how I could have missed it. The twist plays a mind game.

    The turn is more subtle and can go deeper, I think. The book heads along in one direction, say a meditation on trees, but then it turns into the life of a chair builder. The reader moves down one path which branches off (no pun intended) and takes us in a different direction altogether. The reader gets to change her perspective during the story, not after it. The reader feels included this way. No tricks were played. No trees were harmed in the writing of this blog.

    Hitchcock uses two terms, surprise and suspense, when talking about revealing and concealing. He finds that he can get more watchable minutes and capture our attention for longer with suspense. Perhaps we can get more readable minutes out of the turn, unless the twist is absolutely necessary to the art.
    …we…[can give] the public fifteen seconds of surprise…[or] we…[can provide] them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.
    Alfred Hitchcock, Hitchcock by François Truffaut (73) 

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    The Personal Is Political

    I was talking with my mentor/teacher/friend about how occasionally a student feels that personal subject matter is not important enough to use in a book, but that political material is a more valid choice. Betsy countered that within the personal you are always situated in the political; they are intertwined. As I ran around grabbing books off my bookshelves I realized that this is true.

    You can see this in the "kitchen table" stories of author Grace Paley, for starters. In The Collected Stories, she writes about domestic life and raising children, she writes in the first person, often with a character not far from Grace named "Faith." Her characters are frequently married, but they are also divorced, liberated, and quirky. The women are generally strong and make their own decisions. If you look at Paley's life you see she was an anti-war activist. You see she lobbied for women's rights. The stories themselves, although fiction, seem highly personal. She made her statements through her characters' actions as well as through her own.

    In Chilean poet and artist Cecilia Vicuña's work you see her personal interests in the physical aspect of weaving and in wordplay as well as her desire to call attention to injustice, irony, and beauty. In Unravelling Words & the Weaving of Water there is a political poem, "A Glass of Milk." Vicuña spilled a glass of milk on the pavement and photographed it, a personal action. She then wrote about it, referring to an event in 1979 in Colombia where contaminated milk was distributed to children, who died. Her small, personal action, then her photograph documenting it, stand for a larger, political event that questions power. Even her brief piece, "Sidewalk Forests" takes that small and personal observation of grass growing up through the pavement and puts it under a socio-political microscope to make it loom large.

    Citizen 13660 by Miné Okubo is a remarkable example of both an early graphic novel and the taking of a journalistic approach to personal life, which ultimately turns out to be commentary on a historical event. She documented the life of herself, her family, and other innocent Japanese Americans who were held at Tanforan and Topaz, concentration camps in San Bruno, California and in Utah in 1942.

    Book artist Philip Zimmermann started with a personal event and zoomed out to produce his recent, awe-inspiring book titled Sanctus Sonorensis. He was at the Border Art Residency in New Mexico and "almost got my camera confiscated…while I was taking photos of several busloads of undocumented Mexican workers." Phil describes the large photographic board book with rounded corners and gilded edges on his blog:
    It is a book of border 'beatitudes'. Among other things, this work comments on the complicated attitudes of Americans on illegal immigration from Mexico. The cover shows a photograph of the area of Southern Arizona which is the most active in terms of migration across the Sonoran desert, where thousands have lost their lives in the deadly desert heat.
    For most of the book each page begins with "Blessed are the…." I read it aloud to my CCA class as they gathered around me, silently listening, watching me turn the pages of the changing desert skies.

    In each of these books the artist has begun with his/her specific personal experience and broadened it, connected it to something larger than her/himself. The questions raised by the works don't have to be as what we might call overtly political such as related to feminism, anti-war efforts, justice, and illegal immigration. But they can address larger psychological issues like what motivates people, how people can have different viewpoints, what is cruelty, what is humanity, privilege, poverty, grief. The political may deal with who has the power, the response to that control, and the relationship between the two. The "who" can be as simple as the weather.

