News on “Ruled Worlds”

In my small studio I have a table by now as I mentioned some time before. It stands directly in front of the stairs that lead down to the next floor, the only exit, so that I have to crawl under the table to get in or out. But there is still the other workplace on the floor in front of the window that I used before I had the idea of putting a table there. I like to call it my non-working workplace. I still sit there to draw, try out small things, and to think.

Below you see the current state of my non-working workplace and the state ruled worlds was in until this morning:

Two boxes with things right in the centre of my workplace and thus of everything. You see there the shapes I made in the lower box some with the figures attached, and more material in the upper box. In the lower box you also see an opened book with ghastly colours painted on. Which is the reason for the stalemate I and this work are in: After I formed shapes from woven bamboo mats i.e. “the ruled worlds”, I inhabited them with small people. I had the idea that these people should have thoughts about these walls, about threat and protection, about weapons and soldiers… some of those thoughts I have written down, other still only exist in a foggy state in the nebula of my mind.
Then I had the idea of altering a math book, covering the math pages with drawings and these thoughts. That worked out well enough until that page above happened, which is so awful that I couldn’t bring myself to touch it anymore, not even to turn this page. So every time I thought of working on this project, I turned away again. But the ruled worlds had not been forgotten…

Today I started with altering a new book (I bought several, because I wanted to read some before I decided which one to use, and also because I already thought that I might have to start over at some point).

I took it all apart. Among the books I had purchased, it was the one which was in worst shape. It stank, it was damp when it reached me, and the cover is pretty much destroyed. Cutting it open, I was surprised to find that the binding itself was in perfect shape. That didn’t stop me to take out all the pages and make this:

Not quite what I initially had in mind but a fresh start. The rolled pages are supposed to replace the bamboo sticks in the old worlds. The mat above is curling due to faults I made while weaving it together. Well, I’ll see how that works out, and then I’ll talk a bit more about what else I have in mind for them.

General Updates: Ruled Worlds, Soul Song, Project Message in a Bottle, Thread, and End of Business Year

The state of page two about four weeks ago.

Checking the archives, I see it has been four weeks since I gave you the last update on my work, the book soul song to be precise. I was already then complaining that progress was slow. Well, the title of the blog suggests that part of this web-journal are stories about the walls into which I tend to ram my head every now and then, and so I decided to give you an update on this project, although it does not really deserve that name.
Since the last update, I first changed page two, and then changed it back to how it was before. While this might represent some type of inner progress, it doesn’t look like it, and I must say, it also doesn’t feel like it. I have started to work on the next page, made a couple of sketches both of image and of words, and have dismissed it all so far. This was essentially the state of progress two or three weeks ago, and since then the project has been lying around. Is it abandoned?

page 2 and three of soul song
added a green background and some letters to page two. Then didn’t like how it looked beside page three, and painted it over again.

I am not so sure about that. It happens to me and my projects, that when it gets too tough, when real thought is needed, that so much else comes up that things just get forgotten. Maybe the initial drive and idea were just not strong enough to carry the book through. I sometimes wonder whether it is a weakness of concept of those books (and thus good that they don’t get finished), or maybe just a matter of lack of stamina. I am not sure yet that is really is abandoned. It is still lying on top of my worksurface, and I spent some time “feeling” the project before turning to other work. I have not completely come out of touch with the initial idea yet. I am not so sure that it will survive the break I am going to take for Christmas, though.

detail of surface I

Ruled Worlds, I still work on those. Which quite big enthusiasm. I have been trying out a lot: different methods of cutting the rather small shadow figures that walk the surfaces, different ways of “folding” the surfaces, and also experimented with painting them differently. I consider three of them done so far. I have the general idea, that the two sides of this surface are inhabited by people with a different mindset. So far they have family scenes and playing children on one side, and different people with fire-weapons on the other side, soldiers, gunmen. It remains unclear whether they protect or threaten the life on the other side. I struggle with giving a summery of what I want to express with these surfaces. The general idea is that “the world” someone lives in has thin walls. But there is not the one story a surface tells. It is a story of freedom, or a story of being enclosed, I want to tell different stories for the different characters on the surface, expressed in their posture and their location on the surface.

detail of surface II

But I am not so sure that this concept comes across. There are more vague ideas that I have about these pieces, but I cannot express everything coherently yet. That makes me a little itchy. Also I am not sure at all where I am headed with this. When I started out, I thought I might add some text onto paper later, which I would then knot to the skewers that form the surface. But I don’t see that coming anymore. Therefore I struggle to call them books. Well, I guess they are not books. I am surprised about myself, that I find it hard to accept that I am making something that will not be a book. But something keeps me going. And I am looking forward to seeing where I will end up.

detail of surface II

I spent some time and effort, trying to make photos of the three surfaces that I consider done. But I find it very hard. This at least they have in common with books: It seems impossible to show all there is in just one photo.

surface III
detail of surface III

And then there is also the project message in a bottle: After an especially nice finder’s story, with a 11 year old girl finding my ghost story in a bottle on a hike during a camping vacation, I made another eight bottles, ready to dispatch.

