I am participating this year on the Open Studios Notts event. Almost 300 artists in all of Nottinghamshire are openening their studios in May and June. Mine is going to be open to the public on 12/13th May.
That’s in just over a week, and there’s still tons of things to do to prepare for the event. Money that was raised by ourselves (everyone paid a bit into the pot) was used for advertising, of course, but there was enough to pay a professional photographer to take photos of a couple – was it 10? – artists. I was one of the lucky ones chosen. So I had a curious visitor and an exciting photo session a couple of weeks ago. He wanted to see everything and makes photos of a lot of my processes, and so I printed on a screen, and bound a book, and cut some lino, and he made a lot of in-action-shots, and also took a couple of photos of artwork.
These photos are now on display in three libraries in the shire, and in the nearest one, in Beeston, there are also two pieces of work of mine: absences and message in a bottle no. 99 (yes, I made 99 bottles to date, more about that in a minute).
I went to look at the exhibition yesterday, and I must say I was almost disappointed by spotting just one photo of me and my studio there. This one, however, is more than life sized, and I might be a bit frightened by it:
In preparation of the open studio, I finally managed to cover and box all eight 346 scrolls. As you know, the text is about how pregant women are treated and seen in a medical setting in general and particilarly it’s a day by day account of my 7 week hospital stay when I was pregnant with the twins.
The text with illustrations sit on a scroll when can be read by pulling out the paper from the circular box. Thus the time passed can be seen, but the reader cannot guess at how much paper/time is still left until it’s finally over.
I placed these scrolls into boxes, and my initial idea was to add a simple lid to these boxes. But I found first trials much too solid and clumsy, and the scroll itself is already very well protected. The box is more a feature to ease the storage, than to protect the contents. And so I had the idea, of wrapping them in fabric instead, maybe reminiscent of a swaddling cloth. – I am still working on that!
Much of other work I got done was in the spirit of getting ready for the open studio as well. When the catalogue arrived a week or two ago, and I found out that my studio and work was described (probably that was my doing, but I didn’t remember before), with the words: “printmaking, book art, messages in bottles, miniatures”. So I figured, I should make sure, that visitors to my studio are going to see all of that on the Open Day, and so I made a couple of new messages in bottles. You can head over to flaschentiger.wordpress.com to see them all in more detail, here’s a picture with three of them (the fourth was in the picture in the gallery above):
As you can see: there’s miniatures and books and printmaking (on the left that’s a sunprint) so I am covering all my bases with these.
I am very proud and happy how the miniature book in the bottle on the very right came out. It contains a whole story, and I think the binding is sound, too:
Well, and then of course I needed some business cards to go with the artwork into the library, and I decided to print them from hand. (In part because I didn’t manage to get organised in time and get them printed.)
Although this was done in a great rush, I am very, very happy with the results.
I am in face so happy with the cards and the background, that I prepared a lot more “blank” cards for the planned printing demonstration during the open studio. At the end I had so many beautiful cut-offs that I didn’t want to toss.
And what do you do with cut-offs that are too beautiful to throw out? – Exactly, you make miniatures (or at least I do):
Of course a lot of other things were and are happening at the same time. Last month I participated for the first time in the “AreYouBookEnough” challenge on instagram which was a lot of fun with a lot of map cutting, but I wasn’t entirely happy with the book I produced in the end, but there were a lot of intersting photos – at least.
Well, I hope I’ll see you not the coming but the next weekend – until then!
If you have not visited Büchertiger Supplies in a while, I invite you to do so! There’s some new stock to be found.
You may know that I started with my supplies business when I couldn’t buy coloured linen thread in Germany: I had just discovered the online book art community and saw my first Coptic bound books. My American contacts had these awesome colours to choose from when all I had was natural and black bookbinding thread. The quest to buy these threads eventually lead me to buy in bulk and sell what I couldn’t use.
