Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Facsimiles, Journals, and Mysterious Books

Passing by the tv a few years ago, I caught a few moments of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and surprised my husband by sitting down next to him, riveted by what I saw. It wasn't the action that captivated me. Harrison Ford was holding a book, medieval looking, with interesting drawings and handwriting. I learned that the book was Henry Jones, Sr.'s Grail Diary, a pivotal plot prop, and much of the original prop was drawn from an actual book, The Grail: Quest for the Eternal by John Matthews. Turns out, many fans have been making facsimiles of this diary for years; you can find endless websites, videos and instructions devoted to it just by searching for "Indiana Jones Last Crusade Grail Diary."The facsimile contains many layers: pages from the Matthews original, additions made by prop artists, and all materials "aged" so the book looks like it was created in 1938, when the story supposedly takes place.

What drew me to that book? It looked old, worn, like it had a history, a story behind it. The physical object suggested a person far from me in time or place, which made me curious about a life different from my own. I like that a handmade book is the center of the film. I understand the craftsmanship it takes to make a facsimile of another book or diary, but I'm more interested in using that craftsmanship to make books as original art, to create something new (even if it looks old).

Creating an aged diary that illustrates your own interests might be a fun starting place to make a book that is meaningful to you. What might you do to create a mysterious book like this? You'll need some paper, covering materials, and possibly some daily ephemera or papers collected from traveling like tickets, fliers, receipts, or programs. A text or group of related drawings or photographs would be useful as well. Pick a theme or focus to begin.

You might use actual pages from old books, letters, or envelopes, scan and print them, or make newer materials look older than they are. Some people boil up some black tea or coffee and soak paper in it to give it an aged look. For an orange color you can use Thai tea or turmeric. I have found that FW acrylic inks, particularly antelope brown, are good for this. Dilute the ink and brush it on. You can also let it dry and layer sepia on top, or start with raw sienna or yellow ochre on the bottom since they are opaque. Sometimes I add a little purple or Prussian blue. ( I briefly mention this technique on page 30 in Painted Paper.) An excellent paper for drawing, calligraphy, and writing that comes in a perfect shade of tan is Nideggen, which you can purchase from Daniel Smith, Inc.

For covering materials for a casebound book you might take a brown paper bag and keep crumpling it and opening it up again to make it soft and give it wrinkles. Since the folding and crinkling weakens the fibers, you may wish to back the paper with a lightweight mulberry paper or with bookbinding mull (also known as super) before you wrap the boards. (See page 22 in Making Handmade Books for Mounting Paper or Backing Cloth.) Use PVA as your adhesive to add strength and flexibility to the binding. I don't work with leather, but you can refer to Keith Smith's Bookbinding for Book Artists or Quick Leather Bindings which gives instructions for working with it, if you are interested.

If you choose to make a Coptic binding, you can distress and paint the boards directly with acrylic paint. The process involves scratching into the boards, nicking them, and pounding metal objects like keys, nails, or paperclips into them, then painting the boards to look like wood. Use a dry brush and do not add water to the paint. (See page 216 in Making Handmade Books for Distressed Book Covers.)

When your materials are dry and once you know the page order, create the page designs. Bind the book after your pages are complete, perhaps include a ribbon bookmark. If you don't have a full text or complete set of drawings you want to use, arrange what you have so the ephemera and fragments are scattered throughout. By using gesso and a rectangular stencil, create a place for a a title or your name or initials on the cover. Tint the edges of the rectangle with ink, if you like.

You'll discover that a blank book that has smudges or oddities inside welcomes additional content. If you find new blank books at all intimidating, consider making a series of pre-worn journals of your own.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Five Ideas for The Twenty-Minute Artist

A couple months ago I visited my friend Lisa Kokin to spend time in her studio with her latest creations, which took weeks and months to make. She had asked me to write an essay for her exhibit catalogue called Panacea Plus, which contained her artwork made out of discarded self-help books. During our conversation about the art she said that a majority of self-help titles contain numbers: ten days to a better this, twelve steps to a better that; five easy whatevers, etc.

