Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lighter Travel, More Journal Options

As I prepared for a trip to New York and Boston I pulled out my usual tools: the big bag of brush markers, pencils, and glue stick, and I glanced over at my iPad Mini. I wasn't ready to surrender; the iPad would not be my travel journal just yet. In the studio I bound a new travel journal (the ones I have are never really right, you know?), but then abandoned it to a smaller, lighter one I had made a couple months before. The point of bringing the iPad was so I wouldn't have to drag along the heavy laptop computer. So it made no sense to carry a heavy travel journal. I also discovered that the heavier journal had way too many pages, far too many for me to fill on a weeklong trip, and I was already intimidated by it.

My bag was light. I was happy. I downloaded the free Brushes app as well as a free one called Paper. I experimented with practice page after practice page before getting the feel for each. Brushes has an undo button as well as an eraser, which works for me. You can change the brush width as well as the texture and colors fairly easily, creating something that feels more like oil painting or acrylics or spray paint. If you want a color you've used already, or if you want to match a color in a photo, just hold your finger in one place to sample it (like the eyedropper in other programs). With Brushes I could import photos and alter them, something I really enjoyed. When the picture is saved, you can view it as a step-by-step video, which is fun. You can buy a layers option for 2.99, but I didn't feel I needed it. After having just experienced A Humument as an app, I wondered about using Brushes to alter a text. I took a picture of a newspaper page with the iPad's camera, imported it to Brushes, added a piece of a photo, and started searching for new sentences. An interesting beginning. There may be a future in it…

The Paper app is truly beautiful, but has fewer options. Who can resist the opening screen where you create a personalized cover for what looks like a Moleskine notebook? Unfortunately, you cannot add a photo inside. Swipe two fingers outwards to open the notebook and get a first page. Pinch back in to close up the book. Swipe one finger to turn the pages of the ten-page notebooks. It would seem to have great book art potential, but unless you buy the accessories, the palette and marking styles are limited. I do love the watercolor look of the paintbrush, though. If you hold down your finger you can make a seamless wash. The edges are always ragged, something you can clean up with the eraser, if you like. It has no undo button; you have to use two fingers together in a circle to "unwind" (the motion is like rubbing jam off of a baby's cheek) and it is irritating because you can make marks inadvertently as you move the tools on and off the page. It comes with some colors, the eraser, and the pen with a nib. I bought the pencil and the brush for 1.99 each, which I thought were worth it, but only if you believe that this app is not free (and you don't mind your wallet getting lighter). If you want more colors, you have to buy the mixer for another 1.99. A thin marker and fat marker are available for yet another 1.99 each. Total, then, would be—what—9.95? So, just be aware of the cost. The following are screen shots from Paper. A limited app, and pricier than Brushes, but still tempting.

A library of notebooks you can add to and customize.
The photo of Hazel is from my photo library.

Here's an open journal.

And a page all the way open and flat.
This pic uses the four tools I have.
The brush and the black paint are highlighted,
which shows they are in use.
The apps are new tools that I will continue to explore like other tools. But when my eyes and hands get tired of screen and virtual keyboard, I still like writing and drawing in a physical, handmade journal. No replacements necessary: just more options.

L: lighweight journal I took  R: new journal, too heavy!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A (Virtual) Humument

Can book art live as an iPad app? A Humument was transformed from a Victorian novel to an erasure text/altered book and, most recently, to an app. How did the project start and how does it hold up now?

Inspired by an interview with William Burroughs that mentioned cut-up techniques,  in 1966, Tom Phillips decided he would buy the first book he could find for threepence in order to "treat" or alter it. That first book turned out to be a Victorian novel (published in 1892) by W.H. Mallock called A Human Document, which, in Phillips's hands, became A Hum(an Doc)ument. Phillips has painted, collaged, drawn, and drawn out his own texts from within the original. In a statement he explains that he continues to divine new meaning from it, and that he can create a text relevant to almost any occasion. Among his other successful projects, which include musical composition and painting, Phillips has been working with this text and revising it for over 40 years, and there are now five revised editions that each contain many new pages. (It should be mentioned that his work is nowhere near as dark as Burroughs'. Probably a good thing.)

Page 6, A Humument app
I became aware of A Humument in the 1980s and bought the first revised edition around 1987. It seemed a novelty: a new idea. I glanced at it, put it on the shelf, and later pulled it out to show my classes. Only recently did I finally pick it up and read it through, although not in paper, and not this edition. An article saved for me by a friend from Poets & Writers, "Turning Pages: What Happened to the Book" by Ana Menéndez (article only available in print format!) mentioned that there was an iPad app of A Humument. For 6.99, I could afford it. And since I was traveling, I could afford the time to try to read it. On the train from New York to Boston (about 3 hours) I was able to read the app, muse over what made it special and worth the purchase, and notice what made it slightly annoying as well.

