Arrowmont - Part 2

My class at Arrowmont with Carol Barton (at right) was on pop-up structures and movable books (the larger category of which pop-ups are a part). We spent a portion of each day on pop-ups; the rest on books. Some in our class seemed to have a natural talent for the former and created some fairly elaborate scenes. I was satisfied to learn the mechanics and spent more time on book structures. I'm reminded of something Dan Essig, in the class I took with him last recently, said about his and his brother's different talents. As kids, his brother (now a historian) did well on tests that involved reading and comprehension; Dan (now a book artist) did well on tests that involved objects revolving in space. Pop-ups, I think, benefit from a mind that's good at visualizing objects revolving in space.

The pop-ups were great fun, and some of them were surprisingly simple. The great talent, of course, is in combining the various techniques to create the type of work that we see in sophisticated commercial pop-up books -- for example, Robert Sabuda's Alice in Wonderland.

As to books, we worked on four book structures during the week: an accordion book, a blizzard book (developed and so named by Hedi Kyle), a carousel book, and a tunnel book. For all but the blizzard book, where the content is pretty much the structure itself, we were expected to develop our own content, and most of us spent our evening work-hours on that.

I've mentioned before that Carol is a very good teacher, and she did a great job of putting the work we were doing in context. Before she presented each of the book structures -- the blizzard book excepted -- we viewed a slide show containing examples of that particular form, created by a variety of artists. Carol has done a good deal of research on early examples of movable books, so the presentations were both inspirational and good history lessons.

Most of us didn't complete the tunnel book, which was our last project, since the carousel book took longer than we expected. But many of us were able to develop a prototype for the book, which helped us work out the issues raised by tunnel book construction. It was a very full week.

Class projects

Pop-up and small accordion book by Sandy C., one of the students in our class

Pop-up by another student. The photo doesn't do a good job of capturing the dimension.

My accordion book, Pattern

A not-particularly-good photo of the same accordion book, which includes a poem by Dorothy Parker.

The cover of the whimsical accordion book by a student, an Arrowmont work-study artist

The same book's contents, depicting the work-study kitchen staff

My carousel book, Nesting

Another view of the book

A detail of one of the 5 panels

Baskets from the paper basketry students

Cloth in the Text & Textiles class

Dyed fabric drying

One of the works in progress


Oh, Dear

As part of last Friday's Miss Teen USA competition, Miss Teen South Carolina was asked what she thought of a recent poll that showed one-fifth of Americans can't locate the United States on a world map. I couldn't possibly comment on her response any better than she does.


Seeing Through Others' Eyes

A C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) quote for readers, from Outside of a Dog (a book is a girl's best friend), who got it from Kapachino.

As an only child who lived a fairly sheltered life in a small town, Lewis's words remind me of the many doors that books opened for me: doors to magical new worlds, and because English is my second language, to beautiful new words. Unfortunately, I didn't encounter C.S. Lewis until I was an adult.
"Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented..."
And two more I liked:
"The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. "
"It's so much easier to pray for a bore than to go and see one. "


Art, Creativity & Uncertainty

As someone who has a difficult time dealing with ambiguity and who longs for certainty in all things, this quote from one of my favorite books on creativity and art is a strong reminder that the quest for assurance has a price. Not to mention that it's both foolhardy and naive (and arrogant) to think that we can have full control over our lives.
"Control, apparently, is not the answer. People who need certainty in their lives are less likely to make art that is risky, subversive, complicated, iffy, suggestive or spontaneous. What's really needed is nothing more than a broad sense of what you are looking for, some strategy for how to find it, and an overriding willingness to embrace mistakes and surprises along the way. Simply put, making art is chancy -- it doesn't mix well with predictability. Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite for succeeding."
David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear
More often than not, those of us who seek certainty are also perfectionists (as a side note, studies show that women are more likely to define competence as perfection, which leads them to set standards that are unnecessarily high). And those same people tend to thrive in situations (school, jobs, professions) where predictability and perfection are expected and rewarded, so that our behavior and thinking are continually reinforced.

I wrote earlier this year that making book structures struck me as an essentially left-brained activity, and that it's what we do with the book beyond the structure itself that involves our right brain (other thoughts?). So over the past year I've been actively seeking out (right-brained) techniques that I know little or nothing about and that complement my bookmaking. Bit by bit, for example, I've been learning about working with paint. I've consciously looked for classes that let me throw paint around, so to speak, since the point is to free up some of that fear of spontaneity.

