Encaustic Collage Workshop

This was my first workshop of the year at Random Arts in Saluda: an encaustic collage class with Janet Lasher. Janet is a textile and fiber artist primarily, but also works with encaustic medium. She was knowledgeable and a good teacher, and I felt comfortable from the start. Could it be that I'm finally relaxing about making art? Possibly. I know a little more about the process -- not necessarily the process of making an encaustic collage -- but about the creative process. And/or maybe I'm developing confidence in my abilities (what a concept, eh?). I was really pleased with the results, which I think is the first time I've ever experienced that after a first-time effort at any art activity. There are things I'd change if I were doing it over again, but overall, I'm happy with how things turned out.

It's fairly monochromatic in tone -- an aged amber color contrasted with brown and black ink and a bit of gold accent; what little color I used was much softened by layers of wax. I used tissue paper, silk organza fabric and rubber stamps (script stamps along with one of the set of Alice in Wonderland stamps that I'd been looking forward to using -- I really do need to start posting images of my work here). I haven't decided whether this technique lends itself to book covers; perhaps to a book that wasn't meant to be handled much -- more an object than what I usually think of as a book, something to be handled.

The basics of encaustic collage are fairly simple, but as with most simple things in art, the mastery is in refining the basics. To keep things simple, we worked with white encaustic medium, so we didn't have to deal with incorporating pigments into the wax. We used clayboard as a substrate, but Janet said her favorite substrate is 3/4" plywood. Since you don't want flexibility in your substrate, paper is a viable foundation only at a 300-400 lb weight. Some students painted their substrate completely before applying their first coat of wax; others liked the look of the white of the substrate peeking through; and yet others, like me, made a background of papers and fabric.

For me, the most difficult part of the process was maintaining evenness of texture/depth. Since to apply each new layer you have to heat/melt the wax, you can melt through the layers of wax you've already laid down, displacing it to other parts of the collage. You don't want to find that you've removed most of the wax from a certain spot, since what keeps the collage material in place is the fusing of each subsequent layer of wax to the layer below. I used a craft iron throughout rather than a heat gun, and I may try the latter next time so that I can compare the two.

A great day learning new things. It's always fun spending time with the Random Arts folks. Jane Powell, who owns the shop with her husband Paul, is a fount of creative enthusiasm. One of the students is a member of my book club at Malaprop's, and another student will be in the Secret Belgian Binding workshop I'll be taking at BookWorks in May. Small (creative) world.


Good Advice On Advice About Reading

"The only advice, indeed, that one person can give to another is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to take your own reason, to come to your own conclusions...After all, what laws can be laid down about books? The Battle of Waterloo was certainly fought on a certain day, but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions -- there we have none. "
Virginia Woolf, How Should One Read a Book?


Summing Up the Week

Well, I didn't get into the Hedi Kyle workshop at Penland, but did get into Laura Wait's workshop. I don't know where I fell in the lottery, so I have no idea how far down on the waiting list I am for the former. I'm disappointed about not getting to study with "the book goddess (my term for her)," but looking forward to the class with Laura Wait. We'll be doing at least one case-bound book, so I expect it will be very different from what I might have done in Kyle's class. I am hopeful -- and the workshop description seems to indicate -- that we'll spend a fair amount of time on content as well. I'd be more disappointed if I weren't scheduled to take a class at Arrowmont in August with Carol Barton, who is known for her pop-up and tunnel book structures. That will balance out my summer's work nicely.

I started my classes at UNCA: 'Women in the Short Story' class and 'The Art of Watching Film.' They're both very good (the teacher for the film class is particularly dynamic), and I'm only sorry that I'll be missing of one each of them, as I have a HandMade in America Board retreat that I'm scheduled to attend (and looking forward to) in a few weeks. We read Irwin Shaw's 'The Girls in Their Summer Dresses' for the first short story class, a little gem of a piece. Luckily, there are no wallflowers in the class, so we had a voluble, spirited discussion. Our film session focused on using literary analysis tools to analyze film, and we watched clips from Blue Velvet, Apocalypse Now, and City Lights, and Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. in its entirety. Almost every class will include one entire movie, to illustrate a theme. To start the class, each student was asked to introduce himself/herself and mention a favorite film. An impossible task. It was a great ice breaker and a good way to get a sense of people through their choices (or at least to delude myself that I was). I simply mentioned two films that I love: Days of Heaven and Bringing up Baby. According to my film-choice disclosure theory, I wonder what that said about me?

