book art

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!

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!

bound in japan

My very talented friend, Kieu Lam, is embarking on a big adventure in 2011 to Japan. Bound in Japan will bring a community of non-native residents together in Japan to create, talk about, and exhibit their book art. The goal is to increase awareness about diversity and cultural issues faced by non-natives in a host country.

All of this - the travel and living expenses, book art workshops, materials, an exhibition, publicity - is being facilitated and funded by Kieu, and she could use a little help! For a very good cause (what could be better than spreading awareness about the book arts around the world? okay, the diversity and cultural awareness stuff is good too), please consider making a donation.

I can vouch for Kieu and that your money will be very well-managed and appreciated. C'mon...for as little as $2/month, you can make a nice statement about your support for the arts. And for $20/month, she'll send you a handmade hard cover journal AND monthly mail art subscription.

How cool is that?

For more info and to support the cause (all tax-deductible, mind you), click here.


In March, my friend Elizabeth and I took a workshop together at Kripalu, Vibrant Visionary Collage, led by Karen Arp-Sandel. We had no idea what we were in for! We thought it an opportunity to mix girlfriend time, yoga retreat, spa and getaway with a little art. Little did we realize how transformative, fun and mind-shifting four days of "innocent" collage making in a roomful of mostly middle-aged goddesses could be.

One of my favorite discoveries that Karen turned us onto is mail art, where the postal system is medium, and the art is handmade collaged postcards to friends, family, or really anyone. Karen and her partner-in-crime, Suzi Banks Baum, call it FEmail, which I love. Karen and Suzi are the Queens of FEmail as far as I'm concerned - check out their current (extended!) exhibition at Berkshire Art Kitchen.

Elizabeth and I were so inspired by all of this that we vowed to send each other a piece of mail art every month. What better way to stay in touch with the yin and yang of our distant and often out-of-touch lives throughout the year, when what we really want is more time for connection and being present with one another? I wasn't sure if I could make my April deadline, though, with recent knee surgery packing me a wallop I'd not fully anticipated - my convalescence was more like a hibernation as I navigated drug allergies, infection and deep fatigue.

I felt more than a little protective letting go of E's postcard. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the postal attendant - would s/he give me a hard time for sending something that didn't comply with postal standards, or would they be game for a little art? I also knew my little masterpiece would be immediately changed the moment I handed it over for postage and hand-cancelling.

And that's exactly what happened. Not only did the attendant smile and take a moment to look at both sides of the piece, he patiently looked through all of his stamps to find just the right combination to arrange in the space I'd left. "See?" I said, "You're a collaborator on this piece of art!" He smiled. I felt so good leaving it in his hands, knowing that the first part of it's journey to Elizabeth was good.

When I returned home today, guess what was waiting for me in the mail? Elizabeth's April postcard to me. I got a little weepy has I caressed it and gazed, the message both powerful and tender to me.

art of the edition: one day at a time

As I re-engage slowly after a long, restorative break from too much of a good thing late last year, it's tempting to let overwhelm kick in and chase me back into hibernation. A recovering workaholic from my day job, it's safe to say I'd unwittingly found another substance (my book art) to take its place. 

At 15 books and 10 clamshell boxes into an edition of 50, the end does not feel anywhere in sight. But I don't have to let that rattle me from what I'm re-learning: take it one day at at time. Quite literally, my intention (and actions, so far) is to get my hands on the edition once a day. Some days it's for ten minutes, others it's for an hour or two...but every day, I make a little progress.

This is not a new idea. I've used it in the past, taking it down to one hour at a time in the worst of times. Talented classmate and friend Leslie Patterson-Marx inspired its application to art last summer during our artist book workshop with Susan King. In her altered book, One Day at a Time, Leslie carved one mark into the book each day for thirty days - a meditational performance piece of sorts - the fruits of her effort only clear after she steadily showed up every day to do as she had committed.

This is very satisfying. It keeps extreme thinking and behaviors at bay, and grounds me in the present. This promises to be an extraordinary year, glimmers of opportunity to come already on my radar. As things ramp up - and they are, for sure - I'll serve myself and others well by taking it one day at a time.

daring 2 dard

Greetings from the annual Friends of Dard Hunter conference at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. We are 400 handmade paper makers, professors, book and fiber artists, conservators, tool makers, scientists, historians, students and enthusiasts spending several days completely immersed in what we love: sharing, learning about, and celebrating handmade paper in all of its extraordinary forms. 

Sukey Hughes, a pioneer in documenting the tradition of handmade paper in Japan, started us off with her thoughtful keynote. Her message to slow down and be mindful in our work really struck home, as I remind myself hourly to do one thing at a time these days. The gracious response from the Consul General of Japan Takuji Hanatani to acknowledge the Friends' first international show in Tokyo was touching - I’m struck by the mutual fascination of the Americans and Japanese with each other’s work in hand paper-making. We’ve come full circle with the Friends’ first overseas exhibit in Japan, where the Japanese are now discovering an American who dedicated his life to bringing hand papermaking to the US.

