Plans for 2020 continued. Or: What do I mean when I say I want to be successful?

In my last blogpost, the first in this year, I mentioned that I am thinking about the questions what it means for me to be successful. I decided to write about it, hoping that maybe this helps you a little, too.

Being self-employed and self-taught, the lack of a pad on the shoulder by a boss or teacher can be a problem. Or maybe it’s just the lack of co-workers to compare ourselves with. We decided to not run with the flock, go our own way, be measured against our own values not those society imposed rules. But while it is often easy to see where we fail, it can be harder to know where, maybe despite short-comings, we still are doing well. – At least that’s the case for me.

And so, my quest if not for this year, then for the next weeks and maybe months to come, is to have a think about it. — It would be great, if you could share your thoughts on the matter!

But before I start, – those of you who have been following my medical problems over the last months might be waiting for this – a quick update on that front: My GP had me have a full blood count on my last visit, and it turns out that I am “extremely” aenemic. I don’t know what that means in numbers. It’s what she said. And finding slightly different lists of syptoms online, I find that I usually tick all the boxes: exhaustion, raised body temperature, eratic pulse, short of breath,… Before you ask: No, although I consume few meats, I am not on a vegetarian diet. And while I might consume too few iron, the main problem actually lies somewhere else.
The diagnosis came just in time for me, because the reprieve I experienced at the beginning of the month from a thorough rest over the holidays, is now all used up. And once again I find myself fighting to stay awake and alert during the day. But I now know that there is a reason, and I learned not to push myself too much an especially not too long into the evening. When I am in bed early, I find I can avoid total crash-out days, or at least could so far.

So while I am in bed, resting from the strain of climbing the stairs, it’s time for me think about what success means to me. So what is success?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, success is:

the fact that you have achieved something that you want and have been trying to do or get; the fact of becoming rich or famous or of getting a high social position.

The last three seem kind of linked: A famous artist would hopefully be able to make a substantial amount of money from it, and both of it together would hopefully earn him or her a high social position.

Riches, Fame, High Social Position. – Sounds good?

And what’s with Happiness, Friends and Family, a Comfortable Life?

I assume, we all want the things on the latter list. And for those who also have an eye on the first, I suspect that the hope would be that one gets you the other. But what’s with “money can’t buy you happiness”? (It can though, to an extent; especially if you start out with very little money and also, see this TED talk.)

When I started out thinking about what I want, I thought: well, I want to be successful, and I know how I can see that I am successful: It will be when I earn real money throught my art. But once I started to think about why this was most important, and what is it I *really* want ultimately, it became rather more difficult than I first thought.

To explore the question further, I did what we all do these days: I googled the question. From that I came to think about it a little in reverse and look back instead of forward.

When have I felt successful in the past? What kind of situations were those?

I suppose I felt successful when I had my first solo exhibition in 2012. At the time I was convinced that this was the start of something new. It turns out, it wasn’t as such, but it did boost my self-esteem and it afterwards felt much mor legitimate to call myself an artist. I’d definitely would like more of that!

What else? I find it hard to think of specific events and dates. But I suppose 2015 felt successful as such. Since 2014 I had been exhibiting more frequently, and 2015 was my most successful year so far when counting exhibitions. After than I got wrapped up in several long term projects, more and more frazzled, and I have hardly shown work since then.

The decision to pay less entry fees than before, in part fuelled by the felt success rate, would have to have had an impact, too. I am not sure anymore whether that decision is as closely linked to my success year 2015 as it is manifesting in my head now. But that decision definitely came from feeling moderately successful. I increasingly thought I should not pay money for making and showing art, and maybe even start to earn some. And thus I refrained from participating in some calls for art where you have to pay upfront for participating in the selection process. – Mhm…

Last year I was shortlisted for the Writing East Midlands Mentorship program. This was a very competetive thing, and the personal interview I had with these people gave me a huge boost. For the first time I didn’t feel like a fraud when calling myself a writer. But it wasn’t so much that I felt successful, more appreciated, and as if success was possible, maybe.

On the other hand, even when a long time ago: Finishing my PhD and then earning the right to call myself a Doctor didn’t really fill me with the sense of success. You’d think so… But it just didn’t feel quite right to me.

So what do I gather from that? What is it I want?

I suppose I do crave more external validation. I kind of knew that when I started out, but well, there you have it. How did I get that validation before? From entering calls for art (- maybe I’ll have to start paying again; at least when I can afford it; it seems to make me feel better about myself), but also from putting in the work and organising an exhibition for myself.

