Monday, July 30, 2012

Personal Patterns: Gond Art & Books from India

A woman from India wrote to me and sparked my interest in exploring book art there. I found an independent publisher making handmade books—Tara Books—whose love of the book, and traditional, folk, and modern art forms, is obvious. They are based in Chennai, India. I ordered two books.

Signature: Patterns in Gond Art, with introduction by Gita Wolf, founder of Tara Books, is a nice introduction to the patterns of the tribal Gond people, the original people of India. According to the Tara Books website, "Gond is a ritual and functional art style with distinctive decorative elements, mostly painted on walls of homes, using traditional colours." Each artist chooses a pattern, usually based on something in nature, that she (or he) uses to fill in an animal, person, plant, or object. It is said you can recognize the distinctive mark of each artist and know who she is from her pattern. Common Gond patterns are based on woven rope, bird footprints, beehives, fishscales, tattoos, and even the "cross section of a lemon." In this book, the patterns are the primary focus; the larger pictures are printed very small. This would be an excellent teaching book, particularly for the younger grades, and particularly in conjunction with storytelling. The concept of making line drawings and filling them in began to intrigue me further. I started wondering what my patterns would be based on. Waves? Wood? Skin? The markings on the tabby cat next door?

Durga Bai's pages from Signature: Patterns in Gond Art

The All India Artisans and Craftworkers website explains the history and traditions of Gond painting, practiced by both men and women, that dates back 20,000-500,000 years. Colors are made from natural materials "derived from charcoal, colored soil, plant sap, leaves, and cow dung." The website also notes that "Orange depicts religious thoughts, red depicts fear, and green is associated with nature." The combination of the patterns and the colors makes each painting uniquely personal. You can begin to read the marks and emotions. Families learn, paint, and teach one another as part of a whole interconnected culture.

According to this article, the first time Gond art appeared internationally, far from the "huts of Patangarh in Madhya Pradesh," was in 1981. "17-year-old, Jangarh Singh Shyam…was whisked off to Bhopal…for the first time…traditional Gond Pradhan motifs—so far solely known to village walls—were seen on canvases, silk-screens and ink drawings." Exhibitions of his work were mounted in Paris and Tokyo. An article in the Navhind Times says that Pradhan Gonds began as storytellers to kings, with themes of nature, myths, and dreams.

The Night Life of Trees is a fully-fledged handmade book, with small stories and lovely illustrations screenprinted onto black paper. In this book, the overall image is a good size, although the patterns are very tiny, most likely the result of reducing the image for a manageable book. On the last page, with the bios and a brief explanation, it says, "Art is a form of prayer, and they believe that good fortune befalls those whose eyes meet a good image." Art, combined with nature, takes on spiritual qualities. A calm way of thinking about art.

one of Bhajju Shyam's pages in
The Night Life of Trees
Modern Gond pictures are painted with oil paints on canvas and acrylics on paper. You can see more examples of the latter by Durga Bai, whose work is also included in The Night Life of Trees, alongside artists Bhajju Shyam (co-editor of Signature, helping to choose work from thirty artists in his village), whose pattern is "a linked chain of dancers, seen from above," and Ram Singh Urveti, whose pattern is "a garland of leaves." 

You can see a full range of photos, videos, biographies, and paintings by inspirational Gond artists here.  And Tara Books features many more intriguing books: one to explore next might be I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail with art by Ram Singh Urveti.

Post #200
Update: Maegan at Tara Books pointed me to this video. Watch how they screenprinted and bound The Night Life of Trees.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Black Gesso Bird & Golden Wings

Maybe we are all part magpie. Something attracts us to shiny things; how can we express that delight? My earliest childhood memory of being drawn to something shiny was the book Tico and the Golden Wings by Leo Lionni (written in 1964). The beautiful illustrations contained metallic gold that I loved, but the book wasn't taken out and read to me very often because the adults around me did not like the message. A little wingless bird who has many inky-black-wingéd friends to take care of him meets a wishingbird and finally gets his dream: a pair of golden wings. His friends promptly abandon him because they think he thinks he is better than they are. In fact, he is confused. Tico ends up giving away his feathers, one at a time, to people in need. The golden feathers are replaced by inky black feathers, and since he looks like them now, his friends accept him again. Tico's story is poignant, but I'm not sure I like his friends.

