In conversation with Paula McCann

I first came across Paula’s books when I saw in 2021 that Lady Bay Art Festival’s creativity fund was given to Paula McCann and she was commissioned to make a book to show at the Art Trail 2022. Our paths crossed again later that same year at the Notts Book Arts Festival 2022 where we invited her to exhibit one of her books, City Grid, and her artists’ group, Bookness Collective, held a stall.

Paula has a BTEC HND in graphic design and worked as a book designer for different publishers for 18 years, working on page layout and cover design.

She later took a fine art degree at Nottingham University and is currently doing bookbinding and book art from her studio at Fishergate Point in Nottingham.

For this interview she invited me to see her studio. It is part of a larger space shared by a range of different artists and creatives. Upon entering, you stumble across old sofas, abandoned mini pianos, big and and small chests of drawers occupying corners and empty spaces. It feels a bit like working through an ill-arranged antiques shop crossed with student housing, until we enter into a small space behind a column. This is Paula’s workspace, very small, packed and tidy, obviously set up by someone who has a talent in making use space very effectively.

Thank you for inviting me to your studio today! Let’s start this interview with looking at one of your books. Do you have a favourite that you would like to show me?

This book is the one I made for the Lady Bay Festival. It is called 570 Steps. It was to do with my lockdown walk to work. It’s a two sided double concertina that you can open as a book with a spine or you can stand it up and stretch it out to it’s full length. It’s quite long, about 1.5 metres.

It features photos I took on my walk to work during lockdown. Some are cyanotypes, some are inkjet prints.

I regularly walked along a straight section of road where you can see a long way into the distance. Every day, walking and walking it, I got to know it really well. I’d see the same cyclists every day. I would notice all the graffiti. The things on the floor. The way that the seasons changed…

There is a fence that runs all the way along that stretch of road. Day after day I walked past it, and I wondered: What’s behind it? – It turns out to be allotments, which are mostly abandoned. I came to like that fence. It’s a material reminder of the history of this place. There are many lime trees along the stretch of road too.

I then started counting. I was counting steps. I was counting how many fence panels, how many trees, so on and so forth… – The insanity of lockdown.

It’s a very special stretch of land to me now. I researched its history and found pictures of this road when the trees were half the size. I thought those trees have been sitting there, for years, seeing so much. One day they’re going to build on the land behind the fence where the allotments are, and I’m going to be very sad, I suppose. But I’m also very curious about what happens next.

So the book really contains a collection of views, photos of ephemeral things you spotted, and bits of facts and history.

Yes, I am interested in what humans make in a place, how we change it, and what we leave behind.

[H. looking at the shelves in Paula’s studio space] That’s an interesting collection of objects you got there…

I love the sea, and every time I go, I come back with another pebble or brick. I have a special love for bricks, especially when it’s got lettering on it. It’s my interest in typography. See this brick? I found it on the beach. It’s worn by the sea, broken on rocks, shaped by chance and nature…. But they are also terracotta, man-made.

Nature and typography. Like poetry. Together.

I am interested in all sorts of letters that have been altered accidentally. When I am walking along the streets I take photographs of lettering… — and I love grids. Take a look at this photo, for example:

I took this photo because I liked the grid and was delighted that it even got some words in it. — I just absolutely love this factory window, how the sun was shining on it, with lots of different colours. And you’ve got this framework, it’s got its own boundaries.

For many years I did text layout, looking at grids, and arranging them. It’s all grids, and letters… And to see these two things out in the world, not fixed down in a book, being free if you like, that’s fascinating to me.

How do you turn this interest for the interplay of man-made materials, places, and nature into books?

Building things from paper, seeing how they move is another interest of mine. I think it’s a combination of playing with these book models and shapes and thinking about what I could make with them. I make interesting book structures, and then just sit with them for ages, playing with them, observing them, thinking about what kind of book I could use the structure with.

