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The Blue Notebook, Vol 7 No. 2

Much to my surprise, a few months ago I was asked if I’d like to contribute an artist’s page to the next edition of The Blue Notebook.

Hmmm… did I want to be in the book arts journal The Blue Notebook? I was already designing the page in my head as I typed back that, yeah, I think I’d like to do that(!). I was told that I could do anything I wanted with my page. But they were also kind of hoping I might do something based around The Literary Cure.

The Literary Cure is what I call my prescription bottle of “Codex” capsules (there’s a photo of it in the gallery). Each capsule of “Codex” contains a miniature book. There are 20 capsules in each bottle. It was an edition of five.

Each copy of The Literary Cure also includes a patients’ informational insert (I wrote about the making of the insert here). For my artist’s page, I decided to show the text of an insert with a photo of a bottle of Codex.

My copy of the journal recently arrived. I was not expecting to to find my page right at the center fold. Oh my!

The center spread!

Coincidentally, in this same issue Emma Powell wrote an article about her work with We Love Your Books and about some some of the artists who’ve contributed to the WLYB exhibits over the years, including yours truly. I felt quite honored, especially since there are some others there whose work I have admired for quite a while.

Emma Powell's article about We Love Your Books.
Emma Powell’s article about We Love Your Books.
That name looks familiar...
Hmm… that name again.

Among other things I like in this edition is an interview with Helen Douglas, who was commissioned to create a work in 2012 as part of Reflective Histories: Contemporary Art Interventions at Traquair House. She made a manuscript book echoing the small devotional books in the library at Traquair, which is the oldest inhabited house in Scotland. The pictures of the book that are included with the interview are exquisite (unfortunately, I couldn’t find any photos of it freely available online). As always with The Blue Notebook, it takes a while to get through all the interesting stuff in it. I’m really delighted to have been included in this last issue.

 

Petri Dish Books

Tip of the day: if one has difficulties with concentration, one should not watch TV while gluing together pages of a book. One might discover, after the books have dried, that some of them are missing pages. Just sayin’.

I’ve finally almost assembled (reassembled?) an edition of 15 petri dish books. The title is Mysophobia: Mainstream Culture. The pages are individual circles that were scored and glued together at the side.

I’ve discovered that scrapbooking toys have their uses. My 3″ circle punch is now my friend. And… I can’t believe I’m admitting this on the Internet… the Martha Stewart score thingie. I remember seeing this very item in a store a while back and sneering. Then came the need to score lots of circular book pages. I could’ve done it with a ruler or a jig. But then I read this blog post from Ginger Burrell. I have to agree; it’s a nifty tool. Who’d have thought…?

The book is about modern germ paranoia. The “cultures” are paste paint and acrylic paintings that I manipulated in Photoshop. I find it fascinating how behavior that is now seen as normal would’ve, not long ago, been seen as compulsive and disordered. I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere, but here in the US–at least where I live–every big store now seems to have disinfectant wipes at the door. Anti-bacterial soaps are big business. Yet, do we actually get fewer communicable illnesses these days? I doubt it. Outside of a health care context, all this disinfectant wiping and dousing comes across as some sort of quaint evil-repelling ritual.

Of course, ironically, all the evidence suggests this germ phobia is only creating more antibiotic-resistant germs.

   

My Fantastical Imagination

Purposeful studio chaos.

I threatened to someone that I would post a picture of my work table. Now I’m getting around to it.

Along with it, some background. It’s been an interesting time. I have a show coming up next year, and need to be productive in the studio. I also have been dealing with health matters that make that difficult. I used to spend a lot of time cutting paper and creating intricate collages. Over the last decade or so, it became impossible to continue doing that.

Getting a diagnosis has been a long struggle. One neurologist years ago told me that my problem was that I was an artist. He informed me that the same “fantastical imagination” that allowed me to create my artwork would lead me to have “a fantastical interpretation of my bodily sensations.” This neurologist also, by way of emphasizing how funny and crazy we artistic types are, told me that one of his patients was the musician and painter Don Van Vliet, popularly known as Captain Beefheart, who, incidentally, lived in my small town and died just a few days ago at the local hospital. To emphasize his point, the neurologist, while laughing, impersonated Don’s distinctive Multiple Sclerosis-related movement difficulties with what I’m sure he thought was a comic flourish. I didn’t know Don, but had heard that he had a reputation for fiercely defending his privacy. We wild and funny artistic types.

I was also told that I’d caused my painful problems myself through my artwork (too much fine hand motion, even though I had other symptoms that clearly had nothing to do with my arm pain). I am now careful to avoid mentioning art to medical people, lest it bias my care.

I could spend several web pages detailing cruelties from doctors and others. A friend once laughed at me and made it clear she thought I was a contemptible hypochondriac. Others haven’t said it to my face, but I suspect they’ve thought it.

This past week has been bittersweet. I finally found a decent specialist out of town. I now have a name to put to this (it’s basically M.S.). It’s degenerative, but the decline won’t be all that quick. But I can shelve any fantasies I might’ve still been harboring that things will get better.