The first thread I carried was from the German manufacturer Gruschwitz. Since these beginnings I have taken on threads from many other manufacturers and also other stock. One of the more successful products are the parchment cut-offs which I have been selling for a couple of years now.
If you follow me on facebook and/or instagram, then you have seen that over the last couple of weeks I have made a few books. It’s sad that this is news by now, but that’s how it is.
I always wanted to learn to make limp vellum bindings that rely on lacing in the sewing support for cover attachment rather than stitches. After finishing my skillshare class on indirect tacketing on January, it seemed natural to start a few book blocks to try out this structure. The general idea is rather straight forward: The book block is bound on supports, usually leather strips. The cover consists of a piece of (folded) vellum or parchment, and is attached non-adhesively simply by lacing in the support. While I read a bit here and there, I ended up relying mostly on (the pictures in) Henry Hebert’s post on a paper version of this structure which can be found here and improvisation. Here’s a summary of my decisions and experiences. You’ll find a list of mentioned literature at the end.
How exactly the cover is made, how many of the edges are turned in, whether and how endsheets are attached to the book block and many more details can vary. For the start I didn’t give much thought about the cover construction.
These kind of bindings often have a stiffener inside the vellum sleeve which can but don’t have to be attached to the text block. I decided that for my books, I wanted to sew it on to the text block together with endpapers. Depending on how big the overlap on the inside of the sleeve is, more or less of the stiffener can be visible. Also you can but don’t have to include a paste-down. I’ll talk a bit more about it below, when I show you the construction of the wrapper.
I like to keep my options open for as long as possible, and thus didn’t make final decisions at this point, but I needed to have a vague idea of what I wanted to do so that I could choose endpapers and flyleaf constructions, and I decided to make the three differently, to try out different methods. For support I chose leather strips (5mm so fairly thin) for two of the three books, and decided to use a silk ribbon for the third.
The method for sewing on tapes, which I learned way back from Zeier, lets the thread move in an out sewing along fashion, without doubling up on iteself at any point; much like you would on sunken cords. According to Fritz Wiese this is, however, inappropriate; he thinks it far better to wind the thread around the support, like you would when sewing on raised cords. And so I tried that for the third volume.
If you look closely in the picture on the right, you’ll see that the thread over the strips is doubled.
I enforced the spine on all three volumes with fabric. According to Szirmai in limp bindings there was a transition from flat spines in earlier volumes to naturally rounded spines in later volumes. So for the first I gently rounded the back, but I didn’t really like it all that much and left the other spines I flat.
According to Szirmai the headband worked on such bindings is worked over a piece of rolled up leather with the bead on the spine. The book by Greenfield and Hille has a good instruction and description of this headband which I made a couple of times in the past already.
Last year I purchased a couple of sample varigated silk threads and now was the time to try them out.
The first one I gave a try was the Filament Silk. I have it now available in my shop, but more about that in a different blog post that’s soon to come. The filament silk is incredibly beautiful, so of course it had to be the first I’d try.
The first thing I noticed was how difficult it was to push the needle through the spine. I used a folded piece of leather as an improvised thimble, but pushed the blunt end of the needle straight through the two layers and leather, through my skin and into the finger. Ouch! At least I observed bookbinding rule #1: “Do not bleed on your book.”
In contemporary books often the headbands are purely decorative. In this kind of binding, the core around which the headbanding silk is would is also laced into the cover, and thus the headbands are contributing to good textblock-cover attachment.
The silk that I used was dyed in the same varigated pattern. But due to its nature and the length of the varigation, all six endbands have a distinctively different colour patter, which I think is fun. The filament silk looked most stunning, and was the first that I reached for, – and I used it again on the third book after also trying the perle thread.
The filament silk likes to stick to the spine lining as well as rough edges on fingers and nails. This makes it rough up and loose its shine. So it is essential to treat it carefully. But it was well worth the effort, I think.
