Monday, October 15, 2012

Collaboration, by chance

Title page of the unique copy of stitching speechless created by the audience at the University of Richmond.

Artists' books lend themselves extremely well to collaboration.  My opinion is that it's because so many different skills are involved in creating one -- writing, image-making, graphic design, bookbinding, etc. -- that it provides fertile ground for people with different strengths to work together.  Regardless of why it's true, it's one of the things I love most about the genre.

So when I was planning a talk in conjunction with an exhibition of John Cage's art at the University of Richmond -- and especially considering Cage's own open, experimental spirit -- it seemed appropriate that it should include an element of collaboration with the audience.  After all, it was due to another collaboration that I had been invited to give the talk in the first place:  stitching speechless.

One page created by an audience member.
Stitching speechless is an artist's book in two editions that was a joint effort with Stephen Addiss, and in some respects, with Cage himself.  In Richmond my presentation would be about the decision-making process behind creating the editions -- from how the poems were composed, to selecting the most meaningful materials, to partially burning each page according to a sheet of randomized numbers created years before by Cage.

While doing research for the presentation I read about an instance when Cage involved his audience in the creation of a concert, and it clicked -- the most meaningful way to learn about creating a book would be to create a book.  (More after the photo...)

One of the stranger haiku in stitching speechless gets a delightfully strange treatment.
I decided to print and prepare beforehand all the pages necessary to create a new copy of stitching speechless.  Audience members would then be invited to make contributions by altering each page before I bound them together.  How they altered the pages would be determined by chance, using the same sheet of randomized numbers that Steve and I had used in creating the original edition.

When we made the original edition I altered the pages by burning parts of them with a match or with an incense stick.  We were quickly told that fire would not be an option in the gallery.  So I devised 3 new ways that people could contribute to the pages, each inspired by my teacher (Steve), his teacher (John Cage), or his teacher (Marcel Duchamp). 

Steve is a scholar of Zen art, so the method inspired by his work was for audience members to create an enso on the page.  Ensos are simple circular brushworks created by Zen monks and artists.  To avoid the mess of having people use calligraphy brushes to create their ensos, I gathered a number of different-sized objects with round rims which folks could ink up on an inkpad and then press onto the page. 

One page showing an enso and the effect of paper tearing.
One of John Cage's techniques for creating visual art was to take natural objects from local surroundings, place them on the page, and then paint or draw around them (see his New River Watercolors series).  For our second method of altering pages I followed his lead.  I gathered objects from outside my home in North Carolina as well as on the UR campus to mingle the two locales of the project.  Audience members would either trace those objects or draw something inspired by them using watercolor pencils.

This one is especially effective as you turn the page.
And finally, I have always loved the story of Marcel Duchamp's Three Standard Stoppages, in which he created new units of measurement by dropping three meter-long threads onto canvases and then cutting the canvas according to how the thread fell.  So for the third kind of alterations to stitching speechless, audience members would drop threads onto pages of the book, and we would tear the paper according to how the thread fell.

This was the most disturbing method of alteration.  But once we got over the initial shock of tearing the pages of a "precious" book, the mulberry paper's soft, feathering torn edges made up for it.  And once the pages were bound together at the end of the evening it appeared that no permanent harm was done -- just interesting effects as pages turned in new ways.

Despite the threat of chaos, we managed to alter all of the pages in a short amount of time.  I sewed the book up with a standard 4-hole stab binding while answering questions from the audience and in the end, together we had created a unique artist's book with multiple layers of inspiration from that particular time, place, and the people involved.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

John Cage and Artists' books -- at the University of Richmond on Tuesday

First thing's first:  if you're interested in following everyday news of blue bluer books events, please stop by my new Facebook page.  That's where I will be most likely to give timelier updates about talks and exhibitions that you might want to know about.

Like this one

stitching speechless,
Stephen Addiss & Josh Hockensmith (2011)
On Tuesday I'll be putting on an event at my alma mater, University of Richmond, in conjunction with their current exhibition of John Cage prints.  If you followed that link you might be alarmed to see that the event is scheduled to be an hour and a half long, but don't despair -- it's not going to be a standard lecture.

For the first part of the evening I'll give a presentation about artists' books, John Cage, and the Cage-inspired artist's book I've made in collaboration with UR professor Stephen Addiss, stitching speechless.  Then after the slide show and talk, the audience will be invited to join in creating a new, one-of-a-kind copy of our artist's book, which will be donated to the museum when we finish it. 

Today I've been preparing the pages for the copy the audience will help to create, and I have to say I'm excited with how they look so far.  Here are some preliminary images (and more info about the UR event below the photos):


At the event at UR, the audience will be using chance methods inspired by Cage, Addiss, and Marcel Duchamp to alter the pages before I sew them together into the finished product.  Can't wait to see the results.

If you're in Richmond, hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012, 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Artist’s Talk, Harnett Print Study Center, University Museums

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Viva Haiga!

Exciting day in the studio today. 

I'm a fan of visual poet Scott Helmes, who I met in a lucky encounter at the library where I work.  I've posted about his work before over on my haiku blog, no more moon poems.

