Things have been getting “interesting” again, alas, in the dual-degenerative disease household realm. I’ll spare you the details. I haven’t been able to be in the studio much. It’s making me grumpy, and unfinished books are still sitting… unfinished. Along with other projects I @#$% want to get to. But what can one do.
I have, however, been finding solace in, of all things, the piles of postage stamps I’ve been gathering and hoarding for years. I decided to finally sort them out so I know what I have. Sorting stamps is mindless and can be done sitting on the couch. It’s also strangely relaxing.
I’m putting them in slide sleeves in notebooks, arranged by subject matter and, for some subjects that fill many sleeves, by color as well. That makes a lot more sense for finding stamps to use in art and craft projects than, say, sorting them strictly by country (although there are some pages of that sort too, when no other category seems to fit).
Even my most recent plaything-sketchbook of the past few months seems to have a postal theme. Themes happen. I just follow along. (More on this latest plaything later.)
I realized recently that my 5th blogiversary came and went in March during my extended blog absence. Since time seems to pass in a blur lately anyway, what’s a measly four months? Let’s have a belated celebration!
Leave a comment, and I’ll send you a little philatelic surprise. I will also randomly draw one of you to get a somewhat bigger philatelic surprise as well (see this post for a hint). Deadline to leave a comment for the giveaway and drawing is Wednesday, July 16.
PS Thank you all for the outpouring of compassion after my cat Larry’s death last month. I was, and am, so touched by the heartfelt messages I’ve received, both here and privately, even from friends I’d had no idea subscribed to this blog. Thank you. It means more than you know.
One day in January in 1999 I looked out the window and saw a black cat running across the yard toward the house. At that time, we had four cats, including a semi-feral stray who’d suddenly appeared a month before and had moved in with us. She was a black cat with a round and compact sort of build. We’d named her Lila.
However, this black cat was long and sleek, with big ears and lanky limbs. This was definitely not Lila. I went out to investigate. The long black cat ran up to me and began to frantically rub against my legs, over and over again. (A friend who’d dealt with abandoned animals in his job later told me that dumped cats will do this. He was hungry and scared.)
My husband Victor appeared, saw the cat and exclaimed, “What is this? Lila’s cousin Larry?!” The name stuck. And so did the cat.
We weren’t really excited at the prospect of 5 cats, but what could we do? Larry would position himself at the back door and wail pathetically in a soulful voice that could be heard throughout the house. He had chosen us.
I think the moment I fell in love with him was when, a few days after his arrival, I saw him wetting his paw in the water bowl in the kitchen, then reaching up behind his ear to wash himself. I’d never seen a cat wet his paw for a bath before. He was adorable, this gangly, yet elegant-looking cat, dunking his paw and washing up after dinner.
There were quite a few things about Larry that weren’t like most other cats. He was so smart and had such an expressive voice, it was sometimes almost eery. He would talk at me and I to him. If I asked “Do you want to take a nap?” he would sprint to the bedroom and hop up to his spot on the bed, waiting for me.
Larry has been mentioned and given credit in at least a couple of my artist’s books, including A Cat’s ABC and Superstition, an edition I’m still assembling for Book Art Object. He was my feline muse.
He had beautiful eyes that changed color from green to yellow, depending on the setting. Through the years I used to tell him that it wasn’t fair, what he’d done to me. Someday he was going to cause my heart to be ripped from me, and I hadn’t gone out looking for that. He’d just appeared and made me fall in love with him.
The other cats who’d already been in residence before the arrival of Lila and Larry were older. Over the following years they passed on, and eventually we were left with the two black cats. Or, rather, we had his ‘n her black cats. Lila barely tolerated me but adored Victor. Larry barely tolerated Victor, but he and I were a bonded pair.
Four years ago, Dominic showed up in the yard, just as Larry and Lila once had. And then came Steve, a moment of kitten madness on my part two years ago. Larry grew old and was afraid of the vigorous and playful Steve. I felt guilty for doing that to Larry, the cat who was more a soulmate to me than a cat. But we still managed to all coexist.
Lila grew ill and passed away roughly a year and a half ago. We spent our 20th anniversary that December burying her in the garden. I realized that almost every photo I had of her was either of her with Victor, or of her sitting vigil waiting for him. Such sadness.