To go forward from here, and following the advice that I found on the internet (so it has to be right, no doubt) I now should make a list of things and events that I can tick off as they occur, so that I can then use this as a measure of my success.

Ultimately “I want to be (more) successfull” this year, can then be replaced by “I want to sell a piece of art to a millionaire” (Haha!) or whatever.

So: How will I know I have a successful 2020? Looking above: By being included in art exhibitions. And for the sake of being concrete, how many? When am I going to say this was a successful year?

Well, I am currently working on a) two sculpture/installation type artworks – or make that three, I just started another one. I must be crazy! That might be another reason why I failed to exhibit so much in recent years: Moving slightly away from more centre-stream book art made it harder to connect with my known outlets. And also not staying on target and being distracted by nice new trails of thoughts like this one, sight…

But I did make some books, and I’d like to a show for one of those as well.

Hm, so to call this a successful year, let’s put down:

  • one solo show
  • 1 or 2 curated shows

Yeah, I’d call that a successful year, art-wise.

Then there’s the project message in a bottle. – What do I want for this one? I was seeking to arrange workshops and more publicity for this project. But I’ll have to have a hard think about whether I indeed want to pursue that this year, or whether this is one of the things that I am calling more of a sideline project, in which I give up being sucessful for whatever that means.

Bookbinding Workshop, I do offer them as a general rule. – I do like small group teaching (very much), but I think I give up trying to get a crowd together. I rather teach in my studio than going to a location where I have to schlep all the materials and such. So I won’t apply for anything, or take any effort to organize something like it myself. I might do one should I be asked… But I’ll rather commit to not feel bad for not putting any work into that this year.

There’s my printing. – I love it, but I feel a bit clueless what to do with it. I’d love to incorporate more printmaking into my artwork-portfolio. I have been calling myself a printmaker for a while. I am going to do the open studio in May as a printmaker… But I feel especially unsuccessful in that area. Maybe it would be sane to call it a hobby. But I think I want to keep on trying. And if I am honest, I have not really given it a proper try because I always thought that all the 2D work I was making was just preparatory for making a printed book one day. – Something that not only didn’t happen, I also have no plans for one. So I want to spent more time and effort on this. My goals would be to:

  • Sell a print (one that’s not a postcard) and to
  • get into a curated exhibition with any one of my prints.

There’s my writing. – It would be nice to get something that I wrote published this year. I started to seriously work on that last year, but it caught caught up in feeling so low of energy. With the promise to get my mental capabilities up again in about 3-6 months, maybe I can still make it. Will have to look deeper into those calls for entry. But I definitely don’t feel like paying for entry for my writing… And I want to finish my novel! So let’s put down as a measurement for success:

  • publish a piece of writing
  • finish the novel (draft)

There’s my skillshare channel. – This is where I seek more money than fame or renomee, I suppose. I am already putting together a new class, and my goal here clearly is to get the sales up. To make it concrete, let me say: I’ll call it a success if I can

  • publish at least one new class
  • go to a stable 100$ or more per month.

Well and there’s Buechertiger Supplies with its usual growth expectation of >10% (because you need to grow on paper to counteract inflation). This is my main source of income, so that’s not really negotiable. And with the current economic climate a challenge.

  • 10% increase in revenue for non-failure
  • >15% increase in revenue for success

So, that makes quite a list. Too ambitious? Very likely. But we’ll see. I’ll do some more thinking about the matter in the time to come. Maybe I should print that list off and hang it on the walls. Because now that I know my goals much better, I can work on it. I’ll have to actively search more for calls of art in the printmaking section and for writing. And it gives an indication of what to spend time and energy on, and what not.

Have you worked out something for yourself? Care to share your thoughts? What was/is important for you to feel successful?

Welcome 2020, the start of a new decade*

Many, if not all blogposts I have seen recently fall in one of two categories: either they are about making a commitment for the coming year, or they are about looking back the last 10 years, now that we are finishing another set of 10.

And so I, too, dug out my old harddrive and started to sort through projects and pictures. It turned out a lot of work, and quickly I got slightly bored. And I wondered what story I should tell you here.

Pretty much all of the “life” of Büchertiger Supplies falls into the right timeframe. So telling the story of me founding a business was the first that sprang to mind. But I don’t feel like I am at the point where I can tell this as a complete story yet. Hopefully still a lot will happen in that regard, and I am not sure yet where it is going.