Earlier this year, I got an unexpected package in the mail from Scott.  It contained a series of colored-ink-blob paintings on paper towels.  He included a note saying that these were from "the Viva series," with instructions to add to them, title them, and bind them however I liked. 

Project followed project followed deadline followed deadline, and the little paintings disappeared under the drifts of paper that inevitably accumulate on any flat surface in my studio.  I never forgot about them -- just always had other things that took priority.  Until this weekend.

The page in the photo above will be the back cover when all the pages have dried and I bind it.  The covers are entirely my creation, but all of the internal pages are collaborations.

Here's one of the originals as it arrived and what it turned into:

I decided that my contribution would be textual.  On the front of each page I printed a recent haiku using the rubber-stamp type that I've used for the past couple of projects.  For the back of each page, I created a new haiku using only words from the haiku on the front.  Using dice, I determined how many words would be in the second haiku, then (also using dice) randomly chose which words they would be.  As in most chance-produced poetry there are some incomprehensible moments and some that it's hard to believe are the result of chance.  Here's one fortuitous combination:


 I'm excited to bind it and finish it up, but have forced myself to let them dry overnight.  Should wrap it up later this week, though.  More photos then!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Vamp and Tramp and Vespertine

A couple of quick mercantile notes:
  • Vamp and Tramp Booksellers -- artists' book vendors extraordinaires -- are carrying the editioned artists' book I'm producing with Stephen Addiss, stitching speechless.  It has been a while since I posted about it, but you can see my earlier posts here and here.  Stitching speechless is currently featured on Vamp and Tramp's New Arrivals page.  If you're not already familiar with their offerings, spend some time browsing the Vamp and Tramp site.  They have truly the finest treasure trove of book art around.
  • Last week I took a new batch of small blank books to Vespertine in Carrboro.  I foolishly didn't take any photos because I was in a hurry to get them out into the world, so if you're in the area you'll just have to stop by the shop to have a look at them!
More news soon, next time with pretty pictures, I promise.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

An angular blank book + Surf Book #1

The studio projects I'm working on continue to be pretty varied. Above is a blank book I was commissioned to make for a co-worker at the library.  The signatures are cut at progressive angles to create the effect.  I made some books in this shape about 10 years ago -- one of my first adventures away from standard book forms -- and it was a pleasure to re-visit it.  This one is 6" x 6" (if it were square), and about 3/4" thick -- a very satisfying, chunky little guy.

Here are two more looks:

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I'm also continuing to make progress on a new one-of-a-kind artist's book that I'm calling Surf Book #1, for lack of a better title so far.

On a recent trip to Topsail Beach, NC, I was reminded of how much I love the smells of surfing -- not just the ocean and salt air smells, but wet neoprene and sunscreen and surf wax.  More importantly, it was an example of just how powerfully smells can evoke our memories.  One whiff and I was a teenager again on surfari with my brother -- sense-memories that are especially powerful now that he's been gone for almost 20 years.

When Margarite and I got back home to Pittsboro, I started making this book out of an old wetsuit, writing the text with surf wax and magic marker.  Below you can see the first page (I don't want to give away too much yet!) and the spine, which includes the original zipper from the wetsuit.  Still a ways to go, but it's shaping up: 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Odds and Ends

Long absence from the blogosphere, but a lot of action in the studio in recent months.  First, though, check this out!  I've had aloe plants in one form or another for years and years and never seen one bloom.  This guy caught us by surprise, and has been blooming like this for about a week now...

In studio news, I've been working lately on an exciting, semi-clandestine project.  I've been working with a friend's photography company to develop a new line of photo albums.  It's been an interesting experience -- developing prototype books that will be "mass"-produced (still handmade, but on a larger production scale than I can pull off on my own) -- rather than the one-of-a-kind or very small editions I normally do.  One day soon I'll share photos of what we came up with, but for now I'm keeping the designs under wraps until they actually release them.

At the polar opposite end of the spectrum, I've started on a new series of one-of-a-kind artists' books inspired by a recent trip to the beach.  More details soon to follow as it comes together.  For now, some photos of the work-in-progress (Surf book #1) in the studio...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"In a Bind": Panel discussion in Wilmington, NC, Thursday April 12th

I'm very excited to be part of a panel discussion this Thursday at Randall Library at UNC-Wilmington about the book as art. The panel coincides with the opening of an exhibition of student-designed books and is called "In a Bind: Celebrating the book as art."

The panel will be from 5:15-6:15 p.m. in the Azalea Coast Room, in the Fisher Student Union.

More information at the following links:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Artists' books and artists' books

Usually when I talk about artists' books, I'm talking about books that are conceived of as art objects in and of themselves. [Click on the link for a thoughtful meditation by book artist Angela Lorenz on the question "what is an artist's book?"...]

Sometimes, though, I work on a different, more literal kind of "artist's book" -- blank sketchbooks for local artists to use. As fulfilling as it is to create an artist's book from the ground up, it's also extremely satisfying to make a blank book for a talented artist, anticipating the work that will fill its pages.

