book play

Several years ago during a course at Penland, I shared a meal with Margaret Couch Cogswell, then Artist in Residence of Penland's coveted three-year residency program. I was just beginning my transition from government contractor to artist and wanted Margaret's input on the shift at mid-life.

She was forthright and generous with her perspective, encouraging me to focus on the work and tune out the noise in my head about it being too late or that I needed to have a formal art degree before I'd be taken seriously. After all, look at what she had accomplished by following her own advice.

Fast forward a few years, and Margaret is once again dispensing generous, accessible advice on how to follow your bliss. In her first book, Book Play, Margaret invites us into her whimsical world of handmade books and bookish objects...wearable crowns, tiny wheeled sculptures, hand painted journals, and more...all ours for the making by following her friendly, clear instructions.

Margaret Couch Cogswell, "Head Case" (2012) wearable book crown (from Book Play, p. 115)Margaret shows us how to create a slew of original projects, many of which make clever use of unfancy materials and supplies. Nonetheless, I found myself making a shopping list of things to try, enchanted by many of her ideas: milk paint, black gesso, shellac flakes, baling wire, tin, oh my!

More important than materials lists and how-to's, perhaps, is how Margaret lets us in on part of her process. From her ongoing relationship with personal journals ("the foundation of my work, a visual narrative that supports my interior and exterior worlds") to how she found her footing as an untrained drawer and painter—her story is one that inspires.

Through Book Play, Margaret marries accessible projects with fine craftsmanship and the art of the book. By emphasizing the correct-but-not-overly-stuffy way to get the job done (she loves a good glue stick!) and sharing beautifully-shot images of her own fine work, a standard is set that elevates the craft. It's like she's saying, "It's just fine to be a beginner, but don't compromise on doing good work."

Margaret Couch Cogswell, "Thoughts" (2012), paintingThoughtful interviews with six accomplished book artists place the projects in a broader context, while Margaret's own explanations about why she chooses specific materials further reinforce the gestalt of her book art:

"Pencil is a primary material in my work for two reasons. First, it represents impermanence and vulnerability—with the swipe of an eraser it is gone. The second reason represents a central theme running throughout my work: honoring the common, everyday objects and moments in our lives."

Once again, I find myself appreciating Margaret's unique contribution as a book artist and teacher. But what's special about Book Play is that now more people—beginners and seasoned artists alike—can experience Margaret's kindness and special brand of encouragement through her book.

moving parts still on the move

Freshly finished clamshell boxes for "Moving Parts" (image: Frederick Nunley)Two years ago, we launched Moving Parts, the yearlong collaboration between Pyramid Atlantic Art Center and CityDance. Since then, the ten participating artists and handful of tenacious volunteers have been creating an edition of 50 custom clamshell boxes that house each artist’s edition of 50 artist books.

Clamshell boxes drying under weight (image: Frederick Nunley)When you work on a project of this scale in 3-hour increments twice a month, of course it takes time. What a treat it was, then, to recently immerse ourselves for five full days in a near-final push to finish the edition.

We made a lot of progress, completing a fresh batch of finished boxes, and covering all remaining components (trays, cases, foil-stamping).

Once again, our über-volunteer Frederick Nunley was on the scene, lending not only his skilled handwork to the task, but steady and appreciated enthusiasm for the project.

A big thank you to Gretchen Schermerhorn for hosting us in Pyramid’s studios, and to others who showed up to help, including Kieu Lam, Sarah Levine, and Moira McCauley.

When I return to the US in a few months, we plan to finish the project. All that remains are some boxes and the project catalogs. With a little help from friends, these too will get done. And then it’s on to getting the edition into collectors’ hands, an even longer process!

HearSee exhibition at torpedo factory

Art in Public Spaces (APS) is a special effort by the Torpedo Factory Art Center to reach the community through art and educational opportunities. I'm honored to have my artist book, Baby Blue, included in their current exhibition: HearSee, a look at how artists interpret the five senses.

The exhibition runs December 1-31, 2011 in a brand new gallery space within the Torpedo Factory, Studio 9. Participating artists will be on hand to talk about their work at a reception on December 8th, 6-9 pm.

grace finds home

The last project I did before moving from the states was an installation for Art Whino's G40, called Grace in Full Bloom. Shortly after deinstalling, Grace got packed up in her very own custom box and tucked into our shipping container for the ride across the ocean.

