Pen and Paper

One of the side effects of the journaling class I'm currently taking at BookWorks is that I'm thinking more about paper. I've been considering the relationship of the paper to the journal's purpose, which seems pretty obvious, but which I haven't thought much about when making blank books (for which I usually use Velata text blocks). Reflecting on the types of information I'd like to collect and the journals that will hold them has led me consider each journal's specific needs. For example, it makes sense to use watercolor paper as the basis for the journal I'll set aside for my art "experiments" -- i.e., techniques I'd like to try without assurance that they'll result in anything good or pleasing or that I'll want to repeat them. (That's why it's called an art experiment journal. It's strange but true that I'll be more likely to experiment if I have a journal that's specifically designed for that purpose, rather than trying something out on a surface that might conceivably be a "keeper." -- Go figure.)

My daily journal -- the one I regularly carry with me -- should be able to withstand washes of wet media, so I'm going to try using a text block made from watercolor paper also, but lighter weight than what I'll use for the experiment book: 90 lb - 100 lb for the daily journal, 140 lb for the other. For those journals into which I'll tape or paste items -- say, my "flip book" for images that resonate or inspire me -- I plan to use standard notebooks. In this case, it's the wire binding that's most important, since I want to be able to flip easily through the pages.

I'm also more aware now of how the pen feels against the paper; I expect that I've always been conscious of this but, nevertheless, I kept buying the same kinds of pens: those extra-fine-point ones, such as the Sakura Pigma Micron pens, that graphic artists seem to favor. I suppose I didn't make the connection between the diameter of the tip of the pen and my writing experience. Then I started noticing that my most confident writing (I mean this purely from a graphic perspective; nothing to do with content) comes from pen points of at least medium thickness. I also like a bit of resistance from the paper as I write. The fine-point pens I've been writing with (and used on Velata) simply haven't done the trick.

So I'm experimenting with pens with thicker points. I recently bought a Sakura Gelly Roll Gelato retractable pen with a 0.8 mm (medium) point that I'm enjoying. I'll also be trying paper with a bit more texture for text blocks. I'll be working on a new daily journal tomorrow, using 90 lb watercolor paper. I'll let you know how the combination feels to me.


Field Trip

Tuesday was a field trip with a friend to visit the gallery in Burnsville that will be hosting the exhibition for our Book Salon for a month later this year. It's a lovely space. Coincidentally, Wendy Reid, the owner, serves with me on the Board of HandMade in America. She's brought in a wonderful selection of art at all price points. I noticed that the gallery participates in several community and philanthropic causes, usually by donating a percentage of sales of specific objects.

We stopped in at the Burnsville Town Center across the street from the gallery to see a quilt that my friend had heard about. It's amazing. The work of quilt artist Barbara Webster, it portrays key places, people and sights in the history of Yancey County, and surrounds them with representations of the four seasons. She used both old photographs and took over a thousand new ones. it's a masterpiece of design, and spans the entire lobby wall (the size is 24' x 7'). It's well worth making a trip just to see it.

After lunch (which was a delayed birthday treat for me), we traveled on to Penland School of Crafts, so that my friend could visit with a book artist friend she hadn't seen for nearly 20 years, Jana Pullman, who's been teaching a two-month class in leather bindings. I planned to visit Annie Fain Liden, who's currently a teaching assistant in Beth Ross Johnson's weaving class. Annie Fain is one of my bookmaking teachers as well as a friend, and it was a joy to catch up with her.

It was a long day, and a good one. I'm soooo looking forward to the book arts workshop I'll be taking at Penland this summer with book artist Laura Wait. I've been Googling Laura to learn more about her work and have found many examples of her books, which has made me even more enthusiastic about learning from her.