The next step, once all the headbands were made, was to construct the wrapper. I planned for two paper and one parchment wrapper for my books, and naturally didn’t want to start with parchment, instead train with paper first.It turned out that the paper I chose first was much too weak (a printing paper with a cotton content of 60%, but “normal” writing weight): The support is laced through narrow holes in the wrapper, and this is how they hold fast. They are not tied or glued down. Thus the paper has to withstand the pressure of the pressed leather strip without tearing. But although I wasn’t able to use this first wrapper, it was a good training piece and thus the construction of the next three covers went smoothly. The most important thing I learned was to make a mock-up spine of parchment paper first. I fit the parchment paper neatly around the text block (same height as the signatures, no addition for the endbands), on which I mark the position of the sewing support. This helps position the holes for the lacing in of the support later, and helps me position the book on the wrapper more easily – as I can see all the way throught he paper.
After some hesitation I decided to use this artisan paper for my book:
It was a difficult decision because on the one hand I love the look of this paper and I have been wanting to use it for a long time. On the other hand there were all the reasons for which I had not used it before: The portions where you can see dark strings: These strings look like dried blades of grass, dry and brittle, and they are lying all across the paper like they are sandwiched between two sheets of paper stuck together. And where you can see them, well, there’s only one layer present of course. But you can actually shift them slightly with your finger.
So I wasn’t sure how this would cut or even fold. But I thought, well, the maker will have thought of this and probably it’s better than I think now. And so I gave it a try.
First it seemed like it was not better but worse than expected. I couldn’t avoid a cut right through one of the “windows”, and it was hard to cut the “grass” neatly. Folding seemed a nightmare, with some of the blades breaking. But once the folds had settled, and I had given the ends that stuck out here or there a trim, it now seems more fragile than you might wish for in a journal that you’d transport in a backpack, but stable for something on a shelf.
For the second book, I decided to use a paper wrapper again, but this time chose a fairly thick Thai paper. I think this one worked best from the materials I have tried so far. Its a thick and strong paper that has the feel of fabric almost. The book block I used is the one with the perle thread headbands, and I think the slightly rougher look of the headbands go very well with the overall impression of the book. Really happy with this one:
And for the third I finally used parchment: It took me a couple of days to stitch up a large enough piece in “Frankenstein” manner: from different parchment pieces, I saddle stitched a large enough piece to use as a wrapper:
It turned out that this parchment was the toughest material to use. I suppose when you use one piece it’s easier. When I stitched up that cover, I chose the position of individual pieces so that they fit together well, rather than observing grain direction. And the thickness and pliability of the different pieces varies slightly, and thus it turned our really hard to fold neatly. But I succeeded in the end:
All three books have turned in edges all around, but all of them are slightly differently constructed and hold together differently on the front edge. To explain this, let me tell you a bit more about the flyleaf construction I used for all the books.
The first book block (the one with the rounded spine that sits in the grass cover) has a stiffener which is made from a stiff paste paper that I received as a gift from Christine a while ago. I was going to show this paper off and thus used no paste-downs/fly leaved for this block.
The second book block (that sits in the Thai paper wrapper) has scrap watercolour paper as a stiffener which I intended to hide completely: I gave it a folded flyleaf + pastedown construction from an Italian paper.
The third book has a stiffener that has a misprint on it (or rather a ghost of a print which I didn’t want to keep). It matches colourwise with the silk bands onto which it is sewn, but I didn’t think I’d show off much of it. As a flyleaf I chose a Kozo paper in a saturated blue (to go with the purple of the silk ribbon) and as this has two nice sides, I decided to only include the fly leaf:
Above you see how the inside of the first book looks like. I always intended to show off this stiffener. Because cutting and folding the wrapping paper was rather difficult, I decided not to cut off the edges of this wrapping paper. So instead of making cuts in the top and bottom turn-ins near the spine, and then slip the stiffener underneath the turn-ins, I placed the stiffener on top. Were there front and back edges turn in, this created a natural pocket for the stiffener to sit in.