Since landing here in Germany on July 1, she's remained in her box, up to her shoulders in pink packing peanuts, waiting patiently to come out and take her rightful spot in my studio. A couple of weeks ago - box cutter in hand - as I started unpacking her, I stopped mid-cut. It suddenly occurred to me: that's me in that box.

"Grace in Full Bloom" up to her neck in packing peanuts.Okay, not really me. But the part of myself that I consider the most sacred and core to who I am. Clearly, we (Grace and I) haven't been ready to come out of our box and settle into this new house. How could we, with all the chaos of the move and challenge of starting over, not to mention a dog bent on destroying anything he deems mine every time I leave the house?

Until that moment, I hadn't been able to put my finger on why I was keeping Grace under wraps. Nearly all of the unpacking was finished, but she remained safely ensconced. Once I realized this, it became very clear for me what to do: I needed to welcome Grace home. But first, I had to create a suitable environment for her.

Last week, I unleashed a swarm of book paper butterflies on my studio. They fly in from our front door, down behind the stairwell, and down to Grace's feet...

"Grace Finds Home" (installation in home studio), with Beverly Ryan's oil paining, "Dancing Through.""Grace Finds Home" (paper installation in home studio), detailAnother batch flies up out of a light fixture, across the wall and into our guest bedroom.

"Grace Finds Home" (paper installation in home studio)"Grace Finds Home" (paper installation in home studio)A fellow-G40 artist inspired the light fixture idea - he had metal butterflies made from spray paint cans swarming from a light fixture on the first floor.

"Grace Finds Home," paper installation in home studio (detail)The butterflies are die-cut from vintage French book texts. I had two copies of Le Mariage de Figaro Tome II, making serendipidous use of black and white photography in the book.

"Grace Finds Home," paper installation in home studio (detail)"Grace" now home

foraging for art supplies round 2

Café Hauptwache, FrankfurtDrove into Frankfurt today to meet the AWCT's Art & Culture group for coffee. We met at the historic Café Hauptwache, directly above the Hauptwache UBahn (subway) station. After navigating a nearby parking garage (driving in these narrow garages still feels harrowing), I found my group. Once again, I got a warm welcome from a very international set of women, with only a few of us from the US.

The real reason I drove, however, was my next stop: Boesner Art. And what an art store! Their tagline is accurate:

Boesner Art Supply: professional artists materials from the international market leader at unusually low prices.

Apparently, they're a wholesaler, although the prices seemed retail (in euros, everything seems reasonable until you remember to add another 40% for the exchange rate). Nonetheless, I received my official wholesale ID on the spot, with my name, address, and barcode efficiently printed onto the little plastic card.

There are two floors of warehouse space, chock full of art materials for every medium: printmaking, painting, sculpture, metalwork, ceramics, woodworking, mozaic, and so on. After wandering around in their massive paper area with my mouth hanging open for awhile, I got my wits about me and started recognizing comfortingly familiar brands such as Arches, Hahnemühle, and Strathmore. Stacked to the ceiling, mind you, but familiar just the same. Along with your fine art and handmade papers, you can buy Kutrimmers, printing presses, and other over-sized equipment that I've only been able to order online in the states.

Boesner's Frankfurt location

There's a nice adhesives selection, where I chose a 1000 ml tub of Guardi dispersion glue, the equivalent of ph neutral PVA - or so the description indicates.

The bookbinding materials are fairly robust for a place that's not a specialty supplier, so I was able to restock my large spool of buchbinderzwirn (binder's thread) that our dog recently ate.

I couldn't resist three little red paper notebooks in different sizes, with old-school blank labels on front.


And then there are the artsy gifts I scored that I can't reveal, in case their future recipients are reading this post.

This was the first of many trips I'm sure I'll be making to Boesner's. It's only 20 minutes from home by car, dangerously close. Today's goal was to find it, and get the lay of the land. Check and check. No more foraging required, now that I've found the mothership.

impromptu installation

We arrived a week ago in Germany and are settling into our new home in the endlessly charming town of Königstein. While our household goods float across the Atlantic for four weeks, we’re rattling around in our empty house and making the best of our “executive expat” rental furniture package. No complaints, actually – so much nicer than living in yet another transitional place for a month.

In the meantime, in addition to navigating the myriad details of daily life in a language I don’t speak and culture that is noticeably different from the US, I’ll be working on small projects that I mailed ahead. Today, as I unpacked two boxes of art tools and materials, I thanked myself for sending the gift of something familiar and grounding: art!