Becoming Büchertiger, artist book by H. Kurzke, 2009

Telling the story of “becoming buechertiger” doesn’t quite fit the theme: I started blogging in 2008 and founded Büchertiger Studio and Press later the same year. So a bit too early. And recently I have done very little in that regard, so here I am facing the opposite problem: I hope that story is not over yet! In any case, the chances are that if you interacted with me as the “book tiger”, whether you followed one of my tutorials, saw me making blank books or art, or maybe you bought thread from me – it all happened in the past 10 years.

And while I was writing on that blogpost, and it was a case of “write two paragraphs, delete two paragraphs”. I realised I didn’t want to look back, rahter I’d want to look forward and think about what needs to change in the next year(s).

I set out to write how I should decide what I REALLY want to do, set priorities and all that. And then realized that I have written that blogpost already several times. Every January.

Over the years I have been taking on more and more roles, and in recent years I started to feel “thinned out”, like I couldn’t achieve enough in any of the many fields I tried to get a foot in.

There are two obvious answers to that problem a) get rid of some, and get better in the remaining, or b) instead of striving for a change in life, strive for a change of attitude and be happy to be mediocre in many fields.

My mother once said something, I must have been a teenager back then, and I don’t remember the context or the exact wording. But the sentiment stayed with me all those years and are kind of like a trunk I sometimes scratch my back against. She said something like: A child can dabble in a lot of things, stir many pots, but becoming an adult is deciding in which area to become proficient.

She definitely is not opposed to adults following a hobby, like for example, play an instrument although you know you are never going to be a professional musician, or start a sport without the intention of becoming a professional. But, I suppose, she would kind of think that if you are an adult, and not a professional, you should keep it to yourself, keep it private. An adult hosting a piano play evening and be short of being professional would be embarrasing, DIY-gifts from adults are awkward, any kind of non-professional stage presence she would regard as pretentious and childish, really.

Project Message in a Bottle

It’s funny how things our parents say can still speak to us through the years, even when we never agreed. Just the other day I said to M. “Sometimes I realise how old I am, and I wonder: What am I doing studying Japanese?! I am never going to work in Japan, I will never apply for a job for which having this on my CV will look good. I will never use this!”
And he answered dryly: “Well, other people build miniatures in bottles. – You might come to use it. You can never know what skills will prove useful one day.”
(I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that made me feel better about my Japanese-efforts or worse about my message-in-a-bottle project.)

Back to the topic: While I don’t usually think that doing something without the hope of becoming excellent at it is pointless, I do want success for my art and my shop. But what does that mean for me? And how can I achieve it?

I tried to get help answering those questions. Already more than 2 years ago I (successfully) applied for mentorship through a-n, and the resulting sessions with Rosalind Davis helped me a lot. I had two questions for her a) how can I enter the Nottingham art scene, and b) which of my many hats should I burn? She helped me a lot with a). She encouraged I contact Backlit again, and now, two years later, I have a studio there. And I have several artist friends, and just generally feel like I have my toe in the door now. A big “thank you!” to her.
But when it came to the second question, she said: Well, as long as you still finish your many projects, I don’t see why you shouldn’t follow them all.

I sought similar help from others, professionals and friends. But I pretty much got that same answer all the time: It’s amazing how much you manage, I don’t know how you do it! Why should you give up any of it?!

working with my son

How I do it? Easy: Having twins taught me how to use time. If you are looking after two babies and found a shop, and want to make books and art, you have to learn to use every minute, to seek out down-time, and use it more productively. Every minute you find yourself resting, ask yourself: how could I use this time more productively?

Ever since then, maybe before, I have been operating under the impression and pressure of being able to do more, being able to find more time here or there. You know how they say that if you want a job done, give it to a busy person? I believe(d) in this, and I usually found the busiest person around was myself. If an opportunity came up to do something, I applied for it. If I had an idea and thought “someone should do that thing” I started it. – Until this summer.

The last project I did was my message in a bottle workshop and the big splash I arranged later. Since then I have been dropping out of things. I failed to write blogposts about the bottle finds since last summer. I thought about doing a follow-up workshop and didn’t. I wanted to make a message in a bottle family workshop, and had talks with someone, taking advice on how to do it, and then I didn’t. I was going to do something internally at Backlit (no need to talk about it now because:) – I didn’t. I asked someone else to take responsibility as I couldn’t shoulder it anymore.
Up until the summer I had been confident of finishing my novel around this time now, and had started to work on another. Plus there’s always short stories and bits I had been writing. – None of this happened in the second half of the year.
Still I was more than busy. There were a frustrating amount of hospital appointments with the kids, therapy to seek, some to get. So many appointments to make, markets to prepare, things to do. And every time my schedules cleared a little, I came down with some minor infection.
I stopped my martial arts classes because I couldn’t find the time for shipping out goods for Büchertigersupplies anymore, and there was no way I could have cut back further on sleep. Plus I was close to fainting during training several times and feared some heart-related problem. I arranged several GP appointments for it, for some of the test results I am still waiting.