This reminded me that I once purchased a book called, The Twenty-Minute Gardener (Addendum: I believe it was actually The Low Maintenance Garden). It assured me that if I pulled up weeds for twenty minutes a day I could take command of my yard. I tried it for awhile, and the claims proved to be true. The key was not to let it get out of control or to a state that would require large blocks of time to fix it. Now, sometimes I want to weed, but I just can't seem to do it.

Obviously, since I let it go, I don't really want to weed. What happens is that I use the time to make art or write instead, because that is what I really want to do. If you look at what you actually do when you have twenty minutes, that will tell you what you want to do. Someone once told me she wanted to write a novel. I asked why she didn't. She said she needed to clear off her desk, and she wasn't going to have time to do that until the spring. It seemed to me that she imagined that she wanted to write a novel, or she intended to write it, but she didn't really want to do it.

She was right that having a specific place to do the task is important. Having a place where you can leave things out is even better. If the tools and materials are accessible, you will be more likely to get back to the project in your spare twenty minutes.

If you really want to write or make art, you must commit to it. If your supplies are visible and accessible, then it will be easier to use your time to create and not to take out and put away again.

In the spirit of the self-help books, here are Five Ideas for The Twenty-Minute Artist:

  1. Gather your supplies and tools in a clear plastic bin and put them where you can see them.
  2. If you paint or work wet or messy, get a vinyl tablecloth and store it in your supply box so you can cover any table and get to work right away.
  3. If you haven't started writing, purchase a plain notebook (not a fancy blank book) and carry it with you; put it by your bed, and write in it every day until you are accustomed to writing large quantities (and without editing).
  4. If you already write, pick one or two places to go where you always do your writing. (I prefer libraries or a quiet room with a window; you might write better in a café or listening to music.)
  5. Twenty minutes of practice isn't really enough time, but it is a good start. After you've got yourself going, try increasing the time to an hour a day. (This works for stretching and walking as well!)

As my neighbor says, "You've got to live life in the cracks." Happy New Year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Resistance & Snowflake Envy

Having grown up in the lower elevations of California, I haven't seen much real snow. Something strange happens here in December, though: hanging snowflakes made of paper or cotton balls appear; snowflakes are spraypainted onto shop windows; and artificial snow may drape a visible living room tree or two. Were these decorating customs begun by transplants from the East coast who missed the seasons? Or is it snowflake envy?

As a kid I was told that all snowflakes were different. We folded paper and dutifully cut out shapes to make our own unique snowflakes, but I was skeptical. Much later, as an adult, I stood outside in Massachusetts and a snowflake landed on the arm of my black wool coat. Wow! It really looked like one of those paper snowflakes. No, it was way better. I felt inspired to try to make a copy of a real one, but I didn't succeed.

Even though I now have the memory of a real snowflake, and maybe because of it, I tend to resist this time of year and all those artificial snow decorations. But what is resistance? In an experimental fiction class I took the readings seemed strange, horrifying, or uncomfortable to most of us; we were resistant to them. I decided early in the class that I was going to dive in and embrace all those images that I didn't like, play with them, see if I could understand why they bothered me rather than shutting them out completely. I found out there were certain new areas (primarily violent ones) that I didn't want to pursue too deeply, but there were other areas where I could push myself and learn.

Do you resist fake snow, puns, Star Trek? Resistance is futile. During these festivals of lightheartedness, embrace them all! Here's a wordless snowflake gesso-resist project to absorb you. (More gesso and ink examples in Painted Paper.)


Thanks for coming by and happy "turnings of the sun!"


Tools and Materials: a square piece of copy paper; scissors; artist's masking tape; (flat-bottomed) stencil brush; gesso; bottle of acrylic ink; container of water; watercolor paper or cotton paper or museum board for the card or base. Note: Let the gesso dry completely before you paint the acrylic ink wash over the stenciled pattern.

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And while we are still looking at some resistance to the repeal of the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, Harry Reid sums up the priorities rather simply, "We don't care who you love, as long as you love your country."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Remy Charlip, The Swinging Doors, and Sequence

Two octopuses got married and walked down the aisle arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm in arm.
So begins Remy Charlip's 1969 book, Arm in Arm, which is summarized in the 1997 edition as "an illustrated collection of verses, tongue twisters, riddles, and endless tales all of which feature a play on words and images."

