Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Poetry on the Ground

I've been reading a lot of poetry submissions lately that are lovely, really, well put together, crafted by someone who cares. I am sure of this, but the poems lift and float off the page in search of a current. Any feeling for them is blown gently away. Even these phrases here are too self-conscious, too demanding of the reader. "Look at me." I have seen this before in art, too: well crafted, beautifully done, lovely colors, yet I feel nothing. There are no emotional roots holding this work in place.

I am reading Ann Patchett's book of essays, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (which, by the way, has a slightly misleading title--some of the essays are about relationships, others are about writing, her bookstore in Tennessee, family, and mistakes). Her writing is poetic and heartfelt, but it does not call attention to itself. It does not try to be anything other than a look at our puzzling world and human emotions. Try is an important word. It does not try. It is a wonderful book for writers, for sure, and for everyone else who marvels and questions why we do what we do. That she cares about words and placement and pacing does show, but only if you look. Effortlessly, it seems, she can make the reader feel love and anguish and joy, the emotions she feels.

Sometimes I begin reading and I know I can relax with the writer. The guide is excellent, solid: I can let myself fall into the work and know I will be caught. All the words that need to be there are there, in the order that will keep my attention, with delightful surprises: metaphors or similes that never occurred to me, word-pairings that change how I look at the world, line breaks that do the same. Patchett's essays do this and they make me want to write; some of her novels have done so as well (The Magician's Assistant, Bel Canto).

It's a longing, for me, this reading. A longing for a certain relationship with the work. I want to feel something right here, right now, on this damp ground.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pocket Sketchbook with Elastic Closure

In my Bookworks class at CCA last week, my students and I made the full-sized sketchbooks with the rounded back, as shown in Making Handmade Books. One student asked "What about the elastic that holds it together?" That loop of elastic, while ubiquitous on Moleskine notebooks, doesn't tend to be featured in handmade books. After examining its construction, I fashioned a little pocket notebook of my own. This one has the same core as the full-sized book, with the subtraction of the end bands, the use of only two sewing tapes (instead of three), and the addition of an elastic at the back.

Here is a somewhat abbreviated look at its construction, really to show you the elastic closure. You can find fully detailed binding instructions under "Multiple Signature with Rounded Spine" on pp. 155-158.

Sheets, grained short, are folded into a binder's fold
(fold, slit, fold, slit, fold)

Measure and punch holes to accommodate 
two binder's tapes.

Self-adhesive linen tape helps secure the 1/4" braided elastic.

This torn edges of the first and last pages get glued onto the inside covers,
both front and back. Angle the cover up to glue.
Book block sits snugly in the spine.

Endpapers are adhered over the torn edges. 
(They should be glued first. They aren't glued yet in this picture.)

The cover paper is a trimmed piece of Tyvek envelope, stained with black acrylic ink.

Here is the pocket-sized sketchbook with its full-sized, rounded back classmate.
The half-cloth binding is a combo of black book cloth spine and 
mulberry paper-backed flannel sheet that feels like suede.
So it would not ravel, I glued a little folded square to the end of the bookmark ribbon.

This is post #401.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Persimmon Walk

We get teased about not having discernible seasons in California, but in Berkeley the persimmon tree is quite distinctive. I found it interesting and exhilarating to walk while looking carefully for something, with a goal in mind, but letting myself be open to beauty (a word we don't hear much in regards to art nowadays) as I explored how many persimmon trees line my usual morning walk. 

(yes, I know. these are lemons and plum leaves)

leaves haven't turned yet, and no fruit in sight

eater of persimmons

one block past my normal turnaround:
bonus! a Little Free Library

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Pen and a Water Brush: Pumpkin Tutorial

Artist, Tim Sharman, also known as the proprietor of the Doof Museum, is filling in at school for a few weeks. I found him drawing and painting in the main printshop. Except he was using an inexpensive pen for drawing and a small, pointed brush with plain water for painting. He used the pen for the outlines, and the water, which drew out some of the ink from the penned lines, for the shading. Being obsessed by new processes this week (and always), I had to try. He told me that the pen he was using, a Pilot Precise Rolling Ball, was the only one that worked. Of all the millions of pens I have around the house and studio, that was not one of them. But a Uniball Vision Elite (fine) seemed to do the trick pretty well! And I like my Niji Water Brush, (medium).

Here's a pumpkin, starting with the stem. We're only drawing outer contours and prominent lines. If you can see outlines, you can draw this. If you are drawing from a real pumpkin, try closing one eye to see the contours (this eliminates your depth perception and flattens the image). This is the Uniball Vision Elite (who names these pens?).

The contour drawing is finished. Now, use or imagine a light source.
Begin painting with water.
You can use a regular pointed brush dipped in water or
a small Niji Water Brush, shown.
Start shading the stem, since this will be darkest and you can
pick up some extra ink on the brush to use elsewhere.

Using the brush, you can add more nuanced shading.
If you feel like you want more ink, take the pen and color a small patch (I'm trying to resist a pumpkin patch joke here) on scrap paper, touch the brush in it a few times to pick up the ink, and continue with your picture.
To finish: shade under the pumpkin, so it doesn't look like it is floating.

Because I am too curious and always like an excuse to buy art supplies, I picked up one extra fine black and one fine blue Pilot pen to try. The Pilot is juicier and the ink seems to bleed a little more. But using the extra fine means you have to draw a little smaller to get a good wash effect.

It isn't so obvious in the photos, but 
the black Pilot pen color is cooler, more blue-black;
the Uniball is warmer, more brown-black.
Then there is fine blue, which bleeds quite a bit.
It might work better if the drawing was larger.

Sorry, pumpkin, not your color!
Also found extra fine green, red, and purple; 
they, like me, stay pretty close to home.

Thanks to Tim for introducing me to this technique!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Accidental Experiments with Paste Paper

I mixed up a batch of cold-water paste this week to show my students how to back cloth with mulberry paper (DIY book cloth)  and offhandedly told them that the wheat paste mixed with acrylic paint can be used to make decorative paste papers. This is an art school, so students are pretty open to new techniques. For some reason, the only color paint they had with them was white, so I rummaged around and found some black-dyed handmade paper scraps for them to experiment on. The paper tore easily when wet, so they had to be gentle as they drew into the paste. Not like fine paste papers, nor meant to be, but I think these experiments have expressive texture, and maybe even a little soul.

When they picked up the paste paper from the scrap sheet, it was apparent to me that they had also made prints! The dye from the paper was quite fugitive and left interesting marks.

I took out another black scrap and played around, aiming for the marks left behind on the scrap paper.

I eventually ended up tinting one with the tea I was drinking and pasting down the black paper on the other for a collage. I wish I could have gotten better photos, but so be it.

You can find other paste paper techniques in Chapter 5 of Painted Paper: Techniques & Projects for Handmade Books & Cards.