I recently started a new medication that has helped with some of the more distressingly mind-numbing symptoms. A few days after starting it, I had a sudden urge to pull out some of my old collage things, including a little 4 x 6″ picture I hadn’t worked on in almost 6 years. The picture above is my chaotic worktable when I had it out. It was wonderful to be immersed in my old work again. My recent trip put a damper on my stamina, but I’m hoping to get back to it. I’ve also been working on some book-related projects (pictures to come).

I’m always torn over how much I should post about medical things. There is a sense that one should maintain one’s privacy, and other people’s medical problems are boring. On the other hand, I don’t like that vague feeling of stigma. Being ill or having a disease isn’t a source of shame. I’ve also long been using my experiences with the medical establishment as creative fodder. I can’t pretend this aspect of my life doesn’t exist.

Product of creative fodder?
(As I wrote out those last few lines there was a sudden massive flash of lightning and a thunderclap outside the window. A sign?)

Daily Planners

My Daily Planner

I did a stupid thing last month. I discovered that if one takes life-sustaining meds, it’s a bad thing to forget a dose. A really bad thing. This little oversight, and then my trip south, put me out of commission worse than usual for a while. I guess I should’ve paid more attention to my own bookmark design from a few years ago. Alas.

I’d been planning to contribute something for an exhibition next month at Eureka Books that our local book arts guild is having. I was going to make something appropriately sellable and commercially pleasing, like my miniature cat ABC book. But it just wasn’t in me. So I finished My Daily Planner instead. It fit my mood better.

PS: I wrote earlier about how I waxed the papers to make the cover material for the little books.

My Daily Planner

Book blocks made from pharma inserts, waiting to be cased in.
 

Here’s some more background on those miniature books I mentioned in the last post. Several months back, I found a 7-compartment weekly pill organizer in the drugstore. There was just something about the size of it—slightly larger than usual—that screamed “art supply.”

I decided to make little books that look like day planners, one for each compartment. The pages come from copies of the pharmaceutical inserts from my meds. They are 7/8″ x 1-5/8″.

I’ve been trying to find a suitable covering material for the little books. I’d been thinking of using Tyvek, but in the end it didn’t look “day planner” enough. Mostly, the tiny lettering just didn’t look right no matter how I tried to affix it to the Tyvek. I opted, instead, for inkjet prints on paper.

I made a solid black background and used white lettering. But then the coated inkjet paper scratches so easily and the texture wasn’t quite right — what to do?  I decided, as a protective gesture, to coat the papers with beeswax, which was something new for me. It turned out that the coating not only offers scratch resistance, but the texture of the wax rubbed into the paper definitely suggests “day planner” to me. I was quite pleased with the result. They are smooth and glossy and not “waxy” at all (unfortunately, the picture doesn’t convey this very well).

I made the first one last night and eagerly showed my husband, who said, “Wow, a bible–how funny!”

Bible?!
I had to confess, it did look more “bible” than “day planner.”
At any rate, I can recommend wax-coating inkjet printouts. I’ll explain a little bit more about my process for coating them in the next post.
A finished “day planner”

Adverse Events on Codex…with Some Poisonous Plant Exposure

I have a collection of pharmaceutical informational inserts. I mostly use them as art material. Some actually came with my own prescriptions, and some were given to me. (It’s helpful to have an acquaintance in the medical field who is willing to pass these things along.)

I first started paying attention to them when I was putting together an entry for a We Love Your Books show in ’07.  The theme was A (is for add) B (is for book) C (is for collaborate). I chose to do P is for Pills. It was probably the first book-related thing I did that I packaged in a pill bottle. I filled it with little pamphlet-style books made from the informational inserts.

At any rate, I felt that my bottles of “Codex” (tiny books in capsules that, as a work, I’m calling The Literary Cure), needed a little something more–an accompanying informational insert, of course! So I opened up InDesign and Illustrator and got to work.

Of this edition of five, three are already spoken for, and one will be headed to a big book fair at the end of this week. I have not actually made that many bottles of Codex yet. Tiny capsules with tiny books are slow going for someone with hand issues (that is, me). The three that are being purchased were ordered by someone who is willing to wait, even knowing that it might take me months. What a great person! I partly added the insert for her. She deserves a little something extra for her patience.

All this reminds me of the funniest real pharma insert I’ve seen. Have you ever read the fine print on some of these? This was for a well-known sleeping aid. It had the familiar charts displaying the adverse events that had been noted in clinical trial subjects. After all the various bodily systems and their related side effects were listed, there was a mysterious category of “social circumstances.” Here it was noted that one research subject, after consuming the sleeping aid, had experienced “exposure to poisonous plant.” I tried to imagine… a crazed sleepwalker nibbling on a euphorbia? Running through a field of poison oak? The possibilities…

Pharma Shrine

This pharmaceutical shrine has been a long-term recreational project. It still needs more work on the outside. Here’s a peek of (mostly) the inside, which is just about finished. Those are tiny Rx pads on the bottom shelf. The thing on the side that says “3 mg” is a pull-out display tray. I might put some more samples or pharma credit-type cards in it (yes, such things exist). I embedded magnets under the doors so that they shut with a satisfying snap.