Larry’s sleek black whiskers all turned white. His heart began to fail and he grew frail. He was taking almost as many medications as we do. The last time we saw his regular vet, her face grew grim as she listened to his chest. “It won’t be long… months, not a year.” And she warned us to prepare for the likelihood of a sudden death.
I discovered that “sudden” is a relative term. A blood clot, it turns out, is not a particularly peaceful way for a cat to leave this world. My beautiful, smart and devoted Larry has died of a broken heart, and he has taken a piece of mine with him.
Last month, Randi Parkhurst came to town and taught a paper embellishing class. One of her techniques involves using matte medium to laminate together two sheets of a type of translucent paper from the hardware store. We painted the papers before adhering them. Threads and other things were sandwiched in between the sheets. I’d long been wanting to play around with laminating papers, so this was an interesting concept to me.
Once back in my own space, I decided to play around with some other materials. I wanted to use handmade paper. And I wanted to use paste, rather than matte medium. This is just a personal preference. I like paste. I wound up using translucent Japanese tissue-style washi and Thai unryu in different colors. Any similar type of paper would work. I began by brushing rice starch paste over a sheet of the unryu:
Then I placed some linen thread on top of that:
Then, another layer of unryu is pasted on top. It doesn’t have to be all the same color or same piece of paper. In fact, mixing it up a bit makes it more interesting. In the photo here the paper has been arranged on top:
Then I go back over it with more paste and leave it to dry. The threads appear to be sitting on top because the wet paper is so translucent. Once it is dry, it will be a bit more opaque:
While it is still wet, you can peel it off and hang to dry or place it on a drying rack or whatever other surface you like to dry things on. In general, I like to use sheets of spunbonded polyester for this purpose (sold under names like Reemay or Lutradur). They absorb moisture and help the drying process, but don’t stick. It is possible to just leave it to dry where it is if you don’t think it’ll stick permanently, but with a caveat: sometimes if you leave it in place — especially on something slick like glass or Plexiglas — the side on the bottom will dry glossy and not have a nice paper texture. The one above is on a piece of Plexiglas. (If you do anything like this with acrylic medium, don’t leave it to dry on Plexiglas! It can become permanently bonded.)
You can also put things like stamps between the sheets of tissue-style papers:
I love the texture of these finished papers. They have a nice crisp hand and are surprisingly sturdy. I’ve been using some of these in my latest “plaything” (sketchbook). I’ve been able to layer inks, colored pencils, washes… and more layers of the same, without any tearing. The papers hold up remarkably well. I guess this isn’t surprising, considering that handmade papers can be sized with starch. And if you think of it, these are also the basic ingredients for papier-maché (if you were to keep going with more layers). Here are a couple of Audubon birds collaged onto one of the finished papers. There are also some light colored pencil marks on the page:
This is the verso of the bird page, which I covered with layers of inks and pencils. Note in the previous picture there is virtually no bleed-through from this:
Next to that is more ink and pencil doodling:
On the other side of it are more layers of ink and pencils along with generous sloshings from a water brush. It all goes on beautifully with minimal (if any) bleed-through:
Another example of scribblings on a laminated paper page:
And here is the other side of it. There’s a little bit of bleed-through, but it’s quite minimal. The orange marks you see came from me moving the pen in the wrong place. It’s not bleed-through from the previous page:
Paper with embedded stamps. It’s double-sided — I placed the stamps back-to-back:
I also drew over them. This is the other side of the previous embedded stamp page:
At any rate, this is a great way to create durable decorative papers from delicate handmade translucents such as Japanese tissues and unryu. I’m also planning to experiment with using paste as a sizing and/or ground on different kinds of handmade papers, whether I laminate them with other papers or not. [Please note: I slightly edited this post to add more information about drying.]
I’d planned to show you some photos of my latest sketchbook/plaything. So I placed it in my photo cube a couple of nights ago and flicked on my 6-year old DSLR… What the… The shutter release no longer works? Actually, neither does the on/off button — I turned it to off, and it stayed on. It is permanently frozen in some kind of possessed state that is neither on nor off. I eventually removed the battery so I could turn it off. I frantically Googled. Others have had similar issues. With this particular camera, it would be expensive to fix. And it wouldn’t be worth it. This was a low-end Canon Rebel of a few generations back, and I’d actually been fantasizing about upgrading for a while. The camera has had a few sputters in the past, and I’d even picked out which model I’d replace it with. But the sputters had always disappeared as mysteriously as they’d arrived, and any thoughts of replacing it had been definitely in the fantasy stage. I’d hoped to do it, if at all, after my various out-of-town medical trips had been paid off, etc. Alas. The timing was also a bit inconvenient. Norbag, the local book arts guild, has a monthly book exchange and I am their photographer. I document each month’s submissions for their Flickr account. [Later edit: I have since stepped down from this role.] The meeting was two days away. I do have a crummy point-n-shoot as well (which I had to use), but I find it awkward. I’m spoiled. Anyway… the new electronic baby is due to arrive later in the week… And then… photos will resume!
