going with the flow

My acupuncturist, Pilar - a true healer, had her hands full with me yesterday. Apparently, I was still in overdrive from this fall's over committed pace. An unrelenting surge of creativity and productive energy wouldn't be such a problem much of the year, but this time of "water" in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is supposed to be a period of deep rest and recovery. 

Everything has a natural cycle: birth, growth, harvest, decline. Every 24 hours. Every 12 months. Every life. For me, TCM offers a natural and intuitive way to gauge my wellbeing. In the three years since working with Pilar, I've become increasingly aware of these cycles and try to honor them. This fall, I knew that I was pushing it, contradicting what nature asked in the season of "metal:" eliminate, let go, slow down.

Like an over-revved engine, I couldn't stand down, possibly explaining my first-ever migraine, churning thoughts, and reluctance to do as little as possible, while feeling generally worn out despite plenty of sleep.

So Pilar put me into "water," with instructions to lie reasonably low until mid-February. Do what I must to keep life on track, but no new major projects. To burst forth with fresh, abundant creative energy come Spring, I've got to let things run their natural course.

crossover inspiration

This year's collaboration with CityDance and Pyramid Atlantic has planted the seed of desire in me to do more of this kind of "crossover" work between the performing and visual arts, specifically with dance. Am starting to research the genesis of these kinds of projects that started to crop up mid-twentieth century through the likes of Merce Cunningham's collaborations with Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns.

Rebecca Kamen is a local Northern Virginia artist with a galactic vision. Her work mashes up science, art, performance and installation. She collaborated with Jane Franklin Dance this past year to marry contemporary sculpture with contemporary dance. I'm fascinated by this mix, visions of future collaborations dancing in my own head.


bird guilt

My paper nest in our Christmas tree, which I placed there trying to alleviate my guilt from removing a real nest in our eaves the day before Saturday's blizzard. I thought the nest was empty, but apparently it was home to a pair of very pissed-off birds who are now stalking our front door. I've been throwing crackers and bread crumbs out for them (our bird feeder stands empty). Lots of bird action chez nous...they may be homeless, but at least they're well-fed.

out into the world they go

Sent two pieces of work out into the world last week, both a big focus in 2009 and completely consuming me since October. It feels good to have them launch, affording me a certain release from them both.

Pandora's Box opening at Target GalleryArchetypes: Journey to Self is a piece I started in August 2008 while at Penland - a crazy, strangely obsessive need to create this Mandala-shaped three-tiered box, full of hidden compartments, drawers and potential meaning. Then it sat, beautiful but empty, for over a year. I'd designed it with a vision of filling it with content-laden books and hidden treasures, but was too intimidated to really interact with what the piece was asking me to confront. It took the pressure of an exhibition for me to dive in, and even then, I orchestrated so many obstacles that I nearly missed the deadline.

It was in the creative process that I came to understand more about what this piece represents for me, but even now, I know I don't know the whole story. For now I'm satisfied that I've "birthed a courageous work of art" (thanks, Jen!) that asked me to push beyond what I thought possible.

Archetypes is in the Pandora's Box exhibit at the Torpedo Factory's Target Gallery through January 10th.

That was Thursday. Then on Friday, we launched Moving Parts.

As individual an effort as Archetypes was, Moving Parts has a cast of thousands. Well, dozens. This baby may have been my idea, but it has morphed into something well beyond me at this point. Friday's launch event was a delightful mash-up of book art, live dance performance, experimental music, and lovers of the visual and performing arts, all brought together at Hillyer Art Space. Our raffle package (boxed collector's set of ten artist books, project documentary on DVD, complementary tickets to a CityDance performance, workshop at Pyramid Atlantic, and behind the scenes tours) and silent auction netted us enough funding to help defray production costs, while bookartist talks and dancers moved us - some to tears.

Moving Parts launch party at Hillyer Art SpaceHaving never done something like this before, I didn't know what to expect. We didn't raise as much money as I'd hoped for, but we did host an innovative and exciting event that put CityDance, Pyramid Atlantic and Hillyer in a good spotlight. Attendees seems genuinely interested in and intrigued by the whole idea, with more than one person telling me how much they were learning (book arts? contemporary dance? wow!). So a very positive response, at a busy time of year, in the worst recession ever? I'll take it!

Nor am I under any delusion that selling 39 more of these boxed sets (properly priced, not giving them away) will be easy or swift. Next year will be one of learning how to market and sell art, a task I'm eager to understand and accomplish.

Putting deeply personal content out into the world has broken its hold on me, while at the same time, renders me clearer. What a miracle, art.

law of attraction in action

Whew, be careful what you ask for. I intended to attract more meaningful book art to my plate, more opportunity for fruitful collaboration with other artists, and more engaging day-job client work. What happens when you get it all - at the same time? I thought there was no such thing as too much abundance. Or that all of these things couldn't possibly come true. I was so wrong.

I told someone the other day that I feel like I embody the seemingly inherent tension between art and commerce, between feeding my soul and making a decent living. Literally, I feel the tug-of-war in my body. On the one hand, I'm not interested in being a poor artist or finding myself in a position where I can't live with some level of financial serenity. On the other, I simply cannot do without pursuing my art. It would be like deciding to cut off my oxygen.

I've spent the last two years searching for "the answer" on how (if?) other artists strike this delicate balance. So far, I'm finding there is no magic answer, no perfect formula. Of course not. In the airport van on the way to Penland this summer, I sat next to one of the instructors, Fawn Potash. Her first question to me was, "So what's your formula?" It was her experience that all artists have to pursue a blend of income streams.

