This is the second in a series of posts about the Fifth-Sized Book Adventure. For the rest of October I will be posting every couple of days about this project, explaining how I have created my contribution to it. My role in the project includes sharing my process of developing work, for the participants on the project, but I also wanted to make this available to anyone else who might be interested in following that journey.
Having listed (in a previous post) some of the qualities that interested me about the Fifth-Sized Book collection, I realised that it was the physical nature of the books that I was interested in. How could I choose a particular book because of subject? That approach wouldn’t be right for the way I work. I am interested in the materiality of things. It was the way that the books had changed over time that really grabbed my attention: the way that page edges or corners had become scuffed with use or marked by contact with hundreds of people’s fingers and exposure to light; the torn and worn covers or those missing parts of their covers; the marks made by institutional stamps that were now integral to the pages, recording a history of ownership, use and classification.
One particular book stuck in my head after that first visit to the library. It was a chunky volume, sitting on a shelf amongst different sized books. Its spine was missing, leaving the stitching on the inside of the spine exposed and showing how the thick book had split into three sections. The whole volume was tied untidily with old string to keep the sections together. This binding and the loss of the spine cover meant that there is no way of knowing what the subject of the book was.
On my second visit I made straight for this volume, confirming my gut reaction that this was the book upon which I should focus my work. This seemingly very old book was a most intriguing object and by not knowing what its pages held it would remain for me an object whose physical state greatly interested me.
When this book is touched it leaves a mark on your fingers and any clothes or surfaces it comes into contact with. What remains of the leather cover is breaking down into a powdery brown dust. The exposed stitching on the spine is clogged with residue of the glue that previously held the cover on. Some sections retain fragments of the spine cover, with one small area showing blue with embossed gold detail, like a glimpse into the book’s previous state.
I will be teaching a workshop in March at West Dean College in West Sussex. As a new tutor to this renowned centre for the creative arts I have been invited to show some of my work in the College foyer in the run up to my course there. I have sent a variety of work to show in this exhibition, including: Spurn Cloth #1, the large art quilt piece I made during my 2012 residency at Spurn; 49 Beer Bottle Tops (shown above) and 76 Hair Grips (both incorporating found metal with hand stitch and natural staining); a selection of paper-based pieces incorporating rust prints, collagraph and stitch. The exhibition runs form 10th January to 10th March.
Earlier this month I was fortunate to be in Southern Italy, teaching at the wonderful Masseria della Zingara. We had a great week exploring the land around the Masseria, walking the lanes, collecting things to use in the studio and using various techniques to record our experience. We collected, printed, stained, wrote, stitched, wove, folded . . . and ate!
Spring was in full swing (which it certainly isn’t yet here in the UK!) and we were surrounded by fruit trees in blossom, beautiful wild flowers and a green lushness that I’m sure will have gone once the temperatures rise later in the year. The wonderful red earth in that part of Italy provides a striking foil for the colours of growth. And of course my travel reading had to be The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, which provides the story for one of my favourite films, a must-see at this time of year.
Suddenly the seasons have shifted. Although today is the start of the meteorological autumn it doesn’t always feel autumnal on the first of September. The last week has felt very autumnal with changes in the feel of the air and subtle shifts in foliage colours. There are fruits and seeds ripening and all sorts of interesting fungi appearing. Last week I was teaching down in Hertfordshire and staying in a village surrounded by arable fields. The harvest over, machinery was busy turning the earth ready for the next lot of crops. One day a golden blanket of stubble covered the gently rolling landscape and the next it had been turned in on itself, revealing rich chocolate brown earth.
Walking the lanes near where I was staying my hands became full of treasures, so much so that I used my umbrella to hold them! I don’t now very much about fungi and I wouldn’t normally do more than admire. But I do know a puff ball when I see one and I was delighted to find one that was fresh and firm: ideal for my tea.
Back in Yorkshire a day later and we walk in local woods. Again there are beautiful perfect fungi, ripe berries to pop straight into the mouth as we walk and under one tree we find a scattering of oak galls, which I gathered for use in dyeing.