Other talks and workshops were thought provoking and useful. From the practical and technical to the sublime and inspiring, there was a nice range of content:

It wouldn’t be a papermakers’ conference without getting our hands into vats, which we did with the Combat Paper Project, U. of Alabama’s banana fiber papermaking demo, and Helen Hiebert’s amazing shrinking abaca. This is the second time I've seen the work from the Combat Paper Project, now reaching worldwide. Mindfulness served me well, as I snipped a veteran's uniform into pieces and reflected on the person who wore it. 

Worth the price of admission, I got great tips from Pat Feeney and Larry Murrell on how to prevent the Arches black cover stock for our Moving Parts companion booklet from cracking, plus a promising source for archival insert material for the collector’s box. My growing interest in using paper to construct sculptural paper garments was fueled by Erica Rasmussen’s survey of the history of paper garments worldwide, highlighting women’s groovy pop art paper shifts from the 1960s.

Sustainable papermaking was a hot topic. Enthusiasm ran high for the “Slow Paper Movement” coined by Mary Tasillo. A panel of sustainable practice papermakers shared their approaches, including: Mary’s Welcome House ‘zine project; Patterson Clark’s recipes, paper, ink, prints, and carved wood blocks from invasive plants such as white mulberry and multiflora roses; and Zina Castanuella who, in collaboration with Andrea Peterson at Hook Pottery Paper, is making gorgeously pigmented native plant papers from Queen Anne’s lace, day lily, dandelion, oats, abaca and seed inclusions from their papermaker’s garden.

The opening for Make an Impression was packed. Do more seasoned artists grow blasé about seeing their work on exhibit? Being able to attend my first opening was a thrill. Sharing the spotlight with so many inspiring artists and witnessing, first-hand, the response to my own work was a deeply fulfilling first for me.

This morning, I topped off my already overrunning cup with the Paper Runway exhibit at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport. After meeting many of the exhibitors at the conference, their work was all the more meaningful to see on display. Pieces that inspired me included Erica Rasmussen’s Juju Dress, Jacket Pilosic, and Collar #6: Book of Desires, Mary Ellen Matthews’ Wings for Icarus, Robert Ryan’s Every Beat of My Heart, Julie McLaughin and Mary Snyder Behrens’ Arianne and Isis, Kristen Demer’s Strictly Unconfined, Liz Mitchell’s Worn Slippers, and Jill Powers’ Kozo Fiber Shoes.

So now the question is, do I dare to Dard? It’s President Jill Littleton’s call to action for all members to get involved. She has a number of innovative ideas, many leveraging social media tools to bring fresh blood into the membership. Kudos to her for this vision. I’ve struggled with how involved to get, frankly. My early impressions of this organization were that, while full of interesting, creative and nice people, it felt dated and out of touch. I’m encouraged and motivated by the fresh ideas and energy I felt at this meeting.

The organization is hungry for innovative ways to reach out and engage both members and the public. This is my expertise – the question is, is this a place to invest my time? The fact that nobody gives me a blank stare here when I tell them I'm a book artist is lovely, but there are many organizations where this would be true – IAPMA, Guild of Papermakers, Guild of Book Workers, and CBAA to name a few. I haven’t vetted any of them, yet the Friends draws me back. There’s something to be said of spending time in the company of the generous, creative and intelligent people driven to sustain this beautiful craft.

book artists on the move

We're gettting there...ten book artists, each making an edition of 50 artist books for the Moving Parts boxed collectors' set. While some are finished with their edition, most of us are knee-deep in production. The artists of Moving Parts are: Beverly Ryan, Elizabeth Parthum, Gretchen Schermerhorn, Irene Chan, Kelly O'Brien, Kerry McAleer-Keeler, Leah Frankel, Moira McCauley, Patty Lee, and Paul Gordon Emerson

Here's a glimpse of what we're creating. All photographs are by Paul Gordon Emerson.


moving parts on the move

Things are happening with the Moving Parts project! We've now got an official blog, thanks to Gretchen, my partner in crime on this project at Pyramid Atlantic. And an upcoming documentary - a work of art in itself - complements of film maker Fransisco Campos-López and CityDance Filmworks. Check out the trailer:

We're making steady progress on the clamshell boxes, thanks to a growing number of volunteers at Pyramid and our "box jam sessions." It's been fun to teach this eager (and talented) bunch to make the beautiful boxes that will house each collection of artist books...and exciting to see the covered trays accumulate as they move through our production line. After only a couple of sessions, we're discovering who excels at the tricky corner cuts, gluing with finesse, and inventing jigs to speed our work. Production work has become fun!

