Monday, November 8, 2010

Making Something 365

All right -- the studio is finally functional! To celebrate that, I'm committing to a productive streak of unprecedented proportions (for me, at least).

A couple of years ago, my friend Noah had the idea that he would create a different skull image every day for a year. Out of that idea was born Skull-a-day, which blossomed from being a record of his creations from day to day, to a book published by Lark Books, to a continuing site featuring reader-submitted skull art projects. It's been inspiring to see what consistent productivity (coupled with Noah's singular energy and talent) can result in.

Well, Noah has a new book and blog in the works now, encouraging people to take up their own year-long creative projects. It's called Make Something 365. With our studio renovation mostly complete, it feels like a great time to take up the challenge.

I'm tailoring the Make Something 365 idea to my own situation. Instead of making one thing 365 times over the course of the year, I'm interpreting it as "[At least] Make SOMEthing 365... ANYTHING".

If you're reading this, you're probably familiar with my work with handmade books and artists' books. That will be a big part of my Make Something 365 year. But I also write haiku, poetry of other kinds, short fiction, and translate the same from Spanish. If I stay on any one thing for too long, I get antsy to be producing in another genre or form. My Make Something 365 mission is to be productive in the full range of them. That will keep it interesting and fresh, and I won't feel like I'm neglecting any particular area.

I do have a rough schedule to give myself some structure:

Monday: new poem
Tuesday: new haiku
Wednesday: new page for an ongoing artist's book project
Thursday: new translation
Friday: new flash fiction piece
Saturday: anything goes
Sunday: blog entry

But those are just suggestions to serve as spurs if I'm stuck on any given day. If I'm rolling on a book project one week, I'll stick to that. If Margarite and I have the urge to collaborate on something for a month, we'll do it. To keep it going, I think I'm going to need to find the right combination of freedom and the whip.

I'll be sharing some of the results here -- probably not everything, since a good bit of what I produce in such a time frame will be... um... rough. Wish me luck, bon voyage, break a leg or what have you -- and I hope you're finding time to make what you've always wanted to make.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Feathered Houseguests and a Reading

Last night we were putting up some Halloween decorations when we found these 2 house guests sleeping on the front porch. We have a beautiful little birdhouse set up for them just a few feet away, but apparently they prefer to sleep out in the open... It was hard to tell, but I think they may be Carolina wrens. Margarite was able to get the camera within 2 feet of them, take photos with the flash on, and they slept right through it. Hope they were more alert if any predators prowled around later in the night!

In book news, a couple of exciting developments lately.

Several weeks ago we had an artists' book reading at the UNC art library. 4 of us read from and discussed our work -- Beth Grabowski, Susan Leeb, Lisa Beth Robinson and myself. It was a multimedia presentation, as we had a camera and laptop hooked up to a projector for the whole event. Beth and Lisa Beth used the camera to show their work on a large screen so the audience could easily see details of their books. I read from the Googled English Frontier Deedbook. While I read phrases from the project, I did Google searches on the spot to see if they still fit the project's criteria. The results were interesting, but I'll leave them a mystery if you weren't there...

The reading was part of the Book + Art series we've been doing in collaboration with the good folks at Duke. Special thanks to Heather at the art library for letting us take the rough idea for the event and run with it! And thanks to David Parisi and his colleagues in AMLISS for making it a complete success.

I know some photos were taken -- I'll track them down and post them here soon.

On the home front, we're finishing the studio space in fits and starts. We're down to painting and arranging the furniture. Painting is a much bigger deal than expected -- especially with the very high ceilings in there. We made huge progress today and plan to make more tomorrow. Here's a 'before' photo, when we had it all cleared out and prepped for painting. Hopefully we'll be in a position to post some 'after' photos soon!

Friday, August 20, 2010

UPDATE re: artists' book exhibit at UNC

If you won't have a chance to see the exhibit in person, check out the photos the library has posted on Flickr.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Artists' book exhibit at UNC

This week marks the opening of an artists' book exhibit I've curated at UNC -- "Art in Books' Clothing: Artists' books from the Sloane Art Library."