On other news, I just received a new order of the French Lin Câblé. You can find the listing here. I hope it is not too confusing. I would appreciate your feedback. If you want to order some thread before Christmas, you gotta hurry up: I am going to close my shop tomorrow for a Christmas vacation.

Ruled Worlds

Attentive readers might have notices a plural when I was talking about current projects. Here are some pictures of the other one: Ruled Worlds.

Wer gut aufgepasst hat, hat vielleicht den Plural bemerkt, wenn ich von meinen derzeitigen Projekten gesprochen habe. Das hier sind nun zwei Bilder (vom gleichen Objekt) von meiner anderen Arbeit: Ruled Worlds.

Writing and Robots

I am currently focusing on finally finishing my novel, thus other projects have to wait in line until it’s their turn again. In German you can say: I pushed everything non-urgent on the long bench. I always imagine a long bench with different projects in boxes like they have them at airport security checks, pushing one in after the other. Every now and then I sort through the boxes, but more often than not it’s a LIFO system, which results in some projects sitting in boxes for a VERY long time, sometimes quite literally.

A look onto the “long bench” in my studio 2016
“long bench” in 2018 – not much has changed, actually box on the very right here (of which you unfortunately can’t see the contents) is the same as the one on the top left, the boxes with “ruled world”, … see that bit of paper peeping out under the boxes on the left side, those are from a project about Johannisfriedhof in Leipzig which I started in – uh, 2009 probably or even earlier; the same paper are on the very left in the photo above.

Now the thing with benches, imagined or real, long or short, is that when you push too much on it, eventually things will start to fall off on the other side. Which is a good thing. Some things will just never get finished that way but that’s o.k. However, my bench is a bit too long for my own good. Meaning: I don’t forget easily about all those project sitting there. For example I am aware that I still owe you a blogpost on rapidograph pens. You probably forgot, but years ago, I bought rapidograph pens, and ruling pens and all kinds of traditional drafting equipment, and I was making different experiments (that book also needs to get finished) and I wrote some blogposts, 2 I think, about the ruling pens and compasses I got for myself, and I promised a third blogpost on rapidograph pens which I never finished. And it keeps on bugging me. I usually finish work at 9pm and then watch tv with DH for an hour before going to bed, and every night I sit down and call it a day, I have this nagging voice at the back of my head that I really *should* finally write that blogpost.

24 sided regular Polygon
the kind of things I was drawing back then with my rapidographs


While writing, what I like to do is meditative tasks. Like folding and cutting paper, or printing small prints, or – probably – ironing (I must admit that I have not tried it; no ironing is done in this household). My favourite meditative task to prepare for a writing session is to walk. Somehow my thinking seems to change when I am moving my feet. I know I am not alone with this, but I find it rather startling and wonderous, really.
I start on my computer, and see what problem next needs to be solved. Then I start for a walk, pondering the problem. Often my thoughts will drift, on the landscape I see, or maybe I’ll concentrate on discovering graffiti or whatever. That’s part of the plan, and I let them drift. Eventually they’ll come back to the problem with fresh ideas.

Sometimes I can find it hard to give myself the time and room to do that. When I am on the brink of going out, it can seem like wasted time. More often than not, I am hard pressed for time. I am thinking about my time in slots. When one opens up, I think about what task needs doing most urgently. Let’s say a generous two hour slot opens up, then dismissing all waiting orders, ignoring emails that need to be answered, let projects that want to be photographed or finished rest, and go for a walk instead feels luxurious.

Sometimes it is.

And because it can be so hard, that’s why I closed my shops for a week when I went to Sheffield last month. But this one week was so successful that I now to schedule time for walks. It’s still hard though. I was planing to be on a walk right now, instead I am at my desk, blogging.

Well, despite this difficulty, writing is coming along well. But don’t be fooled, I won’t finish any time soon. If I am ever finally done, or at least when I decide that the time for concentrating writing is over for the time being, I will probably have a huge stack of paper to bind, as I spend much more time on the meditative task of cutting them than finding time to actually bind books. – Athough, thinking about it, Once I have enough of them, I suppose I could add sewing as one of those tasks that can be done almost on autopilot…

The small prints I am making, don’t pile up. They are distributed with the thread I am selling, and I frequently run out. Currently I am painting backgrounds with watercolours generously splashed over large sheets of watercolour paper. I then cut it down to A4, feed them through my printer to add business information on the back, and then cut it down further to business card size. Then I assemble my stamps, try out different colours and combine them here or there.

I started with some of my “women with hat” stamps, some of them decorated with snowflakes – it’s getting comparably cold here by now, after all.