The core of the headband is the only one of the leather strips which does not sit (loosely) between the stiffener and the wrapper, but reaches back through the stiffener at the second hole. I then glued down the ends to the stiffener to give it that little bit more stability
Above you see the two endsheets included with the second book. When I constructed the text block, I thought, I would glue down one of them, such that you would open the book directly to a spread with this patterned paper on both pages. However, I rather liked the fact that the wrapper is attached non-adhesively, and also the paper was wide enough, so that I could hide the ugly stuffener completely behind the wrapping paper:
Here I made cuts at the spine, such that the stiffener sits behind the top and bottom turn-in. Again the sewing tapes sit between the stiffener and the wrapper, holding on by friction in the holes alone. The core of the headband goes back through the stiffener, and I gently glued it down. Then I attached the long front flap with two tackets to the turn-ins. And this is how it looks from the outside:
And above you finally see the inside of the third book with the actual parchment construction. I was going to use the tap and slit construction described in the blog post by Henry Hebert, but as mentioned before, the parchment turned out rather reluctant to be folded and stay snug. So instead I used some more of the ribbon as a tie down, both to connect the front and back with the top and bottom turn-ins, and also to enforce the book-block and wrapper connection, as the ribbons felt much more slippery than the leather tapes and I wasn’t sure enough that they would hold on well enough. Here all the ends, both of the headbands and the sewing tapes stayed between stiffener and turn-ins.
The books will be available on Etsy soon. But if you make me a reasonable offer right now, I am happy to let them go for half of what I currently have in mind if that spares me the pain of listing them through Etsy.
J.A. Szirmai, The Archaeology of Medieval Binding, Ashgate Publishing 1999. ISBN 978-0-85967-904-6
Franz Zeier, Schachtel. Mappe. Bucheinband. Die Grundlagen des Buchbindens für alle, die dieses Handwerk schätzen: für Werklehrer, Fachleute und Liebhaber, Haupt Verlag 1983, ISBN 3-258-03182-7
Fritz Wiese, Der Bucheinband. Eine Arbeitskunde mit Werkzeichnungen, Schlütersche 7. Auflage, Nachdruck der erweiterten 6. Auflage 1983, ISBN 978-3-87706-680-5
Jane Greenfield & Jenny Hille, Headbands. How to Work Them 2nd revised edition, Oak Knoll Press 1990 (1986), ISBN 0-938768-51-4 (Paperback) ISBN 0-938768-18-2 (Hardback)
For the maps that I am currently drawing as part of my “daily” practise I use writing in fake or obscured script here and there. When I looked more closely the other day, it turned out that in fact very few of the maps in Landscapes II do not have some illegible writing here or there.
If this sounds to you like I myself am surprised by this, then this is true.
For my maps I don’t plan. Drawing them is almost like a form of meditation: I look at a page, and just see where this leads me. My hand and wrist automatically made these marks. And while I do not look for a deeper interpretation of these maps, it still made me think about how I use marks and writing in my books.
I have been using illegible or hard to read text from early on. I think “Unborn Thoughts I+II“, two books that I made in 2008 was the first project where I consciously and deliberately used a coding system. It vaguely resembles devanagari writing just because I think that this horizontal bar with the curls and curves above and below have a very interesting visual quality that combines feelings of constrain and freedom.
I decided to write in code because I didn’t want to see in writing what I wrote down there. Not to keep it secret – I didn’t want to read it myself. That’s where the title came from, too: It was a tentative way of thinking, of chewing on possibilities that I wanted to try before really thinking them. Putting them into writing would have felt too much like giving them substance.
Shortly after these works I made two books in an attempt to learn how to bind the earlierst Copic bindings, and wrote both those books in code. For one of them I reused the writing system of Unborn Thoughts:
And for the other one I developed a new one that could be stamped using a wood chip:
In this case I was open about what text it contained: Both have an excerpt of the gospel of Thomas in them. I even exhibited the code together with the second book. So why use code in the first place? – I thought about the history of finding the codices near Nag Hammadi. And from there I thought about finding archaeological books as such. How exciting to find a book maybe even in a language you didn’t know before! I wanted to recreate some of this excitement for my readers.
