Another book!…

Posted in A drawing a day, artists books on October 2, 2015 by Betsy Lahaussois

The pages of this book are torn from old monoprints from my recycling pile, assembled randomly, and bound with the usual Coptic binding. They have been a comforting– because not precious– jumping off place for daily improv exercises… this year’s version of the “drawing a day” project I assigned myself a while back. Great ploy to get my reluctant self out to the studio! I rediscovered some twenty year old oil crayons with such hardened surfaces that it took a mosaic hammer to get to their soft center, and gave them one last outing before pitching them!…liquid watercolor inks, graphite crayons, joint compound, glue, Dremel tool, liquid acrylics, bleach…the whole dusty arsenal.

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“Little books” are getting bigger

Posted in artists books, little books on July 22, 2015 by Betsy Lahaussois

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I love it when a small idea takes on a life of its own, and starts to deviate from the expected path. Lately I have moved on from “little books” to manically assembling samples and experimental pages into bound books, while buffing up the Coptic stitch, my favorite book binding technique of the moment.  I like its unfussy chain-stitched construction, and how flat the pages lie when the book is opened.

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Do you want to know how to do it? Here is the clearest tutorial I have found on the Coptic stitch. I have mostly been using blank note cards with a horizontal orientation (Fabriano’s Antiqua), which have a nice surface and are of good enough quality to put up with the usual abuse (stitches, tearing, glue, pools of ink). For covers, I am using precut plywood rectangles, because I like them, and because I happen to have a pile left over from another project…. It is fun making a bunch of marks, with a more or less unified palette, putting them together, and declaring them a book. And I am enjoying organizing and binding together things with stitching, or things with collage, rippled surfaces, bits of old document, etc. But maybe the time has come to think more about content. As the collections become more and more abstract, how can I avoid falling into the trap of over familiar marks and gestures and even color schemes? A girl doesn’t want to repeat herself!

Here is my first book from a few years ago–thirty sneezes worth of crumpled kleenexes. That was a clear case of content, but I wonder if it always has to be so explicit!….

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Perhaps I have just found a way of making the content more subliminal…. The other day, I was scooping old sketchbooks off the shelves and into the garbage can. If I can hardly bear to look at them myself, went my thinking, the kindest thing would be to destroy them and spare my kids guilty indecision in the future. Sometimes it is good to wait 24 hours before lighting the match. (See Bonfire of the Vanities post!)  When I fished a random sketchbook back out of the garbage can the next morning for another look, I couldn’t help but feel tenderness for my 25-years-younger self, a frustrated artist/housewife, not at all resigned to living in Rome, looking desperately for ways to keep art making alive in a seemingly boxed in life. (Hey! Content?) My inner Recycler, cat-napping in the corner, opened her eyes and slowly rose to her feet. Over in the “recycle or pitch” pile, which continues to grow in spite of my best intentions to make it disappear, I found a stack of unsuccessful monoprints on good quality paper, and tore them into page sized strips.

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I thought  of my deceased friend Linda, who advocated cooking pointed messages into the casserole to serve the houseguests who won’t leave, as I tore out page after page, and started gluing them onto the recycled monoprints. A subliminal message has to add content, doesn’t it!? What is a brainstorming spiderweb on how to get back to work, if not a temperature reading of the moment (and a recurring one at that!) The words don’t matter–they are always more or less the same anyway. Lose the words. Might as well lose the image while I’m at it… The pages got quite heavy with torn bits of drawing and personal associations, and a bit chaotic, although I thought I was proceeding in a methodical way! A sanding machine helped level and unify them, once the matt medium and the adrenalin rush had settled.

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Finally, I didn’t save much shelf space–the new 1991 sketchbook is almost as fat as the old one–and the results “are what they are”, but it was a satisfying, rather liberating project, and I will probably keep picking at these weather beaten but tough pages. Even though they have become rather abstract, I know their content is still there, “baked into the casserole”!