One of the projects is to make progress on an edition of 50 miniature artist books for the Moving Parts boxed set. The books are small accordion-fold pieces that expand into a wearable tutu. The 234-inch long strips of handmade paper that will become tutus turned into an impromptu installation as I hung them from our second floor banister to unwrinkle.

View into my future studio on the first floorParis checks things outText is commentary on the connections between dance and lifeImpromptu installation of myTurningPointe accordion books waiting to be worked on

back to joy

This week's been a real challenge so far, as we count down to our overseas move. The movers come on Monday and we move into a hotel until Thursday, when we fly away to Germany. If it's not miscommunications with the pet movers, it's oversights by our relocation company. Each day has brought a fresh set of frustrations and things-going-wrong.

I keep getting little reminders that it's just a matter of perspective. I'm not really into the whole "angel" thing, but a set of Angel Cards that we occasionally use at my yoga studio has delivered great wisdom. Yesterday, I drew the Seek Forgiveness card, after a particularly awkward and painful goodbye over the weekend. Today, I drew See Only Love, reminding me to "look past the seeming errors, mistakes, and misunderstandings" in others.

Then this morning after my schedule unexpectedly changed, I had an opportunity to focus on making small gift books for a set of extraordinarily special people that I'll say a final goodbye to tomorrow. In the making of these books, I regrounded and found happy. I am back to joy and gratitude for this great adventure on which we're about to embark.

the sweetest goodbyes

Centerpiece by Stephanie Gamboa at last night's Pyramid Atlantic goodbye partyThere's a lot of sweet good-byeing going on around here these days. When you leave a place after 37 years, it involves a LOT of good byes. It's one thing to send off a dear friend or close colleague who is moving away. You're losing someone in your daily life and things will change, regardless of how connected you manage to stay after they leave.

Now imagine how it feels to part with everyone at once - family, friends, colleagues, neighbors - within a condensed period of time. For people who move around a lot, I guess it becomes easier. But let me tell you, this is rough.

Nobody likes to say goodbye, and many people will do their best to avoid it. But I'm learning a lot about how to say goodbye well. One thing I can't overemphasize: make time for people that matter. No matter how much "must" get done related to the tasks of moving itself, people trump things every time.

As a recovering to-do list-aholic, this is a key lesson for me to take to heart. I like how it's working out so far (although as things get down to the wire, I'm happy to report that certain people are helping do some of those things on my list!).

Last night was one such occasion, thanks to my dear friend Gretchen Schermerhorn at Pyramid Atlantic. Gretchen, Jose Dominguez, the whole Pyramid gang, and other close friends turned out to wish Ian and me well. And in true Pyramid Atlantic spirit, everyone created a book page that will be bound into an artist book for us.

It's true that parting is such sweet sorrow. But I wouldn't miss it for the world.

g40 pics and links

Kelly O'Brien, Grace in Full Bloom (detail) at G40 Art Summit (photo credit: Joshua Yospyn for Worn Magazine)Kelly O'Brien, Grace in Full Bloom at G40 Art Summit (photo credit: Joshua Yospyn for Worn Magazine)Grace in Full Bloom by Kelly O'Brien at Art Whino's G40 Art SummitA big thank you to Art Whino, microWave Project, and Brightest Young Things for pulling off an extraordinary event! I'll continue to post images here as they appear. In the meantime, you'll find some awesome slideshows of all the work here and here. Check out the party scene here and here. And a growing list of press clips about the event here.

art whino g40 summit

I'm thrilled to be part of microWave Project's stable of installation artists participating in the massive urban art attack known as G40. From what I've seen so far, this will be quite the scene and series of events.

Event Location
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2213-2217 14th street NW (the corner of 14th and W NW, Washington, DC)

G40 Exhibit Schedule:
Exhibit runs: May 19th-June 17th,  2011
Open Hours: Tuesday & Thursdays: 5 – 10pm,
Fridays & Saturdays: 12pm – 11pm
Sundays: 12pm – 6pm
Mondays: Closed

Entertainment schedule:
Brightest Young Things will curate unique special events in the space six days a week (Tues-Sun) to include live music, dance parties, local designer showcases and fashion events, photobooths, art workshops and talks, stand up comedy, cult movie nights, record fairs and more.

For full details and a sneek peek at some of the art, click here.

the nest project: open through may 15

A big thank you to everyone who came out for Thursday night's opening of The Nest Project!

We had a nice crowd at Target Gallery's Nest exhibition, juried by Gretchen Schermerhorn. We then headed outdoors for a moonlight tour of fifteen nest installations by DC-area arts groups. By the time our tour was finished, the crowd had swelled to over 40 people strolling from nest to nest along the Potomac river.

