Sunday, January 26, 2014

Reading Aloud

I've heard that the number one fear for most people is public speaking (death is number two). I don't know if reading aloud qualifies as public speaking, but perhaps getting up in front of a group does. When I was in grad school I took a class that involved standing up in front of the class and reading aloud from a new short story every week. It was a small class, about seven or eight people, but some of the students were still very nervous. After each student finished, we gave a gentle critique. One student had the habit of looking toward the back of the room and up at the ceiling. Another shifted weight or stood on one foot. One read too fast, another too quietly.

Most of us have probably had the experience of reading aloud to a child, however. Perhaps even to a whole classroom. We naturally read with expression, giving different voices to each character, trying to make the story as dramatic as possible. We might stop and ask the child a question, or make a comment, and engage the child directly.

Reading in front of adults is much the same. But usually we prepare to read to a group of strangers. In the class I took we discussed strategies to make the reading go more smoothly. 

To begin, you would print out your piece in 14 or 18 point type with lots of spacing. Then you start marking it up, like musical notation. What do you emphasize? Underline. Where do you slow down and wait for a response? Maybe you make some dots here. Which words are important to stress? Perhaps underline in a different color. Where do you look up at the audience? Maybe here you put an X or a happy face.

Then you practice. Read aloud to yourself. Read to the mirror or walking around the house. If you stumble over a line, consider rewriting it, rephrasing it, or changing the emphasis. When you can read it smoothly, time yourself. Write down that number. Now, read it again and time it, but consciously read more slowly. How much time did you add? Probably not very much, but it will make a difference to your audience.

I also took a writing and performing monologues class at the same time, which complemented the reading class perfectly. There, we were directed to locate a place in our body where the character lived and to speak from that place, really focus on it and feel it as we spoke. It is amazing to draw out emotion that way. It can ground your reading when you are feeling it in your chest or stomach or legs, etc.. The words radiate outward.

There's a nice little article that talks about how we are used to hearing audio books or listening to recorded music, and that we don't spend much time listening live or reading aloud anymore. That is, unless we go to readings in bookstores, libraries, or other literary events. And there, I was happy to discover, readings can be living, breathing, exciting experiences, some even close to entertaining performances. It is clear that writers who read aloud today know that they are competing with videos, streaming t.v. shows, downloaded movies.

If you don't already read aloud to someone, consider trying it first to yourself, and then with a friend, and perhaps later in a group or at an organized event. You might be surprised at what you hear.

Lightning Strikes a Butterfly, 2002

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Hike as an Imagined Book

Our first hike of the new year was in Tilden Park, a huge resource to those who live in the San Francisco Bay Area and perhaps less known, but equally spectacular, to visitors from beyond. It has been a ridiculously dry and windy winter, which has brought us an attention to a different kind of detail: the wind has shaken loose lichen and sticks and lichen on sticks and moss of varying names. My favorite, I learned at the Oakland Museum of California, is wolf lichen.

The trail was packed with ambling couples, dogwalkers, ambitious outdoorsfolk, groups of wandering children and adults. As I busily scanned the ground by a creek trail for new kinds of lichen, I heard a woman mention "holes." Across the creek, a view normally shielded by foliage, but now exposed, was this…

Mysterious. Like cave dwellings. Imagining this walk in book form, I saw that it contained much that revealed and concealed. The cover would be woody, mossy, very textural. The first openings would have cutouts to show the paths beyond, layering like a topographic map. Every now and then a turned page would reveal a dog, a particularly lovely stick with lichen, a tree with a cave in it, overheard conversation from the trail. Leaves would abandon the trees, fall away. And then you might see this sight: a distant view with holes in the hills, leaving you to wonder about who or what might live there, and how they might be viewing us. New ways of seeing. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Framing Books

Books have covers, sufficient to set a tone, give a hint, protect and frame the contents. We have to get inside of  books, usually, to get to the contents, and so they are not framed or hung on a wall under glass. But as I looked at the book I finished last summer Woods in the City, which was recently returned to me from a show where it had been kept inside a glass case, I wondered if it might have a better means of display, something that would make sense and add to the content. The book will be in an exhibition in March at CCA, part of an enormous printmaking show in conjunction with the SGC International conference. I felt a little sad thinking about parking it on one of the white painted pedestals. So I built a reading table for it.