I became increasingly tired. Normally, in this family, I am the first one up, sometimes I got up hours earlier and got some writing done before everyone else woke up. Now I slept longest, sometimes until the rest of the family sat down for breakfast, and I still felt I could hardly stay awake during the day. I started to forget things. I thought I was just getting too old – for some it starts early.

I had applied for various markets and did those, manning (or womanning) a market stall for the first time in several years was exciting – and stressful.

My stand at the Etsy Made Local Christmas Market

If you have been following my facebook, then you know what happened next: I kind of collapsed on the Etsy Handmade fair in Nottingham on November 30th.

I am not sure whether I fainted, or fell asleep for a second while standing up (I tend to think that what it was). But that event marked pretty much the end of what I managed to do this year. There were two more small market events I attended, but that was it.

Through most of December I just felt awful. Of course I got another infection with fever just the day after the Christmas market. For the first three weeks in December I slept. Often more than 12 hours a night, plus an afternoon nap here or there. And I read a stupid manga series that I really enjoyed; – while lying in bed mostly.

I didn’t feel depressed as such, I wasn’t tearful or especially worried. I still felt full of energy psychologically, but I felt physically unable to do what I wanted to. I had a lot of brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and I was just so awfully tired all the time. I honestly suspected there had to be a physical reason, an illness behind it. I arranged another GP appointment but then had to cancel as other appointments came in the way.

Then, finally the Christmas holidays came, and for the first time ever, I took almost full 3 weeks off work completely. No writing on my novel for a couple of hours a day, no inventory between Christmas and New Years, no shop opening on the morning of January 2nd. (Only studying Japanese and practising Kanji – I can’t really do nothing…)

So that’s why you have not heard much of much in the past weeks and months.

Yesterday I officially started work again, and I am feeling much better now. I do have a GP appointment soon, but I don’t expect anything sinister going on anymore. I suspect that what really was going on was a total psychological breakdown due to exhaustion and lack of downtime, as well as a lot of de-facto lack of time and emotional stress over getting (no) help for my daughter, and also over what Brexit will mean to us and my shop. – And stress about not getting anything done. Ever lagging behind on my to-do lists, ever growing lists with things that are all equally important and should have been finished weeks ago only left me clueless about where to start.

So this is what needs to get better. I enjoyed that by labelling myself an artist, anything I did was job-related. Probably this ultimately linked to what my mother said way back.

Whatever I started, whether it’s learning Japanese, writing a novel, or learning to crochet, although it started out as a hobby, it soon developed into a “project” that I pressurized myself about, and punished myself for not finishing fast enough. By labelling my time with these activities as work I justified spending time on it, but it also changed my perspective on it.

I want to be successful. But I’ll have to think about what that means to me, how I can achieve it, and for which areas I want to achieve it. For the rest I have to allow them to be hobbies; in which I am allowed to just indulge without being the bestest and smartest and fastest to learn. And I have to face and commmit to taking those less seriously. I already changed my Japanese lessons away from my prime-time between 10am and 2pm. That’s work time, and not for hobbies. I’ll study in the mornings and evenings. Maybe I’ll be slower, but who cares? (Well, I do, but I have to work on my attitude there.) On the other hand, maybe I’ll manage to bind a book this year. That would be good 🙂

What are your goals?


*It is not actually the new decade. A decade are 10 years, and we are currently in the 10th year of this decade, the next starts in 2021. But we all know that we’d rather like to count from 0-9 than from 1-10. Just looks better and more intuitive.


P.S./Edit: First bloods are finally coming in, and it turns out, there are physical reasons behind my tiredness and wooziness. I feel more relieved about that than I thought I would. My GP just called me (slightly alarmed, making sure I get on medication as soon as possible), and she thinks she’ll have me back to normal in about 3 months – but will check back on me earlier than that. Phew! I am not just getting old or mental 😀

Silk Thread for Asian Bindings – General Talk, Pictures, and Call for Applications

I have started to work with the book “Japanese Bookbinding. Instructions from a Master Craftsman” by Kojiro Ikegami already in 2014, five years ago. If you don’t know it, you should at least try to take a look at it at your local library. By many it is considered THE book about Japanese bookbinding.