Albus Cavus nest created by Rosina Teri Memolo Credit: Hilary Kline

The Alexandria Patch does a nice job capturing the spirit of the outdoor installations, with photos by Hillary Kline. The entire event runs through May 15, including 54 instudio nest-themed exhibitions by Torpedo Factory artists.

happy 30th birthday to pyramid atlantic!

Pyramid Atlantic turns 30 this year and we're celebrating with a big party this Saturday! If you're in the DC area, stop by. There will be hands-on demos throughout all of the studios. Come get your hands wet in the papermaking studio, inky in the printmaking and screenprint studios, give the letterpress a crank, or try your hand at foil hot-stamping your name onto bookcloth!

The Gazette's Topher Forhecz offers a nice insider's preview of the festivities here. And help celebrate the occasion by showing your support here.

Come have some birthday cake! 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 8230 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, MD.

Pyramid's Annual Member's Show and the resident Washington Printmakers Gallery Impressions from the Press Room members show will be celebrating their openings at the same time. Call 301-608-9101 or visit

juror's choice: uprooted

A big THANK YOU to The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan for awarding my new print, Uprooted, Juror's Choice at The Target Gallery's March Madness exhibition! Now if I only had a decent shot of the print, I'd share it here. However, I do have a lovely photo of Michael in front of it, thanks to Target's Mary Cook.

Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post, Target Gallery's March Madness Exhibition

The best part of all? Our conversation about his experience of viewing my work, what he responded to, and being able to give him a little backstory. I really appreciate that he took the time and interest to chat with me.

Thanks again, Michael - you definitely made my day (heck, my entire weekend)!

saying yes to happy

Nearly five years ago, I walked into Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center in Silver Spring, MD and discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up: an artist. Since then, I've been taking progressive steps on the path to working and being fulltime in the arts, some of which I chronical through this blog.

This year, Pyramid celebrates it's 30th birthday. In honor of this milestone, I'm raising funds to help support arts programming such as their biannual book arts fair, artist residencies, public school outreach, and studio maintenance.

If there's something in your life that you've said "yes" to - or, perhaps more importantly, think you can't do - I encourage you to visit my FirstGiving page to read more about how I'm saying yes to happy. And consider making a donation, no matter how small.

There's something in it for you, based on your giving level...handmade books, beautiful boxes, handmade cards, a day in the studios at Pyramid Atlantic with me? Say yes to happy.

spring update: nesting

Time again for a quick update on places you can find my work this spring. With my upcoming move to Germany this summer, the serendipity of the abundance of nest-themed work is not lost on me. I'm working on a new edition of mixed media nest prints that I'll share here soon.

March Madness exhibition and March of Dimes fund-raiser, Target Gallery, Alexandria, VA. March 17 – 27, 2011 

The Nest Project, presented by Target Gallery in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Featuring waterfront artist-built nest installations along the Potomac River. Alexandria, VA. April 2 – May 15, 2011

Our Nest exhibition, in conjunction with The Nest Project to raise awareness about affordable housing, Printmakers Inc Studio 325 at the Torpedo Factory, Alexandria, VA. March 5 – April 30, 2011

the nest project

I'm so excited about a project I'm working on through the Torpedo Factory's Target Gallery: The Nest Project. Target Gallery, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, is sponsoring an outdoor exhibition of artist-made nests created by local arts groups. The event will take place just outside of Washington, DC at the Torpedo Factory Art Center along the waterfront of the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria from Sunday, April 10 through Sunday, May 15, 2011.

To learn more about this awesome project, visit our Kickstarter site, the gallery's project site, and say hi on the Nest Facebook page. We Need Your Help! Funds raised through Kickstarter will help defray artists' costs and time for their installations, lighting to make the installations visible at night, and temporary public signage for a waterfront tour of the installed artist nests.

a bright resource

Betty Bright is a scholar, curator and advocate for the book arts. She specializes in book art because, in her words: "I think it is the most challenging and enlightening art form invented." Amen to that.

Her most recent contribution is a blog, letterpressbkart, focused on the state of letterpress printmaking since the 1980s. In response to a request from the magazine, Craft in America, she's compiled a rich list of book arts-related people, organizations, events and resources in one place.

I first heard Betty speak at last fall's APHA Conference and was moved by her call for more critical discourse on the art of the book. Perhaps her new blog will be one such forum. Thank you, Betty!