And I quite like the idea of making artist books about a place and something to do with that place.  When I go to a place, it’s like: What did they used to make here? What do they make here? What is the industry here?

For example, in Sheffield, they make cutlery. — But I wouldn’t just use a fork for a book about Sheffield, that would be too obvious. Once I start with a book, I do a bit of research and then I’d maybe find that there’s some sort of tool that helps in steel working that I could take home and have sitting on my desk, and I often get slightly obsessed with beautiful things like that.

It’s exploring places and objects and combining them with playing with folds. In one moment, while handling one or the other, I know how they have to come together. It’s very organic. I think it has to be. If I were to try too hard with it, it wouldn’t look right, I think.

Any ideas for new work?

I have friends and family in Bridport, Dorset, which is renowned for making ropes and nets. Nets are grids. There is a net making tool called a braiding needle.

You load them up with string, and they are used to weave the net. I visited my friend and she gave one to me. I’ve still got it, I learnt to load it up string. I’ll use this in a book somehow, but I don’t quite know how, yet.

So, going back to bricks, there used to be a brickworks in Chilwell. So, I’m on the lookout for a Chilwell brick. And I’d quite like to make a very simple Chilwell brickworks book, one that folds out into a broad sheet, maybe. Something like that, with lots of bricks. And of course, with letters on those bricks. These are the kind of ideas that are floating in my mind at the moment.

Anything concrete you are working on at the moment?

I am part of the Bookness Collective. There’s eight of us, all with different backgrounds. We’ve got printmakers, photographers, collage artists, poets, graphic design… It’s a great combination of people.

I am currently working on a matchbox  book for our group. Our poet has given us a half written poem, just some words, really. I’ve picked some of the words out and am going to add pebble prints … [shows me the book in the photo above]

This was made in lockdown. It’s a crown binding and closes with magnets. These prints can be taken out individually. They are all little lino prints.

I’m going to print similar pebbles for this new book, but I’m going to try and evolve them.

I am very much looking forward to seeing what will become of all that, sounds really fascinating. Thank you for your time and giving me this insight into your process today!

If you want to see more of Paula’s work and photos, you can find her as @paulamakesbooks on Instagram. And the booknesscollective has an instagram account, too as @booknesscollective

Dates and Chances to See me and my Art in 2023

I am currently finalizing my dates for this year, and it is looking busy so far. You can see all the dates also in the exhibition page at the top.

The first thing that is going to happen is on 15th April in Loughborough, Public and Plant Café, where the Art College used to be. The m’Other exhibition is going to happen later in the year (see below) but on the 15th there will be like a pre-show, it will be interactivev with postcard sized artwork from the artists that will exhibit later, inviting visitors to leave their own perspective on motherhood and art.

From Mon 29 April to Sun 4 June 2023, there will be exhibitions in three Inspire Libraries, Arnold, Beeston & Worksop, linked with the Open Studio Notts open studio event. I had a photographer visit me in my studio last week, and I reckon it will be in Beeston where there will be photos from him showing me in my studio on display, alongside some of my artwork.

    On 13th/14th of May, I will open my studio in Wollaton to the public. If you have been before, you know how these go in general: I will display and sell my work, and I’ll be here for a chat and a tea – and I hope you’ll pop in! This is a really friendly event that is foremost about staying in touch or discovering a new connection.

    From June 24th to July 30th 2023, “m’Other” exhibition will take place at the Plant and Public Café, what once used to be Loughborough Art College, East Midlands, UK. With 20 artists who are mothers and incorporate the topic of motherhood and pregnancy into their work. There will be a mixture of 2D and 3D work, and I am really excited to see how it will all come together. I will be showing my milk, blood, and thing with feathers piece there for the first time. There will be an opening/private view which I plan to attend, but I don’t know yet when this is going to be.

    detail (bird baby) of pregnant papermache sculpture by H. Kurzke

    From October 7th, 2023 – January 14, 2024, I will be showing “Others”, an installation of seven heads and scrolls in the outlook gallery of the Minneapolis Centre of Book Arts MCBA, Minneapolis, MN, USA.