If you're in the Chapel Hill area, come by to check it out. It's in the hallway gallery on the first floor of the Hanes Art Center, and will be up until Sept. 17th. If you can't see it in person, below are some photos to enjoy.

The exhibit kicks off a series of exhibits and events we're organizing along with the Sallie Bingham Center at Duke University. You can see the list of events and info here.

The next event to be aware of is an artists' book reading at the Sloane Art Library. Four book artists will be reading and discussing our books: Beth Grabowski, Susan Leeb, Lisa Beth Robinson and myself. That will be on Tuesday, Sept. 14th at 7 p.m.

Studio Progress

Wanted to share some photos from our in-progress garage-to-studio conversion.

One of the keys to our decision to buy this house was that we would convert the 1-car garage into a studio for both me (books) and Margarite (sewing & fiber arts). The keys would be climate control and good light to work by.

We worked with a friend and his family's construction company, Will Johnson Building Co. Together we worked out that the most important first steps would be 1). to put in a wall unit A/C & heating unit; 2). to insulate the walls; and 3). to add another window for more natural light.

In the photo above, the window to the left is newly installed and framed -- matching the one on the right which was original to the house. (You can also see some of the 60 holes that we needed to punch in the walls in order to blow in insulation. More on that below.)

And here you can see the A/C & heating unit, which they framed securely into the wall.

And finally, the holes for insulation. It turned out that out of the whole project, patching the holes was going to be the most expensive part. So Margarite & I looked up instructions on This Old, modified them for our particular situation, and stocked up on drywall and joint compound at Lowe's. With practically no prior experience, we're becoming a master & mistress of drywall patching. (Or at least good enough to do the studio wall -- not sure I'd be comfortable doing it in our living room...)

We're tackling them in batches of 15 -- big enough to feel like we're making progress when we finish a batch, but small enough not to be overwhelming. Sure it's taken longer than if we'd paid to have it done, but it's good experience, comparatively cheap, and now we both feel a lot more invested in the work and the space.

We're halfway through the final batch of 15. Then, a little sanding, a little painting, and our dream studio is one giant step closer.

On a totally different note, check out this big guy that was on our lawn when we got home from work a while ago! We'd seen huge luna moths at night at our previous house out in the country, but this was right after work, on our lawn in the middle of town. They are really striking creatures.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Latest blank book project

Super-busy couple of months here at blue bluer headquarters. House-hunting, then a 2-week hiatus in Spain visiting friends, followed by the successful conclusion to house-hunting, house-buying, moving house, and settling into house. This Friday marked one month in our new home, and while there are still plenty of piles of boxes, there are also plenty of signs of progress.

In the midst of all that, I did manage to finish one book project. It was a blank book commissioned by a friend’s company, for the retirement of one of their longstanding designers. It’s a chocolate company, and they ordered a blank book to be displayed at a trade show for the employee’s colleagues to sign and wish her well.

Their one design request was for me to incorporate some of the company's classic advertisements into it. I ended up featuring two of the ads on the front & back covers, and then added the remaining ten or so onto pages inside the book. A problem with blank books like this - meant to be signed by co-workers or wedding guests or whomever – is that they end up looking empty. When you create the book you have to give it enough pages for it to feel substantial, but there’s really only so much that people are going to write in it. So you often end up with a 48-page book that only has writing on the first 4 pages. For this particular one, I could alleviate the problem by including the extra advertisements on alternating pages inside. It gave visual interest to an otherwise blank book, but still left plenty of room for peoples’ contributions.

Overall I was pleased with the final product, especially considering it was done during the chaos of packing & moving. This was the last book I made in our previous home at Roads End – a truly special place deep in the woods of North Chatham County. Even as we enjoy the start of our experience as first-time homeowners, and we enjoy being back in town within walking distance of groceries and beer, we definitely miss it.