I have used this first writing code every now and then in my books, either for the first, or the second reason. For example in these works that I called “frozen” which were also rather personal in nature.
I have also used ASCII and morse code in books, most recently in the dot dash alphabet book
And for the various versions of Erased I wrote in normal English but then made it illegible by crossing the text out.
In addition to using code, I also use fake-writing in various places, mostly it just appears in my sketchbooks but also in some of my messages in bottles, for example these here:
These here are some pages from my sketchbook:
For these I find it much harder to say why I am doing it. These wordless writings spring from a wordless part of me, I suppose. I want to say something that I can’t. They are meditation. Sometimes I fill several pages with this free writing. Some inner urge keeps my hand in motion while I feel unable to formulate what exactly it is I want to say.
As this kind of writing surfaced in my maps, I started to think about its role as part of my practise more systematically. In a way, I always knew of course, and in my current artist statement it is mentioned in first position. But my perspective shifted a little, and I realised what a central part of my practise this is; but I am still pondering it, I have not yet fully grasped what it is that I am doing there:
In a way, I think, the maps do the same thing as the fake writing: These are not really landscapes I am drawing, not even inner or imagined landscapes – although sometimes these maps come with a fragment of a story, or an intended message. In their core, these are not imaginary but fake maps, made to resemble maps without mapping anything that exists. Just like the fake writing mimmicks real writing. Both convey more feeling and atmosphere than formulated thoughts and researched, intellecutally accessible meaning.
I do want to generate a certain feeling when I feature fake writing in art pieces. But more than that I want to investigate the mystery of what writing and skript is, without this autmatic “seeing = knowing” relationship. I cannot look at the letters “c-a-r” without an inner image of a car popping up immediately. This imagined car seems to almost block my perception of the marks on the paper. But in not being able to decipher the letters maybe the wonder and magic of when we are able to becomes visible; – an automatism disturbed and thus made obvious.
Maps are such powerful tools to convey knowledge and provide orientation. In their own way they are at least as powerful as writing, if not more so. This, at its core, is why I love them: Because they are able to communicate so much with just a few lines on paper. If you think about it, this really is like magic!
While I was pondering all this, I thought I should look for some critical context and read up on what others do and why they might use obscured writing.
M. mocked me, saying: “You don’t know why you do it, so you try to steal your reasons from someone else.”
But that’s not it. I feel I need some dialogue about the matter. So if you have used similar forms of writing, or simply enjoy it, I would appreciate if you could comment and let me know what you think of the matter.
In the meantime I looked for the silent form of dialogue that you can have with a distant author: literature. First trials lead to nowhere. I ended up finding coded art or treastises about font development.
After days of fruitless searches I stumbled across the keyword “asemic writing”. I heard this word used first in 2017 when Cheryl Penn send me the book on the left in exchange for my absences, but then I forgot. And now it’s like I dug a hole at an unspecific point in the ground and forth came a fountain. Surprisingly, the wikipedia article to which I linked above was one of the last places I went to (because I only googled that keyword relatively late), and I have not even found the time to follow all the links there.
The discovery that I am not alone in this reminds me a lot to when I found out about book art: On the one hand I am so happy that there are more like me out there. I feel like I found this new world that is waiting for me to discover it. In the last couple of days I have already seen so many inspiring examples of asemic calligraphy and writing that I am beginning to feel overwhelmed. And I am also a little bit disappointed that I was so ignorant about this communitiy, while feeling innovative in what I was doing.
Instead of talking on about asemic writing and about what I found out so far, I’ll leave you with the above link to Wikipedia which seems like a really good place to start if you want to know more. I am just dipping my toes into that ocean, and fear that whatever I would say now would seem stupid to me in a week. If this will accompany for a while – and it looks like this for now – then you’ll hear about this again soon enough. Instead I’ll finish this blogpost with my literature list for Febuary (some of the books new on my book shelf; I usually leave out belletristic unless I think it’s relevant to my art practise). I list the books as they come to my mind and hands, i.e. in no particular order.