I had a call yesterday from a delightful friend with whom I hadn't spoken for a while. We're both very attached to our dogs -- she has two rambunctious standard poodles; I have the friendliest puppy in the world. Reminiscing about this and that, including her cute new car, which has a license plate that references her puppy-love, reminded me that I'd yet to put up pix of our own pup. The first one is Twiggy when we brought him home at 3 months (yep, that's his name, no relation to the 60s supermodel of the same name); the other photo is more recent, taken at his favorite spot, the window seat in our kitchen. Sitting here lets him look out on our front yard and the street beyond, so that he can be the first to greet anyone who walks by.

Before we got Twiggy, I'd never been much of a 'dog person' -- or a 'pet person' for that matter -- but now I'm no different from the dog lovers whom I used to make fun of for speaking to their dogs in baby talk. Sigh. One of the first books I made, a very simple accordion, was , in fact, a book about Twiggy. So much for being a serious book artist, I thought at the time. Sigh again. You'll be glad to know I've made more books since then.



A book arts colleague sent me an email recently that included this quote from Viktor Frankl (from Man's Search for Meaning):
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
This immensely profound statement reminded me, yet again, that (thankfully) under very different circumstances, I can choose how I present myself to others every day, every moment. When someone asks "How are you?", I can choose to relate my latest annoyance or complaint about the state of the world, my health, the latest service foul-up(aren't our lives full of these?), or I can elect to say "I'm well," and feel fortunate that, whatever else may be going on, this statement is fundamentally true most of the time.

This is by no means an ode to denying negative feelings or being a Pollyanna in the face of major distress or sadness. We should have outlets for these, of course, and those who care about us should understand. And certainly there's a time and place for airing minor annoyances -- so much of this is about context, isn't it? But the proportion of what I've come to call "mosquito bites" to major stress is, for most of us, infinitesimally small. We're blessed that this is the case, so why not act like it?

I'm better about this than I used to be, but I have a long way to go, which is why I welcomed seeing Frankl's quote again. It's a good reminder to put things in perspective.


Handmade Book Pix

It's about time I put up images of some of my books. I took these photographs a few weeks ago, but had not gotten around to downloading them to my computer. The book to the right is one that I made in January for the purpose of doing an inset with a transparency. It worked well. The one below is one I made for a good friend. It was the first time I'd done a coptic binding in two colors. Since the colors of the thread are nearly identical to the cover paper, it creates a nice effect.


Geeks Rule!

Our small but animated group of Book Geeks reconvened this morning to give the criss-cross long-stitch another try, this time successfully. You may recall that our last effort had us actively competing for parts in the Bookbinders' version of a Marx Brothers movie. We were particularly flummoxed on that day because we were well aware that the criss-cross is one of the easier long-stitch bindings, and each of us would easily have vouched for the intelligence and accomplishment of the others in the group (if not for our own).

So we were molto/mucho/tres relieved that the stitch seemed to come more naturally to us this time. First, of course, we had to spend some time ooohing and aaahing over the ATCs that two of us exchanged; discussing book cover techniques, munching on the tasty goodies provided by our generous host, and comparing notes on our birthday celebrations (2) last week.

In spite of a gratifying session, I've decided to consider today's book purely a practice exercise and take it apart. I made the text block from ad and fashion-feature pages in W magazine, which was a nice idea in concept but not in execution, at least not for a larger book such as this one. The signatures were very hard to keep in place, since the linen thread kept slipping and sliding through the holes in the slick paper. This made it difficult keep the signatures aligned, add new signatures, and, generally, handle the book.

One of us has begun to sew pockets into the inside front cover of her books, which is not only practical, but looks quite handsome. Two of us are putting design elements on text pages to add decorative flair; another is using interesting surface techniques. I, on the other hand, if I'm brutally honest, more often than not find myself using materials that I come across the night before our sessions, since that's when I usually remember that I need to have book parts ready for the next day.... (In my defense, I'll say that of late I've been particularly attracted to the images in my fashion magazines, seeing them more as art elements than anything else.) I'll prepare more thoughtfully for our next gathering, when we'll make a piano hinge book.