    I am planning to be in Minneapolis for a week for installing the exhibition, visiting the twin cities, meeting with artists there, and possibly hold a workshop on the weekend. Please do get in touch if you are there, too, so we can set up a meeting!

    A January Message

    A very happy year 2023 to you!

    I hope you made it well through the odd time between Christmas and New Years and came out well on this end of the Holiday tunnel. After an extended Christmas break, I hit the ground running, immersed myself in projects started before, and now realise that I’m late with this newsletter which was planned to go out in December. I hope it’s not too late for a look back.

    I felt a lot like screaming this year

    When a friend asked me how 2022 had been for me, I told her I was glad to leave it behind. And indeed, for our family it has been one of the toughest yet. Our daughter had an especially difficult year, with surgery and hospital stays, with a new diagnosis, SATs, and a transition to a new school where everything is different, including her support staff. I had to threaten our local authority with legal action for her to be assigned a secondary school in the first place, and it doesn’t feel like the battles are over. I fell through a rabbit hole this spring where I realised how thin disability rights are. What good is a right if it isn’t enforced? – You are always only advice to “plead” with those who are breaching your rights. And the worst that someone has to fear from breaching those rights, is to be ordered to stop discriminating against you.

    You know how they say that as a mother you are only ever as happy as your unhappiest child? – I found this to be very true this year. If the start of the year was difficult in this regard, in autumn we hit rock bottom, and it affected Büchertiger insofar as I felt forced to close shop in November for the rest of the year. Because I couldn’t cope anymore with all shipping regularly in addition to all that I was asked to do by authorities and the school.

    Lines, one of a kind artist book by H. Kurzke

    However, in many ways 2022 has been a very successful and happy year. I started participating in the Are You Book Enough Challenges again and produced several smaller and bigger works over the year, some clearly others not obviously inspired by the topic. All of them can be found in my Instagram stream: and are for sale if you are interested.

    In January/February I worked on and finally finished the book Folklórico. I am very proud of this little book: The text is a short film script (written by me) following the view of a young British dancer with Mexican heritage. It is a story about the struggle to fit into the mainstream society when you have a different background, to be your original self and yet continue family traditions.

    Folklorico, book art by H. Kurzke, open edition, digitally reproduced, handbound

    For the page decoration I have made a number of monoprints onto which the text is cut and pasted. For the cover, I wove several bands that were stitched together. It is digitally re-produced and made into an open, handbound edition. Copies are only £19 plus shipping.

    In February, I produced the book “Secret Love”. On first sight it seems to contain only abstract lines, but if you take the text block out and hold it against a light source, they make up a heart. – And it’s almost February again! It makes the perfect Valentine’s gift. This is a limited edition of 20, and copies can be had for £22.50.

    Secret Love, Edition of 20 handmade copies. Artist book by H. Kurzke

    Even if things seem to happen in passing,
    Even if our minds hardly seem to touch,
    Even if my touch is just tangential.
    Please know that all this goes deeper

    All those tangential thoughts,
    All those brushing encounters,
    All those gifts that don’t seem to hit the mark.
    Please know that they all count.

    I love you.

    Hilke Kurzke (l) and Jenny Stevenson (r), organisers and founders of Notts Book Arts

    Around spring, Notts Book Arts began to come out from the shadows of my application writing desk. We announced the first Botts Book Arts Challenge for Young people, and I produced a series of videos on instant books.

    In May I had the chance to meet up with Sarah Tutt. She is a Nottingham artist who started out as a performer and writer, and makes asemic art now.

    In June I held an Open Studio together with Clare from Curious Inky Me. It was nice to connect with visitors personally that day, especially after the break that covid forced upon us before.