This would have been my bedside book, my one-book-on-a-desert-island book if I had owned it when I first saw it in Mrs. Muff's second grade classroom. Looking through this book then inspired me to gather friends and put on the silly short plays it contained and to attempt to create elaborate doodles like Charlip's. The bite-sized stories, puns,  and drawings were on my wavelength. It is the first book I can remember asking for as a gift.

Charlip has written at least twenty-seven other books for children since then, but for some reason I only have two others, Thirteen, and Fortunately. Even just these three books can inspire writing, drawing, and bookmaking in makers of any age.

Thirteen is a collaboration with Jerry Joyner from 1975 and has a similar aesthetic to Arm in Arm with detailed drawings and colorful watercolor tinting of the illustrations. Joyner and Charlip worked on the book over nine years, each painting an image, then trading it and creating a response that followed a narrative. Ultimately they chose thirteen of the picture-stories and organized the book. To help the reader remember all the stories at once the next two sequences are presented on the page in miniature as well. You can follow one set of drawings all the way through or try to remember all of them at once. It is a good example of a commercially printed book that works like book art with multiple texts, and an excellent way to introduce the concept of sequence to pre-readers or artists who prefer to work with images only.

Fortunately was shown to me by some elementary school teachers in my town. They read it in the classroom as a preliminary activity to encourage kids to make their own books with a similar theme. The copyright date is 1964, the edition I have is from 1993. The book begins, "Fortunately one day, Ned got a letter that said, 'Please Come to a Surprise Party.'" Next page: "But unfortunately the party was in Florida and he was in New York." Does Ned get to the party? Spoiler alert: fortunately he does, but only after going through many fortunate and unfortunate adventures. The illustrations in the book alternate between colorful for the "fortunately" pages and black and white for the "unfortunately" pages, which makes for a great read-aloud experience. Even kids who can't read will yell out "fortunately" or "unfortunately" as they get their cues from the colors.

Charlip, a dancer all his life in addition to being a writer and artist, clearly likes collaborations and inventions and sequence. In a short video he explains his "airmail dances." He started drawing about thirty or forty figures in different positions and "didn't think of how one figure would get to another figure." He gave them to other dancers, mailing some around the world; the other dancers "worked on the transitions." Each dancer could put the dance together however s/he liked. He says, "It is their dance and also my dance." He also says that he could not have invented this project if he also did not draw. I don't think he divides creative activities into compartments; each is a part of the other, informing the other, inspiring the other, and all connected by what happens next.
The book is like a series of swinging doors in which every turning of the page brings you into another world. And not only brings you into another world, but continues the thought in either a wild way or a logical way or some way that is developmental, is about a sequence, it's about how you would go from one thing to another.
Remy Charlip, about three minutes into the video 




2014: video was moved to the new link, above. Remy Charlip died in 2012.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Maira Kalman and The Creation of A World

Can a cupcake have a personality without having a face painted on it? What about a sink, a pink package, or a pickle tag? Objects with innate character include a flowery couch left by the curb, a box of mosses, major hairdos, and a seven-layer chocolate cake with a cherry on top. Welcome to Maira Kalman's world. If you aren't familiar with her work, she is an artist and writer extraordinaire and a hilarious one.

The first book of hers I ever owned, the children's book, Sayonara Mrs. Kackleman became a favorite in our family. Our parting words to each other when we leave the house continue to be, "Come back soon. Bring back presents!" In this book, as with the ones that have followed, she creates a world that seems absurd, but that is normal for her characters.

In her book for grownups, The Principles of Uncertainty, you'll find that her world isn't that far from her characters' world or the childrens' world, after all. She writes, "which leads me to my candy collection. The jewel of the collection is the Cratch bar purchased in Cuba. It sounds like a disease more than a candy treat, and I like to imagine the naming session" (122). A gouache painting of the candy bar appears on the page along with her handwritten text. The candy bar looks like it is going to dance off the page, not because it has tap shoes on, but because the wrapper has personality, the word "Cratch" looks like it is vibrating.