Billy Collins

Here's a poem by Billy Collins that I came across a while back, enjoyed, and thought you might too. It's from Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems. Having just been reading about the horrific happenings at Virginia Tech yesterday, it struck a little bit closer to home this time:

The Movies

I would like to watch a movie tonight
in which a stranger rides into town
or where someone embarks on a long journey,

a movie with the promise of danger,
danger visited upon the citizens of the town
by the stranger who rides in,

or the danger that will befall the person
on his or her long hazardous journey --
it hardly matters to me

so long as I am not in danger,
and not much danger lies in watching
a movie, you might well agree.

I would prefer to watch this movie at home
than walk out in the cold to a theater
and stand on line for a ticket.

I want to watch it lying down
with the bed hitched up to the television
the way they'd hitch up a stagecoach

to a team of horses
so the movie could pull me along
the crooked, dusty road of its adventures.

I would stay out of harm's way
by identifying with the characters
like the bartender in the movie about the stranger

who rides into town,
the fellow who knows enough to duck
when a chair shatters the mirror over the bar.

Or the stationmaster
in the movie about the perilous journey,
the fellow who fishes a gold watch from his pocket,

helps a lady onto the train,
and hands up a heavy satchel
to the man with the mustache

and the dangerous eyes,
waving the all-clear to the engineer.
Then the train would pull out of the station

and the movie would continue without me,
and at the end of the day
I would hang up my oval hat on a hook

and take the shortcut home to my two dogs,
my faithful, amorous wife, and my children
Molly, Lucinda, and Harold, Jr.


Everybody's a Critic

Since I've been thinking about book criticism and discussion lately, I read this article from last Sunday's Boston Globe with interest. It's a good take on what makes a film critic. The writer says that, more than anything else, a professional film critic needs to provide "context" to his audience. The priority that he gives to "context" is reminiscent of my beliefs about the value of a liberal arts education (which, it seems, is going the way of the record album).

I've often thought that a good liberal arts college education -- with literature, history and philosophy as its mainstays -- is meant to provide "context" for our future, whatever we decide to do or become. Philosophy hands us the tools to analyze issues and dilemmas, both large and small, personal and professional; literature offers an almost inexhaustible supply of models of human behavior to consult in our dealings in society; and history assures us that virtually everything we encounter in the world has an antecedent, and that we can benefit from understanding the failures and successes of our past. If, instead, our undergraduate years are meant solely to prepare us for a job or career, we're missing some critical knowledge and skills, without which, I believe, no one can be truly successful.

But I digress.


Book Club Retreat

For the second time (our first took place last fall), one of the book clubs of which I'm a member held a weekend "retreat." Our book club was started by and is held monthly at Malaprop's bookstore, an independent bookstore that we all frequent (at right, some of our "retreaters," including, at far right, Malaprop general manager Linda Barrett Knopp). We convened late last Friday afternoon at a nearby retreat center and headed home early Sunday afternoon. In between we discussed two books and two novellas: David Oshinsky's Polio: An American Story, Haven Kimmel's She Got Up Off the Couch (ugh! -- the first book I've read for this group that I couldn't stand to finish), Tillie Olsen's Tell me a Riddle (which I loved), and The Death of Ivan Ilych by Tolstoy.

My own bias about book club reading is that fiction should rule the day, and that if non-fiction must be introduced, it should be in small doses -- say, four or five novels for every work of non-fiction. So I was disappointed to learn that most of our reading for the retreat would be non-fiction. As I said to my bookmates, fiction provides much more fertile ground for discussion. Beyond the actual topic and story, fiction, if it's good, offers many riches to mine, from the writer's style, technique, and syntax to structure, themes, and imagery, to the use of symbols, metaphor and simile (and more). It fascinated me, for example, that Tolstoy used the structure of his chapters to parallel the deterioration of Ivan Ilych's body (leading him to his spiritual birth) by making each chapter progessively shorter than the next: from approximately 300 lines in the first chapter to approximately 72 lines in the last; and that Tillie Olsen enriched Tell me a Riddle by using the voice, mouth (not just words, but coughs, screams, rasps, songs), silence, and listening in giving meaning to a story that's much about finding one's own voice. And I derived pleasure from a small thing: how Olsen helps move her protagonist from the specific to the universal by naming her Eva, as in "Eve," the Bible's first female creation.