Page 6, A Humument (1st rev. ed.)
The app, being a different medium, contains an added benefit, something a printed book cannot do: it has an Oracle feature, like rolling the dice. Consult the Oracle to obtain two random pages for you to divine. The interface for this is a little awkward; once the Oracle presents them side-by-side, the pages can move around for no apparent reason. The feature is fun, but not absolutely necessary; it makes the app into either an interactive experience or a game, depending upon how you view it.

The downside of the app is the programming. It has no bookmarks and always starts from the beginning. Turn off the iPad without closing the app and you can save your place, but you can't do anything else in the meantime. I ended up making little notes in the Nota Plex app so I would know which page I was on. To skip the animated intro when it begins, immediately swipe at the screen. Use the thumbnail wheel to spin through to find your page. But you still have to remember your page.

I was pleased to read it. I don't think he paid too much attention to the spreads, so focusing on one page at a time works very well. Although it was originally a novel, it reads to me like a series of related poems, thoughts, and miniature essays. Much of the writing is insightful and interesting. Some of it is a bit opaque, but there are 367 pages, so not all can be virtuosic. My favorite pages are either painted or contain material like comics or photographs collaged over the words, and I am happy when those images relate to the text. The drawn pages generally don't draw me in, although I am intrigued by the rivers (his word) he created on all the pages to connect the text "so that it does not become (except where this is desirable) a series of staccato bursts of words." Breaking up the page into sections or boxes also creates a nice flow and makes the text easier to follow. 

Connect is one of the more frequent words you'll find here, along with: art, book, words, doctor, nurse, chance, dreams, children, poke; and his characters Irma, Grenville, and Bill Toge.

Once home again, I opened my print copy, hoping to be newly excited, but it did not invite me in. I was surprised to find that some of my favorite pages in the app were right there in the first revised edition. But many more were not. It is possible that later editions (0f which the app is one) have more visually interesting pages. Even so, the pages still look much better on screen! The reproductions in the book feel flat and are not crisp, although perhaps later editions are printed more clearly. On screen they are luminous and the details are lovely. I never thought I would say this, but despite the irritating lack of bookmark and the strange movement of the Oracle pages, it turns out that I much prefer reading the app of A Humument to reading the printed book.

Page 187 is the same in app and book
You can see a slideshow of the entire A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel, Fourth Edition on his website here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Box with a Shelf in the Lid

The tarot collection got its box, designed as requested. The birthday guy wanted a shelf in the lid, a slipcase really, for the Linweave deck because it was so large, and he did not want to have to remove all the little decks to get to it. I think this hybrid structure is best for smaller, lighter books or objects, so I made The Crow's Library to try it. (The crow collected popular culture from 2012.) After I showed the little box to my college class, it took on new life in one of my student's projects.

And student work:
Soapbox by Tazetta Yerkes, 2012

She added a drawer with a paper pull.
Looks sweet, doesn't it?
Deceptively so.
The contents are thought-provoking.
Under the label closure on the lid
is written, "Wash your hands and come to the table, she said."

 She carved words into little soaps
and made tiny tunnel books
with images concerning animal rights issues.
Each soapbox is labeled with a meal and  the word "before": 
breakfast, lunch or dinner.

So many metaphors here, and none need explaining.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Scary-Cute Comics by Deth P. Sun

To help me on my quest for inspiration (says she, rationalizing), I ordered work by Deth P. Sun, an artist known for his scary-cute paintings and drawings (and a CCA alum), who is represented by Giant Robot in Los Angeles. 

Please Be Brave by Deth P. Sun. 2009. 5 1/2" x 8 1/2". This one begins with a page about Dracula, but continues with packed pages of imaginative drawings that always include one of these, "a knife, a skull, a stone or a cat on it." At first, I wasn't sure about it, only because it felt more like a sketchbook than a zine or book, no message or overall theme, really. A nice sketchbook, I should add. But I was hooked by the letters he drew that resembled hollowed out trees and branches, not only because I am always drawn to letters, but because he was inspired to draw them while he was camping at Butano (a favorite California campground of mine). So, the personal connection won me over and I bought it.