But never mind the story! I have always loved the pictures. They have a South Asian flavor decorated with metallic gold and intricate patterns. In homage to Lionni's illustrations, then, I offer a black and golden-wingéd bird as a project. 

Tools: pencil; X-Acto knife and spare blades; self-healing cutting mat; small stencil brush (it is flat-bottomed); small pointed brush
Materials: frosted Mylar (.03 or .05 mil); decorative paper; black gesso; gold gesso; Note: black acrylic paint and metallic gold acrylic paint will work as long as you do not intend them to be book pages. Use gesso if you don't want your pages to stick together or if you like a matte finish.

1. Draw a basic shape on a piece of frosted Mylar. I use frosted because it will accept pencil marks. I also tend to lose track of any stencils made with clear Mylar.

2. Use the X-Acto with a new blade to cut out the shapes. Leave bridges between large areas, such as the wings and the bird's body.
 3. Put a dab of black gesso or black acrylic paint on a piece of scrap paper or a plastic lid. Use a small, dry stencil brush and take up a tiny amount of the black, just enough to evenly color all of the bristles, but still keeping the brush fairly dry. 

4. With an up-and-down, stamping motion, apply the black through the stencil to a piece of decorative paper. (I used a piece of paper I had painted with acrylic inks and white gesso, then scratched: "sgraffito." See Painted Paper, p. 67.)
5. Remove the stencil. 
6.  Use the small, pointed brush dipped in gold to add details such as dabs, dots, and lines.

So, there you go. Another opportunity to put Birds on Things.

And some miscellany—A page from Tico and the Golden Wings by Leo Lionni

Another Jacob's ladder, this one I made for a friend's birthday, which was actually what got me thinking about Tico again…

The back was made from book pages and altered. The gold blocks out extraneous words…

Monday, July 23, 2012

Treasures at the Huntington Library

I was able to visit the gold mine that is the Huntington Gardens and Library on my last trip to Southern California. The visit yielded a Gutenberg Bible, a volvelle, and other scientific books meant to be interactive in their time, but that now live under plexiglass, off limits to touch. Primarily, I saw the permanent exhibition, "Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World"  in the Dibner Hall of the History of Science. Books from the 16th and 17th centuries are displayed in a contemporary manner with nice lighting, well-chosen typography, and freshly painted walls.

Volvelle inside Astronomicum Caesareum (Caesar's Astronomy) by Petrus Apianus, Ingolstadt, Germany, 1540. Notes indicate that this book is primarily a scientific instrument rather than a series of volvelles supplementing a text as were most volvelles up until that time. This was produced before Copernicus and when astronomy was still earth-centered.

Epitome: De humani corporis fabrica (Epitome. On the fabric of the human body). Basel, Switzerland, 1543. By Andreas Vesalius, illustrations by Jan Stephan van Calcar, a student of Titian. A teaching tool since actual cadavers were difficult to obtain.

An ivory anatomical model of a pregnant woman, c. 1540, sits next to a popular handbook for midwives and physicians, by Eucharius Rösslin, d. 1526, London. One source lists the original title as The Rosegarden. "…the midwife must instruct and comfort the party, not only refreshing her with good meate and drinke, but also with sweet words, giving her hope of a good speedie deliverance…"

Got ideas? An exhibit of the lightbulb collection, part of the science exhibit, in the room after the books.

Optical fibers hung from the ceiling in the science exhibit. Someone pointed out that if you moved the camera while you took the picture you could get interesting effects.

No exhibit is complete without chickens. "Fowles of Heaven," was produced in London in 1613-14 by Edward Topsell. The unfinished and unfunded manuscript only contains birds beginning with the letters A, B, and C. According to this site, the book was published in 1972, although I suspect it was set in type. (The Fowles of Heaven; Or History of Birdes ships from a bookshop in England.)

