Monday, February 29, 2016

Spotlight on Tools: Waxed Paper

Wax paper used to be a more common household items decades ago, but it is still available in a roll in grocery stores for just a few dollars. I've used it forever as a barrier paper to place between freshly glued book covers and the book block.

And I have most recently gone back to using it under my project as waste paper instead of old magazines and catalogue pages. Once any excess glue dries on the waxed paper, you can reuse it for much longer than the other coated, slick papers. And those paper magazines and catalogues are not pouring in at the same rate as in the 1990s.

It's handy, too, as a barrier to a wet, painted paper when hanging it up to dry.

I've been working on a letterpress project and have found new applications for the waxed paper in letterpress printing. First, if you only need up to about ten copies, you can cut windows in it and use it as a stencil over your paper. On the press bed: place a flat, uncarved linoleum block or other type high flat block and ink it up normally. Then crank the press over it.

What is  particularly elegant about this procedure is that the waxed paper has a low profile and does not leave any indentation. The above example was printed on muslin.

In 1993, I wanted depict the manual alphabet spelling out the word "island" for one of the three booklets in my book Catching a River (which you can see in this exhibit), and I photocopied my hand in the different letter shapes. I then cut out their silhouettes and glued the cutouts to a piece of paper. I placed the paper "plate" behind the paper on which I wanted to print, then printed over a flat piece of wood.

Later I discovered this was a contemporary thing called "pressure printing," attributed to Barb Tetanbaum, developed in 1989. 

In any case, in my recent experiment, I placed waxed paper over the paper plate (see the torn stripes) so that:
  1. The pieces would stay in place and 
  2. I could use actual beeswax in place of glue or glue stick and be able to reposition the pieces. The waxed paper would prevent glue or wax from getting on my project.
  3. The low profile of the waxed paper would not interfere with the print quality.
As a curious printmaker, I love experimenting. This pressure printing or "stratography" (a term I've never heard anyone actually use) technique has been around since the 1940s and 1950s. You can read more about it here.

Those are a few craft uses for the humble waxed paper. 

And, of course, waxed paper can be used to wrap up sandwiches and cookies, still.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Rocks in My Head

Calling attention to something overlooked. Magnifying a small detail and presenting its importance. Finding the universal in the specific. These are some concerns I bring with me when I write and make things. I'm in the dirt examining the bugs, picking petals to study one at a time to paint, drawing lichen really large. So it was a surprise to me to find I was interested in the large rocks in my neighborhood.

And yet, I had not really been paying attention. I looked back and found some important family photos from different times that were taken…on a local rock. It seems we are drawn to the rocks, after all.

We recently mined the book Berkeley Rocks: Building with Nature from the quarry that is the Albany Library, and I was surprised how fascinated I was in the rocks within. The large-format book with numerous color photos points out the rocks that happen to be along my daily walk up into the Berkeley hills. It goes into detail about the history, both geological and anthropological, and includes mini interviews with homeowners who have a rock in their front and/or back yard. There is a park up the hill that we named "The Rock Park" long before it had any signage. It has always had a real name, though: "Great Stoneface Park."

The book contains a map of the named rocks (page 50), and we went out—with intention this time—to find them. We've been living here twenty-eight years. Did we know them all? Had we seen them all? The answers were no and no. Many are hidden, overgrown with trees and gardens.  

The book was published in 2007. Here are my photos from 2015-2016.
Indian Rock is the most obvious, the most famous, the one we've known the longest.

 Spectacular view of San Francisco Bay from the top.

Generally, I photograph close and look at the tiny. Here is moss on the rocks at 10x zoom.

A bus stop is built around this rock. I pass it every day, often multiple times.

The retaining wall often gets a graffiti stencil on it. The current one, I believe, is David Bowie as the image on his album Aladdin Sane in a heart. 

Monument rock was the northern edge of Rancho San Antonio, property of the Peralta family in the 1800s. It is four stories high, but you have to look through a fence to glimpse a tiny portion of it. (Much better picture in the book on page 85.) Before the area was developed, apparently you could see it miles away, and it really was a monument.

Some beautiful rocks with homes around them. This  one on Colusa Ave.


On Menlo Place, another of my familiar friends. And it is mentioned in the book (61) because of the oak tree growing out of it. It wasn't until the book talked about little acorns falling into the cracks that I really thought about how this was possible. So obvious, but overlooked!


There are paths and walks all over the hills, apparently to make it easier or quicker to get down to the street cars (long gone). Visalia path has some great rocks on it with moss and magnolias.

Great Stoneface Park. And an urn in the lower right.

Indian Trail is another path, thought to have been used by the Ohlone Indians who lived here. It connects Great Stoneface Park with The Alameda, below it. On the left, you can see one of the original urns, used by developers as a motif throughout the area. A few years ago, a group of residents got together and planted some new urns that looked just like the old ones (one in Great Stoneface Park, above photo).

The Alameda features a lovely house that has "Guardian Rocks" on its property.

The sidewalk was built around this rock on The Alameda. Also in the book (4).

Closer to Solano Ave, home of shops and restaurants, is Contra Costa Rock Park.

Once we started heading higher up into the hills, the walk turned into a hike. Roundtrip was 4.5 miles and equalled 39 flights of stairs. (There's a Hitchcock joke in there, somewhere.)

Like art materials, the rocks have stories behind them. Some, like those at Mortar Rock park, have grinding rocks where the Ohlone Indians ground acorns from the plentiful oak trees. I imagine a monument plaque: former home of Café Ohlone. 