Febuary Literature List
Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koyen. Great book. Read it if you are at all interested in this Japanese aesthetic principle. (BP = birthday present)
Men without Women by Murakami. I haven’t read it yet, but am very much looking forward to; Murakami is a great author! (BP)
Unflattening by Nick Sousanis. A graphic novel filled with ideas about how graphic novels are great. One of the books I bought while looking for a critical context for my own work that didn’t quite hit the mark; it’s more about developing a visual language that doesn’t look like writing. But it is a very interesting book with many good pictures and equally many interesting thoughts. (AGB = accidental good buy)
Graphesis. Visual Forms of Knowledge Production by Johanna Drucker. This is another book I bought, hoping for insight into the use of coded writing system in contemporary art. It is, however, about using graphics in place of words. I have only leafed through the book and skimmed some pages. Other than it is not what I was directly looking for, it looks very interesting. (Many of the images are maps!) I shall come back to this. (AGB)
Echolalia in Script: A Collection of Asemic Writing by Sam Roxas-Chu. Simply amazing! I absolutely love this book with can be had for just a couple of quid for a paperback. It is an original work of asemic writing, along with a semic introduction and explanation. Brilliant! I will look out for more work of this artist. (This is what made me realise that “asemic” is the keyword I need to look for. AGB)
The Alphabetic Labyrinth: Letters in History and Imagination by Johanna Drucker. Arrived only yesterday and I have not had time to unwrap it. Another trial with the works of Johanna Drucker. – She’s bound to have written something relevant about this!
Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop: A Modern Guide to the Ancient Art of Mokuhanga by April Vollmer. Looks great, I wish I had had the time to delve in it deeper. Soon. (BP)
An Anthology of Asemic Handwriting. Edited by Tim Gaze and Michael Jacobson. Spot on for me. A short but very interesting introduction followed by many different examples. Will have to study them more closely, look up names and so on.
Tell Them I said No by Martin Herbert.I have not had a chance to read any of this. From the blurb on the book: “This collection of essays by Martin Herbert considers various artists who have withdrawn from the art world or adopted an antagonistic position toward its mechanisms.” (BP)
Those of you who are following my instagram stream have probably seen my maps project. I slipped into it when a teacher at the German Saturday School in Leicester asked me about how to bind a board book (she needed to bind together some teaching materials). I feel a bit like giving away my secrets, but here it is, I showed her this:
These are old boards, cut and bound just for illustration of the process.
Looking at them, I thought those stains looked like islands. Shortly after, the first maps followed.
By now I have filled both those books, and I cut more board into A6 shape this time, and will see where it brings me. Generally I am looking forward to working on the maps before deciding whether and in which order they might appear in a Landscapes III book. I sometimes felt inhibited by the fact that I was working in a finished book.
Then again, this gave me a certain drive. I hope I’ll be able to maintain it. If you would like to see more of them, please do visit my instagram. I try to post one map a day. The maps are changing in style, too. This is the one I drew today:
I finished Landscapes II first, here’s a little walk-through:
One of the enjoyable things about this project is that I get to use my drafting tools:
I have not forgotten that I promised to write about these technical pens that I screw into my compass. I wrote a blog post about my drafting tools in 2015, (Part I about ruling pens) and never presented you part II which was supposed to feature the pens. Funny that it is already 3 years now. It’s been on my to do list ever since then and I must have a half finished draft sitting somewhere. Huh. Although it’s not forgotten, I suppose I have to admit the chances that I’ll still deliver are slim. Anyways, using your compass with ink is great fun. There are two ways (for me) to do that, either I screw in what essentially is a ruling pen, or I can also screw in these ink cartridge based technical pens. I can’t really say why, but ink makes compasses really fun for me. That’s probably the slumbering math soul inside me.