Currently on view in the personal library at the Henry E. Huntington (1850-1927) house, known as the Huntington Art Gallery: The Gutenberg Bible, Mainz, c. 1455, with beautiful illumination. It will return to the Library's Main Exhibition Hall in the Fall of 2013. (I once tried to visit a Gutenberg Bible in Cambridge, but there was a note in the empty case stating that it was closed for Thanksgiving vacation.) According to one website, there are only 49 known copies left out of the original 180 copies printed. Huntington paid $50,000 for it in 1911 "at that time the highest price ever paid for a book." According to the Library of Congress website, we should call it "The first book printed with moveable metal type in Western Europe."

In looking at these exhibitions, I was reminded how some children will only read old classics if the books have modern covers. The contemporary displays in the Huntington galleries (in essence, the repackaging of the old work) were exciting and made us curious. We wanted to keep looking.

Digital page samples of other books here.

Eventually: A look at the Huntington Gardens.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Just Ruminating: Art to Change the World

I have been casually commenting lately that I will be turning twenty-five for the second time. Now, I don't mind that I am approaching my Golden birthday (no pun intended, although I do like puns), but somehow, breaking it down like that gives it a different spin. When I look at my attitude towards artmaking then and compare it to today I see that I have set aside certain ideas (perhaps they are ideals) and although I still pursue them, albeit very quietly, they were once front and center, banging on the drum when I was in my twenties. Primarily, the belief that art can and should change the world. 

I used to believe that if I make my work and get it out there, I would reach someone. Or lots of someones. And change their views. I tried to make work that showed other human beings of different races, cultures, and genders who often misunderstood one another, but who shared the sameness of daily life and emotions. It seems that I now approach this idea sideways, from the teaching side. I work with individuals and try to be a guide, not a director. Did reality, experience, or the turn of the millennium make me forget what I was doing or make me more pessimistic? Perhaps the demands and obligations of daily life and raising a family, the dents of life and loss, were what changed me. But just thinking about how I looked at the world in my twenties gives me more energetic optimism, so I guess that's good, and I think I'll continue to look back through that filter, and that one filter only.

Jed Perl, my favorite art critic, who writes for The New Republic, wrote an article about art, the art of persuasion, and the desire to change the world in his April 19th review, "Avant-Garde Persuasions." In his opening paragraph he says, "Some shocked, some charmed, some threatened, some cajoled, some instructed.…Always they insisted that forms, feelings, and attitudes which the public initially found at best alien were in fact inevitable."

Perhaps he's saying that the artists felt they had only one way to proceed, their way, and while  no one understood it yet, if they were persuasive enough, the public would eventually understand. The avant garde here echoes the author, William Gibson's quote, "The future is already here—it is just not evenly distributed." Artists have some sense of the future, although I am not sure any could or would want to claim to be at all clairvoyant. (The term itself, meaning "clear vision," is a wonderful image.) The artist may not know, probably does not know, but the artist is compelled, driven, and must proceed with his/her vision, which does feel inevitable. In an article based on an NPR interview, author Maurice Sendak says exactly this when talking about his book Where the Wild Things Are, "…I didn't set out to break any new ideas. I was just doing what was only in my head."

Perl also makes a distinction between an artist with a vision and a "careerist," someone who works very hard at self-promotion. The artist has more of the "missionary zeal" about her/him, with the same kinds of strong feelings as any religious believer, while the careerist will do anything to get noticed.

What kinds of zeal and beliefs are we talking about? Wanting to change how we see and interact with the world, to appreciate and not take anything for granted might be some. Perl writes about the Victorian aesthetics and the Arts & Crafts movement: "…how a distinctive style of decoration…became the model for a new focus on everyday life as transcendent experience." A "transcendent experience" sounds religious, like a prayer for every daily action, an uplifting. The aesthetes wanted to make basic objects that contributed to everyday rituals and that would be appreciated for their beauty.

Beauty draws us in. But there must be more under the surface. Regarding the Steins and van Gogh Perl writes, "…formalism had to be affective—not a rejection of the world but a new kind of engagement with the world." The "engagement" with the world should be a way to give it meaning, help us to understand it, absorb it, and challenge our assumptions about it.