My informal research has consisted of asking anyone I can for the past two years a similar question. So far, the following themes are emerging: some anchor themselves in academia, others cobble together studio work and teaching, a fortunate few work fulltime for non-profit art centers, still others support or sell products and services to artists with their own art in the mix. Many - myself included as of now - work what amounts to two fulltime jobs: day job + art. Eric Maisel's A Life in the Arts has validated much of what I'm learning anecdotally, as well.

So back to the law of attraction. If I've managed to attract a bunch of great opportunities, why couldn't this be true for the money on the art side of my currently over-committed life? I believe that I will, actually, and that it's just a matter of time. In the meantime, drinking from a fire hose of abundance is not going to get me there any faster.

How about a nice steady stream, an even flow? Yup, that's more like it. When I come up for air later this December, I'm going to have a nice long talk with myself about this. Until then, I'm too busy to do much about it.

this is origami?!

I'll confess, until recently the word origami caused images of paper butterflies and birds to flutter to mind. But origami artists like Paul Jackson and Vincent Flooderer have set me straight. With roots in traditional techniques and inspired by contemporary fashion, they transform paper into organic, graceful shapes from single uncut sheets.

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.

gaining focus

Art on the Avenue, photographed by Jen SalvoLast weekend's Art on the Avenue craft fair experience was a good one. It turned out to be a great day and I love knowing that my work is out there in the world, making people happy, with custom orders for more. Got a nice voice mail from one buyer saying she's putting her new leather journal to good use. And check out Jen Salvo's pics, nicely capturing the essence of the day (and thanks, Jen, for including my booth in your montage!).

Could not have done this without massive help from my hubby Ian, and long-time friend Elizabeth, who came up from her busy life in Charlottesville to be involved in all aspects of the day: set up, merchandising, sales, moral support, booth break down, and margaritas at the end of an exhausting day.

The experience drove several lessons home for me, as well. Preparing for the event was hugely time-consuming. I spent every weekend and many evenings since late August creating enough work to sell. While I loved it, this came at a cost, taking precious time away from people I love and my main art-related focus right now, Moving Parts. It left me feeling scattered and over-stretched, distracted from what I really want to do: build a body of work that consists of fewer, high-quality works of art or projects...not many pieces that I sell at craft fairs or on Etsy.

Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with craft fairs and Etsy! But building a "business" with my art this way is not the path I see for me. Not now, at least. So it's good to learn this now, and to stop investing in things that distract from what I really want. I'm in this for the long haul, and gaining focus will give me the stamina and grounding I've worked hard to create in all areas of my life. I want to treat my art with equal respect, care and attention.

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

artspring opens soon

ArtSpring - a new retail art, craft and gallery space in downtown Silver Spring - opens Saturday, August 8.

I spent a few hours today (assisted by my super-good sport hubby) installing my work in one of their windows facing Georgia Avenue, a prime spot that I'm really excited about and grateful to have.

Opening festivities will include live music, mingling with the artists, and refreshments. Do come visit, if you're out and about: 8519 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD.

The grand opening lasts all day from 12 to 8 p.m., with a party in the evening starting at 5:00.

art on the avenue!

Looks like I'll be giving the art fair scene another whirl on October 3, this time at a local fave, Art on the Avenue. I was holding my breath on this one, since rumor had it that it's hard to get into. I'm in! Am eager to see what come of this - it's a much bigger venue than my first craft fair foray back in May, with a history of attracting over 40,000 art-hungry shoppers in one day.

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!

walking a tightrope

Am walking a bit of a tightrope right now, balancing time in the studio with minding my day job. It would be soooo easy to let the day job work slowly fade away, if there weren't financial repercussions. I keep telling myself that the client work underwrites the art. For now. Recently finished Lewis Hyde's The Gift and, although I found much of it tedious, I mined a few gems. Namely, some of the thinking/rationale behind protecting the arts from the marketplace. It's resonated for me and cooled my heels on wanting to figure out a "business model" for my art.

We're about 2/3 finished with the inside trays on the CityDance boxes...

Pyramid-Atlantic summer intern Nora Simon

...and I'm starting to get a little pickier on craftsmanship, now that we've got some rapport going with the interns and volunteers. Designed a companion booklet that will rest on top of the books and will post pics once I have something more concrete. Looks like we'll gold stamp the box lid, which I've never done before, so that'll be fun to learn. We're nowhere near that step, just trying to think ahead on cover board prep options.

Made a little progress this weekend on my own edition for the project. Actually, it's been very meditative coating digital ground on both sides of 150 sheets of handmade paper. It's a time-consuming step, but I like the crispness of the text I get using the ground vs. uncoated on my pigment printer. A couple of hours into it, I realized it could be much easier if I used Susan King's paint roller trick - so I got me a 6" foam roller, paint tray and am cookin' along:

Created a nice rhythm on Sunday: coat some paper, hang it on the line in my studio to dry, do a load of laundry, work on a proposal for a client, plant some hostas, rinse and repeat.

moving parts artists on the move

Our artist book editions of 50 (plus 2 display copies) for the CityDance Moving Parts project are due by the end of this month. Gulp. As one of the coordinators of this project, you'd think I'd set an example and get mine done on time. More on that in a different post. For now, feast your eyes on a couple of completed editions by Irene Chan and Leah Frankel.

Iren Chan, 2009Leah Frankel, 2009