But back to the book. I loved the way the cover paper performed. It was a fairly heavy, stiff lokta paper, so I was concerned that it would overreact to the moisture in the glue and warp the covers. To compensate for that (and the overall heft of the book), I doubled the thickness of the boards. In the end it worked fine, and the rich brown paper gave the book an appropriately chocolaty feel. A complementary bright red lokta paper served to frame the cover images nicely, and also made a good wrapper for the book as a finishing touch.

The paper I used for the inner pages was also heavier than what I usually use. Instead of Mohawk Superfine I used a medium weight Arches paper, which was a little thicker and less likely to let ink bleed through. The weight & texture gave the book a much more luxurious feel. Also to that end, I tore the paper for all of the pages by hand, giving them a satisfying ragged edge.

Next week we get serious about converting our new garage into a studio. Before and after photos will be coming soon, and after that, many new books!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An old book for the New Year

The theme for today's post is "Things I haven't done in a while." Obviously the first of those is to write a blog entry. The second was to repair a book.

The last book a friend gave to me to repair ended up looking like this. After working full-time for seven years on book preservation in the library, I've been using my studio time more recently to make artists' books, or blank books as gifts. At the end of last year, though, I went back to my repair roots in order to fix a book for my friend Alan, and learned some new techniques in the process.

The book itself was an anthology of literature and essays published in 1942 by New Directions. Alan is a friend from college -- a fellow passionate reader with whom I still share any new favorite book or literary discovery, almost 20 years later. The work in the book represents the same period and movements whose discovery challenged and changed us during those college years, so repairing it was more than a simple act of doing a favor for a friend. On another level it was an attempt to restore some of the impossible sheen that literature held for me (us) at the time, maybe to extend this one book's life toward the immortality all books promised.

Well I've been guts-deep in enough old, decaying books now to know that that promise is about as realistic as finding the Fountain of Youth in our septic tank, but obviously some of the old romantic notion still lingers.

When Alan sent the book to me, its spine was torn and tattered but otherwise it was pretty well intact. I could have done a simple repair to replace the spine and the book would've been whole and usable again. There were obviously some problems with the materials, though. Not only was the spine torn, but it was badly discolored. The endsheets, too, had browned worse than the inner pages over the years. That seemed to indicate that the boards themselves were degrading badly. So I decided to do a much more extensive overhaul.

Sure enough, when I disbound the book and got down to the boards, they were soft and crumbly. They were a danger not only to themselves, but to the rest of the book's materials, too. While I wanted to replace those boards, I also wanted to re-use as much of the original material as possible so that it would look like the original publication. I considered covering the new case with a book cloth I had in my studio that almost matched the original -- but it wasn't a perfect match, plus the original had a New Directions emblem on the front cover that I couldn't reproduce.

In the end I decided to construct a new case to cover the book, using new boards but covered with the carefully salvaged original cloth. That way the visible material (the cloth) would be original while the material underneath would be newer and more chemically stable. The original spine was unsalvageable, so I had to compromise and make the spine of the new case with the nearly-matching cloth mentioned above.

The most interesting complication that came up was that the original cloth was frayed a little bit at the corners and edges from normal wear and tear. In order not to see dark book board peeking out from under the frayed cloth, I covered the corners of the new boards with the near-match cloth, before covering the entire case with the salvaged original cloth. The extra layer of new cloth underneath could have added bulk or created unsightly lines (think panty-lines on a book), but I inlaid the extra cloth pieces into the board just enough so that it keeps a smooth surface.

Ideally -- like most book repair flourishes -- that extra repair on the corners is invisible, or at least inconspicuous.

It's not quite dressed for immortality, but the book should be rejuvenated for many more years of loving study and rediscovery.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Given Timbuk -- on the road with Vamp and Tramp

As I mentioned in a previous post, Vamp and Tramp Booksellers are representing Given Timbuk #1. They now have it featured on their New Arrivals page -- or you can go straight to their Blue Bluer Books page to see their write-up on it.

Bill & Vicky are headed out West this week on a selling trip, so here's hoping they find a receptive audience!