If you don't have a copy of the totemic grammar book, The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, only get the one that Kalman illustrated. In one example they compare "He noticed a large stain in the rug that was right in the center" with "He noticed a large stain right in the center of the rug" (under Rule 20: Keep related words together). You'll have to see the painting she did to illustrate this for yourself. Perhaps you can already imagine it. She has definitely added her world to Strunk and White's.

After looking through her work—and there was a wonderful exhibit (and catalogue to go with) recently called, Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)—you realize that perhaps she is looking for the absurd in daily life. She photographs very specific, sometimes overlooked objects, writes about them, paints them, and makes up stories (or just tells a version of the truth) to link them all together.

So, try looking for the overlooked for inspiration. Look for fun objects, quirky images, and things with an edge.

If you live in Los Angeles, you can see the Maira Kalman exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center through February 13, 2011. In New York, see it at The Jewish Museum, March through July.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Book As Place

One thing I did not take into account when I went back to school was how much I relied on the physical structure of my artist's books to ground the reader/viewer in a particular place or atmosphere. The first words about my first grad school stories were how my characters "floated" and were like "disembodied voices." Some of my classmates were intrigued, others were disturbed. Apparently, most had been taught that writers must set up a clear place; the readers want to know where they are. They want to see palm trees or weathered boards or the gates of the zoo before they meet the animals.

These comments confirmed that writing for artist's books was indeed a different activity than writing for a flat paper page or an online journal. In 2008 I wrote the article "The Background's the Thing," for the Pacific Center for the Book Arts' journal, The Ampersand, in which I compared book art to science fiction short stories, so my thinking about the function of writing in an artist's book had begun even then.

Let's look at how the physical book can function as a place.

Color. Color functions as mood or indicates time of day. For example, a navy blue might indicate we are to approach this book as if its contents were being presented at night. Night has overtones of quiet and sleep as well as fear and nightmares. Which will it be? What else is there? Moving on…

Cut or Torn Paper. A slashed page or ripped page might indicate violence. Plain pages neatly trimmed might indicate quiet or control. Using the feathered, deckled edges might suggest a dream.

Folded Paper. A fold-out page might present a path to follow, a sidewalk, set of stepping stones, or an airplane trail. A pocket might hold a secret diary or a smaller booklet that gives more insight into the story. A folded-over paper might conceal something ominous, romantic, or strange like a ransom note, instructions for a heist.

Threads. Threads that are only used for practical purposes can give the book a clean look, indicating efficiency and purpose. Many dangling threads can indicate a net, a web, or be a metaphor for a frayed or broken-down life without having to explicitly write that condition into the text.

These are only a few possibilities. Shape and size are other considerations. All materials and forms present information on a subconscious level, implying certain places or atmospheres. The materials you choose to present are clues to the reader. The reader/viewer is given the content on several levels at once: verbal, visual, and tactile, so care must be given to each of these areas so they build with one another to create a unified meaning.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Miniature Masking Project


Size matters. Working on a large scale takes time and a commitment to one project. Working small can give you the opportunity to spend that time exploring a variety of materials such as acrylic inks, rubber stamps, water soluble crayons, watercolor ink pencils, graphite, and waxed paper transfers. You may even get a large stack of greeting cards or several small book images out of the process. A very satisfying project for beginners as well as those used to image making.

Time to make a little art.

Tools & Materials: artist's masking tape (as low tack as you can find); your choice of the above materials; waxed paper & fresh newspaper & bone folder or burnisher; thick 100% cotton paper or hot press (smooth) watercolor paper or 100% cotton board (like 4-ply museum board); container of water

1. Use the low tack artist's masking tape to define a small shape on each piece of paper. For this experiment, make the shapes between 1" - 2".



2. To keep things simple, choose either a warm or a cool color palette such as the reds, yellows, and oranges shown above, or various shades of greens, blues, purples.

3. If you are using rubber stamps, pick out one to be your theme (I chose the patterns of a thumbprint for the above samples). Use the stamp pad (or pads) themselves to blot some color into your square. Fill up the space completely, right to the edge. Let dry. Stamp the one you've chosen for your theme and play around with it.

4. For now, keep your color scheme and theme. Try out each of the materials on separate cards.

5. For the acrylic inks, try diluting a little to make a wash. Let dry. Then paint full strength on top of the wash. Don't leave any pools or shiny spots because they won't dry, they'll be sticky forever. Try blotting, using a dry brush to move the ink around, spattering with a toothbrush, drawing with a stick, etc.