Since the book is about the demolition of a house and the subsequent transformation of the lot into a garden, I wanted to use reclaimed materials. I had a wooden gardening table that had finally started to disintegrate, so I took it apart and used both the weathered wood and the rusted wood screws. My fence, falling down for decades, was finally rebuilt: I took a few of the old boards. The trellis for the ridiculous, overgrown jasmine had to come down. And I had a few strips of oak flooring from a remodel, done years ago. I had plenty of free raw materials.

Since the book's box is so dark with nothing in it, I added an LED tea light (one of the only purchases I needed to make). And I admittedly did buy a couple tillandsias (air plants) for it. (I've recently become enamoured with making little bubblescapes with them because they make me happy.) I have a collection of lichen on sticks that I have been drawing, and incorporated the sticks into the side shelf as well. I may make a little linocut seed packet print facsimile to tack onto the righthand leg.

Creating this reading table-installation-frame made me reassess how books are displayed globally in art contexts. I think book art might have a larger presence in art spaces, might be felt differently, if each book were part of an installation and commanded more attention.

I don't make large books. I like working small. I prefer working at a scale closer to my hands. But I enjoyed this puzzle, this way of building, one detail at a time, that—to my surprise—was a process close to creating a book.

Previous post about the book here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Little Free Library Night Light

On my walk, I found another Little Free Library on Arlington Avenue at San Luis Road. This one is solar powered. (I've written previously about them here and here.) Inside, you'll find some labels to stick on any books you donate. I have a mixed reaction to claiming the book as part of the LFL system. On the one hand, it would keep the library functioning as a library and discourage/possibly prevent someone from trying to sell the books at a used bookstore (I've worked in one, and I don't think we would have taken them). On the other hand, I like the freedom of the library and the aspect of letting the books go wherever they will go out in the world. I also like the idea of the library as something dynamic, in constant motion. And I like the respect of the honor system. But, instead of stickers, the LFL website sells a rubber stamp that is certainly tempting: "Always a Gift, Never for Sale." Each Little Free Library feels like a neighborhood gift.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Creative Arts Challenge: Week 1

In an earlier post I mentioned creative arts challenges: one was a one-hundred-day project, others meant to last for 365 days, and I said I would begin filling this little date book and see what happened. Here is the first week: a theme and variations on a photograph I took the first day.

It was interesting to see how many different media I could use. In order: photo I took/inkjet printout, graphite/colored pencil, collage (using only colors and textures, no representational images), brush marker,  watercolor, waxed paper transfer, collage from chocolate wrapper.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

More Hourglass Binding Models

Two more Hourglass Binding models. The taller one contains single sheets of 140 lb. watercolor paper, folded in half to make the signatures and has a found paper cover. The smaller book is made with Stonehenge, a printmaking paper, and has a painted paper cover. I used embroidery thread on both.

Finished book sizes: 5 x 6 5/8" [127mm x 169mm]; 3 3/4 x 6" [98mm x 152mm]

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Hourglass Binding: A Centered Book

A new year! Time for a new binding! Last week I dreamed that a long-lost friend had bound a book of her drawings with this exposed stitch binding. I had never made it before. When I dream a book I have to see if it works in waking life and since it does, here it is.

The stitching is based on the three-hole, pamphlet style stitch. In this case, it works best for smaller books, under about eight inches tall. My first model was 3" x 3 1/2" [76mm x 89mm]. Make it 2 3/4" x 3 [60mm x 76mm] if you want to make a strictly miniature book. (Miniatures are less than 3" in any dimension.)