When we are young we have many assumptions. We may have large goals and assume we can achieve them, but we may not know how to do this. Perl writes about the exuberance of van Gogh and and that "This is very much a young man's art—not surprisingly, since he had hardly begun painting in earnest in his late twenties…."A "young man's art" because of its initial optimism, perhaps? Because he wanted to persuade people of his feelings, "He persuades us that nature really does feel the way it feels to him." Oh, and we do want to do this, badly! We are trying to connect to other humans in this way, the way we know how, through our art.

Perl writes, "Before everything else, they had had to master their own doubts."  The concept of mastering one's own doubts assumes that one has these doubts from the beginning. In reality, I think the artist holds the doubt as well as its opposite in her Art Bin: the doubt that her work is worth anything, as well as the feeling that everyone else can go take a flying leap….The microscope is aimed at herself even while she is wearing blinders. Back and forth we go between these opposing thoughts: I'm saying nothing new/I've got great things to share and I'll persuade you, too.

I find it energizing to remember that I wanted art to make a difference in the world, to make the world somehow better by making it. Looking backwards, just a little and very specifically to one spot in time is helping me to bring my ideals back into consciousness, to remind me of my responsibilities as an artist, and to continue forward.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Vices & Virtues of Repurposing Trash for Art

It is quite fashionable these days for schools to offer art classes that use found materials. In fact, art schools are taking pride in adding these ecoclasses to their schedules. We hear refrains of, "Keep things out of the landfill" and "We are running out of space for our trash." The phrases embody genuine concern, possibly even alarm. We cannot deny that in our disposal culture, we have an excess of stuff, but can we make art out of recycled materials alone? Like other art supplies, found materials are a wonderful source of inspiration and are a great addition to one's artistic arsenal. How useful are these classes from an art education perspective?

First, knowing how poor the art students generally are (and they are incurring huge debt by attending art school in the first place), we welcome ways to help them out. Encouraging them to scrounge or reuse, providing scraps or being able to send them to low-budget supply sources like the Depot for Creative Reuse and Scrap, helps lighten their financial load and reassures them that they don't always have to purchase new and pristine materials. So, I'm all for helping students.

We can also use these cast-offs to provide insights into our culture. In 2007, Michele Pred did a project with CCA students that involved cell phone chargers. She brought mountains of the chargers into the gallery, chargers that otherwise would have been crated and loaded onto a boat to China. Students interacted with the discards and created art pieces with them. The chargers did not end up in the landfill in China, but I also do not know where they ended up. Pred brought our attention to a formerly invisible problem, and I applaud her for that. The problem concerns the culture of disposability that we have created in the United States.

So, what do we gain by using new materials? Beginners and young artists gain skills. They learn that good paper doesn't buckle when good glue is used. They learn that higher-quality paints are denser and cover an area better. They learn that fine brushes don't leave stray bristles in the work. When I've asked my bookmaking students to bring in book cloth rather than found wrapping paper they've always said of their finished work, "It looks so professional!" They didn't believe they could ever make a book like that. Pride. That's what good materials can teach. The good stuff elevates the work, which in turn, provides a sense of accomplishment to the students. They learn how materials should behave; good materials are easier to work with. Once they have experience with what is possible, then they can scrounge. And they can make educated scrounging decisions; they will understand what is likely to happen when they use certain kinds of paper. From the ecological viewpoint, they can purchase high-quality supplies that are made from recycled materials.

From an art perspective, does the found material add to or distract from the intention of the piece? I once knew an artist who made assemblages from new toys. The work was uncomfortably weird and cold, the toys never handled by children. The worn spots and faded paint or chipped edges of used toys would have contributed the needed warmth and emotion to those artworks.

We have a duty to teach students how to sort and evaluate their materials. While I welcome serendipity and chance, I believe that all work must be done with knowledge and intention. The only way to be intentional is to understand the ways things work.