Non-fiction can be a source of good discussion about the book's topic, particularly if that topic is controversial and/or timely, and you can certainly argue about whether the writer accomplished what she set out to do or told her story effectively. And, of course, I'm not denying that good writers of non-fiction may use literary devices to enhance the reading experience. But at the end of the day good fiction gives the curious reader much more to work with and explore. (This just cries out for a rebuttal from a non-fiction enthusiast, don't you think?)

Those issues aside, what a wonderful experience it was to again spend two days with smart and interesting women talking about BOOKS! Sheer heaven. A joy, too, to get to know each other a little better, since some of us rarely see each other outside of our book group setting. Not to mention the gratification of eating our way through the weekend, which as delightful as it is while you're doing it, is nowhere near as nourishing in its aftermath as the discussions.



What's in us that makes us respond positively or negatively to art? Trust me, it's not an issue that's going to be resolved by BookGirl anytime soon, but it continues to fascinate. I thought about this again last night following my Book Club meeting. Three of us, including me, loved the assigned book, James Meek's The People's Act of Love; two or three others were enthusiastic, while most either disliked the book or found it bewildering.

Here's the point in the story where I would usually say: "run, don't walk to buy this book!," but I'm trying to be more careful these days about keeping my audience in mind when recommending books. Of course, I've known for quite a while that my interests in art (particularly books and films) are not necessarily anyone else's (and, at certain times in my life, it's seemed like no one else's).

But there's more to it than that. For example, recently I realized I can't take for granted in this book club things I took for granted in my past book group in D.C. Those book pals didn't always agree about whether we liked the books we'd read, but we very rarely disagreed about which books to read. In this club, I'm less enthusiastic about the titles selected for reading (to be fair, from time to time, a book that I thought I'd dislike -- like The People's Act of Love -- turns out to be a wonder). One reason for the difference seems obvious: in the D.C. group, the members selected the books together; perhaps this group is too large to accommodate that process. And yet, if I'm honest, the democratic approach we espoused in my earlier club was more theory than practice: members put forward specific books and made a case for them, and the rest of us usually went along. Still, none of us felt that we were taking much risk, because, for some reason, we seemed to like reading the same types of books. Not always, but almost always. And, oddly enough, even those of us who didn't like a particular book were usually still glad we'd read it -- because, I surmise, we liked the type of book it was. Too, we read only fiction.

My analytical husband would say that the reason is pretty obvious: we were all either English majors or English-major "types," such as writers, or related wordsmiths, such as lawyers. I'd disagree with him on the sympathy between lawyers and English majors, but, that aside, he's probably correct that people with certain training or backgrounds are more likely to enjoy the same types of books. And since the group was started by friends, and grew by adding other friends, it's equally likely that we'd all have similar interests. My current book club, on the other hand, seems comprised of a wide range of readers, probably with a wide range of backgrounds.

But this can't be the whole story. Two very different people can love same book. Leaving aside issues of social psychology, which likely play a big role here, one possible explanation is that different people can love the same book for different reasons. In The People's Act of Love, for example, you can delight in the story alone. It's cinematic in narrative, has an intriguing and bizarre plot with a few mysteries thrown in, and has interesting characters. Someone else might fall for the language: Meek is an exceptionally evocative writer; there are sections of the book that are simply stunning, such as the pages that detail how the Czech battalion has been decimated over the five years since they left home. Another reader might prefer the tone: the black comedy style that Meek uses to indict just about everyone involved with the war. Yet another might be captivated by the artful way in which Meek weaves his themes through the novel: "love" is one of these themes, and it's defined in some strikingly contradictory ways by the main characters.