The Various Things I Eat by Deth P. Sun. 2010. 5 1/2" x 8 1/2". Do you keep a food diary? I bet not like this one. He drew his food, day by day from September 1, 2009 to February 16, 2010. First, you will simply enjoy his interpretations of a roast beef sandwich, plates of restaurant food, little stacks of potato chips. It is apparent that he eats really well. (Hey, it's Berkeley, of course he does!) Then you start noticing a pattern. He eats Corn Flakes almost every day. He eats a banana almost every day. Sometimes he eats a mint It's It, sometimes a cappuccino one. He shares food with his girlfriend Marci. I hope they stay together. The third time around you start creating a story. You see that he has eaten five lemonade Popsicles in four days, but wonder if the box originally had six. Did Marci eat one? He ate no Corn Flakes from the 6th of November through the 27th. Was he out of them, tired of them, or tired of drawing them? By the end of the third read I wondered what he wasn't drawing. My imagination started writing a completely new story. Who knew what studying this would reveal? By spending time with it I uncovered a hidden narrative, but perhaps an unintentional one.

I See All by Deth P. Sun. 2012. 8 1/2" x 11". On his website he acknowledges his love of Richard Scarry Books such as Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever. They are children's books that have pages packed with labeled images, rather like a visual dictionary. But this zine, in fact, was inspired by I See All: The World's First Picture Encyclopedia. The original comes in 5-volumes and it is dated 1926. His version is an alphabet zine and includes a hippogryph, dictaphone, electric toothbrush, manifesto (it says "Eat More Cheese"), wheat grass shot, yoga mat, jelerang, zombie, and plenty of cats, food, and fish, among others. Alphabet books, or abecedaries, are very, very popular with printers and writers. Alphabet books have a nice solid structure on which to hang one's own idiosyncrasies.

As books, all three of these fall into the category of collections. Individually, they highlight different approaches to those collections: a personal collection of random things that delight the maker; the disciplined acts of working with a theme and keeping a daily log; and a pre-structured alphabet book. I'd love to see what he does with other kinds of narratives.

Deth P. Sun pays attention to detail, is completely disciplined, clearly love his work, and has a lively imagination. Creating these comics took hours of sketching in pencil, then inking in with pen and, finally, erasing all those pencil lines. Inspiration? Thumbs up. His drawings have already made me start hunting for different kinds of pens…

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Collage Boxes: Scraps of My Life

Another recent obsession, inspired by the mini assemblages I saw by matjames metson: collage boxes in my own voice. Each is built like a regular box base. I started by covering the bases with book cloth, then I made a folded platform inside that I covered with scraps of painted paper. (To see how to make a box base, see page 226 of Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms). These measure 3" x 4" (8 cm x 10 cm). I started with color, but wasn't getting anywhere, so I chose some words. That helped. When I got stuck again, not sure if I wanted to "use up" a postage stamp, I happened to read a post by collage artist Kelly Kilmer. Being "in the now" was what I needed. I cut up the stamp and was able to finish. By listing their contents, below, I realize how the boxes connect to my life, are part of my life.

collage boxes, 2012

 a label from the colored raffia
I have used for wrapping gifts for years, 
a found bookplate taken from an old book cover
of one of many covers my friend gave me to use for art,
a hole punch of cork book cloth that I used for Jury Box
a photo I took of the swallowtail 
that emerged in my yard in 2008 
(the first I'd ever seen metamorphose)

 a piece of an airmail envelope,
 a piece of a parking pass from when I guest lectured
in 1998 at UCBerkeley in my friend's class,
gold thread,
part of a linoleum cut illustration I made,
thinking of my late son, that I intended to use
in Critical Opalescence (but didn't),
a piece from a CCA library discarded card catalogue card,
a handmade stencil of a crow on brown paper

ok to ship
 an old watercolor I did,
pieces of postage stamps,
a fragment from a receipt leftover
from Oquaga Press, from where I bought
a huge batch of used metal type in the late 1980s,
a phrase from an art postcard for Ray Johnson at BAM
two punched holes of painted paper

peace, peace, peace
 letterpress printed words from Crows at Home,
a piece of a postage stamp,
a fragment of an old watercolor I did,
a piece of colored raffia,
a phrase from a discarded card catalogue card,
other painted paper

fragments from a milk label (milk used for lime pie),
two jump rings from my random box,
waxed linen thread,
a piece of map of the Bay Area,
a piece of wrapping paper given by a close friend:
(sign language letter U),
a fragment of an old watercolor I did,
black raffia,
a dried rose saved from when Carl Dern died (2009)

Update 3/20/15: Four of these are available from Etsy here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Olivia Carter's Senior Book/Print Show at CCA

I walked up the concrete steps inside the Isabel Percy West Gallery last Thursday and encountered hints as I went: a welcome mat, some potted plants. At first I wasn't sure if they had always been there, but when I saw the room laid out before me, I knew they had been placed there by Olivia Carter, the student whose Senior Show I had come to see.

Olivia had taken my bookmaking class at CCA in the spring of 2011, but I hadn't seen much of her work since then, although she did show me some embroidery she was working on. I believe she had taken Nance O'Banion's class, and was currently in Dorothy Yule's Pop-Up Book class. 