At Last, a Little Bit of Studio Stuff

Finally, I’ve been able to spend a little bit of time here and there in the studio. After a longish period of not being able to do much, I’m trying to get caught up on some projects. For one, I’m completing a couple more copies of the Literary Cure (pictured at right). This particular small edition seems to be developing a following. I hadn’t realized that the concept of literature as pharmaceutical would resonate so well with others.

Here are some mini book blocks drying while clamped in small clothespins. They will be trimmed down and have covers added later.

Then they will eventually be put in capsules. Here’s another example of what the finished encapsulated books  look like.

There are also little book-like items with printing on them that are clamped and drying with the others (in the picture before last). They are miniature prescription pads for a pharmaceutical shrine I’m finishing up.

This is a sneak peek through one open side. Better pics of this will appear in a few days, hopefully photographed well enough so that you’ll be able to appreciate the gold-leafed interior and offerings.

And while I’m at my messy worktable, I’ll show a couple of my favorite tools that are sitting here. Top left is an ergonomically shaped teflon folder. It makes folding papers so much easier. The blue item is my British scalpel handle, which makes grasping the scalpel easier. In general, I prefer working with scalpels rather than craft knives.

More soon as things progress . . .

Going Viral

Ok…this isn’t paper-based art, but Luke Jerram’s glass sculptures of viruses are fascinating. And he does touch on an interesting question in regards to traditional biomedical illustration. According to the website:  

“These transparent glass sculptures were created to contemplate the global impact of each disease and to consider how the artificial colouring of scientific imagery affects our understanding of phenomena. Jerram is exploring the tension between the artworks’ beauty and what they represent, their impact on humanity.

The question of pseudo-colouring in biomedicine and its use for science communicative purposes, is a vast and complex subject. If some images are coloured for scientific purposes, and others altered simply for aesthetic reasons, how can a viewer tell the difference? How many people believe viruses are brightly coloured?”

Life from a Pill Bottle

I feel as if I am returning back to the land of the living. My original intention for this blog had been to focus on paper and book art to the exclusion of more mundane personal stuff, but I’ve been finding that hard to do. There is just too much overlap between what goes on with me and what I wind up doing (or not doing) in my work space.

Actually, when I set this thing up, I hadn’t planned to let anyone even know that I was doing it. I’d thought I’d just create a little anonymous spot on the web where I could motivate myself by writing about projects I was thinking about and about miscellaneous paper-related discoveries I’d made online. If anyone actually stumbled upon it and kept reading, swell. But I wasn’t aiming to share my life. Unbloggerly of me, I know, but that was my thinking.

 

Then, a funny thing happened. When I was doing the bookmarks recently, I had to put my info on the back of them. And, to my surprise, I found myself putting this blog address on the back. I’ve been using the Paper Chipmunk name as the imprint for my book work. I guess I’m embracing my inner chipmunk. And sharing my life…

 

In spite of a show coming up soon with the book arts guild I belong to, I haven’t been able to do much of anything for months. My health matters have been getting worse and worse.  The scariest part was nobody could really offer much of an opinion what was wrong. Some major endocrine stuff, among other things, was happening, but of a sort that should be controlled by taking artificial replacements from pill bottles. However, it didn’t seem to be working very well. And doctors’ patience runs out when answers don’t come easily. I felt like I was slowly dying, quite literally. My MD was probably hoping I’d be sucked up by aliens on my way home, never to reappear.

 

Then an amazing thing happened. My pharmacy was going to switch my hormone replacement with another generic brand. I have allergies to some ingredients in pills, and this new one had some questionable things in it. So, feeling annoyed that I was now going to have to pay a lot more for my meds, I grudgingly went on the name brand version of my rather common drug, hydrocortisone. Within half a day of switching brands, I felt better than I’d felt in a long time. People I hardly know have been stopping me to tell me how much better I look. Even the constant pain I live with, something that’s not supposed to be related, became a bit more controllable. The change has been remarkable.

 

I’m sharing my rather personal medical saga as a sort of public service. If your medication doesn’t seem to be properly controlling your problem as well as you think it should be, it might be the brand of your pills. This is actually not the first outrageous generic medication incident my family has suffered from. I’m discovering it’s a common occurrence. The ever-expanding generic drug industry seems to be largely a racket.

 

However, in celebration of feeling alive again, and in honor of pills, I have made a bottle of a pharmaceutical I am calling Codex. Why read when you can take your books in pill form? Each capsule contains a miniature perfect bound book. If things remain controlled, over the next year I plan to make an edition of 5 bottles of Codex. Or, rather, Paper Chipmunk Press will be issuing bottles of Codex…
As an aside, I digitally designed several of the miniature book covers. Although I knew they were going to be shrunk down too small to be legible, I had great fun coming up with faux titles. A few: Iatrogenic Horror: a Novel; Arts and Crafts for Phlebotomists; Doctors Kill… I think you get the idea.