(In this house we actually refer to arriving online purchases as “pellets.” As in, the laboratory rat pushes the right button and then, lo and behold!, a reward pellet comes down the chute. The Visa bill, alas, is the negative reinforcement. Z-z-z-a-p!)
Speaking of the sketchbook-plaything, I’ve discovered that I occasionally become the entertainment for others when I’m out drawing in it. A few months back, I was in a coffee shop scribbling and snipping away when I became aware of being watched. There was a little boy of about 6 or so at the table in front of mine. He had a coloring book and some crayons, but had been getting increasingly antsy and whiny with boredom as his mother chatted with a friend. Then suddenly the boy became quiet. I looked up to see that he was now facing backwards on his knees, staring over the back of the chair. His gaze was firmly focused on the sketchbook. I continued on, pretending not to notice. He remained transfixed for what seemed quite a while. Then the kid suddenly whipped around back to his crayons and began to color with silent, manic enthusiasm.
I was thinking of this yesterday after a coffee stop on the way home. I’d wound up spreading out my crayon-equivalents and having some blissful drawing time to go with my iced caffeine. Two women approached as they were leaving. They, it turned out, had been watching me. “You were the entertainment!” Hmmm….
Sketchbooks, visual journals, daybooks …. Different artists call that book they carry around different things. No matter what I’ve been — or not been able to be — doing in the studio, I always keep a couple of different kinds on hand. It’s essential. Even if all I do in a day is scratch out some lines, at least I’m doing something.
One of my take-along books is a sketchbook that’s used mostly for jotting down ideas and making mock-ups of book pages and that sort of thing. I’ve carried one of those around in one form or another for a very long time. The current one is a thin store-bought softcover thing with graph paper inside. It serves the purpose.
The other carry-along book is handmade. Its purpose is to keep me making marks on a regular basis. Often, this is while the TV is on, or while I’m out doing errands and stop for a rest with some coffee. When I go out, I bring it in a sack that’s also filled with colored pencils, pens, threads and needles, a glue stick, eraser, pencil sharpener, brushes, small scissors and scalpel, a 4 x 6″ cutting mat, vial of water, and, occasionally, a small watercolor palette (yeah — I overpack my suitcases as well). I also have a small zippered case that contains an assortment of postage stamps, papers and other stuff.
I haven’t been particularly satisfied with what to call this book. Although I take it to coffee shops and the like with me, I don’t sketch my fellow visitors in it. It doesn’t seem to be a sketchbook. It’s also, to me, not quite a visual journal, which, in my mind, has a dated and linear progression expressing the feelings of the moment. For the most part, the only dates are the ones to note when it began and when it was retired. I very definitely do not work in a linear, nor systematic, way in them. I make marks — sometimes drawn, sometimes cut and sometimes sewn. The object is not to make art, nor to work out my thoughts or state of mind. It is, rather, my plaything.
It’s my relaxation, and it keeps me thinking about patterns, lines and colors, even though my one self-imposed “rule” is to not think too much about anything I put in there. Just grab something and start moving over the page. The pages themselves are not plain. This helps keep the flow going and reduces the intimidation an expanse of blank paper can cause. It also simply makes it more interesting to me.
Drawing in my plaything has become a pleasurable obsession. The latest incarnation of this type of sketchbook-journal-plaything began with a sewn-board bound book (shown here) that I made early last year. I filled it with different kinds of handmade and decorative papers, fragments from outdated science journals, printouts of things like enlarged postage stamps, a postcard, old library catalog cards, and translucent vellum in different colors.
The binding is actually a bit eccentric. Sewn-board bindings with their drop-down spines aren’t supposed to be thick (it’s usually recommended for books with around a half-inch spine). Plaything number one (with the red spine), however, is more than five times that wide. And I love it. It has a covered spine like a regular book, but the pages fold down flat and are easy to work on. The cloth from the spine automatically folds out of the way when I’m working on it.
