Hope in the dark

A year ago, Sarah Mo, started an artists book challenge #areyoubookenough on Instagram. It has been a great way to meet all kinds of book artists, from fine binders to students, and all points in between. The quality of the books being created is always inspiring, but more importantly it has helped me feel like part of a community, helped find my book tribe!

January’s challenge was dark. Sometimes I really have to dig around for an idea, sometimes the muse just pops in and drops a fully formed idea right in your lap. All you have to do then is make it, ha ha!

For me the inspiration was a sheet of paper. I made this beautiful wafer thin sheet of black paper at Paper and Book Intensive with Steve Miller. I have hoarded it since then. Taking it out of my paper drawer from time to time, but afraid to commit to using it. (Does anyone else struggle with using the beautiful materials in their grasp?) But when I heard the word dark, that sheet of paper immediately came to mind.

I tore it down into tiny signatures, and stamped/embossed a quote from Rebecca Solnit’s powerful book, Hope in the Dark, on to the center pages. Then I burned the edges of the pages leading up to those pages, just a little, wow! That was heart stopping! I bound it with a really simple Coptic stitch in black linen thread, actually a reel I don’t use much as it has slubs in the thread, but the imperfections seemed perfect here. To finish the pages I added a single thickness of silver metallic thread. You know me, there’s probably going to be some sewing!

I didn’t want to add covers, it seemed pretty perfect, scuffed and vulnerable. But I did want to protect the book, so I attempted a box. I was thinking that Pandora’s hope was found in a box. I had another sheet of paper from that same class, a sheet of charcoal grey laid, so I used it to cover the box. Of course I got glue on the good side of the paper, so I ended up embossing the box. Oh well, at least the pieces of the box fit together well and look pretty square!

This is a rare instance when I am actually pretty satisfied with the final product.

Thanks for continuing to read the blog, I appreciate it!


Clearing the decks

I can’t believe winter break has already been and gone. Somehow I always have more ambition than time, and this year was no different.

The first week of classes usually has the potential to run off the rails, this semester it was technology, or the lack of it, which caused the biggest hurdles. It didn’t help that my classes weren’t confirmed until less than 2 days before classes started. Luckily I am not teaching anything new, so it was just a matter of brushing things up. I am also auditing a printmaking class so I can learn Japanese style wood block printing, which will hopefully get me in the studio a bit too. By the end of the week I was starting to get my feet under me and fingers crossed all goes well from here on out!

During the week I embroidered some leaves, because my umbrella plant always drops leaves in the winter, and they are great to work on. Here they are fresh

And here they are again a few days later.

I love how ephemeral they are, the process makes me think about manicured gardens, about trying to control the natural world, possess it, and how nature resists our desire to order and control it.

I spent the weekend trying to clear the decks in the studio, I still seem to have a stack of unfinished projects lingering. Some things just needed a little work, like this stack of journals, which just needed the covers

Glad to have those finished, and they will be heading out to local galleries in the next few weeks.

These brown bag lunch journals have been knocking around partially completed for months, today I finished all the decorative sewing on the covers, now all that’s left is sewing in the signatures. Hopefully I can get these buttoned up this week.

I’ve also got a stack of mending, alterations that need my attention, and then there’s the 3 pairs of trousers I cut out but haven’t sewn yet! I really want to get all that done before the grading starts piling up. So I guess less talk, more action is needed here. Back to work.

Bringing in a new year

I don’t usually make resolutions in January, the start of the academic year in September always feels like a more natural time to change things for me, but as the year turns and we travel back into the light this year I feel I need to set my life back in order. But what order?

The winter break is a time to hunker down for me. I don’t really enjoy winter except for the beauty of the cool north light, so it’s a good time for me to buckle down and get to work in the studio. So far this has mostly involved clearing the decks from last year, like these two books which had been partially finished on my bench since spring.

But as that weight clears I am making mental space for some new work for two back to back solo shows at the end of summer. What was I thinking? Well actually I know, I was afraid if I said no I would miss an opportunity, fear, fear answered for me. I am genuinely excited about both shows and both venues. They will each demand something different of me and give me a chance to show unique bodies of work, but seriously two shows in 9 months time, gah!

Okay, so you know there will be sewing, and I was really happy to get this book from my hubby for Christmas

And I have been slowly working my way through it using her techniques but on paper

I have been sucked into her orbit and also ordered her book of clothing designs (because I am going to have time to sew too?!)

I’m also back to my daily blackout meditations, I need to get grounded if I am going to pull this year off, so here are a couple for those who don’t see them on my Instagram feed

Im hoping to blog at least once a week about each project, mostly because that will hold my feet to the fire and hopefully keep me on track. So here’s to a brighter shiny new year.