Friday, which was to be my Studio Day, turned out to be a play date in Asheville with my friend Carol. We cruised a couple of galleries (including Ariel, where we saw some of Dan Essig's latest work), stopped in at Early Girl for lunch, Malaprop's for coffee, and True Blue for art supplies. I haven't done that in quite a while, and it felt great. The splendid spring day felt as lighthearted as we. Oh, and we located Eaties, the cereal bar, for future reference.


One-a-Day, Sort Of

I've amassed quite a collection of books about making books. My friend Tess, a fellow bookmaker, taught herself to make books by working her way through one of Keith Smith's books, making small models of each of his bindings. I'm wildly impressed by her accomplishment and her discipline, and often wonder whether I would have the same dedication were I to find myself, as she did, without the support of a community of book artists or a place that offered classes in bookmaking.

Now that I'm scheduling "studio days" for myself, I decided to borrow a page from Tess's book (duh, that's a bookmaker's joke, right?) and work through some models. I'm using Gabrielle Fox's The Essential Guide to Making Handmade Books, since in spite of all the books I have at home to choose from, I insist on borrowing other books from the library, and this one's due shortly. Anyway, the idea is to start from the beginning and work my way through. I think there are about a dozen books of increasing difficulty. The idea is to keep the books as models for future reference. So far I've made the first two. The second, a no-adhesive accordion (or concertina) book, is a form I learned in my very first bookmaking class, with Joyce Sievers at the John C. Campbell Folk School, a few years back, but I'd forgotten about it until I made it again. It's a pretty neat little structure, should you ever find yourself on a desert island with book board, paper, card stock, and scissors, but no glue...

Oh, and as for this week's "studio day," the best laid plans of mice and men, etc. I planned it for Friday, but a friend called with whom I've been talking about checking out Eaties, a new cereal bar downtown (my kind of bar) , so we'll be doing that, having lunch and generally poking around. Well, there's always the weekend.


Blue Arabesque

I seem to be on reading jag lately, and so while I haven't stopped making books, I've been busier reading them. just finished Patricia Hampl's Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime. I knew nothing about it before I picked it up from the "new books" shelf at the library. It's considered a memoir, but it's really something we don't see much of these days: a long essay. The jumping-off point is Hampl's viewing at the Chicago Art Institute of a painting by Matisse, Woman Before an Aquarium. The painting stops her cold (she's rushing to lunch with a friend at the museum's cafeteria). She's only 17 at the time, and the painting becomes a lasting icon for her. Here's a little of what she says about it:
"I knew that the woman in the painting, whoever, whatever she was, held in the quality of her gaze the clairvoyant image of a future I wanted, a way of believing in the world that it would be very good to achieve -- if it could be achieved.

"And what was that? What was she? A woman regarding a glass globe: in the fishbowl, several aloof residents, glinting dimly from their distorting medium, hypotic but of no particular use. This modern woman looks, unblinking, at the impersonal floating world. Detached, private, her integrity steeped not in declarative authority but in an ancient lyric relation to the world. Something of eternity touched her. She was effortless. Or, as the deep language of my old faith would have said, she was blessed. That was it. Like the English major I was, I had my metaphor. Or at least I had my icon."
By now I knew I'd enjoy the book, but this, a little later, won me over:
."..I seemed to possess a memory trace, something imprinted not from my own experience but from instinct, of how life should be. It should be filed with the clean light of that gaze, uninterrupted. Looking and musing were the job description I sought.

"Isn't that why I'd majored in English to begin with, without knowing it? Not to teach, not to be a librarian, not for a job. To be left alone to read an endless novel, looking up from time to time for whole minutes out the window, letting the story impress itself not only on my mind, but on the world out there, letting the words and world get all mixed up together. To gaze at the world and make sentences from its passing images. That was eternity, it was time as it should be, moving like clouds, the forms changing into story."
Hampl laments the modern standard that sees something "illicit" in wasted time, in "the empty hours of contemplation when a thought unfurls,...letting time get the better of us. Just taking our time, as we say. That is, letting time take us."

Taking her time, Hampl shares her curiosity about and her search for those moments of true contemplation, that state of being that she saw, and still sees, in the painting. She moves to Matisse's other paintings, particularly his odalisques, and the south of France, to which Matisse moved as a young man and where he lived for the rest of his life. This leads her to other artists who sought the same sun and light: Jerome Hill, scion of a wealthy St. Paul, Minnesota family (Hampl was born and lives in St. Paul), the writer Katherine Mansfield, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (another St. Paul native). She considers Mansfield and Fitzgerald two of her heroes (her "saints"), and the section on Mansfield, "a writer who could bare her soul and write with detached authority," is particularly lovely.