Shown above are refined works by three mid-career artists who reuse materials. They have worked hard to build the skills that will serve them well, no matter what supplies they choose. From left to right:
Aaron Kramer - wire streetsweeper bristles, buttons. Other work on his website. (His motto: "Trash is the failure of imagination.")
Briana Kaufmann - leftover silverware, other found metals
Lisa Kokin - discarded books and book parts, thread, more

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sidewalk Story: New Mini-Fiction Blog

Last week, I started a new blog called Sidewalk Story, a place for the photos and tiny stories I write almost daily. The words and pictures are like sketches, portraits, landscapes, and windows combined. While I love the sounds of words strung together, I am finding that more people respond to vivid imagery. The blog is where I am experimenting with merging two ways of writing—by sound and through sight—in prose under 200 words, and where I am exploring the word and image connection. Sometimes the photo is the prompt for the story. Sometimes I have a story in mind but simply need the right image to heighten the mood. Just like in bookmaking, the word/picture combination can do one of at least four different things. Some random examples:
  1. Illustrate something already described in detail. Story about a huge oak tree. Picture of a huge oak tree.
  2. Give a more specific image. Story about a bird. Picture of a sparrow on a mailbox.
  3. Be a metaphor. Story about a library. Picture of a shelf of cereal boxes.
  4. Be a contrast or abstraction that changes how you see something. Story about a boat. Picture of a floating leaf or floating trash.
Scott McLeod has a more complete description in his books Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels (p. 130), and Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (pp. 153-155). The books are quite valuable to those who make and teach book art as well as those who create comics or graphic novels. A summary of his thoughts:
  1. Word-Specific: pictures show a detail, but words could stand alone
  2. Picture-Specific: words add clarity
  3. Duo-Specific: they do and say the same thing
  4. Intersecting: they work together, but each contributes new info
  5. Interdependent: new idea formed by the combination
  6. Parallel: two different thoughts
  7. Montage: words and images combined in one picture
I welcome your comments about the stories here at this post as Tumblr does not support comments unless you have an account with them. Sidewalk Story is open, however, so that anyone can read.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Michael Heizer's Big Rock in Los Angeles

Is a rock art? I am in Los Angeles this week, so I had to see the Big Rock, not because I thought it would be a great piece of art, but because I wanted to say I saw it. That's the truth. It's really called "Levitated Mass," and it is a project by Michael Heizer that has been installed as a monument in the park outside the Los Angeles County Art Museum. But as Michael Govan, the CEO of LACMA and the Wallis Annenberg Director is quoted in "The Long Road to Levitated Mass" in LACMA's journal, Insider (Summer 2012, vol. 6, iss. 2), "The real monumentality of this piece is the slot—it's a block-long negative form." The 340-ton rock rests across this slot, which is one-and-a-half football fields long. Because of the slot, the public can walk under the boulder.

Before I visited, I felt fairly dismissive of the piece until I read more about it. Levitated Mass takes its place alongside other heavy monuments. In 1882, a 71-foot, 244-ton Egyptian obelisk (complete with hieroglyphics) was installed as "an artistic memorial of an ancient civilization" (quote from above article) in Central Park just outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A similar one was already erected in London, in the city of Westminster, in 1878. An Egyptian obelisk stands in Paris, in the Place de la Concorde (73 feet, 220 tons), placed there in 1836, the previous site of a guillotine. The Pope has the view of the tallest Egyptian obelisk, which is in front of the Lateran Basilica in Rome (105.6 feet, 522 tons). Creating very tall or very heavy objects always seems like a "guy thing" to me. But the fascination with the large has been going on since at least 1500 B.C.*

Think again and Levitated Mass exists in the context of Land Art as well as marking a place or a celebration of a time. Michael Heizer was one of the first artists working with the earth as an artistic medium, beginning in the 1960s. He and several other artists, each working independently, built their land art in deserts, the scale of which allows for broad and wide and gigantic, so perhaps the large boulder in the city of Los Angeles is an anomaly. Unless you think of the bones of Southern California as a large desert, only well-watered and populated. Rather than the surfeit of open space, the mass of people offsets the mass object. So too, Los Angeles is a big city.