Like many books about a craft, it starts off with a section about tools and materials. There you can read that an important part is played by binding thread and cord. And about them he writes:

A variety of threads and cords are used in Japanese bookbinding, including flat cord, silk bookbinding thread, silk buttonhole thread, unbleached hemp thread, and natural hemp fibre that can be twisted into cord. Flat cord is used instead of thread in Yamato bindings and also serves to secure rolled handscrolls. Silk bookbinding thread (approximately equivalent in size to a #5 pearl cotton thread) is preferred for most stitched books, but since the lighter-weight silk buttonhole thread (sizes #16 and #17) is more widely available, this can usually be substituted. Because buttonhole thread is only half the weight of bookbinding thread, it should be used doubled when stitching larger books. […]

excerpt from “Japanese Bookbinding” by Kojiro Ikegami
The quoted passage in the book

You’ll notice that linen thread is not mentioned anywhere. Yet, when we in the west bind our notebooks in a Japanese or generally Asian look and style, we usually use linen thread. I think there is nothing generally wrong with that: It’s the thread we use for other bindings, and so it’s what we have at hand, – and it does the job. Yet: If you want to make a Japanese binding in the true style you need a different thread.

Last year’s silks and trials

In spring last year I introduced first silk threads to my shop. Dyed in a varigated pattern from a family business in Southern England, the different sizes and types that I stock give you plenty to try and experiment with. You can find them in my shops on Folksy or Etsy. I also wrote about the different threads in more detail at the bottom of this page. But this spring, I searched further.

Traditional Japanese Bookbinding

The humble start: making rice starch paste

I sought out several new sources of silk threads that might work as a binding thread and ordered a lot of samples. And then, this summer, it was finally time to get to try them in a real-life situation.

By the way, if you want to try it yourself, you still have a chance to become of of my test-users (influencer). If you have been binding books for a while, but never used silk thread, you are very welcome to drop me a line, and I’ll consider you. I’ll send you a bunch of samples, you use them, and then report back what you think!

After making paste, the first step in all bookbinding it seems, I chose some papers to use for covers. Some of them were fairly thick and I figured they didn’t need backing. But among my chosen papers were some beautiful Chiyogami and according to Ikegami’s instruction I backed them with more Japanese paper. (I tried different ones. It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise that my favourite backing paper is the same that I also use for backing fabric.)
Other than when backing fabric, the paste is applied to the decorated paper directly, the backing paper smoothed on top. Then turn around, paste up the edges, and let dry with the paper side facing out.

making paper cord for the inner binding

While the paper was drying, I prepared the inner bindings. First, paper for the pages is folded and stacked. I chose some Japanese calligraphy paper for some of the books – and I folded those according to Ikegami’s instructions. For other notebooks I used my usual go-to sketching paper. It is great for all kinds of applications, writing and sketching alike, and since the book is to serve as a notebook, it made sense to me to use that paper. This is thicker, however, and I decided not to double it.

Then the inner binding is made, using paper cord that I twisted out of left-overs from the backing paper.

the inner binding

The inner binding helps keep the book block together both while finishing the rest of the binding, but also beyond if anything should come apart.

Unfortunately I failed to make more pictures while I finished the books. But here are the next steps for short:

  • Fabric corner pieces are added to the tail and head on the spine of the book block.
  • The covering paper, wider than the text block, is marked with the text block’s dimensions and the edges folded, corners cut.
  • The first (and subsequently last) page is stuck to the front edge of the cover.
  • Punching sewing holes.
  • And finally: The sewing itself.

As see, a Japanese binding done properly is far from the quick notebook I often made for a scribble notepads. Here are my results for different threads:

The Silk Threads and the Bindings

Super Spun 5/2 silk thread

This is a “leather” paper and one of those that I decided not to back. It was also the first I made of the batch, and to my shame I have to admit that the corner piece is not quite the right size. Please ignore…

comparison between 5/2 silk on bottom, perle 5 silk in the middle, 4-ply linen thread on top

From the silk threads I decided to take on for now, this is the thickest. It is a bit thicker and rougher than the dyed perle 5 that I have in my shop already, both of which are thicker than Crawford’s 4-ply linen. I thought it would be a good match for this relatively coarse covering paper.