Some launch-related events are planned, including a CityDance performance showcasing the pieces reflected in the Moving Parts artists' books on December 4 and 5, and a launch party at Hillyer Art Space on December 11, including artist talks, a CityDance performance, and Moving Parts boxed sets for purchase. Speaking of which, check out Paul Emerson's beautiful photos of the project.

making an impression

Looking forward to the annual Friends of Dard Hunter conference in Atlanta in October. I went for the first time two years ago and was impressed with the creative, scholarly, innovative papermakers and book artists I met from around the world who attended.

I'm excited and honored to have my work included in this year's member exhibit, Make an Impression, at the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum, Georgia Institute of Technology. The exhibit opens on October 16 and runs through January 4, 2010.


journal making frenzy

I've been cranking little Italian longstitch journals out like crazy the past two weekends, in preparation for Art on the Avenue on October 3rd. It takes about two hours per journal (probably more, I'm just in denial), plus time to hand-tear down all the papers, source materials and general running around.

I love these little books! They fit sweetly in your hand, a purse or pocket. Each one is unique, filled with enough blank creamy Strathmore paper to make them useful, plus vintage French text book pages, old French maps, and Rhodia-inspired graph paper. They'll make great holiday gifts...or come get one for yourself: booth W128!

bind-o-rama 2009

The Book Arts web is the hub of all things book arts: educational opportunities, professional organizations, tutorials, reference materials, and galleries with images. Run by Peter Verheyen, head of Syracuse University Library's Department of Preservation and Conservation, the related BKARTS listserv and Bonefolder online journal have been robust resources for my introduction to the book arts.

Since 2004, the Bonefolder has been a showcase of what's wonderful in the book arts. This year's Bind-o-Rama features a wide range of bindings, experience and ideas - including an entry from yours truly!

penland '09

Just returned from Eileen Wallace's wonderful workshop at Penland. I'm filled to the brim with new binding skills, inspiration and love of this craft. We learned Italian longstitch, linkstitch, simplified, laced + tacketed, and hardcover pamphlet bindings. I'm really smitten with the potential for contemporary interpretation of the linkstitch, and the simplified binding satisfies the obsessive part of me that loves fussy perfection.

This year, I pried myself away from the book studio to explore others. I was rewarded by being able to see beautiful work in progress in metals, surface design, velvet weaving, ceramics, encaustics, letterpress, wood, glass and iron. Even managed to rummage precious scraps and try my hand mini encaustic abstracts, which I incorporated into my own work. Thanks to Eileen, our class assistant Claire, and everyone there for a terrific session.

Italian longstitch and linkstitch journalsLaced and tacketed leather journal with handmade brass buckleLaced and tacketed leather journal, insideSimplified blank journal with found metal and monotypeSimplified blank journal, cover detailSimplified blank journal with encaustic inlays on cover

thank you, UC Irvine!

What a wonderful surprise: I've made my first artist book sale to University of California-Irvine Library Artists' Books Special Collections through the Beautiful Book exhibit at 23 Sandy Gallery. A big thank you to gallery owner Laura Russell, who profiled my piece in the exhibit catalog's introduction and press releases.

Wow. Pinch me!

handmade mart a success by any measure

Survived my first craft fair recently and, boy, did I learn a lot. A huge thank you to my hubby for being there with his heavy lifting and moral support - before, during and after the actual event. My BF Mandy showed up twice to help with set up, midday support and homemade snacks. Friends, family, neighbors and collegues stopped by. I was feeling the love!

Lessons learned?

  • There is waaaaay more work than meets the eye to pull this off. It took me two days to recover.
  • Setting up my booth in our empty spare room 2 weeks out was key - there's no way we could have created what we did without the dry-run and blueprint that time and space afforded me. However, I hadn't anticipated what 25+mph winds would do to my display! So glad I invested in the heavy-duty sandbag weights for my tent.
  • It's not all about sales (for now) - just completing my first fair was the goal; that said, I didn't sell much. The few vendors I had a moment to check in with were having mixed results. My guess is that because this was a first-time event, the crowd was going to be iffy anyway. The seasoned craft fair vets told me not to base any decisions off my first time out (at a first-time fair).
  • It is about finding the right niche. Not sure the indie craft scene is mine, but we'll see. I hope to get into a couple more juried fairs this fall, one (Art on the Avenue) of which might be a better fit.
  • AND...I'm thrilled that this fair got me exposed to the women behind ArtSpring, the reincarnation of the Pyramid Atlantic Store that opens this July in Silver Spring. We met, they took a bunch of my work to sell in their store, and I'm excited to work with their merchandising manager on a creative store display that's inspired by my booth.