6. Continue to try out each of the materials with varying amounts of water and brushes or tools. Let dry between layers of color. You can work on a new card while you are waiting or use a blow dryer to speed up the process.



7. For the waxed paper transfer you will need a fresh newspaper. Today's or yesterday's is good. Find a section of text or texture that interests you (black and white only). Place the waxed paper over it and rub firmly with the bone folder on top of the waxed paper. Now you have a transfer. Place it over the blank section on one of your cards and rub it down. Add more layers, choosing darker or bolder letters, words, or images for the final layer. Yes, you can put one person's head on another person's body…

8. When finished, carefully peel up all the tape. You can find out more about masking and acrylic inks in Painted Paper.

For Daily Use, 2006 (photo: Sibila Savage)

This is a miniature Coptic book (under 3" square). I masked out sections on a larger sheet, used a small brush with gouache, cut the sheet down into strips, then accordion-folded them into page-sized pieces.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Spaces Between

A pause in a conversation. A breath for the woodwind player. The relationships between people. So much potential is contained in these spaces. The pause allows for thinking. The breath is a recharging to support the next musical phrase. The personal relationships cause us to constantly assess and rethink.

Oddly, in visual art the space between forms is called negative space, but I think you can apply this charge or potential energy to this space as well. The space itself is not as important as the relationship between the forms. An obvious example is something like a picture of a predator and prey. How close or far apart they are on the page will cause tension: the space between them is crucial.

In both cases, when you think about art and when you think about creative writing, the spaces are important. This is just one example of how I think you can teach writing to artists and art to writers. The instructor's job is to teach ways of looking carefully.

While I think it is true that every person has a certain amount of innate creativity, everyone can be taught the craft of seeing. It's easy to look around and be overwhelmed by the amount of material out there to draw or write about. Robert Pirsig writes about this overstimulation in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (240-241) when the narrator is frustrated with a writing student who just can't seem to write because she can't seem to see, "Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The opera house. Start with the upper left-hand brick." This suggestion leads the student to write a five-thousand word essay. Seeing was a matter of focusing, on being specific. The student couldn't stop writing after focusing on just one brick because there was a brick next to it, and a brick next to that. She had started looking at the relationships of the brick to its buddies and then to the building itself, and the building to the town, and so on.

Focusing on that space between two things or people is a good way to begin either a story or a drawing. What's going on between them? What is the exchange? How do the angles compare? How do the personalities compare? What kind of tension exists between them (either positive or negative)? Do they agree or disagree? What are they saying? Show how they are connected.

In bookmaking this space, this pause, comes at the turning of a page. The reader/viewer must remember during the pause from one page to the next. An apple on one page might be followed by a knife on the next. The reader/viewer has to decide if the apple is done for. The third page may confirm or deny (a slice of apple or a sliced finger?) The reader/viewer tries to make sense of the connections. In book form the connections indicate sequence. The sequence of the events are the connections between the events. The connective tissue. The spaces between.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Q & A Forum

Q: What is this post about?
A: How to start a discussion if you are new to this kind of thing.
Q: So, how do I start one?
A: Click on "comments" at the footer.
Q: Okay, what's that pop-up box?
A: That's where you can ask a question or suggest a link, tip, tool, topic, etc.
Q: Hunh, look at that. Then what happens?
A: It will be posted as a comment or written about as an entry.
Q: What else do I need to do?
A: You may need to log in or create an account.
Q: Is it free?
A: Yes.
Q: Can I ask a question or comment on any of the posts?
A: Yes.
Q: Who's on first?
A: I don't know.
Q: Isn't he on third base?
A: That's Abbott and Costello. They're on a different page…

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saturday Is Library Day

Saturday may be a day of rest, but it's also a day of reading. Electronics are off and yes, that means handheld devices as well as computers. Books and newspapers are open, we're sitting together to read. Occasionally one will laugh and the other will say, "What, what?" and the first will read aloud or summarize something; longer discussions get fueled from these few moments.