At home I drew the berries I’d found on the lanes and used their juice to add colour to my pages. The colours won’t stay true for very long but there is something ‘true’ about using the object you’ve drawn to make marks itself. A leaf that also caught my eye because of its purple hues sits alongside and seems to sum up the shift in the year.
Now that the Shirt Collar Project exhibition is open and the final pieces have been revealed I can share a few images of my finished work. There is a full explanation of the process and decisions that led to these pieces over on the project blog. I ended up making three small book forms using the prints I made from my collar. I find the 3D nature of these pieces very pleasing. I often feel drawn to working in a more three-dimensional way and perhaps this project has taught me to go with that impulse. I really allowed the experimentation with the materials to lead me this time, with no particular outcome in mind: a really useful challenge.
I will be at this lovely event this weekend at The Tetley, a new contemporary art gallery in Leeds. I first showed at this event last year and it was a very friendly gathering of all things book art. I’m looking forward to seeing the new venue and meeting some lovely artists’ book making/appreciating people! I’ll be taking some of my Tide Marks books along, as well as this: Forgotten Haberdashery
A few months ago I was invited by Kathleen to be part of a group project involving some vintage shirt collars. The brief and some of the developments can be found on the project blog here. So this is what arrived back in the summer and has been pinned to my studio board while I considered what to do with it.
Last week I finally got round to playing with this item that is sort of a ‘found object’ except it is someone else’s find. I studied it as if it were some sort of specimen, investigating its make-up, structure and features. I drew it, photographed it, took prints from it and slowly took it apart, documenting the process. At each stage I took a print, initially blind embossing (putting it through the press with damp paper and no ink). The marks it made became slowly more ragged and dis-shevelled as the edges were un-done.
It was so pristine and white that I daren’t mark it with ink initially, knowing that once I did there would be no going back. Eventually I plucked up the courage to do so and now the collar lies in its dissected state, flattened and black with printing ink. The prints it made have wonderful detail where the loose threads caught the ink.
I like it as an object. It has a history and a story that I can never know. I don’t know yet what I’ll do to it next but I’m looking forward to finding out…
Last year I was commissioned to make a special record of a garden. This record was for the occupants of the garden (and its house) for over 20 years to take with them when they move on to pastures new. There is more information about the project here and there are some images of how things developed in an album here. The final set of prints were chosen over Christmas and are now with the framer. I’m looking forward to seeing how they look as a finished series. Meanwhile, I will be bringing the experiments and developments together in a special book to go with the framed prints.
I’ve been finishing off various bits of work for Tide Marks. With less than two weeks to go until the opening it is finishing touches time. Amongst the work are five paper pieces with embossing and stitching on a scale that I’ve not attempted before. Stitching into paper this size (70 x 50 cm) provides certain challenges but I’ve worked away methodically at my kitchen table with the autumn light changing rapidly as the weather flits between sunshine and showers, the now cold wind carrying animated leaves past my window. This has been a more attractive place to work than my studio of late. I miss the eye onto the outside when I’m there.
These pieces are subtle, quiet. They change massively with the light: sometimes the embossed lines and stitches catching dark shadows so they look like drawn marks; sometimes the whole piece looking flat and empty. The space that appears empty from a distance is full of detail when you’re close. Space can be scary: it is tempting to fill it up, but just like silence that can be beautiful I hope the spaces can be too.
I took down my installation at The Bowery last weekend (with the help of my small assistant). It was potentially a rather sad day as the paper pieces that I’d collaged directly onto the wall were going to have to be scraped off. I didn’t know whether they would come off in salvageable pieces or if the whole thing would break up. I had resolved myself to this site specific piece (the paper extension to my linen Spurn Cloth #2) being an ephemeral work and likened it to the erosion and change that is happening constantly at Spurn, where the pieces were based on.
Someone suggested I should have filmed the process of putting the installation up, building up the collage on the wall – great idea, but I’d already put it up when they suggested it! So I decided to record the taking down instead. Here is the result, although the quality isn’t great it gives an idea of how the pieces surrounded you in the gallery (the first half is shots taken from the middle of the room looking round the walls and then it goes back the other way tracking the removal of the work and leaving an empty gallery again.