    Try beginning with a personal situation and your attitudes and opinions about it, then move out so you see where you are situated in relation to others. I suspect that our "relation to others," particularly when it shows up within the work, is key to a successful personal/political work. This relationship provides the broader context and multiple layers of meaning.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Content & Layout: Mini Origami Book

    Vladimir Nabokov believed that there is "a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic " (Speak, Memory, 167).

    Considering the small scale of this mini origami book, try thinking about Nabokov's quote when you create content for it. An artist's book can be seen as a container for what you know or think you know in conjunction with what your imagination brings to you. Large topics can be made personal, or given a face. Small moments can be given weight, particularly through deep emotion. Can you give a tiny book heft by way of the topic?

    To design a mini origami book to print out, you can follow the layout, below. The dotted lines are so you can see how it will eventually fold. All you really need to know is which way to face the images or text and in which order. You may wish to print an image or pattern on the reverse since that side becomes the cover.

    To print two of these books on one piece of paper, use squares that are 4" (10 cm) or 5" (13 cm). The miniature book is one quarter the size of the paper. Metric equivalents are approximate.

    4" (10 cm) paper = 1" book (2.5 cm)
    5" (12 cm) paper = 1 1/4" book (3 cm)
    8" (20 cm) paper = 2" book (5 cm)
    11" (28 cm) paper = 2 3/4" book (7 cm)

    For the tutorial on making the book, please see previous post, "Mini Origami Book."
    With some easy folding, this book takes no time at all.

    "I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another."
    (Speak, Memory, 139)

    Note: This post is inspired by a class I am taking this semester with Dr. Geoffrey Green, an English class called, "Nabokov and Hitchcock."

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    Mini Origami Book

    Origami paper sometimes comes with the diagrams to make this little book. In 1997, I would have included it in Creating Handmade Books, but photo step-by-step was too expensive, and I wasn't sufficiently up to the task of drawing it. Here, finally, a way to offer it to you in photo format. You will need a square piece of lightweight paper, and scissors and a letter opener or a knife and cutting mat. The sample is made from a sunprint. To make a sunprint with words, try arranging alphabet pasta.

    Fold in half.
    Fold edges to center fold.

    Refold one fold to make an "S."
    Fold in half.
    Fold edges to center fold.
    Fold top center corners diagonally down.

    Open and move triangle to the back (2x).
    (Back view)

    Cut on center fold through all layers.
    Slit right and left folds through all layers.

    Fold up pages at right angle.


    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Person, Place, and Action

    In Brian Thorstenson's class "Writing and Performing Monologues" Brian presented us with a fascinating writing exercise that pleased me so much that I turned around and gave it to my bookmaking class as an experiment the following day.

    The premise is that a character with some kind of emotional issue is to describe or think aloud about a place. Students are to choose one of the following examples. The first one I lifted as told to me, the others I modified so they wouldn't all be about death.

    1. A lake / a young man / he has committed murder (do not write about death or the circumstances of the murder)
    2. A city / an older woman / she has just divorced a nasty husband (do not write about divorce or the husband)
    3. A tree or forest / a middle-aged man / he is a gambler who has just lost all his money (do not write about gambling or money)
    I think this exercise works well when tailored to a particular class. The landscape can be the same (although Brian used "building" and "landscape" where I've used "city" and "forest"), but the people listed should be different ages, be a different demographic than the people in the class. Alternative kinds of loss are useful as well.

    What happens, I think, is that the images are specific enough to grab onto, but broad enough to encompass one's own emotions and/or experiences. It is interesting to place oneself inside the body of another, then draw on a universal emotion like anger, guilt, or regret to flesh him/her out. The last step, which leads to the writing, is projecting the situation onto an inanimate object, giving it the characteristics of the emotional situation. One way to look at it is that the place ends up becoming a character as well.

    I told the class that they didn't have to read anything, that I wouldn't collect the work, that it was just an exercise and strategy, but several wanted to read their work aloud anyway.

    The art students bowled me over with their imaginative pieces.

    Thanks, Brian!