Not surprisingly, being encouraged to "throw paint around" has been immensely satisfying. And although I can't (yet) call these types of activities transformational, I'd like to think that they're helpful steps on the road to new forms of creative expression. I remind myself that it's ok if I can't see the road clearly or know what's at the end of it, as long as I'm learning and enjoying myself.

(Image: Leonardo Da Vinci's sketch for what we now call a parachute.)


A Book Club of One

We learn from the UK's The Guardian that writer Yann Martel, Canadian resident and author of the award winning Life of Pi (among other works), has been sending books to that country's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. (Harper has been criticized for not valuing the arts and for cuts in government funding for the arts.

In his one-man campaign to bring the arts to the Prime Minister, Martel mails Harper a second-hand paperback every other Monday. The books are "short and accessible," in light of the PM's busy schedule, and have included Strindberg's Miss Julie and a book of Hindu scriptures. Yartel sends an introductory note with each book.

"'If I knew he liked thrillers,' says Mr. Martel, 'I would send more of those -- perhaps a Chinese thriller.'"

BookGirl likes Martel's style.


Arrowmont - Part I

I'm late in posting photos of my book arts week at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, and here's the first installment. Arrowmont is not tucked away in the countryside, as are some other craft schools (such as Penland, for example). It's smack in the midst of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. But, if Gatlinburg isn't for you, no problem. Once you get on the grounds, the surrounding area disappears. I ventured out on the night of my arrival for a scoop at Ben & Jerry's, and that was as much as I wanted to see of Gatlinburg until I left a week later. For those who what a change of scenery, though, there are options literally right outside the Arrowmont gateway. There are the usual tourist attractions, and some students in my class who'd visited Arrowmont before had found places to hike and swim close by.

The week was one of the hottest of the summer to date, so I was glad to have an air-conditioned room. Not all of the accommodations have AC, and I'm usually fine without it, but this time it was particularly welcome. It helped that the studios were air-conditioned too.

Students arrived on Sunday in time for dinner -- nearly 100 people were there during my class week. We had two hours of class that evening, during which book artist Carol Barton walked us through the curriculum for the week and started us off with some simple pop-ups.

I'll say more about the book arts class in future posts. For now, here are some pix to set the stage.
(Note: Unfortunately, as I wrote this, the Arrowmont web site wasn't letting me into the page of the site that lists instructors for the 2007 summer session. As soon as I can get access them, I'll note the names of the artists whose work I've shown below without attribution.

The library. This facility was totally unexpected, and I enjoyed spending time here late evenings after class.

A mixed media piece by instructor and textile artist Heather Allen-Swarttouw,
from whom I took a creative journaling class at BookWorks.

A view of one corner of the photography studio as seen from the catwalk that surrounds several of the studios.
The class was in pinhole photography. I was fascinated by the variety of containers that the students used to create their pinhole cameras.
One of the photographs by the instructor of the pinhole photography class, on display at the Instructors' Exhibit.
The instructor of the textile class, Text and Textiles, created this large piece, also in the exhibit, from family letters printed onto fabric, complemented by painted panels. This is a detail.
Another detail.

A cloth and fiber snake in a tree near the dining hall.

More to come.


Your Own Personal Bookman

London booksellers Any Amount of Books is selling something called The (Incredible) Bookman. It's designed by artist Kazmierz Szmauz, who, we're told, also designed CDMan, DVDMan and VideoMan. The "highly decorative piece of furniture as well as a sculpture" holds 100 books, is 6 feet high, 4 feet wide, and made of mahogany. For those of you who just have to have a (blockheaded) man-shaped bookshelf in your home, he can be yours for a mere $1700. Shipping extra, of course.

Oh, and there are two other models available (see below). BookMan #3 looks about ready to do a somersault, or perhaps move into a sun salutation yoga pose.

Thanks to Book Patrol for the lead.