    September/October then held the absolute highlights of this year: we held the First Notts Book Arts Festival with a student competition, an exhibition and workshop at Wollaton Library, and the first Notts Book Arts Fair. Organising and participating was a huge buzz after the socially rather restricted years and a huge success with the visitors. For many it was their first contact with contemporary book art, and they were surprised and as delighted about the breadth of art that was on display as Jenny Stevenson, my partner in organising this, and I were.

    Stevie, Artist Book by H. Kurzke

    My book “Stevie” consists of a paper mache head that forms the case of a scroll spilling from its head. It was finished just in time to be included in the exhibition. It is a part of a body of work that explores neurodiversity, or diversity as such. “Stevie” is talking on one side of the scroll about different simple facts from projective geometry, and on the other side about just wanting to find connection and acceptance.

    Another “just in time” was the completion of a limited edition of Beginner’s Bookbinding Tools Kit, and a bookbinding kit for absolute beginners (including children), both were finished to take with me to the Notts Book Arts Fair. Those left over from the event are now available for sale. The links take you to Etsy. Send me email and mention the newsletter, and you’ll get them for £25 and £12 respectively.
    With the last bits of this colourful leather paper, I also made five bookbinding kits aimed at teenager/adult beginners; £35 each (only available via email atm). All kits contain all materials and tools needed to finish the book. I hoped to sell them in the Christmas period but then did not even manage to get them properly photographed. – But they make equally good Easter gifts!

    Hilke Kurzke in her Backlit Studio, November 2022

    For the next year, I have big plans. I hope our family situation settles to an extent that allows me to follow through with them. But that’s the beauty about living as a human: We don’t remember the future, and it is full of surprises, good and bad.

    I am currently working on finishing seven heads and scrolls for the Outlook Gallery in Minneapolis, MN, US, where they will be exhibited next autumn. I have (almost) finished three heads now, one scroll. If you want to follow along the progress, check in on Instagram every now and then! I also have the prospect of my Milk, Blood and Thing with Feathers being exhibited in Loughborough this spring.

    I hope we’ll get a chance to meet in 2023!

    … in conversation with Sarah Tutt

    Sarah Tutt on the day of the interview with her work, photo: H. Kurzke

    Sarah Tutt is a visual and performance artist from Nottingham. I first encountered her large-scale asemic ink drawings, hanging on the wall of the large, open studio space at Backlit Galleries shared by recent graduates of Nottingham Trent University. This was in pandemic times, so all I could do at the time was to leave a note on her desk. We eventually managed to meet up, and I was lucky enough for her to agree to an interview. She is now coming to the end of a residency at Loughborough University and is preparing to undertake a PhD at Nottingham Trent University in October. For this interview she invited me to meet her in the attic gallery space of On Thoresby Street, where she was documenting and evaluating some works from her residency.

    Well, let’s dive right in: Can you tell me where you come from artistically?

    Originally my practice was performance. My undergrad was in Contemporary Arts at Nottingham Trent University; the course offered a combination of performance and visual art. It was truly inter-disciplinary, and that approach underpins my work to this day. After Uni, I ran or worked with several performance companies for many years.

    And you were successful in your work! You won Barclays New Stages Award for Best of New British Theatre, you toured, your work was commissioned… What made you leave theatre?

    I became a mother and moved to France and lived abroad for many years. Theatre is a very heavy practice: You need storerooms, you need props, you need all these kinds of things. When I moved abroad, I left all that behind. I only carried my laptop and writing became my output.

    Sarah Tutt, PRESS series C. 2022. Artist-made paper, ink, graphite, wax, copper, marble. (photo: Jes Hill)

    Would you say, this performance and writing background influences the visual art that you are making now?

    Yes, writing has always held a position in my practice, be it for performance, in drawing, for research or simply writing as its own art form. How it shows up can be very different, sometimes it might be in the choreography of the hand in mark making, which is very similar to writing. Sometimes it might be that I’m using language in order to generate practice.

