Nov 162009
 

Last March Julie Chen came up here to Humboldt to give one of her “Book Brain” workshops to the book arts group I belong to. It was a good experience, and I can highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking about taking one of her classes.

Julie was featured several weeks ago on the PBS show Craft in America. It used to be available for viewing at the PBS site, but they’ve since removed it. You can still see a couple of segments from it here and here. I particularly liked one quote from her. Talking about how she uses skills from traditional bookmaking and printing to make beautiful objects, she stresses that creating an attractive item is not the end purpose. The polished look and the methods used in the construction of the books are there to help support the content. “Everything that goes into the piece should contribute to the meaning of the piece,” she says.

While poking around I found another interesting Julie Chen video from 2004 that originally aired on the San Francisco PBS station KQED. One of the scenes that awakened my fuzzy brain was of Julie showing some of her books to her students at Mills College. One is a carousel-style piece that is held in its open display position with magnets, rather than with ties or whatever. How clever. It made me want to pull out my own magnet collection, which I got a long time ago from K & J Magnetics on the advice of another book artist (who, in turn, had gotten the idea originally from Julie Chen). These particular magnets are tiny, yet very strong, making them ideal to embed in book board and such. Or at least that’s the idea. When I played around with mine I found that the magnetic pull wasn’t quite strong enough once the book cloth and such were added on top. Perhaps I hadn’t been using the best sized magnets, or enough of them. At any rate, I think I might have to give it another try. The video also shows Julie paper shopping at Flax in San Francisco. Just the sight of all those flat files bulging with paper makes my heart pound..

Sep 202009
 

A while back I was on the hunt for a decent pasting brush. I’d been using standard cheap brushes, and had invested in a more traditional round brush (for clear paste), which wasn’t going to be helpful for painting. None of the brushes I’d tried really worked well.

One day I was browsing in the hardware store. On a whim, I decided to treat myself to a fairly good synthetic house painting brush. The bristles were firm, but not too stiff. As it turned out, it was the best brush I’d ever used for such purposes. Paste  flows smoothly and the hairs don’t fall out. It’s quickly turned into one of those things I wouldn’t want to be without. I wound up getting more in different sizes and with different handles. You really do get what you pay for. Now that I’ve experienced these, I never want to go back to the $1 specials!

If you want to make paste paper, good brushes will make a difference. My favorite paste recipe comes from Diane Maurer-Mathison:

Blend 1/4 C. cornstarch with 1/4 C. water.

Add 1 C. water and heat on medium high, stirring with a whisk until it thickens.

Remove from heat. Add 1/2 C. water and let it cool thoroughly. Strain if necessary. When cool, divide into containers. I use roughly 1/4 cup of paste for each color, but this can be varied. Add a teaspoon or two of acrylic or watercolor paint to each portion of paste.

This paper was done with copper acrylic paint mixed into the paste, painted on black paper. The pattern was created with a dental tool that came as a freebie from somewhere. I think it’s supposed to be some sort of tongue cleaning device, but I much prefer it as an art supply. This dental tool decorated paper is in honor of a friend who almost just needed a root canal. (Hi there, M!)

The blue one below was done on Tyvek. The results tend to be a little more muted than when done on paper, but that often adds to the interesting effect. The golden pattern was done on the shiny side of some Japanese Masa paper. Most of the others (examples in the previous post) were done on Strathmore drawing paper, which I’ve found to be extremely versatile.

Sep 152009
 

I went to a paste paper workshop last weekend. The instructor was nice and the company fun. I hadn’t had an extended stretch of paper decorating in a long time. I picked up a few new tips and tried a different way of making paste paper. It was enjoyable.

But, as it turned out, I wasn’t crazy about the way we were doing the papers. I’d originally learned to do paste painting on wet paper stretched taut on plexiglass. In this workshop we worked on dry paper. Judging from what I’ve read over the years, some people can do it this way. But I don’t seem to be one of them. The paper curled and I found the process exasperating. Furthermore, we were using methylcellulose. Again, a lot of people do it this way. I’ve even made some pleasing methylcellulose paste papers over the years. But I usually prefer to use some kind of starch-based paste for the better detail provided. Once the papers from the workshop had dried, I wound up with hardly any that I liked.

However, I still found the class valuable. It reminded me how much I used to like to decorate paper. A few days later when I was back in my own studio and had access to my stove, I boiled myself up some paste, pulled out my sheet of plexiglass and a tray of water, and treated myself to some paper decorating satisfaction. The designs you see here are details from a couple of those papers.

I’m highly gluten sensitive and have some weird allergies, so I have to make my own baked goods from scratch. The upside of this is I get to have on hand all kinds of ingredients that some people might find strange, including a variety of wheatless starches—tapioca, arrowroot, and amaranth—along with the ubiquitous corn. I’ve made paste out of them all, as well as out of rice flour and some rice starch that I’d actually bought for making paste rather than for baking. Most starch-based pastes are pretty similar in texture and workability, although the amaranth is a bit heavier and has a warm color cast to it and potato can be a bit hard to spread.

The canister of methylcellulose that I’ve been using for years, in fact, came from a gluten free food supply company. It was meant to be used as a gluten substitute in baking (although I’ve never used it for that, only for bookmaking and paper work). It was less expensive than any methylcellulose I’ve ever seen in an art store, yet seems to be exactly the same stuff. Out of curiosity when I was writing this post, I looked to see if that company still sold it (it’s not actually a popular gluten free additive for home cooks). Sadly, they do not, but I discovered some interesting facts about our old friend methylcel. In addition to being used by bookbinders and food manufacturers, it is widely used as an emulsifier and thickener in cosmetics and shampoos and is a common ingredient in pharmaceuticals. In fact, it is the “cel” in the laxative citrucel. Gelatin-free capsules are often made of it, as are the eyedrops that I use. Virologists and stem cell researchers use it in the lab. It is a base for creating fake slime and goo in movies (it was used in Ghostbusters, for instance). It is also, alas, used in the porn movie industry to simulate…things best not thought about.

Miraculous stuff, but nonetheless I prefer my starch-based painting mixtures. I have a further thought on paste painting, but it will have to wait until the next post.