Windows & Closures

This past weekend I took Dan Essig's 'Windows and Closures' class at BookWorks. I heard that students who had taken classes from his last year suggested the topic because there wasn't enough time in those classes to cover closures and windows in any depth. We spent Saturday making several types of windows and bases for insets. On Sunday we learned at least half-a-dozen styles of closures, using braided leather, twisted linen thread, and wire.

Dan makes mostly wooden books, but pointed out that most of the techniques could be applied to books made of other material. To illustrate, he brought a book whose covers were made of many, many sheets of papyrus laminated together, thick enough for him to cut a window through; sheets of book board can also be laminated to allow enough thickness for a window. There are ways to adapt the closures as well. I plan to re-create some of these this week to keep them fresh in my mind.

Although it wasn't on the agenda, we ended up binding our "practice" covers into a book. Dan provided the text blocks, threads and needles, and graciously gave us an extra hour at the end of the day to sew. The coptic stitch he teaches is one I know; the variation is in how the covers are prepared (we drilled both straight and diagonal holes) and attached. Our text block was made up of 12 signatures, four sheets per signature. Having more signatures, it seems, gives a better look overall to the stitching, since the greater the number of signatures, the greater the number of links, which creates a nicer display overall.

I love learning new techniques, and I enjoy learning from a range of instructors. Whatever the specific subject matter, I always pick up tips that may seem only peripherally related to the topic, but that make my bookmaking life easier. Dan, for example, uses straight needles rather than curved ones for his coptic bindings, which I thought would make working with the inside portion of a pair a nightmare. But he simplifies things by bringing the needle in point down, then with his non-sewing hand separating the signatures that the needle has just gone between, he immediately brings the needle up on the other side of the link head up. In other words, he doesn't try to curve the needle around the link. (Clear as a bell, huh?) Anyway, complex as I make it seem -- I have more respect all the time for instruction writers -- it's quite easy and quick.

Taking classes from different teachers can also give you a new perspective on something you thought you'd already nailed down. From Annie Fain Liden I learned how to create the effect of hand-torn edges at the head and tail of my text block while keeping the height uniform. Prior to that, I'd resigned myself either to text blocks with hand-torn edges at the head and tail but whose height was uniform only if I'd gotten lucky in my tearing, or to ones with a uniform height, but achieved by using a paper cutter. Who knew? This might be widespread knowledge among all bookmakers but me, but it's not something I'd learned from earlier instruction. And what I find most exciting is that there are probably other options out there that I've still to learn and will pick up from someone else down the road.


The Worktable Cometh

Well, the worktable will indeed be more than I expected -- considerably more -- but I gave the go-ahead. It's a long-term purchase and a crucial part of my studio. Having made the decision, this is the most excited I can remember ever feeling about furniture. I spent two days moving things around so that I can use the space to its best advantage with the new addition.

I was at BookWorks yesterday taking a class and met Bill, who's building the table. It was a happy surprise to find that he was in his shop on a Saturday working on it. And it was lucky that I was at BookWorks, because I realized that I'd set the table too high. It'll be 36 1/2" rather than 38." And the shelves originally planned to have 12" of storage space each, will now have 8" and 10", respectively. Bill said he's decided to construct it so that it can be taken apart. I think the 30" doorways the table will have to get through may have made him think twice.


Designing A Worktable

It's time to give up whatever illusions I might have had about using my standard desk as a worktable for bookmaking, and spring for a proper table. After an afternoon of cutting paper for signatures, and/or folding, and/or gluing covers, my lower back is begging for mercy. I've tracked down the name of the carpenter who constructed the tables for BookWorks. After speaking with him and hearing that "it wouldn't be fair to quote me a price until he had a better idea of what I needed" (no doubt true, but always anxiety-inducing), I made some notes and a drawing and faxed them off to him yesterday.

I'd invited a friend to come by to help me think through my needs and how best to configure the space in my small studio (approximateloy 14 x 11 1/2 feet). It was time well spent. We agreed that the best place for the table would be against a wall that has glass doors, which I never use, to our back deck. At right angles to the worktable will be my old desk, raised to approximately the same height as the table. Thirty-eight inches seems to be the optimum height for me (I'm about 5' 5" tall). We decided the table should be 6 feet long and 3 feet wide, which will give me enough room for separate cutting and gluing stations. Like the tables at BookWorks, it will have a Formica top, which makes for a tough and an easy-clean surface. There will be two shelves below the surface that I can use for paper storage and to store some supplies (I have a cabinet with deep, wide shelves that already houses some of my decorative and text papers).