I used all the silks without adding any wax but that’s something I might – carefully – try. It does have a fair amount of “fluff” this thread.

spun 12/3 silk thread
12/3 silk – same thread as above

The next thread I tried is a spun 12/3 nm thread. It is a bit thinner than the first, and a bit firmer. It seemeed to do well with the slightly less rough paper, and compares very well to a Perle 5 thread, maybe a tad thinner.

The “super” spun 8/2 thread I tried next is about the same in thickness, but has additional spin and is a bit sturdier.

Those three are the threads that I all deemed very suitable and decided to order in a larger batch. They are all available through my shops on Etsy and Folksy (from September 16th).

I tried more threads, though, and I still wonder….

The book above was bound with a 16/2 thread. It does its job here, and it could always be taken double, as suggested by Ikegami himself. However, I figured it was maybe a little bit too thin, and the other threads preferable.

This pink silk thread – I think it is very beautiful. The colour is very lightly variaged and ranges from a strong vibrant pink to orange here or there. It might have to be taken double, although for this book with only Japanese paper, also for the book block, I thought it served it well.

And those two, finally, were bound with a thread which I bought under the same “silk thread”, but I am fairly sure it is not pure silk. (Should I decide to take it on, I’d have to investigate further.) It *is* a Japanese thread, though, produced for and used in Kimono embroidery. It hink it went especially well with the paper that already has some gold accents.

My new Silk Stock in comparison with familar Perle 5 and Linen thread

What do you think? Add any of the other threads? And would you want to see buttonhole/finer thread added? I am looking at a range that would be available in colours, but it’d had to be doubled at least…

Call for Application

I’ll keep on trying different threads. Would you like to try some yourself and have a say? Get in touch before the end of the coming weekend, and I’ll consider you as a test-user. I’ll send you some samples (of course for free) and you’d send me your opinion. I’ll send more detailed information to all who would like to try, so let me know!

Interview: Clare Morgan (Curious Inky Me)

Clare Morgan with two of her prints

Clare and I first met at the Derby Print open in May this year. When I entered the front room at Banks Mills Studios together with the rest of my family, it was she who greeted us, made us feel welcome, and helped us around.
Her work is as inviting as she is, her prints burst with colour and action. They show women jumping, falling and dancing. At first glance I took them for line etchings or lithography because they had this hand-sketched feel and look. When I asked, she was more than happy to explain her process, and it turned out I was looking at photo-exposed screen prints.

Once I got aware of her work, I saw her prints everywhere in Nottingham. It didn’t take long for me to ask her for an interview and for her to say “yes”. We decided to meet at Green Door Printmaking Studio an open access print studio where she is a member. When I arrived she was busy hanging her prints for an upcoming exhibition.

Hilke: Hello Clare, thank you for taking your time to meet me again, and for being open to my questions!

Clare: Of course! I am glad you came.

Hilke: Do you exclusively work here or do you also have studio space somewhere else?

Clare: I feel so lucky to have my own little space at home, hidden away in the attic – even if I can only stand up in the middle of it. [laughs] That’s where on Sundays I draw, develop colour ideas and prepare acetates ready to expose my screens. On Mondays I then come to Green door studio here at Banks Mills and print. The rest of the week I am dedicated to being a teacher at a secondary school in Nottingham.

“Flux”, screenprint by Clare Morgan. All copyright with the artist

Hilke: [looking around at the prints Clare is hanging] Preparing for this interview, I of course read what you write about yourself and your art on your website. I can indeed spot circles in almost every one of your prints. – You mention that they are related to your medical history. Can you tell me more about that?

Clare: I first introduced them when I wanted to illustrate the bubble you can feel like you are in when you are seriously ill. You can become quite locked out when people feel they don’t want to bother you with their worries.
I used circles to separate the main subject from the rest of the image. It [the circle] is also about protection, and growth.

Hilke: May I ask what kind of diagnosis you had? – And are you alright now?

Clare: Yes. I had non-hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I am very open about it and now volunteer for Lymphoma action which is a charity that really helped me through. I had a donor stem cell transplant two years ago after getting into remission through a regime of intensive chemotherapy. The transplant is to give me the best chance of staying disease free. It is amazing that this kind of treatment is possible, and I am so thankful that my donor joined the Anthony Nolan bone marrow register. It really has given me a restart. For two years now I have been cancer free.
In the process of diagnosing my Lymphoma, it also became apparent that I had a rare immune disorder called CVID.
When you have something like that from an early age, you kind of assume that it’s normal to feel so tired and have repeated infections. Now that I have treatment I feel more energetic and healthier than ever before.