I want to take a moment here to point you to the work of 2 local artists for whom I've made sketchbooks. Their work is very different from each other's, but equally stunning. Most recently I made one for Phil Blank, a Hillsborough-based artist. If you check out the 'Journal' section of his website, you can see what the pages of his sketchbooks end up looking like. Another artist I've been lucky enough to make sketchbooks for is Laura Murphy Frankstone, who chronicles her work on the blog Laurelines.

The sketchbooks I've made for them aren't dazzling or innovative -- they're standard Coptic-bound books with pages of watercolor or multimedia paper. But they are a total pleasure to create, for the meditative craft of it, for the satisfaction that comes with creating any solid, real, functioning thing, and for the knowledge of what will fill their inviting, blank spaces once the artists have made them truly their -- the artists' -- books.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Poem of the week featured on The The poetry blog

This is tangential to book arts, but I'm so pleased to have a poem featured on The The poetry blog this week.

Many thanks to them -- especially to Colie Hoffman, poetess extraordinaire and all-around awesome muchacha!

Revisiting that particular poem -- a haiku sequence called "in our bodies now" -- I have an idea to turn it into a new book project. The repetitive form seems like it would work well with an accordion-fold structure, and I've got some ideas to add a performance/ritual element to it. Hope to be able to report some progress in the not-too-distant future...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

5 haiku

In the excitement of working on stitching speechless -- the editioned artist's book that's been taking up most of our studio time -- I almost forgot about this unique, one-off I made for the Ackland Museum Store's "Books and Broadsides" show back in the fall.

It's called 5 haiku, and it uses the steel can star-binding that I invented a couple of years ago for another project called the Googled English Frontier Star. This binding consists of 5 signatures arranged around a central cylinder to form a star. I've done the binding before using either steel cans or sturdy cardboard tubes covered in decorative paper or cloth to form the central cylinder.

Each signature is sewn in a regular 3-hole pamphlet sewing pattern. Instead of tying the thread off at the end of a section, though, you carry it through the center of the cylinder to begin the pamphlet sewing of the signature on the opposite side. If you do it carefully, your criss-crossing threads will form a perfect star in the middle.

5 haiku uses four poems from my poetry blog (no more moon poems) as its text, plus a fifth "visual" haiku that consists of burn marks on the paper. I've used burning decoratively elsewhere on the pages, too. The poems are printed on a beautiful handmade mulberry paper which I tore down by hand, leaving furred edges and cloud-like shapes. Below are a few more images to give you a better sense of it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New addition to the library

A couple of weekends ago Margarite and I were visiting friends in Richmond, VA and went to a wonderful little bookstore called Chop Suey. They have used and new books, and an exceptional selection of art-related titles.

While we were there I was lucky to find a very gently used copy of In Memory of My Feelings, by Frank O'Hara. It combines some of my favorite things: O'Hara's poems paired with art by mid-century New York School artists, in an attractively designed book.

The back story is tragic -- the artworks were originally created in response to O'Hara's untimely death by dune buggy in 1966 -- but the book is beautiful. The works themselves were considered lost for decades until they were rediscovered in the archives at MoMA, which went on to publish them in this book in 2005.

Very pleased to add a copy to my book arts library.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday links: Where have all the Kelmscotts gone?

This copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer was bound in silver by James Brockman and Rod Kelly in 1998-2003. Image is from v.16 of Skin Deep, the newsletter of J Hewit and Sons, Ltd.

When it comes to nerdy book enthusiast news, it doesn't get much nerdier than following a census of copies of a certain edition of a book. But when the book in question is the famous Kelmscott Chaucer published by William Morris in 1896, I can't help myself.

In The Kelmscott Chaucer: A Census (Oak Knoll Press, 2011), William S. Peterson and Sylvia Holton Peterson attempted to track down all 440 copies of the original pressrun. They managed to find about two-thirds of them and wrote about each copy's history and provenance in the book. Now they maintain a blog to post updates about newly discovered copies as well as Kelmscott-related exhibits and other news.

If this appeals to you, too (or if you want to see beautiful images from the book and photos of some of the various bindings that have been performed on it over the years), check out their blog at The Kelmscott Chaucer.

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As a new thing here on the blue bluer books blog, I'm going to do a weekly roundup of links to book arts news stories that have caught my eye. It's one of my favorite features on blogs that I follow, from graphic design-themed blogs to hockey ones, so I hope that it might bring you some news that you might not find otherwise.

If you have any recommendations, please drop me a line in the comments below or contact me.


* The Crouch Fine Arts Library at Baylor University has a special online exhibit of artists' books to celebrate Valentine's Day

* At Dimitri's Bookbinding Corner, Dimitri Koutsipetsidis describes his unique binding for a copy of Graham Masterton's novel A Terrible Beauty

* Susan Angebranndt at Green Chair Press continues her project to create a new book each week inspired by a prompt from the w of the day. Up this week: Neoterism!

* Speaking of weekly projects, our own local NC book artist Kathy Steinsberger is posting weekly book projects on her Paper Buttons blog.

* And keeping it local, Dave Wofford of Horse and Buggy Press riffs on his new menu design for Watts Grocery over at his blog, Side Spur Ramblings.

There were loads more to share this week, but in the interest of getting the ball rolling, let's call it a post!