Little books, part II

Posted in little books, paper, surface design on June 22, 2015 by Betsy Lahaussois

The adventure continues when Little Books meet gravity, and I become mesmerized by drips! This is a time when it is good to have a drop cloth on the table below, and a gentle breeze from behind, waving the slower drips along on their course. Liquid inks behave differently from “liquid acrylic inks”, I found, when I spritzed them and some colors bled, while others remained firmly anchored on their paths. But if you’ve applied a coat of linseed oil to the strip and dried it, the paper becomes translucent, and the lines go resolutely south instead of meandering; interesting! And hints of them are visible on the back, which is a welcome “something” to respond to when you start side two.

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(I can’t resist including this shot of the dripped, drying books, which looks so oriental with the mosaic canopy. Expanded text of the mosaic is “BPL Studio. Knock Or Else!…”)

At some point I remembered I had four or five unopened bottles of colored ink, part of a starter kit I bought at a back to school sale a couple of years ago. Day Glo orange and acid yellow are not the first colors I think of when I am in a muted mood, but they have their place when you are feeling expansive!






And because the sun was still shining, and there was still some colored ink in the the pipette, I broke out a couple of blank greeting cards to drip over. There are lots of family birthdays coming soon! It’s nice that there is a practical application for the tricks I have been discovering in my Little Books playground.


Little books

Posted in collage, drawing, mixed media, paper, recycling, surfaces on June 13, 2015 by Betsy Lahaussois

Sometimes you need to put away all your stalled projects, and get a fresh start. Thinking small and free, and “unimportant”, I tore whole sheets of drawing paper into eight horizontal strips, and folded them into pocket sized books. I quickly realized what a good playground they provide….




I have been making marks with anything on hand, dripping wax, applying joint compound, scraping some off, gluing on recycled strips from old work, spraying with liquid inks, sanding everything down, brushing on a layer of acrylic…so little cost, so much fun!


beer can pens!


Here are my favorite mark makers of the moment, made from popsicle sticks and beer cans. (Yes!)  And here is a week’s worth of little books, hanging from the clothesline.


recto 1


(verso)verso 1


One thing I am liking about these strips is that they have a front and a back–twice as much fun for your money!


recto 2


(and here are the backs)


And when they are done, you fold them back up, stow them in nearly no space, and start a new strip! If I remember, I will keep one in my purse for scribbling while waiting in line–a jumping off point once back in the studio.

Dream vs. reality

Posted in collage on April 16, 2015 by Betsy Lahaussois

We’ve always thought it would be nice to have a little more space in Paris, and were recently swept away by a place that filled most of our conditions. We had actually started negotiations when a slight hitch brought the deal to a standstill and allowed us to reconsider; and then euphoria gave way to low grade panic! Oh, the indecision when reality starts to move in on a dream! Is pretty great good enough? Would having more space in central Paris make us feel fully alive, some day when manic walking is no longer an option? or would it be better to live farther away and find a patch of lawn to mow, and a neighbor who doesn’t mind live music at 10:01 pm?

As my friend Paula gently pointed out, these are first world problems! Still, what shape the rest of our lives might take has been much on my mind the last couple of weeks, and, of course, housing thoughts followed me into the studio.

A while ago I found a box of ancient real estate documents in a neighborhood “vide grenier”–timely raw materials for working through my housing ambivalence! They are evocative collage material, with their dates and places and old fashioned columns of handwritten figures. I like the transparency a coat of linseed oil gave the yellowing papers; and how selectively sanding back through the layers added to the feeling of time passing. So many records of transactions for the rich and successful M. Chabrier, dead for at least a hundred years…but could he take it with him?

The blank dream-canvas, where a top floor with terrace is still possible:


Fixed floor plan and monthly charges start to emerge out of the haze (What? no bathtub?!….)


Back to the drawing board–it is too early to hammer the lid shut on the rest of our lives!


Happy “Poisson d’avril”, 2015!

