Paste Paper, with Diversion on the Uses of Methylcellulose

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.

I’ll Be Cutting and Folding Cat Books for Eternity…

The month has gotten away from me. I’d meant to be more on top of this posting thing. I’ve been wrapped up in getting ready for last Saturday’s opening for the show that my book arts guild is having at Eureka Books this month. I’m happy to say I survived it.

It was amazingly crowded—there was a big tourist-drawing festival happening almost across the street on the waterfront. I didn’t take any pictures, but my friend Michele put some up on her blog, if anyone is interested. I sold a couple of books. Actually, two copies of the same book. It’s an ABC from a cat’s point of view. If I’d finished more copies in time, I think I would’ve sold them too. I have orders standing for more cat books, plus I need to bring some more to the bookstore before the show is down.

This is good. I like sales, definitely. I’m glad people like my book. Not to sound like an ingrate (book-purchasing folks are wonderful, really)…yet I’m having visions in my sleep of gluing together cat ABCs into eternity.

Funnily enough, as I type, my large black cat (who gets a credit in the book) is at my side, yelling and hitting me. It must be time for his second (or third) dinner or something. “C is for Can opener… E is for Eat…”

Titles Matter

This is a cautionary tale. Consider carefully what you title your works. You don’t want to jinx yourself.

I mentioned in my last post that there was a story behind my 2008 entry to We Love Your Books. The theme for that show was “Re:” Any kind of subject based around a “re” word was suitable. I, in my questionable wisdom, chose to make a book object entitled Returned to Sender. This, for something that was going to require international shipping. You see the problem?
The book object itself was about bills. The full title was Returned to Sender (I Wish My Bills Could Be). It was an accordion of miniature parody bill envelopes, with nested flags cut through them of a finger pointing them back into the mailbox. To complement the American-style mailbox, I decided to portray the culture from this side of the Atlantic with my billing selections. One envelope, for instance, is from “Gigantica American Hospital” on Malpractice Parkway.

I finished my piece and mailed it off to arrive well before the deadline. There was also an optional group component that I decided to do as well, but I didn’t get that done as quickly as the book. Since I didn’t want to delay the important item, I mailed the book first. The optional group contribution, a paper-engineered tag, followed a few days later.
 
The book should have taken no more than a week and a half to get there. But more than two weeks later, it still hadn’t arrived. I received a puzzled email from one of the curators wondering if perhaps I’d misunderstood something? They’d received the little tag, but where was the book? I was mildly panicked at this point, but figured it was probably just sitting in customs. Hold tight, and they’ll release it soon.
 
But the book still did not arrive. The deadline for submissions came and went. The book could not be traced. It had vanished in the mail.
 
Then one day nearly a month later my husband went to our post office box. There was a package pickup slip for us. When he went to the window, the box containing Returned to Sender was brought out and handed to him.
 
Forty-five minutes of intense head scratching, computerized database checking, measuring, and postal formula analyzing followed… yet nobody could figure out why the box had mysteriously been returned. It had been properly packed. They were sure it had the right postage on it. Customs declaration was perfect.
 
The postmistress came out and joined the others scrutinizing the returned item. They all stayed past closing. Finally, someone found an obscure formula that stated if a parcel fell above a certain measurement in its circumference, regardless of its weight or other dimensions, it would belong to another, more costly mailing class. My box, they figured out, measured just slightly over this size. The people at our post office were flabbergasted. Apparently, some bureaucrat with a tape measure at the main sorting office in San Francisco had ascertained that my box was ever-so-slightly technically a teeny weeny bit above the official cutoff size, and had placed it aside in a pile for three weeks. Then, finally, it was returned for insufficient postage. At least this was all they could figure. They had never before seen anything like it.
 
My husband was an angel. He couldn’t get in touch with me and didn’t know what to do, so he wound up having it turned back around to England at an exorbitant express mail price (a bit ironic, seeing as the subject of the piece is bills). It still arrived before the show opened, but too late to get its picture included on the website with the other entries. (However, you can download a catalogue of the show and you will see it there.)
 
At any rate, the moral of this story, artists and artisans, is choose your titles carefully. Otherwise, they might come back to haunt you.
 
(Photos: Robin Robin Photography)

Are We Our Own Worst Enemies?

Earlier this year, I decided to send something to the We Love Your Booksshow that was to take place, this time around, in Milton Keynes. I’d already been in two previous ones. Each year a theme is set (last year’s turned out to be a bit problematic—I will write about that in another post). The set topic this time was “Closure.” For a long while I’d had a line running in my head that I knew needed to be turned into a book, and this was the time. A friend had said to me, after I’d told him about a traumatic part of my life, that “That’s the sort of thing…it’s like, closure is for books. It’s not for a situation like that.”