Heading to summer break

It has been a really crazy week, not only is it finals week, I have also been teaching a workshop at a local elementary school. Today I gave my final exam of the semester and my sculpture students presented their final portfolios. Most of them are graduating so we had a pizza celebration and talked about their future plans. I’m excited that it is almost time to disappear into my studio for the summer. I decided to take a bit of a break from marking this afternoon and play with some kozo scraps instead. 

Not exactly sure where I am going, but I have been thinking about the ghostly leaves of beech trees that hang on through the winter, the fine kozo I sew on reminds me of those leaves. 

Can’t wait to finish up my grades and dig in!

one step too far?

It’s okay, relax, this is not a political post! Instead it is about the scroll from my last post, the one I didn’t think was quite finished. 

Friday night I decided to revisit it. I had a couple of pieces of dyed and printed paper that I didn’t use, so I thought I would try giving one of them the monigami treatment. One of the things I felt wasn’t working was how stiff and heavy the paper was. So I gently kneaded the test strip with some oil, and it softened up beautifully. Additionally the organic dye (onion skins) moved around a bit creating a mellow background tone, but the monoprint pretty much remained the same. I loved how this piece looked, so I decided to go for it and do the whole scroll.

I’m going to blame my next decision on the fact it was late on a Friday after a really busy week, but truth is I could have made this awful choice any time. I decided not to take the scroll apart. This was crazy thinking. Although the paper was quite stiff and heavy, the areas that had been folded in the dye bath were seriously compromised, add to that the size of the scroll, and disaster number one happened. As I worked the paper it tore badly in many places.

Those of you who know my work will no doubt be saying, but you love torn things you can mend, and this is true, BUT, the oiling also seemed to have obliterated the really delicate monoprinted images. It was ruined. 

Saturday I hung it out on my washing line to see if evaporating some of the oil would help. My poor neighbors never know what they might see hanging out there.

When I brought it back in later that day it still looked awful.

Yesterday I decided I would try one last thing to try and save it. I took the scroll apart, and gently ironed each piece of paper between clean sheets of absorbent paper with a very hot iron to try and pull the excess oil out. It was tedious and now my studio smells like a chip shop, but I think it might have saved the day.

As I removed the oil the printing began to re-emerge! I was afraid the all the extra texture added in the monigami process would still hide the more delicate printed images, but I think enough is still there.

So now all I have to do is repair all the tears caused by being too lazy to take the scroll apart at the beginning and then sew it all back together again. 

Lesson learned. Long thread, lazy girl.

Dyed paper experiment.

Sometime in the last couple of years I tried dyeing some paper using plant materials. I put them under weights, put them in the corner of the office, and forgot about them. By the time I accidentally rediscovered them many of the pages were moldy but I could salvage a few. Then I put them in a basket of other papers and forgot about them again.
Earlier this month I came across a call for work for a 4×6 exchange exhibit. You send a work and get a random work returned. So after rediscovering them for a second time, I pulled out one of those sheets of eco-dyed paper and tore it down to size. I started sewing.


I thought this was okay, but not really wow, so inspired by the splotchy dye on the leaves I thought I would add some french knots.


This was an awful decision. They were too much. Having gone too far I decided there was nothing to do but keep going, so I added more stitching using a finer thread almost the color of the paper.


This was better, but I hated the french knots so a good friend and fellow artist Elena suggested I just take them out. Duh! Brilliant! And that was much better, but still unbalanced. I posted a picture on Facebook and several other art friends weighed in. Sometimes you need another set of eyes. Another artist, Anna, suggested adding more layers to the composition. Again, brilliant.
This paper had a mirror twin from where the leaves were pressed in. So I cut out the main leaf to add on top.


Already I was feeling happier. So I embroidered around the edges and trimmed a little more with a scalpel. Then sewed through the layers.


So here is the final composition. Better by committee. And off on its way to the exhibit.
One of the most amazing things about the internet is that it brings other artists into my studio. Sometimes you need fresh eyes and its great to be able to reach out to people you admire and trust.


First time back in the studio really getting down to work. A while ago I started a series of snowflake inspired bindings. Yesterday I finally started another in the series.


I start out drawing on graph paper. All the snowflakes are being adapted from some illustrations of black work borders.


Next I copy that design onto a piece of graph paper mounted on some card stock.


Then I start sewing. As I go I write out the steps. Once I have figured out how to sew the pattern I make a book block. Cutting, folding and punching the signatures always seems to take forever! This design has 21 signatures! I draw a scale pattern of the binding to help punch the right holes in the right signature.


I bind the top and bottom to hold the tension even as I sew the design. Here I used a french link with a kettle on either side over a translucent ribbon with a little sparkle. Sometimes I use coloured thread for this stage, but I wanted to keep the focus on the snowflake for this one.


Here’s the sewing finished.


I have been trying to make bolder choices with my colours and patterns, to make things less “matchy”. The last step is glueing the covers and ribbons down.
About 8 hours later it is all done!
Feels good to add a new pattern to my repertoire. My goal is to draw them all up and publish them for others to use over summer break this year.