I visited on a Wednesday, when the museum itself is closed. The park gates were mostly shut, with two openings to let interested visitors wander in: on Sixth street off of Fairfax and at the corner of Wilshire in front of the Page Museum. Viewing from a distance, I was surprised to find that the rock looked quite small. The long slot sloping down and under it was indeed impressive. A pair of tiny two-year-olds stood under the rock for a photograph taken by beaming mothers. A few other people (older than two) held up their arms for a trick photo that boasted of Superman's strength. The long approach and the equally long retreat from the pyramid-shaped rock gave the viewer time both to anticipate and to reflect on the experience.

"Levitated Mass" is a good example of how the sheer volume attracts us, the experience changes our perception, and the conceptual elements add to the depth and make it even more interesting. Is a rock art? Not always. But it isn't just a rock.

Many photos from opening day, June 24, 2012, may be found here.
And, as usual, click on my photos for a larger view (though not large enough).

*That last thought prompted me to look up "Women Land Artists" and the first piece I came to was called, "Views Through a Sand Dune" by Nancy Holt, c. 1972. Really? Men make obelisks and women make holes? Okay, okay, not all.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Egos & Alter Egos in Writing and the Arts

Changing one's name offers a chance to explore one's identity. Artists regularly create alter egos and fictional life histories. Decades ago, when prejudice was more overt, actors changed their names to sound "more American." The concept of the stage name or the pseudonym was a common one. On the emotional spectrum, people changed their names out of fear, in hope of fame, because they were typecast as a brand and wanted to create work in a different style, to make a point, on a whim, to keep their writing separate from their profession, or simply to escape. Writers exploit this frequently and more quietly than visual artists, and the work tends to be more convincing. I've been trying to figure out why self-reinvention doesn't always work for visual artists.

We are used to writers with pseudonyms. Do we care that Mark Twain was Samuel Clemens or that Lewis Carroll was Charles Lutwidge Dodson? (No. But I can spell Lewis Carroll more easily.) Clemens signed his work Twain when he began writing as a reporter for a Nevada newspaper, and eventually Mark Twain became his humorous voice. He seems to have integrated the two personas, often signing both names together: Mark Twain written dominantly across S L Clemens. Dodson used his given name for his academic, professional mathematician life, and he took on Lewis Carroll for his creative works, keeping the two sides of himself separate.

George Sand, George Eliot, and James Tiptree, Jr. are men's names adopted by women. George Sand was the pen name of French novelist Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (1804-1876), who collaborated initially with Leonard Sylvain Julien Sandeau under the pseudonym Jules Sand, and later modified the name for her own work. George Eliot was the British author (1819-1880) Mary Ann/Marian Evers Cross who kept her "scandalous" personal life away from her serious writing. James Tiptree, Jr.  was "hailed as a brilliant masculine writer with a deep sympathy for his female characters" when "he" (Alice B. Sheldon, a 51-year-old research psychologist) began writing science fiction in the late 1960s. She already had a career and she was writing on a whim; she wanted to keep the worlds apart. "Tiptree" was chosen after seeing a jar of Tiptree jam in a store.  (p. 211)

We accept fictional characters in literature. For example, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (alter egos in a dream and novel by Robert Louis Stevenson). Superman and Clark Kent (alter-ego comic-book characters, one among many). In Lolita, the fictional character John Ray, Jr., Ph.D. introduces the book as if he were asked to edit the original manuscript by Humbert Humbert, when of course the whole novel was written by Vladimir Nabokov, whose name is on the cover. The endnotes are written by Vladimir Nabokov, who claims to have done an "impersonation" of John Ray, and who wonders if the reader will think he is now doing an impersonation of the writer Vladimir Nabokov. Oh, I really shouldn't get started on Nabokov…"I never meta man…" (that's Will Rogers, sort of).

Musicans take on alter egos to play with genres and identity. David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust (Rolling Stone: "drag-rock" "theatricality" "the perfect touch of self-mockery, a lusty but forlorn bravado that is the first hint of the central duality"). Singer Beyoncé Knowles and her two-personality album I Am ("intimate, heartfelt ballads")… Sasha Fierce ("uptempo, dance-oriented"). With these examples, it is clear that the singers are not creating a completely fictional character, but rather heightening a side of themselves that already exists.