Posted in children's drawings, collage, paper, stitches on April 1, 2015 by Betsy Lahaussois

poisson d'avril

After a whole year, I finally untaped Martin’s 2014 fish from the front door, and sewed them onto a black and white postcard that was lying around. Secret collaboration! I am pleased with the texture of the machine stitched lines, and the bits of shiny background showing through.

We dropped it off at their house with a couple of commercial chocolate fish for the boys. Aimee says Martin was delighted to recognize his fish in their new setting! Here he is putting the final touches on this year’s batch just before school.
gone fishing

Step ladders, collaboration, and grandkids

Posted in children's drawings, digital graphics, surface design on February 23, 2015 by Betsy Lahaussois

Last spring we visited my sister Helen in Colorado, after a family wedding at the other end of the state. Her beautiful house is sparely and artistically furnished with things that spark joy, and this charming ladder, decorated by a local artist as part of a fundraising event, is proudly displayed at the center of the action. While we were there, my childhood friend Sue came down from her mountain top to hike with us, and she too was smitten by its quirky presence. We each made a mental note to investigate decorating ladders once we got home.

IMG_7033Sue got there first!
Sues ladder

I never found a local source for tall wooden step ladders, but Ikea had some good short ones, ready to assemble. I bought four, and it wasn’t long before Noam, a grandchild who loves projects, swam into my net!IMG_8242

I don’t know if all just-turned-four year olds are as brilliant at following assembly pictograms as Noam, but he lined up the pieces perfectly, selected the right hardware, and let Jacques tighten the screws for him.

I suppose I am like many others with an artistic temperament in that I have always preferred working on my own. You can get a little territorial about your space and your supplies, and following your own hunches seems compelling enough without the distraction of someone else’s input. But I started rethinking the benefits of collaboration when Steve Ford of Ford and Forlano, one of my favorite jewelry designers, came for a visit with slides of his work. Steve explained how he and “Forlano”, who live at the opposite ends of the country, send partially finished work back and forth via UPS, trusting that they are on the same page, and welcoming each other’s “surprise ending”. Not long after Steve left, the Parisians arrived for their summer holiday, and I tested this Collaboration thing, making a family table cloth. It was fun! Nobody spilled toxic chemicals or left my best paint brush to harden in the sun. We surfed on each other’s creative energy!

Collaborative table cloth

Noam, an early layer

So, eager to continue the experiment, I became Noam’s collaborator when we got out the paints. He mostly made the marks, and I mostly said, “Whoa! Enough! Here, try this tool…”, and mixed the paints with the medium. Noam is a man of process!–a new day, a new layer (“any color as long as it is blue!”). I finally declared this stepladder done; it could have gone on forever!

Noam's ladder Don’t you love the signature?Noam's signature

And then we dashed off another, with four or five playful layers. (As you can see, by now the tube of blue paint was History!)unnamed

This week Alexander and Martin are back in Italy for their school holidays. The weather has been moderately cooperative, but yesterday we were all restless from an inside day, and I proposed–guess what?!–assembling and painting the last two step ladders. This team was able to put together their own ladders, and when it came time to decorate, I had a feeling I knew what to expect! (From Alexander, careful geometrical renderings, and from Martin, explosions and amputated limbs and Star Wars imagery…) What was I thinking?–they announced their theme in one voice, with no hesitation. DAZZLE Ladders! We had been looking with delight at the camouflaged battle ships from World War II, and now they were ready to camouflage some furniture.images4926741146_2a31b23416Because the final two ladders are black, it wasn’t such a stretch. I gave them each a pin-nosed bottle with white liquid acrylic, and they dived in. Martin, like a true artist, took the surprises and ran with them. Here is a little Paint Book experiment he had done on my iPad a few months ago:


And here is how he dealt with an unruly blob of white paint that squirted out of the bottle onto his ladder. I love how he applies discoveries made in other media to the project at hand! IMG_8884Here are both fellows out in the field with their still tacky ladders, hoping to speed up the drying process.IMG_8888


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