To start the process -- once I have an idea, I like to get going as soon as possible -- I headed to my local Lowe's (North Carolina-based -- as opposed to Home Depot -- for those to whom such things matter) to check out their Formica and learned that white Formica is pretty much always in stock, but other colors have to be special ordered, which drives up the cost. I would have preferred 'Mission White,' a creamy off-white that would match my desk, but white it is. I also picked up some large pavers. I needed them to be either eight inches, since my desk is 30" high. I couldn't find bricks or anything similar of that height, so I ended up with 4"-high pavers, which I'll stack, 2 under each leg of the desk. I'm actually thinking of covering them in felt or canvas or some other strong rough fabric, which should be a fairly painless task. With 8 of those babies in the trunk of my small two-seater, I felt as low to the ground as I've ever felt in that car.

Bill, the man who's going to make my table (I hope), had some questions and suggestions. Although I'll usually be standing at the table, I may sit from time to time, so he suggested that we make the table surface larger than the table base. Six inches is the standard overhang for that purpose, so the table surface will now be 42". Since it will be against the wall, he will put supports on the back, which will keep him from having to include legs in the center. Also because of the table's position, the overhang will be only on the front of the table (rather than on all four sides, as would be the case if, for example, several people would be sitting around it). The table will have casters, so that I can move it fairly easily if needed, and he tells me that the locks on the casters will keep the table immobile when I want it to be. The 38" height will, of course, include the casters. I won't need the metal devices that the BookWorks tables have to adjust their height, because mine will stay permanently at 38".

He tells me that the tabletop will be very heavy. This is not because of the Formica, which is fairly light, but because of the substrate (?) to which the Formica is affixed: two layes of MDF. Bill says that I will have lots of material left over for shelving, should I need it, since the construction for the table is, I think he said, "inherently inefficient" (gee, that's encouraging). He did a great job of answering my questions and walking me through what's entailed. He obviously knows what he's doing, and has been a pleasure to deal with. My sense is that I'll be happy working with him and he'll deliver a quality product on time. Nevertheless, my heart sank a bit when he closed our conversation by saying: "I hope you won't have sticker shock when I call you with the quote."


Travel Saga

The past 7 days feel like many more. Steven, my husband, was scheduled to speak at a conference in New York City, so we planned a long weekend of theater around his business trip. On the agenda: a just-opened new production of Brian Friel's Translations; A Spanish Play, a new play by Yasmina Reza starring Zoe Wannamaker; Grey Gardens, with Christine Ebersole; the Roundabout Theatre's new production of The Apple Tree, with Kristin Chenoweth (whom Steven loves and I enjoy); and the latest revival of Stephen Sondheim's Company, starring Raul Esparza, whom I fell for when I saw him during the Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration in Merrily We Roll Along. All this to say that I was very much looking forward to our mini theater-fest.

We set off from Charlotte (a two-hour drive from Asheville) last Tuesday morning and arrived at Washington, D.C.'s Dulles airport on time. "Weather" -- the snow storm that was coming in from the Midwest -- caused United Airlines to cancel our flight. Then they canceled the next, then the next, and so on and so on. We spent the night at an airport hotel. Unfortunately, the next morning's story was much the same. It was particularly frustrating to be stuck in D.C. since the weather wasn't all that bad there and, we heard later, not as miserable in New York as we'd been led to believe.

In light of my fairly aggressive travel schedule over the past few years, I've become a pretty hardy traveler, and would probaby have stuck it out in D.C. for a while longer, hoping for the best. But Steven needed to get back to work, since it was highly unlikely that he would get to his speaking engagement on time. So we rented a car and drove (yes, drove) from Washington to Charlotte, where we picked up our car and headed for Asheville. Some of the agencies from whom I'd purchased our theater tickets were understanding and reversed the charges, but others refused to do so. Sigh.

What should I find in my inbox the morning after our road trip but my weekly US Airways "e-saver" email, touting a $158 round-trip airfare direct from Greenville to NY LaGuardia that weekend. The flight originated in Greenville, SC, an easy hour-and-a-half drive from Asheville. How could I see this as anything over than an omen! At least that's how I presented it to Steven, who, understandably, was loathe to head back in the direction we'd come back from. "But we have theater tickets waiting for us that'll go to waste! I implored ("implored" is exactly the right word). He knew how much I'd been looking forward to seeing Company, for which we had excellent seats that I'd bought months before, so he agreed, and we got up at 3 a.m. on Saturday morning to catch a 7 a.m. flight in Greenville.