It's Saturday. When the weather's nice I dig in the dirt and see which bugs will socialize with me, which neighbor cats will wind around. But it's raining, the day is dripping slowly. I make a special pot of tea.

It's Saturday, our library day, a walk away. We'll handle our library cards but no money, won't do business, have to pay the fines on line after sundown. Is this a religion? Is this a discipline? Is this a practice? I don't know anymore, but it's an oasis in the everyday.

So, every week I'm switching off and getting up to take a short walk to another world.

Ira Levin sings about the library in his song "Palace of Wonders" on his album Hyperactive Talking Cows.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Little Paper Boxes: Origami

In a world before computers, I learned how to fold little origami boxes from the book Books, Boxes and Portfolios by Franz Zeier. I didn't put these boxes in my instructional books originally because I had just learned how to use Illustrator and the boxes were hard to draw.  I have to admit that I don't usually use them for books, I usually make these out of paper bags, line them with waxed paper and a colorful napkin, and bring them to potlucks filled with cookies (the homemade kind, not the online ones). Now you can see Zeier's original instructions online, but I thought I would do some step-by-step photos. I started with a 7 1/4" square piece of paste paper to make a 2 3/4" box. For a cookie box, use approximately 15" square paper.

1. Start with a square piece of paper. If it has a decorative side, arrange it decorative side down. Fold the paper in half, wrong sides together. Open.

2. Make another fold crosswise. Open.

3. Turn the paper over so the right side is up. Fold in half diagonally one way. Open. then the other. Open.

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4. Turn over so wrong side is showing again. Fold all the points so they are touching the center (photos 1 & 2).

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5. Open. Take one point and fold it across so that it touches the far previous folded line (photo 3). Open.

6. Fold the remaining three points across to corresponding folded lines.

7. Fold all the points back in to the center.

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8. Now fold each point back on itself to touch the folded edge (photos 4 & 5).

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9. Bring up two parallel sides (photo 6).

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10. Pinch inward and fold up one perpendicular side. Wrap it over this third wall of the box and tuck it down inside (photos 7 & 8).





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11. Repeat the pinching in, folding up, wrapping and tucking down for the fourth wall (photos 9 & 10).

Cookie recipe.

Addendum 12/5/10: To make a box lid, use paper 1/4" larger than your original paper. For this example, use paper 7 1/2" for the lid.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Dream Kit

In seventh grade my teacher declared we were having a unit on dreams. We dabbled in Jung, shook hands with Freud, and were instructed to keep a dream journal by our beds. As we drifted off to sleep each night we were to give ourselves the suggestion that we would remember our dreams. Just telling myself "I will remember my dreams" over and over caused me, at the height of this lesson, to remember seven dreams from one night. I was surprised.

Dreams are so full of images and stories it seems a shame to leave them all behind. I know people who don't want to hear about other people's dreams, and I know people who belong to dream groups and organizations to study dreams and work with them. I use dreams the way I use overheard conversations or curious objects I see in waking life, as catalysts for a larger work. Many times a dream can be shaped so that more people than just the dreamer can get meaning and take pleasure from the dream.

Here are a few of the items in my dream kit that I like to work with. Sometimes before I go to sleep I give myself the suggestion to retrieve one, other times I just wake up with the idea and write it down fast. Maybe some of these will work for you. Maybe not.

Titles. I've dreamed several titles even when I wasn't planning a new project. One particular incident involved waking up with A Witness to Curious Speed, thinking I must remember it, then falling asleep again, only to wake an hour later. This repeated throughout the night until finally I got out of bed and wrote it down. Then I had to figure out what it meant. Ultimately, I made a book with poems about change, each with their own separate title: "Channels," "Phases," and "Lanes."

Character Names. I'm not sure I've dreamed the name of a person, but I have dreamed the name of a bird. It was a "blerg." Walking by The Bone Room one afternoon recently I realized that the stuffed turaco in the window looked like my dream bird. So, I had seen it in waking life, after all, but had not remembered it consciously. My blerg, however, did not have a tail, but it will fly into a short story at some point.

Complete Stories or Plots. I dreamed the entire story of Buddha's Bowl. Keeping paper and pen by the bed are necessary dream catchers. If you dream a complete story, don't get up or do anything before you write it down. In fact, you may not even realize it was a story until you start writing. Don't worry about where it started, begin writing from any point in the dream. You can shape it, rewrite, reorder later.