OOAK business cards – or ATCs

Then I decided to print some of my bottles again, to then “fill” the bottle with different stuff. Some do have the fish that I had in there before, but then I decided to cut a little robot. And I thought it came out rather cute. Then I cut another tiny stamp to give him a heart shaped balloon…

OOAK business cards – or ATCs

I am wondering whether I should engage on a robot sketching (and printing) challenge. I regret to have failed to maintain a steady pace with inktober, and gave up completely in the first week. But maybe I could make it a six weeks, twelve robots challenge. – It’s six weeks until I’ll close shops for the Holidays. Mhm, anybody wants to join me? We could maybe make it a robot picture/print swap, too!


Papier Mâché

It started really harmless with a few paper mache miniature kidney bowls that I made for my model hospital room. (In the picture a bit of it can be seen on the table behind my hand.) From there I started making little “pods” and filled them with scrolls and text, which I then put into nests and larger eggs, and by now I am totally obsessed with investigating the medium and technique and see what I can do with it. I have a lot of different ideas, and am working in different directions. Most of what I have now is still just work in progress, play, and a trying out of different techniques. And thus I do not want to show off everything just yet. You can follow my instagram stream, by the way, for – almost – daily images from my workplace. But here’s somewhat of an overview and summary of what I am currently doing and thinking about.

Eggs, Pods, Spheres, and – Libraries

starting with plain spheres

I started using balloons to as a base to put paper strips on. I did that because in the beginning I was interested in making bowls, and I found that both just using the wider end of the baloon and using the whole balloon and cutting the shape open was yielding interesting bowls.

Into these bowls I put “eggs” or “pods”, which are small paper mache shapes that are filled with a scroll.

I hide those in libraries around Nottingham and the Shire. I hide them in libraries because they are places that feel safe to me. The message inside is, in essence, always the same: in many variations and with more or less words, it says: “Don’t be afraid.” Sometimes I add: “It’s o.k. if you are, but don’t let others suffer for it.”

I used a paper shredder and discarted books for some of the paper mache, again, because I think it’s a sympathetic material. The books I have used so far are both math books. – I enjoy the fragments of drawings and formulae that can be seen here or there, and this reference to analytic thinking in combination with the message inside.

some nests and bowls to hide

Over time, the nests turned into closed eggs with a ball with a message inside, and I am working on more versions that are completely closed. They have to be cut open to reveal the text, and I don’t know whether the message ever will be read. I generally like the idea of art that has to be destroyed to be enjoyed. Way back when I met Sarah Bodman for the first time, she showed me a participatory artist book, one where the reader is encouraged to work in and with the material. I asked her whether she did it. And she said, she bought two, and kept one as it is, and worked in the other. – I think that’s a bit like cheating.

drying spheres on a bed of nails

What I like about art that has to be altered/destroyed to be enjoyed is, that it provides a picture for life as such: To live life, you have to give up a bit of it. You have to let go, allow things to change and move. My eggs don’t just have to be changed, you have to destroy them to get to the message inside (although you can repair them if you go about it carefully). For me this is about teasing the viewer: how much curiosity can I build up? But more than that I think it’s a reflection on how humans work: We destroy what we love.

I started a blog with my children that is not really about this project. That blog is about us visiting and discovering libraries in and around Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. But I wouldn’t leave a new library without leaving a gift behind, would I? So if you want to see where these messages are going, and maybe even chase after one of my eggs, pods and bowls, have a look here.


one of the three surfaces where I work on the paper mache

Different paper

Wilbur finds them interesting

These spheres are fairly slow to make. I only ever can put so many layers on top of each other, then they have to dry for a day, and so I am always working on several at the same time. And I sometimes end up using one of them differently than intended when I started it.
Experimenting with different paper came naturally from raiding my paper cut-off stashes, but also from curiosity of exerimenting with layering.

The first trial was with one that I cut open and to use as two bowls: I put on a purple layer first, and then white on top. Afterwards I added some doodles on the inside. – Not really interesting art yet, but pretty.

I am currently experimenting with more layers, used differently, with and without lighting inside… But I have no good results to show off yet, so I might speak more about that in a future blog post, when this investigation has led somewhere.


Of course with my history of making asemic maps before, the temptation to turn one or several of these spheres into globes irresisteble. The process that I use(d) for the first was rather time intensive. – Painting around a sphere isn’t as straight forward as I anticipated. I put on several layers of coffee for major landmarks, then added oceans, depth, writing, cities, and just today some green areas.

fantasy globe

It isn’t completely finished yet, but it is nearing completion, I think.


And of course, while making more and more spheres, the idea to investigate a few other shapes came up naturally. I used a bit of surgery on some spheres so far, and tried a latex glove as a base (I like this one!). I am planning to make some paper pulp paper mache the coming week to use this as a sculpting medium on top of spheres and the like.

I really enjoy investigating this new thing, and have a lot more of ideas of how I want to tie this up with a really old project: ruled worlds. And I have some “fishy” ideas, and, and, and…

I just wished, learning a new technique wouldn’t require so much time and patience. I also have older projects to finish. And because the last one or two years were rather difficult for a variety of reasons, I feel like I should really finish and produce some stuff now, get out there, be seen. But instead of drawing on older ideas and churning out some quick zines, I rather start learning a new thing. Of course…