    My art making is process lead, and I have a material-based practice. I go through a period of investigation where I explore what the material can do. Not in the same sense as a craftsperson might, but exploring how materials and artist might perform together. It is a process that invites failure in. It’s a feeling-out stage in which I note the gestures that are used, and then take those gestures and make them into a formal instructions that are used to make work.

    The work that you see around you now has come out of my residency at Loughborough University, where I was exploring paper and making paper for the first time. And what I realised when I was working with papermaking was that the unique gesture that came out of that was “press”, which then became the formal instruction that I used to make all these works.

    When I look at the artwork hung here, I see four distinct … – should I call it bodies of work?

    …different forms of documentation, I would say.

    Should I view these different forms of documentation together, in a sequence, or all individually?

    There’s no sequence here, because often I find it useful to work on more than one thing at a time, and that’s to do with the rhythm of experimentation and the failure that comes naturally with an experimental approach.

    What I do is, I go into the studio and start working, and something emerges out of a process. And by working on one piece, I can have the head space to reflect on another. Whilst making the various works of the series Press, I also worked on this very detailed piece [points to a large sheet of paper with intricate marks; WIP discussed further below] over many weeks. In this way, I would be going back and forth.

    Sarah Tutt, PRESS series C. 2022. Artist-made paper, ink, graphite, wax, copper, marble. (photo: Jes Hill)

    Let’s take a closer look at the sheets hung on that wall there (series Press). Do you see these drawings as the finished art? Or are they leftovers of the true art which was in the process of making?

    Sometimes the process is important in exhibition. That’s when I will go into the gallery space myself and stage an intervention. But more often the exploration of a material is a private act, and what I show in a gallery are resulting documents of that. I think the tension between the absence and the presence of the artist is always there in my work.

    This is why I’m interested in the unruly line. By this I mean the line that happens by chance, by misadventure or by response. It is often the unruly line that holds a document of a live process and a relationship between materials, gesture, time and repetition – the key themes I work with.

    If I was to describe a main impression I have of this work, I would be talking of dots in a grid rather than lines…

    These particular pieces here are all made with the gesture of press. So the mark making stems from this gesture and a line is released. The drip from that pressed dot. This is the unruly line I am searching for.

    The grid comes up in my work as a way to hold something unruly. The choreographic process of repetition and order is important in my practice as is the friction between this order and chaos.

    During my residency I engaged with papermaking for the first time. Papermaking is such a physical, wet and dirty process, you are constantly soaking wet, you’ve got Wellingtons on. There’s this constant wetting, drying and pressing. And so these processes got carried over into the process of drawing, with the finished drawings finally pressed in an industrial press several times.

    I began to reflect on what would happen if I gave agency to the paper to dictate the surface, so instead of pressing it, I allowed the paper to dry naturally by suspension, which dictated the form of the dry paper surface, which in turn gave rise to the nature of the unruly line in the work. As I was placing the new sheets of paper to hang on these ball drying racks that you find in print workshops, I noticed what beautiful objects they are in themselves and that, when the paper was suspended in them, they acted as a kind of frame…, from there I developed the idea of making ball drying racks both part of the process of making and part of the made object in exhibition.

    And after applying the calligraphy the papers were then dipped in paint by the look of it?

    They are not dipped. Everything is made with the gesture of press. In the process of making these I spent a lot of time searching for the right medium to use with the material. And much experimentation went into the process of finding the right balance between the material, medium, tools, and gesture to use.

    I made my own paper from cotton linters, and thus it has this high absorbency. The first thing I learned when applying drawing was how greedy it was compared to store bought paper. I tried many different inks and substances before I landed on a mix of wax and graphite that held and released the unruly line in harmony with the scale of the paper.

    Initially, I approached the paper with larger pushed gestures, working with bigger brushes. But the work was unresolved, and I didn’t understand why until I sat back and realised that the paper already contained a strong line – that of the deckle edge. I then started to find a harmony between materials and mark.