“scatter”, screenprint by Clare Morgan

Hilke: So you have done all this work in the past two years?!

Clare: One and a half years, really. [laughs] It’s maybe a bit surprising, but that’s just how I am. During treatment I only stopped my job for as briefly as possible. During chemo, I kept on working, even through the hairloss. The students were great and loved the headscarves. Working helped me to not focus solely on being ill.
But I couldn’t do art during that time.

Hilke: Was there a definite moment, some kind of trigger that got you going again after?

Clare: At some point during treatment I was forced out of school because the risk of infection was too high, and I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I went to a portraiture session to draw from a sitter, and that experience changed something for me; I regained my enthusiasm for creating.
As my future started to feel more certain, I felt this was the best time to embark on a body of work to reflect on my experiences and hopefully create something positive to leave in the world – almost like a legacy.

Clare Morgan, working on a screen print

Hilke: And you also picked up teaching again. You mentioned you are working in school right now.

Clare: Yes, I am a passionate teacher. I love my work at school!

I don’t keep a sketchbook[…], all is experimentation.

Hilke: You said you kept on working through cancer treatment. – You really must love your work. But I am curious how you do it! From talking to others I know I am not alone in feeling that planning lessons is consuming all my creative energy. And then there’s the marking and all the many small things a teacher does for their pupils… How do you cope and keep on working on your own projects?

Clare: I made the decision to work part time on my return and to reduce responsibilities in school in order to find better balance and nurture my reignited passion for creating. Being a teacher can easily be all consuming. When I am in school, I give my pupils 100% of me, and I love it. But when I am out of school, there is this switch in my head – and I am off work and can work on my art.

Hilke: Do you feel your pupils and the work in school give you something that then manifests itself in your prints?

Clare: No, not really. I think it is rather the other way around: Because I am active as an artist, I have a better feeling and understanding for what I ask of my students. They profit from my practise that way in the end.
You know, it’s a bit funny but, although I require that from my students, I don’t keep a sketchbook or something similar. I turn my sketches right into screens, use ink to paint directly and intuitively onto acetate. There’s no in between stage, all is experimentation.
So although my students have to do that to document their progress, my work gives me that understanding that free practise and experimentation is something that has to have its place, too.

We can be broken, taken apart, and then reassembled. And […] there is beauty in that.

Hilke: Let’s talk a little more about your art work again. You said your practise changed from before the diagnosis. Do you see development in your prints since?

Clare: Yes, definitely. I can see three connected series of prints. In the beginning when I picked up my work, all my figures were falling to illustrate the lack of control and uncertainty. They explode with colour as I see opportunity for growth in embracing change. Their bodies are not whole: in motion they leave fragments behind. They show how we can be broken, taken apart, and then reassembled. And that there is beauty in that. The bright colours are integral to that concept and this is where the circles started to appear.
As time went on, as I got to a better place myself and grew stronger, my figures take more active roles: they jump and leap, taking control and radiating energy.

“Let Go”, screenprint by Clare Morgan

When I had the chance to watch a circus aerial acrobat training session, I thought their bodies might appear to fall, so I could use images from that session to develop the falling series further. But I was surprised to see how comfortable they were, sitting high up on hoops, wrapped up in the silks. The photos that I took developed into my third series: You can still see the circle, in the hoops and wrapping, but these women are no longer falling.

Hilke: Can we expect something similar from your prints in the future, or do you think you’ll choose something radically different soon?

Clare: Moving forward for me is often in little steps: I keep some elements that I like and change some other factors. I think I’ll stay with the idea of portraying women in action, but I’d like to find a different kind of motion. There are some ideas floating in my mind, but all still a little vague. I am thinking of dancing maybe, and my thoughts also linger on aspects of multiple exposure photography; definitely lots of layering and hopefully a much bigger scale!

Hilke: Oooh, that sounds very interesting. I’d love to see it when you have first results! – Do you have any exhibitions planned in the near future? Or where can we see your work?

“Transience”, screenprint by Clare Morgan

Clare: I have some work at venues in Derby such as Banks Mills, elements café and Artcore. I will also be doing a number of open studios and art trails over the autumn, and last Friday the “Loovre” opened with my work at Surface Gallery.

To keep up to date please go to my website

Hilke: Thank you so much for your time today. And good luck with your upcoming exhibition!

Clare: Thank you!

A final tip from me, the author: If you are curious about her artwork do go and have a look at her instagram feed. There she shares work in progress, quick sketches, and newly finished prints.