Works-in-Progress Endings. Going to sleep thinking about a story I was having trouble with yielded a dream of the ending. This is the classic "sleep on it" sparking the answer.

Images to Explore. Dreams are full of composites of things we think we know. The waker's job is to be curious. Exploring a dream image can take you closer to a fresh way of seeing and become the start of a new project.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Challenge the Character

I've got this phrase written twice in my notes, on separate pages. That means Peter Orner has said it more than once in class and it resonated with me. Why challenge a character? To see what s/he is made of, to see what kind of a human being s/he is. (For ease of reading I'm going with "she" now.) Is she timid? A bully? Reluctant? Aggressive? Feeling entitled? Generous? Her reaction shows who she is without labeling or describing her. The old "show, don't tell" mantra. It is much more interesting to read what a character does rather than a description of who the narrator says she is.

How do you challenge a character? Look at what the person is doing, then figure out a stumbling block for her. The stumbling block is most interesting when one character is challenged by another character. Examples: being approached for gas money in a parking lot, being asked for directions, getting on a crowded bus, being asked to deliver an unknown package. These examples lead to the idea that someone wants something from this character. Her response will give you a clue to her personality. She may ignore the favor, hand out spare change, let someone go first or push her way to a seat, wish to please or to avoid all conflict. Let the character speak for herself and see what happens.

A story from an artist's book I made in 2007 called T/ravel: Body.
 Your Good Deed
He asks for my help. He is balanced there, on the sidewalk, leaning on an aluminum frame. I look up from my purposeful walk into his face, lined, with eyes directly on me. Somehow he has gotten down long stone steps and needs something. I am startled by his request to a stranger, me. I feel my cheeks burning.
    “Go into the garage, Unplug the cord. Press the button. Lift the wire to steer it.” His voice is steady, grounded.
    One short pause seems too long. Should I do this? The cinder-block garage is five feet from me. The warped door is open. I can see the scooter in front. Who can hurt me, here? My heart is pounding. I worry about social interactions with strangers. Everything feels like a trap. Sometimes actions are like jumping into the pool. I jump: I go into the garage.
    I press the button on the scooter, but nothing happens.
    I'm failing already.
    Flailing, I suddenly remember to unplug the cord, then I press the power again. I lift the wire the way he said to steer it and begin to maneuver jerkily towards him.
    “I'm sure you are much better at this than I am,” I say lamely. He ignores my comment and thanks me for arranging the scooter close to him where he can get on it.
    “There, “ he says, seeing absolutely, positively right through me as if I were water. “You've done your first good deed of the day.”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Shuffling Crumpled Paper

After dipping my toe in an excerpt to read for a creative writing class, I'm now fully swimming in 582 pages of the book, The Tin Drum by Günter Grass. In one scene, the little boy Oskar wants to learn how to read but doesn't want anyone to know. A friend of his mother's tries to teach him, but he tears out the pages from the book and crumples them. "Sometimes I feel like giving up. But when I see how happy he is with the book, I let him tear it up and ruin it" (80-81). Meanwhile, Oskar hides the crumpled paper balls under his sweater, takes them home, spreads them out, and practices reading in private. The pages are not merely from one book. They are from one book by Rasputin and from a second one,  Elective Affinities by Goethe; Oskar sees each as a balance to the other. He soon mixes and shuffles the flattened pages of his "unbound book," and "…he read the new book with growing astonishment…" (81). The juxtaposition amazes him.

Juxtaposition. This is one of my favorite tools in the artist/writer toolbox. We naturally look for patterns and relationships between people and things. Put two things next to each other, preferably opposites, seemingly unrelated objects or words, and the viewer/reader starts trying to make the connections. Lisa Kokin has merged at least two different texts together in each of her altered books for decades, giving us an altered look at life. The title of Judith Tannenbaum's book, Teeth, Wiggly as Earthquakes immediately puts teeth and earthquakes side-by-side to shake up our imaginations. Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge writes about juxtapositions this way in her book poemcrazy, "Tape words on tickets or anything you want.…Pin or prop them up around your house. I've got smile leaning up against my lamp.…See where your words take you" (17-18).