Still, this an argument that's hard for me to make. You can like a good book for the writing, OR for the story, OR for any one feature, but in a great book that you love, everything works together seamlessly to make the whole much greater than any one of its parts.

And since this is a book I love, I'll throw caution to the wind. Run, don't walk, to buy The People's Act of Love. It's a real treat.


The Discomfort Zone

I started a Creative Journaling workshop at BookWorks a couple of weeks ago. A primary objective of the class is to keep information that you collect easily accessible. That means dedicating specific journals to specific subjects. For example, our instructor (a textile artist with a penchant for organizing her thoughts and images on paper), maintains, among other journals, one for images that inspire her, as a resource for her work, and one on kelp (why kelp, I wonder?). A left-brainer in recovery, welcoming order for as long as I can remember (control issues, no doubt), I've taken to the class like a pig to mud.

Last week, we listed (aah, the joy of lists!) the types of journals that we saw in our future. I came up with a dozen (we are not surprised). Our homework over the next two weeks is to think through what they should look like and find sources for them. The journal should both match the purpose -- its content -- and also "feel right." "Don't force it," says Heather, our teacher. This will be the easy part. As an inveterate collector of notebooks/journals/datebooks, which feeds into my lust for paper and books of any kind, and my partiality to systems, I have quite a selection of potential journals of all shapes, sizes and bindings. Some I'll make myself, of course.

The more difficult part -- and a big motivator for taking the class -- will be to help me move away from the word and toward the image. My journals (or "diaries," as we used to call them before "journaling" became trendy) until now have held only words. As with much of what I'm up to this year, I'm hoping to inch closer to my "discomfort zone:" the visual, the intuitive, the instinctive and the spontaneous (by the way, did Jonathan Franzen make up the term "discomfort zone," or did he appropriate it from someone else? It doesn't sound original.). Paradoxically, I guess this means that the more uncomfortable I feel, the closer I'll be to succeeding. And since that sentence itself makes me uncomfortable, I guess I'm off to a good start.


Just to See If I Can

I spent most of yesterday -- I'm a slow learner when it comes to technology -- figuring out how to scan images for the web and uploading them to my Flickr account. Now I'm determined to get one of those images on this blog. I'd hoped to show you photos of some of the books I've made, but that assumes that I've taken good photos of the books, which is not the case. So for now we must all be satisifed with an image of an ATC that I made recently to try out new techniques. OK... I'm ready to click on the "Add Image" button... Here goes... Drum roll... Success!

What's the connection with books, you ask. Ah, I knew you'd ask that. Well, I used waxed linen thread for the stitching on the card, which as all good bookmeisters know, is used in bookmaking. Isn't that enough? If not, I refer you to the subtitle of the blog, which allows me to muse randomly on pretty much anything that strikes my fancy. Arts 'R Us, so to speak.


Simple But Not Necessarily Easy

The criss-cross long-stitch (it may well have another name, but if it does, I don't know it) is one of the easiest exposed-spine bindings around. All the more embarrassing for the Book Geeks, who met at my house last Friday and struggled mightily with it. In this long-stitch version, the linen threads form two (or more) sets of X's. It's a neat and attractive binding, and fairly intuitive, so why we developed this collective amnesia eludes me (a sugar glut from the cinnamon bun snack?). We finally finished the job, and learned a few things along the way, such as that a wider spine makes for easier stitching -- more room to place the holes stabbed horizontally in the spine (which equal the number of signatures). With a narrower spine, the holes run the risk of merging into one big slot. We'll give this stitch another go-round at another BG gathering later this month.

For me, most of these books are meant to be models, so I'm comfortable using copy paper for the text block. I made this book with a paper bag cover, which I gessoed today in advance of decorating it later.