Book cloth reinforces the spine of this softcover book to hold the sewing. You can personalize the look depending on the weight and colors of thread you choose. I made the first one using one color of unwaxed linen thread, and it is still the one I like best. If you choose to knot the thread on the outside, the book has a fringe as its center focus. If you have scraps of thread, this would be a perfect opportunity to use them up. Try a different color for each signature. Set an eyelet in the center hole for reinforcement. Experiment with embroidery thread. This binding has the potential for some bright color combinations.

Choices & Variations
Shown above from L to R
1. Single color: One color of thread, knots on inside (thin thread)
2. Single color: One color of thread, knots on inside (thick thread)
3. Multiple colors: One color of thread per signature, knots on inside (waxed linen shown)
4. Multiple colors (or single color, not shown): One color of thread per signature, knots on outside (waxed linen shown)
5. Single color with eyelet (or multiple colors, not shown): One color of thread, knots on inside

As I made the models I noticed that the book is based on centers. The wrapper is measured from the center outward. Book cloth is glued to the center of the wrapper. Sewing begins with the center signature and works toward the front and back. The stitches begin with the center hole. Remembering to center oneself is always useful, too.

Single color of thread, knots inside

Materials: Canson Mi-Tientes cover paper (or other medium-weight or heavyweight paper), 12 1/2" x 3 3/4" [316mm x 95 mm](grained short); book cloth strip, 2" x 5" [51mm x  127] and book cloth strip, 2" x 3 1/2" [51mm x 89] (both grained long); 14 sheets of 2-ply Bristol or index weight paper or card, 3 1/2" x 5 3/4" [89mm x 146mm](grained short); linen thread; PVA

note: in place of the card, you could substitute 3-4 sheets of textweight paper per signature, creating a total of 21-28 pages instead of the 14 shown here

Tools: pencil, metal ruler (a center finding ruler is really useful for this), X-Acto knife, self-healing cutting mat, needle, hole punch and mallet or Japanese hole punch, bone folder, brush for gluing, old magazines or glossy catalogue pages for waste sheets

knots inside each signature
(start sewing from the inside, center hole)

Prepare the cover/wrapper
Measure and mark so you have 1/4" [6mm] on either side of the center (to make a 1/2" [12mm] spine).

Fold the ends in to the nearest center folds, stopping just short of the folds, about 1/8" [3mm].
Measure and mark the longer piece of book cloth (on the back of it).
Apply PVA to the longer piece of book cloth and glue into place.

Apply PVA to the turn-ins and press down. Use a bone folder to re-crease the spine folds before it dries.

Apply PVA to the shorter piece of book cloth and glue to the inside of spine, aligned with the first strip and centered, head to tail.

Use the bone folder and re-crease the spine folds again.
Let dry before you punch the hole.
Measure, mark, and punch a hole, centered, inside the spine of the wrapper. The diameter of the hole should be smaller than the width of the spine (in this case, less than 1/2" [12 mm]), but large enough to hold all the threads.

Measure 1 1/4" [32mm] from both sides of the center hole toward the head and tail and mark, cut slits across the spine with your knife, guided by the ruler.

Prepare the pages
Fold the 14 pages in half, with the grain.
Nest two at a time, one inside the other to make 7 signatures.
Take one page and find the center, along the spine. Measure, mark and poke a hole with the needle.
Measure, mark, and poke a hole 1 1/4" [32mm](to match cover) from each side of the center hole so you have a total of three sewing stations. (This distance would be longer with taller books.)
Use this page as a template and poke the three holes in each pair of pages.
Remove the template.

You need thread that is approximately 3x the height of the book for each signature. For the hourglass shape to work well, take one of those measured pieces of thread and begin with the center signature (we could call this the 4th signature). 

Sew one signature at a time, starting from inside the signature, with the pamphlet, single-signature stitch, through the cover. You will be tying off inside the signature and cutting it after you knot it with a square knot.

Sew in signature 5 below signature 4.
Sew in signature 3 above signature 4.
Keep alternating, front and back, until all 7 signatures are sewn into the wrapper.

That's it! Time to make another!

You can see the single signature tutorial in more detail in this post.
Single signature binding and discussion of paper grain also in Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms.

Addendum (3:14pm): rebind with embroidery thread,
my new favorite