    As to the added colour, I don’t often use colour, as I’m drawn to raw and organic materials and favour the quietness found in monochrome. I had just been to see some work by Derek Sprawson, and one work in particular grabbed me. I found something in it that was both quiet and used colour, and it inspired me to investigate.

    Sarah Tutt, WIP. 2021-2022. Artist-made paper, graphite. 135 x 110 cm. (photo: Joe Tutt)

    This work here is very different. On first sight and from the distance, it looks almost like a city map to me. But looking from up close it looks fractal in that the drawing repeats and emphasizes the pattern and texture of the paper on a smaller scale. And the individual lines remind me of the process of hatching…


    When I started to make paper, I was quickly drawn to the different personality of the paper that you can make: either incredibly fine, ethereal, flimsy material, or big paper like this which is just so robust and hard and stubborn.

    I thought I might work very differently with it. The bold marks I initially tried just didn’t call to me, whereas, as soon as I started to work in fine detail, it just felt right for that particular paper. The scale between surface, lines and marks became very important in this whole project.

    In the way this is done here, the absent line that becomes the unruly line, the spaces in between.

    Often with my practice, the particular projects I’m working on remain unfinished or unresolved. What happens is, I just move on to something else: I move between projects anyway, and it might happen that another idea starts to excite me more. And so I may go back again or not. This ties in with what you keep and what you don’t. [Remark of the author: she is referring to the outcome of continued experimentation.]

    This larger work is not a work that I particularly think is finished. But it’s not calling me to make any more marks on it yet. But maybe one day I’ll come back and add to it. I don’t necessarily think it’s a resolved piece. But at this time I think it’s resolved enough.

    Thank you very much for your time and patience, Sarah!

    If you you want to check out more of Sarah’s work, head to her website or Instagram stream. If you feel moved to explore work for sale, you can find some on her webpage here.

    PRESS 1. 2021. 33 x 22 cm. Artist-made paper, ink, graphite, wax, rust, (photo: the artist, Sarah Tutt)

    * All images in this article were used with the kind permission

    … in conversation with Amanda Watson-Will

    Page from “M.E.”, self portrait by Amanda Watson-Will, 2014 and 2021

    Amanda Watson Will is an Australian book artist who has a varied body of work, utilizing different techniques and materials for each work of art. This fresh approach to each book she produces, makes her body of work powerful and energetic.

    That may seem like a contrast to her personal circumstances, as she has been diagnosed with ME/CFS, a condition that has many symptoms, but which most powerfully impacts on her energy levels and ability to continue with any given activity over stretches of time.

    Thanks to the wonders of video call technology, I am able to visit Amanda in her Brisbane home today, to chat about her work to date.

    Hello Amanda, thank you very much for taking your time to speak with me today.

    Let’s start with some biographical background. You studied Fine Art and Ceramics, is that correct?

    Yes, but it wasn’t straight forward. My first career was in occupational therapy. I had to stop working, however, when I got really sick. I tried to go back into work in a graded fashion after my diagnosis of ME/CFS, but it just was too much.

    I saw a potter throwing on a wheel during a demonstration, and I was immediately inspired, and I knew that this was something worth pursuing in my life.
    I started with adult classes in pottery first, and through that found out there there was a program for a diploma which I then enlisted for. During that time, my interest in Fine Art awoke, and I became aware of this art/craft dilemma that hangs over ceramics. For a long time I didn’t really like the craft aspect to it. Even though I like throwing, I wouldn’t have wanted to make functional ware. I always wanted to make art.

    The work I did in ceramics was mostly sculptures and installations. And when I had finished my diploma, I felt like I wanted to go on and study art in a university context. That chance came when I was accepted for a master’s program at the ceramics department at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University (RMIT). That’s were I started book art. I sort of stumbled across it.

    “Like Weather”, Amanda Watson-Will, 2007

    Where do you see the difference between art and craft?