If you'd rather play with colors than words, you can make effective collages by cutting out two complementary colors and working only with them. Take discarded magazines or catalogues and tear out shapes in varying shades of reds and greens for one collage, oranges and blues for another, and purples and yellows for a third. You may find that these juxtapositions, these new arrangements, will also drum up astonishing scenes. You may not even know, when you begin, where you want to go.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Playing with An Accordion

Blown and Fallen, 2007
I like making books with pages that breathe. Translucent paper, cutouts, and divided pages are a few of the ways I can add air to the book and make it more dimensional. Making two long slits in an eight-panel accordion creates pages with breath as well and produces a kind of mix-and-match book.This example features Velin Arches for the text paper and 4-ply museum board covered in book cloth for the covers.

You will need these tools: pencil; bone folder; 24" metal ruler; knife and cutting mat; PVA on a paper plate; glue brush or piece of board to spread the glue; magazines or catalogues to use as waste paper while gluing; waxed paper; large heavy book for a weight.

Materials: one piece Velin Arches, cut to 25 1/2" or 26" x 7" (grain short); two pieces 4-ply museum board, 3 1/2" x 7 1/4"; one piece book cloth (or decorative paper), 8 1/2"" x 8 3/4" (grain short); one strip book cloth (or decorative paper), 1 1/2" x 7" (grain long)

Velin Arches is a paper that takes watercolors, acrylic inks, and gesso very well. Paint the paper before you proceed if you want an overall wash or background. (More info on painting paper.) 

1. For the accordion: Arrange the paper horizontally, unpainted side up (if applicable).
2. Fold in half so right and left edges are touching. Crease with the bone folder now (and after every fold hereafter). Open.
3. Fold the right and left edges in to touch the center fold. Looks like a cupboard. Keep folded like this.
4. Fold each top section back, aligning the edges with the existing folds. Turn over. Looks like a table.
5. Fold each whole top section in toward the center fold. Crease.
6. Unfold completely. You should now have an eight-panel accordion or fan fold with alternating valleys and mountains.







7. Cut the pages: Arrange the accordion on the cutting mat so that the first and last folds are valley folds.


 8. Measure and mark 2 1/4" from both top and bottom edges along these two valley folds.








9. Using the ruler horizontally, connect the bottom dots. Using the knife on the cutting mat, cut against the ruler, stopping at each dot. 
10. Repeat the aligning of the dots and the cutting of the slit for the top two dots. Set aside.




 








 11. Fold the book cloth in half with the grain. Measure and mark 1/4" on either side of the fold, top and bottom. Draw a line against the ruler, connecting the parallel marks.


12.  Apply glue to one half of the book cloth but not going all the way to the edge.
13. Press one piece of museum board onto the adhesive so that one edge is aligned with the line you drew in step 11 and the board is centered top to bottom. Repeat the gluing and centering for the second board.















14. Cut diagonals across the paper, leaving two boardwidths of space between the point of the board and the triangle you cut off. You can use two scrap boards and draw the line with pencil first.


15. Glue and fold down the flaps, one at a time, working with parallel flaps first. Use the bone folder to smooth into the groove. Make sure to push in slightly at the corners to make sure they are covered before you continue with the perpendicular flaps.


16. Remove the  project to a clean work surface. With waxed paper between the bone folder and the paper, rub down the glued paper.

17. Apply glue to the back of the strip of 1 1/2" x 7" book cloth. Place it to cover the gap between the boards. Use the bone folder to smooth the book cloth into the grooves.
 
18. Attach the accordion: Close the accordion and place a new piece of waste paper between the first two pages. You should see just the last panel. Apply glue on this panel. Press into place on the back cover with an even margin and aligned with inner spine edge of the board. Repeat the gluing and pressing into place for the front cover.

19. Place waxed paper in between the inside covers, wrap the book in waxed paper, and place under a heavy book to dry for several hours or overnight.
 20. Add more drawings, words with acrylic ink when completely dry. Consider putting nouns on all the top sections, verbs on the middle sections, and a prepositional phrase on the lower sections so you can mix and match the sentences.

Thanks for dropping by my studio!