All images in this post have been used with kind permission of Clare Morgan.

Codex Binding with an Asian Look

This year I am participating in Sommerpost (summer mail) a swap project for which I am to make a single signature exercise book, well, 7 in fact, and send them to other participants. I’ll end up with 7 myself, from which we are then binding a book. Because my work will be further used in that way, it has to be a pamphlet bound in the fold.

But, since for the decoration I have quite a lot of Asian inspired imagery, I thought that a stab stitch would look nice. And so I it in my mind to develop a binding that would functionally be a western bound pamphlet but look like an Asian stab bound book.

Ta-Da, here it is:

Asking social media, it looks like no-one has seen this before, so here’s a step-by step:

Cut and Fold the Covers

For a cover material I chose a blue, cotton rich cardstock. I cut them to A4 size, as we are required to submit A5 sized booklets for the swap.

re-enforce the spine when using paper

To emphasis this Asian look, I like paper covers with a fabric spine. With paper covers the fabric is indeed needed as a spine re-enforcement. However, if you are using a tougher material for covers, the choice of whether or not to add a fabric strip becomes an aesthetic choice rather than a necessity.

trim head and tail

Like with an Asian stab binding, you won’t be able to trip the head and tail after binding, so you have to do it before. I left the front edge uneven, for now, because like in any pamphlet, you can still trim that later.

The next step is to design a punching template. For this I folded a strip of paper the size of the fabric re-enforcement, and first drew my stab-stitch design on to there. You could do any Asian stab design, but I like this fairly simple one.

design on punching template (marked out for better visibility, I would normally just mark the holes)

Punch through the holes on the template where you would drill for an Asian binding. Then fold the strip open. You now have pairs of holes there on either side of the fold. Connect these pairs with a pencil line. I now have 6 (4+2 corners) lines crossing the centre fold. On four of them (I chose the 4 in the middle, but it could be argued, that including the outermost or maybe all of them would be preferable) I punched holes through the centrefold.
I marked all holes for you with a little arrow here:

the completed punching template
pre-punching the centrefold holes

Next comes the pre-punching of the holes. First punch the holes in the centrefold through the complete booklet. Then put away the inner pages, lay the cover flat, and continue to punch the “Asian” holes into the cover.

punching the “Asian” holes into the cover

And then we can proceed to sewing the first set of stitches. I used a silk thread of a lovely, ever so slightly varigated pink colour.

starting to sew

It is easy to measure the length directly if you really want to. Approximately you’ll need four times the height of the book plus 12 times the width of the fabric strip plus a bit for knotting.

starting the stitch

For these first stitches ignore the holes in the centrefold completely. The stitch pattern is essentially the same as for an Asian stitch. Start on one of the two middle holes on the inside of the cover. Now every time you’d normally go around the spine of your text block, switch to the other side of the fold and make sure you mirror the stitches already done on the other side. Make sure your pattern is “complete” both on the inside and the outside.

complete stitching on the outside
ending on the inside; knotting will make the pattern complete here

At this point, this stitching looks purely decorative, but we’ll use the spanning threads to hold our secondary stitches in place, and those in turn will hold these first stitches in place. Be careful for now with moving your cover, because the position of those threads is less secure than you might think.

now on to the secondary stitching

Put the pages back into the cover. If you all did correctly, the holes in your signature line up with the spanning thread from the first stitching.

Start on one of the outermost holes on the inside. Go through the holes onto the spine, taking care not to pierce any thread as usual.

first stitch

Then loop the thread around the spanning thread and go back inside the signature and pull tight.

Repeat with all the remaining holes. Now you have an end of thread dangling both head and tail, but the pages are securely in place. All that needs doing is to knot that thread.

I chose to wind the two ends around the stitches and knot them together. You could also just knot each end to itself if you prefer.
The sewn book outside view. The little spanning threads at the centre line are hardly visible at all, but help to keep the thread in place.

The final step now is to trim the front and you are ready and done.

last step: trim the fore edge

Now you have a booklet sewn throught he centrefold with a decorative Asian stab pattern.

Next I’d like to try with several signatures. It shouldn’t be hard to do the same with a thicker spine. Although it might become a little pointless, not to just simply do an Asian stab binding in that case.

Mhm, the general ethos for that swap seems to be, not to show finished parts before sending off. But just the cover won’t hurt, don’t you think? So what are you thoughts: Top or flop?

Finished single signature pamphlet with Asian Stab Stitch look