This is the way a book show should always look, I thought, like someone's home. (I found out later that all the furniture was either from her parent's or her friends homes, so she had connections to it.) A friendly place to sit down, books and nooks to explore, all mixed with objects that are meaningful to the maker. It made sense. Olivia's work was about home, and about trees as well. Come on in…
Welcome to the show!

More than an exhibit, more than a home.

You are greeted by a small table with
Letterpress printed business cards
in a wooden box with embroidery
and printed postcards.

A tunnel book sits on a peg rack that holds her keys and jacket.

In the kitchen area: a shelf of books and buttons and found objects.

More than a bedroom.
By the bed, a book of pop-up snowflakes.

Near the kitchen, a recipe box book.
She used the alphabet index cards to spell "Falling."
The piece is about climbing trees and what that meant to her.

More than a desk. A sign invites you to sit down
and poke through the objects
and read the books there.
Many Moleskine notebooks.

She even used the space under the stairs. 
More books to read, including
a lovely pop-up book titled Home.

Inside the book. As she is driving home…

On the table was a thick photo flip book 
(not shown)
called Olivia.
Three chairs waited at the table, 
each embroidered with one word:

A pop-up book that becomes more layered
and more intertwined, page by page.
Check out those knife skills!
(She's says she has switched to a #16 X-Acto blade
because it is shorter and she feels that she has
more control over it.)

By having these sections to move through: the entryway, the living room, kitchen, den, bedroom, workspace, and reading nook, Olivia created an installation that resembled a breathing book. You could linger in one area, or metaphorically turn the page or move to the next chapter. The beauty of it, of course, was that you could select a book, sit down with it, and read it at your leisure. Creating little contextual spaces in which to sit is a fascinating way to enhance a book show.

I left with a warm feeling that put me in a good mood to teach my class that day. Congratulations to Olivia!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Adaptation, Obsessions, Comics & Reasoning

In the film Adaptation, a man tells a woman about the different passions he's had: for antique mirrors, for fish, for orchids, and how he has discarded each without looking back. She is stunned. How can  he possibly abandon a project on which he's spent time and love? He's felt so passionately about each and each has encompassed him. How can he discard them like shells?

Our interests change. We get bored. We are curious and we like to learn. We don't greet each other with, "What's the same?" We ask, "What's new?" The soul must move on.

I've been casting about for the next project and this week's obsession is comics. I pulled out the book Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels by Scott McCloud to see if I could find some inspiration in its pages.The book is stuffed with examples and rules and explanations. McCloud writes, "In short: there are no rules [turn the page]…And here they are" (5-6). Some of the suggestions are specific to drawing comics, many of them apply to making books.

I'm particularly fond of the section that talks about the relationship between images and words. I mentioned it in a previous post. But here are a few more insights that I'm going to keep thinking about:

"Your story's moments should be like a dot-to-dot puzzle. Remove one dot and you change the shape of the story" and "Each panel shows a complete action" (14). The moments can go fast or more slowly, depending on how many panels or pages the sequence spans.  The reader needs time to understand and process the information presented, and to linger with it, to enjoy it or to be scared/frightened/freaked-out/by it completely. Getting lost in a fictional world is a good thing, but only when there are no real consequences.

Be specific (27). We delight in the flower pattern on the sneakers, the crayon marks on the comic walls. It means we are in a real place that has patterns and vices.

Comics can show details, but they are also about dialogue. In our present culture of reality TV, first-person blogs, and social networking sites, we are familiar with—possibly overloaded with—personal opinions. Comics can provide those opinions through dialogue between characters: through arguments and reactions as well as through humor or through heightened style.

Online comics can reach a huge number of readers. XKCD by Randall Munroe deals with current events, science, and life in general, and it is made of stick figures that show a surprising amount of personality. A great animal comic that addresses human foibles, irony, and our child selves is Hi, I'm Liz, drawn by Liz Climo, who works on the animated TV show, The Simpsons

I have two comic muses. Remy Charlip got my attention when I was seven with his book of humorous drawings, puns, watercolors, and tales, Arm in Arm. The artist I discovered when I was eighteen, and who continues to directly inspire my drawing and art, with wordplay, thumbprints, rubber stamps, watercolors, and assemblage is Saul Steinberg (1914-1999) who "defined drawing as a 'way of reasoning on paper.'" This "way of reasoning" is an ongoing exploration, and perhaps that is why we grab onto one thing and become obsessed: to try to understand the world again…this week.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Signs of the Election

As Bob Schieffer's mom liked to say, 
(minute 4:28 of closing statements of the last 2012 presidential debate)