What happens when an artist does create an entirely new character, with talents that are seemingly new, or with a fictional family history? P.D.Q. Bach (fictional descendant of J.S. Bach) allows Professor Peter Schickele to both imitate and reimagine a style of music. The same can be said for local artist Tim Sharman and the Doof Museum: he gets to situate the mythical Doof over times, styles, and cultures. Adrian Arias shows work from a distance when he presents altered books and objects, "Beautiful Trash: The Lost Library," as work by "an unknown artist" found on a "floating plastic island that arrived on the California coast in the summer of 2083," and he reflects and comments on it as if he were an archeologist. Santa Cruz artist, teacher, and librarian Jody Alexander collects objects and conceives of a character who might own or use these objects. The character provides a specific context and an entry point into her creative process as she arranges the objects into an artwork. Artist Kara Walker sometimes titles works by "A negress of noteworthy talent." She makes papercut silhouettes in an oldstyle tradition, but she brings the work to present day, making it relevant by using particular subject matter to comment on society. That commentary is an important element to the work.

When an artist, knowingly or not, creates an alter ego, what is gained? An artist may need to keep two selves separate. The art may need a different context in order to communicate. The artist may need distance from the work for personal or professional reasons. Does this distance veil the work and/or hide flaws, or illuminate it and provide clarity? We are used to fiction in literature, but fiction in art, perhaps because we don't have a name for it, is trickier to understand. Some of the art needs the fictional frame, it is an integrated part of the piece; if you removed the "creator," the piece would be confusing. In all cases, I would hope that the art would be  emotionally and/or aesthetically strong enough to engage the viewer. Ideally, each object-part would be powerful on its own, yet when combined with its fictional creator, the total would be a new and meaningful whole.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Instructions: Drum Leaf Binding

A student brought in the book Book + Art: Handcrafting Artists' Books last semester, and as I flipped through it (best for its aesthetic and lovely pictures) I found a reference and some general directions for the drum leaf binding, a binding that has only come to my attention recently, even after nearly thirty years making books. This version is a mash-up of three book structures (these are in Making Handmade Books): perfect binding (61); the Japanese album accordion (62); and the flutterbook (62). Drum Leaf is an adhesive-based structure that allows for full page spreads; a book that opens pretty flat; and no stitching through the center folds, very much like a child's board book. Since I have not been able to find satisfactory instructions, I'm writing and posting my version for a softcover book here. The original version was developed by Tim Ely, and from what I have seen, there are several variations. I hope you will find these instructions satisfactory.

Before you begin, you may want to paint and/or stencil a larger sheet of Stonehenge paper with acrylic inks (I recommend FW in USA, Matisse in Oz—techniques in Painted Paper) and cut it to size. Just keep in mind that the page edges will be the color of the paper you started with. Stonehenge comes in a variety of whites, grays, fawn, "Kraft," pale blue, and black and takes the ink very well. Of course, you don't have to use all one kind or color of paper for this structure, although using all the same weight of paper is a good idea. I had just seen the Clarion Alley murals, so I am sure my painting was influenced by them. I had this green mural, below, in mind when I started, although my final painting looks nothing like it.

Please note that although it appears simple, this is a very exacting binding. For best results, make sure you have brand new knife blades and a metal ruler and/or a metal right triangle that you can use to cut against for a guide. If you have access to a guillotine-style paper cutter that is used for cutting stacks of paper, the project will be even easier to make (and you will not need the knife and cutting mat), but it is not necessary.

This book has seven openings, or page spreads. I recommend using the first for the title (if you don't put it on the cover) and the last for the colophon or as endpapers.

