Friday, March 25, 2016

HOUSEWORK: Handmade Books & Boxes

Way back in November, on an airplane coming home from a family Thanksgiving celebration, I said to myself, "Now, what am I going to do?" I was not assigned a class for the first time in ten years for spring semester, so my time was open. I knew I could fill it, that wasn't the problem. First I thought: I should do housework. But I don't really do housework. I make art instead. Art is my housework. Which is how this project was born.

I've seen the house shape so many times in artwork that it is almost a cliché. How could I tackle it and make it fresh (at least to me)? I imagined house-shaped boxes that cracked open like eggs.

 Each box would be different, with a different look at house and home. I would print on muslin and make my own book cloth to wrap them. And I would make a house-shaped quilt as well. I had signed up to show work in the glass display case at our local library, so I would size the quilt to fit on one side of the case.

I made nine boxes. At this writing, I have finished six, with one near completion, two still cooking. More photos are on my website.

They Must Agree is about lichen and its habitat. The cutouts of lichen are glued to an accordion that is attached to the box and pulls out. The book is a Coptic stitch that sews an accordion together.

Fragile is how we can remain friends or live together. The book is a Crossed-Structure Binding with each of the one-page signatures glued together for strength. Then I cut out the windows, which are reminiscent of an altered book. The cutout pieces live in a little drawer on the bottom on the right.

 Sea Light is about the neighborhood miles under the sea on the Juan de Fuca volcanic ridge. The box holds a long tunnel book and a platform with a small scroll.

Green House Not on the Corner is about how the demolition of a house turned into a garden. A little tableau on the right, a palm leaf-style structure on the left.

The Divide is about housing in the city: who has what. A long scroll like a street.

Dandelion Roam is about how nomadic dandelions find their home. This is the flower fold structure, sewn together rather than glued. The sewing suggests the seeds.

Albany, still in progress, is about housing in the four points, North, South, East, West of the one-square-mile of Albany, California, my home town. Each of four little booklets is a map fold, which miraculously looks like a house.

I'll be installing at the Albany Library on Sunday, April 3, somewhere between 1-5pm. If you are a local, come say hi, and I'll show you in person.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spotlight on Materials: Mulberry Paper

If you are interested in making your own book cloth, mulberry paper is an essential backing paper. It is thin and flexible and has long fibers, which makes it strong. It may seem strange that a thin paper can be strong, but imagine how long hair gets tangled and how very short hair doesn't. The fibers of the mulberry plant (also known as kozo) are floated in water and their fibers co-mingle and intertwine as the sheet of paper is formed, giving it strength.

I've been printing on muslin recently in order to make quilts and for an important part of my latest project in progress, a series of nine house-shaped boxes and yes, a house-shaped quilt (more about this in the future), all called: HOUSEWORK.

Backing cloth. I backed the cloth with mulberry paper so I could cover the houses that I built out of museum board and binder's board. Mulberry is also a terrific printmaking paper: I could have printed directly on the paper and created the sculptural prints that way. You could make relief prints and wrap a variety of objects (even pre-made objects like bottles and jars) with your own images, then give them a coat of heavy gel medium. Because the boxes are meant to be handled, though, I wanted the added sturdiness and tactility of the cloth.

To back the cloth, I used a cold water wheat paste. It mixes up most smoothly on a plate: put about two teaspoons of paste on one half of the plate, about 1/2 - 1 cup of water on the other, and use a brush to bring the powder to the water and mix it a tiny bit at at time until all you reach a smooth consistency that just holds its shape. (Instructions: page 22 in Making Handmade Books, other pages in my other bookmaking books.)

Painting paper. Since 1997, I've been painting paper to incorporate into my books. (Techniques are described in Painted Paper.) I like altering my materials so the patterns and colors are original. I don't want the viewer to look at my work and say, "Oh, I've seen that paper at the art-supply store." Mulberry paper becomes more fragile when wet, but it is still possible to use acrylic inks to paint it with a brush and splatter it with a toothbrush, which I did for my house about lichen, "They Must Agree."

Painting paper and making scrolls. Cloth that has been backed also makes an excellent scroll. It is flexible, strong, and after coating the paper you can write on it. I made a few different scrolls for this project as well. For this house, "Sea Light," I coated the mulberry paper with acrylic gesso (tinted slightly with blue acrylic ink) so I would be able to write on the scroll without the letters spreading or bleeding through the cloth. (Instructions for scrolls on pages 102-107 in Making Handmade Books.)

I tinted the mulberry paper with various blacks, grays, and pearlescent colors for "The Divide" so it would look like asphalt. Using silver gel pen on top of the painting turned out to be the most legible; a crow quill pen dipped in black ink was what I wanted for the second text, but not as easy to read.