Going back even further in time, these rocks were pushed up out of the earth. They were liquid that came up and formed layers, cooled, then traveled along the Hayward fault as the earth moved. Some have fossilized remains in them. Imagine the whole area as a volcanic field. 

Indian Rock, then Mortar Rock Park, then Grotto Rock are quite close together. The west side of Grotto Rock is the sunny side. It is actually on Santa Barbara Road, not on San Luis as the map in the book lists it.

The east side has moss. 
In earlier times, a stream used to trickle through the rock. 

From Grotto Rock we headed up Regal Road to Cragmont Rock Park.
The main rock is actually under the structure, on the side of the hill
but there are little rocks all over. 

View of the Golden Gate Bridge, although hazy this day.


 An idyllic meadow down a path in the park.

From Cragmont Rock Park you can see UC Berkeley, particularly the landmark Campanile.  
At the base of the park is a building built with local rock.
We determined that it was formerly a restroom.

 We hiked onward and upward to Remillard Park, home of Pinnacle Rock. It, too, used to be seen from miles away at twenty-five feet high. (36)

  My photos don't capture the grandeur of these rocks, but the book's photos do. 
Berkeley Rocks: Building with Nature
(My only disappointment: the book has no index!)

It took a book to make me see the local landscape with different eyes. An amazing resource, it not only documents a place, but it encourages the reader to look longer and deeper. I thought I knew my neighborhood, but clearly, there is always more to see. 

This may be pushing the concept, but I could take it one more step: each of the rocks is like a book itself, filled with history, information, illustrations, memories, and emotion.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Summer: Letterpress Printing & Handwritten Text

Like letterforms? I'll be teaching an intense, six-week course at California College of the Arts this summer. If you are interested in using words in your work and learning letterpress printing, this course is for you. Open to both degree students and the general public, it is available for registration to the public beginning March 28, 2016. See the CCA Summer Session webpage for details and cost.

Here's the description, also here.

Letter by Letter: Letterpress Printing & Handwritten Text
Instructor: Alisa Golden, Senior Adjunct Professor
Oakland / PRINT–103 / 23 sessions

July 5-August 11, Mon./Tues./Wed./Thurs., 2-6 p.m.

In this hands-on, tactile approach to printing, handwriting, and lettering, we create cards, broadsides, and book forms, while investigating letterforms and the relationship of form to content.

Beginning with pencils and pen and ink, we experiment with informal alphabets that are appropriate for both personal art and public projects. Setting up digital files for photopolymer plates, using handwritten text, and printing from handset metal and wood types on cloth and found papers all provide new strategies and methods for design and expression. Through a series of assignments, we explore letterpress printing techniques and their combinations, hierarchies, materials, and presentation.

Online sources and in-class examples and discussions provide background and context for calligraphy and printing in various cultures around the world.

handwritten text printed via letterpress from Woods in the City, 2013
See it here

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Meet Me at First and Third

Slipped between the selected stories in Lucia Berlin's A Manual for Cleaning Women is an essay on the value of writing from a third person's "Point of View," which is the name of the piece (51). She suggests that the only reason a reader will want to "listen to all the compulsive, obsessive boring little details" of a person's life is when it is written from a slight remove, seen from someone else's point of view

Sometimes those details seem narcissistic when written in first person; the character appears self-absorbed and not really aware of what anyone else is thinking. When the writer writes in third person, though, we readers suspect, "if the narrator thinks there is something in this dreary creature worth writing about there must be." If the writer cares, then maybe so will we.

While the essay begins with this note, it slyly continues as a peek into the writer's creative process. Berlin builds a character, "Henrietta," as the example, then spins Henrietta into motion. While she does this, she also lets us know what parts of her own life she is including, what she is assembling, and how she makes a composite story. In short: how fiction and nonfiction merge for her. The story (and the essay does become a story) unfolds easily as days of the week, with a little flip at the end. All this in a compelling and compact four pages.

What is curious is that the stories up to this point in the book are written in first person, as are most that follow. The difference, perhaps, is that many strange things happen, and the stakes are high.

Maybe your story is true. Try stepping back and rewriting it. Get some distance. In the Foreward by Lydia Davis, Berlin (xvii) is quoted that some of her more difficult stories are "A transformation, not a distortion of the truth." Edit and shape to fit. Sometimes by altering something you can get to the heart of the story with more clarity and feeling. And that's what we're trying to do here, right?

A related blog post regarding writing about the personal and painful is here.
One about fiction/nonfiction is here.
Another fiction/nonfiction is here.
Stakes of a story exercise is here.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Found Zine

You can go in search of adventures, change your scenery intentionally, travel from place to unfamiliar place, or you can cover the same territory day by day, watching for changes in the familiar. I like to do both, but I tend to tread the same path on my daily walks. There are some Little Free Libraries along the way, but there is also one little cubby built into a private fence and bench at a corner, doubling as a bus stop and waiting room. Generally, I don't see much in it, a magazine, maybe, a ratty paperback book, but a few days ago something handmade caught my eye.

A hand-drawn zine, titled, I'm Mad.
Bound with yarn tied through two hole-punched holes.
Not beautiful, but a sense of humor: 
"Reviews: Mom—I'm proud of him. It's on the

It took a lot of time to make: it had many pages of writing and drawing.
Much of it was a rant. Some frustrations, loneliness showed.
He put his heart into it.

Drawings, too.
His phone number at the back.
I read through it.
Then left it for others.

Trashed, tossed, taken—I don't know. 
 Three days later, it was gone.

But now when I walk by and look at the cubby I think: a creative person was there. 
My landscape, changed.