Tools: bone folder (regular one is needed, Teflon kind is optional); scrap boards cut to 4 3/4 x 7" (121 x 178 mm) (these are not part of the binding) two small clamps (such as the smallest Irwin Quick-Grip clamps); metal ruler; X-Acto knife and new blades; cutting mat; pencil; waxed paper; small metal right triangle; PVA; small glue brush or piece of board; magazines for scrap paper; a weight or heavy book
Materials: 7 pieces of heavyweight paper (such as printmaking paper like Stonehenge), 10 x 7" (254 x 178 mm) grained short; 1 piece of heavyweight paper for the cover, 10 3/8 x 7" (262 x 178 mm), grained short; Note: if you use different paper, your spine will likely need to be a different thickness. Wait to cut the cover paper if you are unsure. Cover should be the size of the open pages, plus the depth.
Example: 5w x 7h x 3/8"d (127 x 178 x 9 mm) book, trimmed to approximately 4 7/8 x 6 3/4" (124 x 270 mm)

1. Fold the 7 shorter pieces of paper in half, widthwise.

2. Knock up (yes, that's a technical term) the folded edges against your work surface to get them straight. Stack the book block with the scrap boards on the top and bottom, boards aligned with the open edges.
3. Clamp the board "sandwich"  closest to the folded side.

4. Apply glue to the folded edges.
5. Pinch the book/board sandwich in the center if it looks like you can see space between the pages. Hold as long as you can. Let dry.
6. Unclamp. Remove the boards. 

7. Place the book in front of you and open to the last page.
8. Put a piece of scrap paper to cover this page and turn to the back of the second-to-the-last page. Apply about a one-inch stripe (25 mm) of glue at the spine edge.
9. Apply about a one-inch stripe (25 mm) of glue at the fore edge.

10. Remove the scrap paper and replace it with waxed paper.
11. Press the backs of the pages down and together.
12. Repeat the addition of scrap paper, applying the stripes of glue, replacing the scrap paper with waxed paper and pressing down as you work from the back of the book to the front.
13. Smooth down with a bone folder. A Teflon bone folder is nice for this step because it does not leave any shiny spots. (It has taken me decades to finally get one. It was $20 from Talas, but it is worth it!)
14. Place the book block under a weight while you prepare the cover.

15. Place the cover paper in front of you, horizontally. Use the pencil and ruler to measure 5" (127 mm) from both the right and left edges. Make marks at the top and bottom of the paper.
16. Score the paper by using a regular (not Teflon, it is too soft; the tip of mine broke doing this) bone folder to press into the paper and to connect the parallel marks.
17. Measure the spine (should be 3/8" or 9 mm) and measure this same amount from the rightmost score. Mark the paper at the top and bottom.
18. Make another score at these two marks. Fold valley folds on the inside at the two spine scores and a mountain fold at the extra score. (Three scores, total.) 

Supervision by a neighbor cat is optional. (This is Hazel.)
19. Fit a brand new blade into your knife holder. Use the metal triangle or the metal ruler as a guide and trim the head, tail, and fore edge of the book block. I recommend standing while you cut and making multiple strokes. I also recommend trimming from the folded edge toward the fore edge when you trim head and tail. You will trim approximately 1/16" or 2 mm) on these three sides (head, tail, fore edge). Do not trim the folded spine edge!
20. Open the cover. Fit the book block into it to check for size. Mark the cover where you will need to trim for a perfect fit.

21. Trim the cover.
22. Put a piece of scrap paper under the back cover. Apply glue to a one-inch stripe (25 mm) from the extra score outward. (Do not put glue on the spine.)

23. Apply glue to a one-inch stripe (25 mm) at the fore edge.
24. Remove the scrap paper and replace with waxed paper. Align the book block and press into place, making sure the spine is perpendicular to the back cover.
25. Put a piece of scrap paper under the front cover. Apply glue to a one-inch stripe at the spine. (Do not put glue on the spine itself.)
26. Apply a one-inch stripe (25 mm) of glue to the fore edge.
27. Remove the scrap paper and replace with waxed paper. Press the cover down onto the book block. Put under a weight to dry. 

I'm remembering a few people this time of year, so I'm dedicating this book, We Find Them There, to their memories: Ezra (1997-July 2003), Miss Peter Leone McCormick (1943-July 2011), and Margaret Kilgallen, whose work I admire, but who I did not know, (1967-June 2001). The title refers to the gaps between the stones in Robert Frost's poem, "Mending Wall."