“Little books” are getting bigger

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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”!


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