Hampl's story is as much about seeing as about art. Like Matisse, she believes that perception is "not simply about what was seen, but how seeing was experienced." In art, she says, what separates the modern from what came before, is the century's demand for the artists' attitude, not simply their skills: "a painting must depict the act of seeing, not the object seen."

Blue Arabesque is the kind of book that doesn't come around often. I liked it because of Hampl's beautiful sentences and paragraphs, her intelligent and intuitive perspective, and because it slowed me down and reminded me how wonderful it is to have time to reflect.


The Word

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat, Pray, Love. I liked it, and recommend it. Following a messy divorce and a difficult love affair, Gilbert, a writer, decided get out of town (NYC) and do what she likes best: travel. She spent several months in Italy, followed by several months at an ashram in India, and the last few months of her trip in Bali. It wasn't until I'd finished the book and was Googling her to see if I could learn what she's been doing since she wrote the book that I realized I'd read her (prize-winning) novel -- Stern Men -- a few years ago when I was vacationing in Maine and wanted to read someting with "local color." I recommend that book too, but that's another story (literally).

Anyway, Gilbert makes tons of friends in Italy (making friends is one of her talents, the one I envy her most for; the other is her total lack of fear about heading anywhere in the world with no planning whatsoever), including one who recounts his theory that every city and every person has a Word. For example, he says, the Word for Rome is "sex." Gilbert doesn't know what her Word is then, although she figures it out by the end of the book. You can't read this without starting to wonder what your own Word is. I did, of course, but nothing came immediately to mind (you should know that I'm the type of person who would find it extremely difficult to commit to an answer even if I thought I knew what it was, because I might not have considered ALL the possibilities and, thus, chosen the wrong Word -- the horror!). So, so far, I was Wordless.

I told my husband the story, and without skipping a beat, he said "I bet I know what your Word is." "Okay," I said, "what is it?," not telling him that I had no clue. "Learn," he said. Not one to be floored, or to describe myself as being floored, I was nevertheless floored. He was right! That is my Word! Not only did it feel right, but not for a minute did I consider thinking about it further because of all the potential Words I was casting aside.

This is only the precursor to the original intent of this post, which is to say that I've been thinking about making an artist's book with that as a theme or subject -- not the specificity of my own Word, but the broader concept of there being such a thing as a Word. I don't know where it will go, but I'll be rolling it around in my mind to see where it takes me.


Ann Baldwin and Using Literature in Painting and Collage

I'll be taking a class -- Collaging with Words and Paint: Text and Texture -- with artist Ann Baldwin at Art and Soul in May. Art and Soul is a week-long "art retreat" to which students (hobbyists, mostly) come to create, play and learn from a variety of artists. I've never been to anything like this, so chalk it up to another new experience. I thought it would help me explore forms, such as collage, and techniques, such as working exclusively with black-and-white media, that I might be able to use in my work with books.

But back to Ann. I was attracted by the subject of the class and by her background. She began painting seriously in 1991, following a career teaching literature. Her first collages were inspired by her love of theater. She layered images from old programs, incorporated excerpts from scripts, and used strips of fabric and wallpaper. She also used French literature, and the works of Marcel Proust in particular, as a jumping-off point for collage focusing on memory and time. Her Artist's Statement (below) struck a note of recognition for me. We seem to share a love of literature, theater, books and reading, and want to make art that incorporates those passions. I'm very much looking forward to her class.

"In my mixed media abstract paintings I have set out to explore both the visual effects of text and its tendency to carry meaning whether intended or not. Although I often present words, letters, and symbols merely as shapes and patterns, so accustomed are we to interpreting these as narrative that it is sometimes impossible to see the forms alone. Color, too, gives added connotations to the words. Some pieces have been deliberately engineered to appear theatrical and, in fact, include pages from Shakespeare's plays. sone have the glow or patina of old manuscripts, while nevertheless containing mre mechanical reproductions of calligraphy. As I paint, I also write annotations 'in the margins,' commenting on a particular text or simply expressing separate thoughts and ideas.

"As a teacher of literature, an avid reader and writer, books have shaped my identity and given direction to my ideas. Each novel I encounter affects the meaning of subsequent novels. Hand annotations in the margins of used books give a clue to the reactions of other readers before me, often very different from my own. In theatres in London, where I lived for most of my life, the words of well-known plays were constantly being reinterpreted from one production of a play to the next.

"I have adopted a method of painting with multiple transparent veils of paint through which collaged images or words appear and disappear, representing layers of memory and understanding. Lately I have been painting in encaustic (hot wax), a method which involves etching and incising. Often the process itself takes over from intention and I find myself erasing or covering messages which originaly I intended to use to communicate an idea more directly. Thoughts get buried as others surface. Almost like the act of reading itself."