I recently (more or less) retired the first one, and have just begun a second sewn-board bound plaything filled with lots of stuff, including photos of foreign money, guilloché patterns, postcards, Yupo, decorative and handmade paper, library catalog cards, lotus-fold pages… It is covered in silk that I made into book cloth. (Local friends — Eureka Fabrics has wonderful silks and cottons that make gorgeous book cloth, and their prices are reasonable for the excellent quality.) It took me weeks to actually make the book, but planning it out has been part of the pleasure.
There’s actually a story behind the silk cover. While adhering the book cloth to the boards, I was very, very careful to wipe all glue quickly from my fingers, and to immediately remove any soiled scrap paper after gluing. I glued with a bad case of bookmaker’s glue paranoia. And so, of course, as soon as the front was adhered, there was a big blob of a stain right to the left of the depression where the label was to go. Impolite things were said.
And then I reminded myself that these sorts of accidents invariably lead to something better than what had originally been planned (this really is true). I decided to add a second label to cover up the mess. I tried to impress a recessed area for a label over the stain using my press, but the resulting impression was too feeble for that purpose. And so I put the label on top and added a silk-covered “frame” around it. It worked. To make the other label match, I added a second frame. I put images from Chinese and Danish banknotes in them. Happy things were said.
As for size, this one is a pleasingly eccentric nearly 3″ thick. Special considerations come into play when lining the spine of the book block and making the cover when the spine area will drop away that much from the book. But those sorts of small technical details are for another day.
If you’d like more information about making sewn-board books, here are a few links:
Bookbinder Henry Hébert usefully details the steps for making them on his blog.
Gary Frost, who devised the structure, discusses them here (PDF).
Do you have a favorite way to keep a journal, sketchbook, daybook or plaything? What do you bring along in your to-go kit? Have you discovered the perfect drawing tool or organizing device you now can’t live without? Do tell.
We’ve been having so much fun around here. Half the roof had to be replaced. A rain storm happened in the middle of the roof replacement. The tarp didn’t work in one spot.
The water mess is mostly cleaned up now — mostly — but it has meant even less time in the studio. No studio time and lots of loud noise and lack of sleep makes for a grumpy Chipmunk.
I needed to get less grumpy. It was time for simple, mindless paper crafting and a small amount of studio decorating.
There’s one patch of unused wall above a drafting table. It’s too high and inaccessible for a shelf. I’d thought I might hang something decorative there, but had never gotten around to it.
If you scan something quite small, such as a postage stamp, at a high resolution you can turn it into something considerably larger with no loss of image quality. These stamps were scanned at their usual size at 3200 dpi, then resized to roughly 12 x 18″ at 300 dpi — perfect for printing on a 13″ wide printer.
Count me in as another bookie blogger with an entry in the new 500 Handmade Books, vol. 2. I feel honored to have my work included with that of so many top-notch book artists I admire. The piece pictured is Mysophobia: Mainstream Culture, from an edition of 15 I made a while back.
I’m behind with everything. Among other things, I’m still working on the BAO editions, which I’d absolutely planned to have done and mailed by now. Being chronically sick often means turning into the sort of irritating, antisocial flake I never planned to be.
But I also had to take some time out to tame the studio a bit. I simply couldn’t work in there anymore. I plan to post some pictures later of my organizational progress. For now, I am getting back to assembling books. I’m currently folding … and folding … lots of pages.
I’ve also made a new banner and spiffed up the blog a bit, you might have noticed.
In the meantime, I thought I’d post a couple pics of my cat Steve. What else is the internet for, if not for cute cat photos? If you’ve been following for a while, you might remember that he came to us last year as a little 4-month old kitten. As you can see, he is now a strapping 12+ pound cat who loves to watch TV.
A few nights ago he sat mesmerized for a full half hour in front of a documentary about tigers (until the scene where a cub killed his first prey — then he went wild with excitement and started tearing at his feather toys).
Here, he is enjoying one of his favorite YouTube videos. What does this have to do with books or paper? I haven’t a clue. It’s just one of those cat lady things.
These other paper aficionados have set up house right over one of my studio’s windows. Oh dear.
Update: There are two of them. One on either side of the house. The other is high up in a redwood. We’ve decided to let them stay… for now. We’ve been told they are mellow paper wasps, as opposed to the scary hornets we had a few years ago. Even so, I sure don’t want to offend them.