Unfortunately, by the time I started acting on my impulse, the deadline was growing close, and I was in the middle of getting ready to fly out of town for a medical appointment (not a sign that things are going well…). Other deadlines were looming, mayhem was erupting (but when doesn’t it?)… But I decided I just had to do this. So, in a burst of inspiration, I laid out the pages for a case-bound book in InDesign, did up the covers, bound it…The thing was, I wasn’t intending for it to actually be read. What I like about We Love Your Books is the emphasis on “altered and experimental.” I glued and sculpted my book so that it never closes. The pages are permanently pushed up and glued into place. But in the midst of figuring this all out and gluing and sculpting, the end pages wound up crooked and not evenly placed. I could sort of fudge it—it was, after all, meant to look like an open book, and so the pages weren’t going to look straight. But I was mortified. If I’d had the time, I would’ve done it over. I anguished over it. Maybe I shouldn’t send it….but I want to be in the show… I packed it up and sent it. The book itself had been somewhat therapeutic to make, in its way. I decided, given the topic of “closure,” I was going to let this one go. And so it went into the mail. If the curators gasped in disgust when they unpacked it, they just wouldn’t show it. But then I’d had sender’s remorse. It just wasn’t good enough. I’m embarrassing myself….
And so imagine my surprise when I got an email the other day from one of the curators. A bookbinding supply place had sponsored an award for the show, and here were the two winners plus six shortlisted pieces. And I was on the shortlist.
Are we our own worst enemies?
Pictures of the show and opening were posted online.

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. Not to sound melodramatic, but I’d reached the point where I was seriously pondering “my affairs.” As in knowing deep down the time had come to damn well get them in order, however one is supposed to tidy up such things. But I felt too unwell to even do much of that. 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.

Pro Re Nata (I Was Warned)

I’ve posted links to other people’s books on Flickr. Today I thought I’d add something of my own. I don’t have many photos of my book and other non-cut paper work on the web. Some things I need to photograph, but others I’ve simply parted with before making a record of them. At the moment I’ve been feeling desperate to get back into the studio to do some work, but I’ve been so unwell and exhausted that it’s almost impossible for me to do anything. It’s frustrating.

I’ve made books for many years, largely in the background to other things, mostly to be given as gifts. I’d always thought of them as not my “real work,” whatever that is. But then I began making books and objects as, partly, a way of dealing with the frustrations of living with chronic health issues. It was a way, sometimes, of making laughter out of pain. Book art just seemed like a perfect medium, for me, for such explorations.

This is my tribute to my medications and to the words of wisdom printed graphically on the sides of the bottles. Be warned.

Almost a Book Artist Before I Knew It

I find it interesting that badges (or buttons, where I come from) are seen by many as having a kindred relationship to book art. For instance, there is a research project going on at the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England, What will be the Canon for the Artists’ Book in the 21st Century?They “aim to extend and sustain critical debate of what constitutes an artist’s book in the 21st Century.” To go along with this, there is a genealogical-type tree diagram available at the web site. Here, an attempt is made to illustrate how the book arts and related art forms are linked to each other. People who want to participate in the research project are encouraged to download the diagram and, if so desired, rearrange or rewrite parts of it to suit their own understandings of how these things fit together. As currently assembled, badges, postcards, cards, posters, and bookmarks are considered sibling offshoots to artists’ books. These are all things I’ve been involved with for many years.

The badges, though, almost make me giggle. I was the weird girl at my small high school on the Central Coast of California. I mean, the really weird girl. Come to think of it, in Jr. High as well. I remember giving speeches in 8th grade English class on topics such as “the Joy of Nonconformity” and “How to Make People Stare at You.” To give you an idea what life was like there, one of the great moments of pride for my alma mater was when our Future Farmers of America cattle judging team won a big trophy at a competition in the Midwest. This was the early 80s. Needless to say, I did not judge cattle. Nor did I fit in.

As part of my campaign of nonconformity and goading the locals, I saved up and bought something special for myself by mail order. I didn’t know anyone else at the time who had one of these miraculous gizmos. It was….a button machine. Oh, did I have fun.

I just came across some of my old buttons, now mostly rusted. If I’d only known then what I know now. When they looked at me askance, I could’ve told them I was a book artist practicing my craft.

Bookmarks VII

For the third year, I’m taking part in the Bookmarks project run through the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England in Bristol. Book artists around the world sign up and agree to contribute an edition of 100 bookmarks each. These are then distributed to venues around the world, where they are given out free. It’s been fascinating, and, I must say, I’ll never look at a bookmark the same way again.

My current submission is due in Bristol soon, so I’m working on them now. They are designed to plant nagging neurotic thoughts in peoples’ minds as they settle down to their books. Did you remember to turn off the oven? Is that iron still on? Door really locked?

 

A while ago I mentioned my design idea to my acupuncturist. She was horrified and accused me of being not very nice to people with OCD. In reality, I was thinking of my own tendencies.

 

This reminds me of a story. One day as I was leaving the house and had just locked up, I had to go back in to double check that I’d really, really remembered to turn off the iron. As I unlocked the door and walked back to the room where I’d been earlier, I silently chided myself for my compulsive neuroticism. Of course I’d turned it off. And as I entered, there it sat. The iron was turned on and steaming away….

 

All of the previous years’ Bookmarks projects are archived online. I was involved with Bookmarks 5 and Bookmarks 6. Links to previous years are available from those sites.