Best Opening Lines in Detective Fiction

I don't write much about mysteries or detective fiction because I don't read as much of them as I do other types of fiction -- perhaps every third of fourth book. But I like a well-written, well-plotted one as much as the next guy. Peter Rozovsky, in his blog, Detectives Beyond Borders: A Forum for International Crime Fiction, posts about great opening lines in crime fiction. He includes one of his own favorites, from Raymond Chandler's "Red Wind:"
"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot, dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."
Then there's the round of quotes that readers provided in their comments, such as:
"Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write."
-- Ruth Rendell, A Judgement in Stone; and
"The night of my mother's funeral, Linda Dawson cried on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth and asked me to find her husband."
-- Declan Hughes, The Wrong Kind of Blood

Thanks to Book/Daddy for the lead. He notes " how rarely such masters as Dashiell Hammett, Elmore Leonard or Ross Macdonald open with anything more than a clean, simple statement. Yet those declarations draw in expectations, get things rolling, especially when the author keeps the snap for the end." He offers these examples:

"Jackie Brown at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns."

-- The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins, and

"I sat in my brand-new office with the odor of paint in my nostrils and waited for something to happen."
-- "Find the Woman," from Name is Archer by Ross Macdonald

Makes me want to take a look at all of these, starting with the Rendell.


Back From Arrowmont

I'm back from my week at Arrowmont and Carol Barton's workshop, and it was a great learning experience. Carol is an excellent teacher: as good a teacher as she is an artist, a rare combination. She was generous with information beyond what the class covered, provided good templates and handouts, and was quick to offer individual counsel. She treated us to several slide shows on the main structures we made during the week: accordion, carousel and tunnel books. Since Carol lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C., she has access to wonderful resources at the Library of Congress and other similar institutions, so her slide presentations included some fascinating information (and images) documenting the history of "movable books."

I'll share some pix from the class soon. In the meantime, here are some of the images Carol shared with us -- all of which are available in the Gallery section of at her web site, Popular Kinetics. The first (above) is Carol's tunnel book Everyday Road Signs, 1998, an edition of 50.

Alphabet I, accordion pop-up bookScott McCarney

Our Japan, Garden View, carousel book by Edward Holmgren

One of my favorites, How Can I Live in Iowa?, carousel book by Emily Martin


Off to Make Books

Five Luminous Towers, A Book to be Read in the Dark, offset printing, laser-cut
pop-ups, light and batteries, Carol Barton

BookGirl is off to Arrowmont tomorrow for a week of doing of my very favorite things: making books. I'm taking a class with book artist Carol Barton, who is known for her paper engineering and pop-up books. Everyone I know who's taken a class from her says she's a wonderful instructor, so I'm particularly eager to work with her. Since this will be my first time at Arrowmont, it'll be a bit of an adventure, even though it's only a two-hour drive from here.

I'll be signing off while I'm away, but to give you a little something to look at to help tide you over, I'll point you toward BookPuppy. Yes, it's true, BookGirl's dog has a blog. My friend Riverlark, whom I met at Penland in June during a book arts workshop, enticed her dog, Bella, to start one, and you know how dogs are -- mine had to jump on the bandwagon. Warning: elevated sugar levels and high cuteness quotient.

See you soon.

Tunnel Map, silkscreened tunnel book, Carol Barton


Julie Chen

Octopus, 1992, Julie Chen. Poem by Elizabeth McDevitt

Julie Chen is a very talented book artist whose work I first saw "in person" in February 2007 in Washington, DC at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. NMWA hosted a wondrous exhibition of artists' books, The Book As Art: Artists' Books from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, that included over 100 works from their collection of more than 800 artists' books. Although there's nothing like seeing the work itself, the exhibition catalog is a delight.

Chen started Flying Fish Press in 1987, and describes it as "dedicated to the design and production of books which combine the quality and craftsmanship of traditional letterpress printing with the innovation and visual excitement of contemporary non-traditional book structures and modern typography. There is an emphasis on book structures which can function both traditionally as books as well as sculpturally as objects to be displayed."

Her work is varied and rich in content, both literally and figuratively, and multi-dimensional. Here are a few examples. Featured in the NMWA exhibit were Octopus, True to Life (not shown here) and Bon Bon Mots. Check out the Gallery page on the Flying Fish Press web site for these and other of Chen's books.

Ode to a Grand Staircase (for four hands),
Julie Chen and Barbara Tetenbaum

Bon Bon Mots, 1998, Julie Chen

Personal Paradigms: A Game of Human Experience, Julie Chen

You Are Here, Julie Chen