Studio Days

So here's the plan: to spend one full day in my studio every week. Now that I have a functional and comfortable space, I have no excuse (except fear and anxiety and piled-up unwatched episodes of House on Tivo) not to do this. So that's what I did today. I spent the morning tearing paper and gluing covers for two coptic-stitch books I plan to sew tomorrow (at a meeting of the ad hoc Book GeekSewing Circle) and the afternoon playing with techniques for making ATCs (artist trading cards). All this, and I made it through 5 CDs worth of The Piano Tuner. Note: I've decided that books-on-tape -- or books-on-cds in this case -- are a terrific complement to the mindless parts of making books. I've also come to the conclusion that it's better to listen to non-fiction or to light fiction under these circumstances. The Piano Tuner is neither (one reviewer on amazon.com referred to is as "Heart of Darkness meets Fitzcarraldo," which is fairly apt), and trying to take it in to it while I'm doing something else has reminded me that I'd rather have the book in hand if I'm reading something serious, unless it's a favorite that I've already read and enjoyed, and to which I'm listening simply for the pleasure of hearing the words out loud (Jane Austen's novels are great for this).

That aside aside, I decided to try making ATCs because they struck me as the least threatening way to approach the blank page. You can't get much smaller than 2 1/2" x 3 1/2," which is the standard ATC size -- although I understand people out there (who ARE these "people"?) are now making things called "inchies" (people with very good eyesight, I expect). Working on the smaller canvas of an ATC is nowhere near as daunting to me as filling up a PAGE. Along the way, I tell myself, I'll exercise my creativity muscles, explore new techniques, and see what I move toward and away from. To prepare for the journaling class I'll be taking in the spring, I've decided to start keeping a visual journal, which will give me the opportunity to make the ATC goodies part of that process.

For the curious, which includes me, here is what's considered the original ATC web site. The first public introduction of ATCs is attributed to a Swedish artist, m.vänçi stirnemann, who mounted an exhibition in 1997. Visitors to the exhibit were invited to take one of the cards from the exhibit in exchange for leaving one of theirs.

Joan Lyons

A few days ago I read an interview with Joan Lyons from 2005. She was the founding coordinator of the seminal Visual Arts Workshop (VSA), an influential publisher of books by artists and photographers, which she founded in the early 70s. Through VSA, she collaborated in the design and production of over 400 artists' books. Reading this was another learning experience for me, since all I knew of Lyons was what I'd gathered from seeing her work in the recent artists' books exhibition at the National Women of Women in the Arts. She's now pursuing her own new work in digital media through photographic works that examine "the evolution of archetypes and myth in contemporary culture." This sounds fascinating -- an example of how the field of book arts (and, in her case, photography too) -- continually expands through technology. I'll keep Googling to see where she's going with it. Here are some of her books.

She's teaching at Penland this summer. Ah, so many classes, so little time (and so few funds with which to pay for them).


Christening the Table

My worktable arrived yesterday morning, and Bill Bennert, who delivered it himself, re-assembled it in my studio. He'd taken off the top and the casters, figuring that the assembled table wouldn't make it around the corners, and through the doorways, into my studio. Smart move.

What can I say: it's Gorgeous! Bill's craftmanship really stands out. I spent a few afternoon hours moving things around again into what seems a good, functional arrangement (different from what I had before), and sorting my text and cover papers and arranging them on the table's shelves. I no longer have to roll up larger decorative papers and can stop keeping my Velata paper in its original box, leaning it against whatever's handy. That in itself made a big difference in how the space looks. An old counter stool that was stored in the garage turns out to be the perfect height for the table, for those times when I'm doing close work other than tearing and gluing. I "christened" the table this morning by starting a new book.


Book Geeks

The worktable is ready; Bill asked if I wanted to visit it at his workshop, since it won't arrive before Monday. Steven and I have a busy weekend, including a visit to Penland (School of Crafs) tomorrow, and we couldn't find a delivery time that worked all around. It's difficult to take classes without wanting to start immediately on a new book afer getting home.

Yesterday I learned two different forms of long-stitch. One, a criss-cross, or "x" form, is quite pretty, and I expect I'll be using it often, perhaps for a series of small leather books. Besides the opportunity to learn new things, I enjoy going to Annie Fain Liden's sewing circles, which is how I've come to think of her classes. The group that attends varies a bit from session to session, but it's always compatible and supportive. Annie Fain creates a lively, warm environment, and she's a patient and encouraging teacher. She's off to Penland for two months as an assistant to one of the weaving instructors for the Spring program, so we've assembled the ad hoc Book Geeks, and we'll meet at one another's houses to practice our stitches and egg each other on.