I hope to properly photograph the houses this week so I can post them. I'm installing them in a show in the display cases at the Albany library on Sunday, April 3, and they will be available to view April 4-30, 2016. More soon. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Pennies and Velvet" in Dead Housekeeping

When you go to the website, you find that the intention of the online magazine Dead Housekeeping is a loving one. For writers, these stories/essays are ways to share your memories of someone who has died with the general public in an accessible way. Suggested in the "About" section, the writer should think about the person "in motion" and "how they did things" and the magazine is a way of looking at "loss through the lens of home." While these are personal memories, just by changing the angle, the writer can get the needed distance to write the story. Imagine something the person taught you and show them teaching it. It's a wonderful way to begin writing. For readers, it is a welcoming window into someone else's world, perhaps a way to connect with others through life

Reading through some of the stories inspired me to reflect on various losses in my life. The one that came concretely to the forefront became the short story/essay "Pennies and Velvet," published today right here in Dead Housekeeping. I hope you enjoy it.

From my 2016 work-in-progress, HOUSEWORK

Monday, March 7, 2016

Star 82 Review Spring Issue 4.1 Is Live!

Now in its fourth year, Star 82 Review (also written as *82) is the online and print literary and art magazine that I produce at each equinox and solstice, or thereabouts. The Spring 4.1 issue was released today and features haunting, thoughtful and beautiful stories, poems, art, essays, and their combinations by some really good people, from teenagers to a poet in her nineties. In this thirteenth issue we look at the in-between. Not limbo, but waiting. Resting before the next adventure, chapter, heartbreak, hope. The ice melting, but the water leaking. It's moody, a little haunted, and features some thoughtful and beautiful art, including images of bookwork by Edgar Purviance and Karen Apps, as well as an excerpt from Tia Blassingame's project Mourning/Warning.

Read online:
Support the project and order a print copy:
Or subscribe (four issues): nevermindtheart

Geoffrey Anderson
Karen Apps
Peggy Aylsworth
R.L. Black
Tia Blassingame
Jill Crainshaw
William Cullen, Jr.
Gen Del Raye
Vern Fein
Susan Gundlach
Elisa Jay
Nancy Jentsch
Alastair Johnston
Richard Jones
Mukethe Kawinzi
Tricia Knoll
Andrea Lewis
Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco
Madeline Nelkin
Toti O'Brien
Lesley Patterson-Marx
Edgar Purviance
Justin Rogers
Michael Shirzadian
Sarah J. Sloat
Tim Staley
Jamie Sullivan
Daniel W. Thompson
Josette Torres
Andy Tu
Shelton Walsmith
Amy Ward-Smith
Thomas Wojak
Ellen Roberts Young


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Finding Your Creative Voice

A body of work. A creative voice. How does one develop such a thing? One of my professors used to say that everyone already has a voice. That you can't change who you are. But what happens when you are not sure who you are?

The post-punk band Gang of Four writes in "Who Am I," their 2011 song: "Who am I when everything is me?" If we all like everything, thumbs up, how are we distinctive? How do we find out? I can't give a definitive answer, but I will attempt to present some possible strategies.

Give yourself a Time Out. You have to be willing to listen to your actual reactions, not the ones you think you should have. Your body will tell you if you honestly like something or if you really don't.

Let your hands move without thinking. Sit quietly in one place with a pen and paper. Draw lines, draw the outlines of something nearby, but don't try to make anything. Take notes on what you see on the page.

Notice your surroundings. Take a walk with your phone turned off. Bring a small notebook with you. What do you notice? What stands out to you? Begin by keeping a list of the images that appeal to you and make you linger.

In the three strategies mentioned, you are gathering subject matter. You need to work with subjects that are important to you, that move you, make you laugh, or spark your curiosity.  At the same time, you can develop your practice of the craft.

Draw from life or from your own imagination. Go to the source. Your line is your own personal handwriting. Accept it. Cultivate it. Draw every day. For writers, that means describing something in front of you: a scene on the street, or something you are feeling. Practice writing a paragraph every day. You may start hearing phrases in your head or envisioning objects. Keep track. One of these may be a catalyst for a project.

Think about words. Your word choices are part of your voice, part of your style. Your word choices should reflect you in this time period: the casualness or reticence or whatever message you are imparting. You live now, in the 21st century. Your sentence structures are your rhythm. Could be short and choppy. Or perhaps you like the long and winding roads that meander and peek in at windows here and there. The whole piece is your personal work and reflects your voice. 

Inspiration is important. Everyday life is packed with spontaneous subject matter. But it's also beneficial to look in curated places. Notice where things are placed and how they relate to one another. Why are they where they are? Inspiration and process are linked.

Read books. Go look at art. Notice the works that make you want to write or draw. Notice what kind of work you make afterwards. Choose a spot in your living space and curate a personal museum.

While you are seeking, remember that you will have to do hard work, but it should also be fun. Take it seriously. Don't take it too seriously. Be curious in the world, and look inside yourself as well. Your creative voice will likely emerge and evolve naturally from there.


Note: One of my favorite books on creative process that has interesting exercises and ways of seeing: Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan G. Wooldridge.

Addendum, more helpful instructional books for writing and drawing:
Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson
What It Is and Picture This: The Near-sighted Monkey Book by Lynda Barry (wilder and crazier)