    I think, craft is a way to follow an honoured pathway. The traditional idea is to not bring something original to it. I, on the other hand, am interested in exploring and understanding my personal experiences through my making.

    My view on crafts has changed over the years. I remember visiting the V&A in London, where you can see the highest level of craft that you can imagine. I spent the whole day there, way past the energy I really should have, but I just couldn’t drag myself away. There’s so much beauty and skill, and there’s something to be said about the fact that all these amazing objects were made by we-don’t-know-who. There’s an amazing humility about that.

    Now I value that. And I realise what a gift those people have given society. It’s possibly more relatable for many people than fine art.

    You said you started a master’s in pottery, and you ended up making book art. How does that go together?

    Working with clay is very physical, and your work has to be fired in the kiln for at least 8 hours, sometimes longer, and you can’t just leave and go home for a while, you have to monitor it. During my time in Melbourne I found I was lacking the energy to do that.

    So I decided to work with unfired clay. I almost painted with it: I added a bit of water into it, so that it stuck to the wall. The first thing I did was a figure on the wall, and then I projected a blurred picture of myself walking onto that. As the clay dries over the time of an installation, it shrinks, and eventually pulls away from the wall and falls off, and I worked with that.

    This made the work very ephemeral, though, and so it needed documenting. And that’s when the book art came in. I took photos of that process and made the book “Self (states of self)”. That is a ceramic book with pages that are not bound. That came about toward the end of my master’s.

    Wraith, Photo of clay installation by Amanda Watson-Will, 2008

    So these first books you made were a cross-over, really, between ceramics and books. But you probably wouldn’t have seen yourself as a book artist then.

    No. That came a little while later with Book Art Object in 2011. After the Masters I was pretty exhausted and I knew I had to find a way to express myself, to use my creative energy that was even less physically demanding.
    Sarah Bowen invited 15 artists to join her for this project. The idea was to choose a text, and each of us made a book inspired by that text in an edition large enough so that each participant could have a copy.

    For this first round of book arts object, I made the work “Judy & the Jacaranda”. The project coincided with my mother’s death and that book became about my mother.

    Your parents dying, … I feel this is a whole other developmental stage in your life, like becoming a parent. There are these huge mile stones that happen and really change you.

    I had only made one other paper book before. But I did a lot of reading about book art and I wrote about that, about my masters and my ideas on my blog. It was a time when bloggers were very active and blogs were an incredibly rich source of information, inspiration and connection. I think that’s how Sarah found me.

    I am a natural born researcher. And if I have found something that interests me, I just dive right into it. I am just fearless that way, and that’s what happened with books. It’s very lucky that I am not afraid to experiment, because I have needed to keep exploring new media in order to be able to continue making art despite my diminishing energy.

    page from “Judy & the Jacaranda by Amanda Watson-Will, 2009

    That’s one of the things that initially made me follow your blog, and keeps me following your work over the years. I think it’s fascinating how you keep starting new things, especially keeping in mind the energy and time you can invest in something is limited. There is risk involved in starting something new without knowing whether you’d ever use it… I recall seeing some interesting experiments with embroidery and scrim. – Did you ever do anything with that?

    I started exploring textiles when natural dyeing was really big on the internet, maybe 5 years ago. People got some beautiful results, collecting leaves that grew locally and using their natural pigment to transfer onto the textile. But for me it didn’t work that well because I live in a subtropical area, and the trees here don’t produce the pigment needed. So I started embroidery instead.

    But at the same time, I was also looking into pastels and learned to use them.

    Then the last book arts object came around with the poem “Overwintering” by an Australian poet, John Bennet. It raises environmental issues and the importance of keeping the breeding, feeding, and resting spaces of migratory birds intact.

    So, while learning to work with pastels and embroidery, I developed some ideas for “Curlew”, my latest book. I developed a technique where I shaved the pastel to get powder, press that through a stencil, and then burnish it to make it stay. I realised that, because I can work only so many hours at a time, pursuing both pastels and fibre art was too slow. So decided to focus on pastels. But I do have some ideas for the fibres.