This travel experience was a 360-degree turn from our earlier one. We took off and landed on time going and coming; the weather was cold but sunny in New York; and we thoroughly enjoyed our whirlwind visit. Company was terrific, as expected, and The Apple Tree, although not great theater, is exactly the type of star-vehicle made for someone with Kristin Chenoweth's star presence. The piece de resistance for me was getting to spend several hours on Sunday morning at the 57th St. branch of Kate's Paperie, satisfying my paper lust. I brought back enough paper to keep me happily making books for half a year. To help me when it comes time to re-order -- and that time will come -- the sales clerk, who was patience itself while I made her trawl through dozens of flat-file drawers as I passed judgment on papers -- left the bar codes on the sheets of paper, rather than remove them as they usually do, so that I could refer to the appropriate numbers when I call. We'd bonded over our mutual awe over the books in the catalogue of the recent artists' books exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (see February 10 post).

The moral(s) to this story? No doubt Steven's would be different, but mine are: sign up for email on last-minute air fare deals, and always write down the locations of Kate's Paperie stores before you travel to New York City.


Weekend Art Sojourn

I did a fairly impulsive thing this past weekend, flying to Washington, D.C. to catch the last day of the exhibition "20 Years of Artists' Books" at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. I was there when the Museum opened at noon, and walked out at 4:30 pm, inspired and delighted by the experience. In fact, NMWA has a collection of more than 800 artists' books by women artists (108 of them were on view in the exhibition) and is a leader in the promotion of artists' books as an art form. The type and range of books and "book objects" was impressive and instructive (not to mention utterly delicious). I'm waiting for the exhibition catalogue to arrive so that I can savor my favorites again.

In typical student mode, I took notes describing particularly interesting bindings that I might try to replicate, jotted down facts and quotes that intrigued me, and noted the names of artists whose work I'd like to explore further. One irony of the exhibition was that the books on view -- works that are often meant to be touched, as in pages turned -- were either under glass or guarded by "do not touch" signs. Understandable, of course, but also frustrating.

Monday morning I braved the excruciatingly cold weather (the kind of cold that makes you feel like your face is going to crack and fall off) to see the Jasper Johns exhibit at the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. I was lucky, since it had gone up just a few days earlier. The curators took an interesting approach. They selected four motifs that Johns had used regularly in the first decade of his career (1955-1965) and proposed to show how these motifs (for example, the target and what Johns called the mechanical "device") had evolved and interrelated over this period. I knew very little about Johns' work during this time and I was very glad that I'd trekked in the cold from the Archives Metro Station to the East Wing to see it. I had a feeling at the time that there was a link between what I was seeing and what I'd seen the previous day at the NMWA, and although the feeling has lingered, the connection hasn't declared itself. When the bulb lights up over my head, I'll share the news.

An excellent weekend overall. Not only did I get to indulge my art "jones," but I got to spend time with a dear friend and catch up with a colleague whom I've missed seeing. What more could a BookGirl want in a mini-vacation?


Left-Brainers and Art

This morning a new friend and I were talking about our belief that engaging in art is important and necessary for personal development. This led us to the art forms that we initially chose to start us on this road. For her, it's calligraphy; for me, book arts. Each of us admitted that much of our lives have been governed by left-brain activity. I wondered whether that wasn't what first drew me to bookmaking. The craft of making books was, in fact, what attracted me first: My interest in artists' books -- my knowledge of artists' books, frankly) -- and in creating content, came later. Making forms is, in effect, a left-brain activity. It has specific rules -- and at least until you start creating forms that ARE content in themselves -- fairly standardized approaches. It's as you move from creating a standard structure to making artistic decisions, starting simply with choosing papers for blank books, then moving to content as a starting place and then weaving together content and form, that the right brain kicks into gear. So it seems I took my artistic plunge in a relative safe pond.

Which is not to say that I didn't fall passionately in love with book arts; just that, as my new friend said, interests tend to pick us, not us them. And if starting "safely" helps us transition to the less "safe" (the more right-brained), all the better.

I realize, I told her, that my way of "doing art" in the past has consisted of reading all I could about it, then doing nothing. So very very left-brain, no? She responded by telling me about Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun, who says --and I'm paraphrasing wildly-- that we should use the time spent reading about meditation, meditating instead. Sound advice.