    Curlew, Amanda Watson-Will, 2019

    Which do you consider your best work and what makes it the best, what’s the criteria?

    I like it when my work fulfills and expresses successfully what I wanted to convey, and I am interested in expressing emotional things. “About M.E.” is quite an emotional work, and “Judy & the Jacaranda” is…

    I would go back to “Self” if I had to choose one that I think is best. There are two continuing themes that I find important and try to explore and extend each time I make work. They’re the idea of change and exploring transparency/ translucency in ways that contribute to the mood of the work.

    You are diagnosed ME/CFS. Do you consider yourself as disabled?

    While I wouldn’t really identify myself as a disabled artist, my condition has certainly handicapped my participation in the art world.

    First I have been forced to change medium again and again, because my energy over the years has gradually got less and less. I changed from pottery to working with unfired clay to artist books, as a means of reducing the physical demands of my work. I used photography and explored printmaking for imagery. But the technique I felt most drawn to, intaglio, I found to be outside my physical possibilities. Which then led to exploring techniques with pastels.

    The other thing I did was to take a decision after my masters to always do work first and then look for an outlet for it, rather than responding to a commission or call-out to a topic. In that way, book arts is a good field to be in. Because, at least before Covid, there used to be a quite reliable calendar of events, and I could prepare for that.

    That might all have been for the better. But the thing that I miss most is the ability to go to conferences and workshops. When M.E. first set in, I used to go to shows more and even to workshops, but I can’t anymore. I rarely have the opportunity to speak about art and about my art with anyone these days.

    Self, Amanda Watson-Will, 2008

    Do you think that there is something that art galleries or other venues and organizers could do to make it easier for you to participate?

    The challenge when accommodating people with ME/CFS is to allow a high degree of flexibility. This is needed because even for a single individual with ME/CFS, their energy levels can fluctuate from day to day.

    With today’s interview, I trusted that you were the kind of person who would be o.k. with postponing on short notice. There was always a 50:50 chance of that happening. When you agree to do an artist talk for a gallery, postponing late could be difficult. So I can’t normally do that. Even as an audience member, I have booked to attend events in the past and then couldn’t go.

    But I must say that Covid in this way really opened things up for me. Because quite a few art institutions have started to put talks and workshops online to watch at your own pace. Some are offered only as live events, for three or four days over zoom, and that really is no better than if I had to do it in person. That’s no option for me.

    So one thing that would allow me better access, would be to keep a recording of such a class online and allow people to do them more slowly on their own afterwards.

    The Great Library of Alexandria, Amanda Watson-Will, 2013

    I wonder whether just keeping a record is really enough. Maybe there’s a way to include disabled artists better. If they are excluded from live events, we are losing the connection.

    Yes, and I do really miss it, this connection with other artists, the feedback you can get about your work. But I do think it can work online. We had this type of exchange with Book Art Object. There was a discussion going on, we got feedback. It was all online, it was through blogging about it.

    On the other hand, in a way, if you have people away in their homes, connecting through the internet, it might be convenient for them and everyone. But it is very similar to having disabled people in care homes, in that they are away from the community. They are not seen. And understood. The understanding of what they can contribute is really lost and that they are valid valuable members of society as well.

    Thank you very much, Amanda, for speaking with me today, that was an interesting insight into how intertwined your personal story and health story are with the books you make and media you use. Any final words?

    I’d like to thank you, Hilke, for giving me the opportunity to talk with you about my work and my life as an artist. I hope it’s been of interest to your readers. If there’s anyone who has any questions or comments about the work, or about ME/CFS or combining the two, I would be more than happy to hear from them.
    You can reach me via email:

    Amanda in 2008

    Here are a few links for you to follow up on Amanda, have a more detailed look at her work, follow her blog, and see her work in progress on instagram:

    Images have been used with the kind permission from the artist.