Did you know tigers hibernate? I didn’t before this year, but experience now has shown they occasionally do, at least the book tigers…
Officially, the UK went into lockdown on 23rd of March (I closed shops a week earlier), and from 1st of June, lockdown eases were announced. Officially we are now out of lockdown even though, of course, security measures are still in place, and local authorities have the right to impose local lockdowns or other security measures. And, finally, on 1st of August shielding will end in England. Although we as a family have taken things much more slowly than we would have been officially allowed, and we are planning to for a while longer, Büchertiger is also slowly waking up from hibernation.
The world seemed to split into two halves during lockdown: those for which a time of utter boredom started, and those who leapt into frantic, sleepless workload. I fell into the second half, and calling it a hibernation for my artwork (or shop) is an understatement, it was more of an induced coma. But, as things settled down, especially after summer half-term, my inner art tiger lifted an eyelid.
It all started with a general interest in weaving (and those who follow me on instagram know that I have been making woven bands and friendship bracelets, using different braiding and weaving techniques over the last months. Kind of fascinated by the look of different weaves, I cut a very simply block:
I first printed it in different orientations with a stencil to create the image of different weaving styles:
Quite pleased with this outcome, and thinking while the prints were drying (and I was teaching in Kurzke Corona Home School), I had the idea to extent the use of stencils. I switched colour from black to a dark brownish red, and got going, first by placing additional imagery within my circle. That didn’t work very reliable, at least at this scale. But I still got two prints out of it that I rather like:
I kept working with the idea of putting images of women with children, carrying children into the picture. (Hand) weaving immediately rewoke the memory of my woven carrying shawl that I used for a while to carry my babies. And I found that weaving and woven patterns are such a good image for motherhood. Both because traditionally all steps of the fabric-making process seem to be female work, but also because fabrics and babies seem to go together, the loose woven swaddling cloths, the amount of laundry you do, the carrying and nursing shawls, the beds we long for and spend time in, … And at the same time yarn and fabric metaphors are being used frequently to talk about life and our dependence from other humans and our relationships with them.
Yet another week later, I started to collage patterns and the used stencils.
I am note entirely sure where to take it from here. I have a couple of ideas, including one for a book. But first, I need a larger block to print from. This initial one is just 7.5cm square. The small size made the use of stencils tricky as any half-way stable paper has a thickness at is substantial at that scale. So, first a larger block, and then we’ll see. For now, I am busy packaging some of the prints.
At the beginning of this year, I thought about success, what it means for me, and how I want to achieve it in this year. I came up with a pretty ambitous list of goals for this year, it seemed to much to hope to accomplish.
With clear goals in mind for the year, I set off to work. I pushed myself, in some weeks to the limit, as I was (and still am to an extent) suffering from increased fatique. Like to be expected when doing many projects at a time, in these first two months it’s hard to already tick boxes like sales and exhibitions. But I was clearly working toward all and felt very confident to make (almost) all my goals year. I reached out to other artists (which on its own felt very good), founding a collective (probably called milc, and hopefully with a website soon, but we got stopped in the tracked by an evil virus, more about that in a minute), I teamed up with two other printmakers to do the open studios jointly this year, I took one week off for focused writing, and handed in submissions…
And then, last week my life was turned upside down – like for so many. On Friday the 13th (when else), M. developed a high fever. Sticking to NHS guidelines, we created quarantine quarters for him: Our bedroom has an ensuite, so he was to stay in there. Luckily the twins share three beds, one for me to spare: They went back to sleeping in their poster in my daughter’s room, and I camped out in my son’s. So, instead of a weekend with printing and submissions to a print exhibition, I spent a weekend entertaining the kids, fearing we might catch something, and worrying in general. The fear that M. might have caught on the new Coronavirus stirred us up. Germany was closing down schools and threatened to close borders while the UK seemed set to doing nothing and “taking it on the chin” (quote Johnson). What would we do if M. and I both need hospitalisation? Where would our children go? What if something worse happens? I started to read up once again on how to write a will (something I have thought about many times but M. resists), M. read about how to set me up as a beneficient in his pension scheme (yes, we should have done all that before; and we haven’t even done it now), all the while making sure the kids don’t get too worried.
On Saturday, M. had severe pain in his throat and still no cough at all. He called a GP practise which, after checking thoroughly over the phone, agreed that it didn’t seem like a corona infection, that the tonsillitis he himself suspected was more likely, and he was allowed to come in to see a doctor. They confirmed this diagnosis and prescribed antibiotics. He was still to isolate just in case, since it wasn’t clear that nothing is riding “on the back” of this infection.
We felt more confident again. But while M. still kept to his quarters, and I was alone with managing and entertaining the kids, alongside caring for M, and while struggling to sleep in my son’s bed.
On Monday I brought the kids to school, increasingly worried about the state of things. In Germany school closed, in the UK nothing was being done to help with the infection. The worst affected area, they seem to have reasoned, is not people and their lives but business and their finance.
On Monday, M. was still feeling ill but on the path to recovery. I sent the kids to school, because schools were still open. Because NHS advice at this point was that Matthias should self-isolate, but not the whole family. And, let’s be honest, because I craved breathing space. I needed to ship out goods that were ordered over the weekend, and wanted to get into the studio.
But we read up on recommendations for people with CP and found out that they are considered a risk group. The twins have never been especially prone to infections, and other than some with CP, do fine with breathing and swallowing. But as all muscles are weak and lack control, including those for breathing, it is feared that a pneumonia that comes with corona would render them in need of artificial respiration more or less immediately.
On Monday at the 5pm announcement, finally UK’s government buckled under international and domestic pressure and nodged their recommendations up. Anyone with a fever is to self-quarantine together with their family for full 14 days.
M., still weak from high fever, wasn’t in a decicive mood. But I decided it was time to take the kids out of school and isolate completely. Even though his wasn’t a new fever. Even though we were pretty sure it wasn’t corona.
Knowing my children and myself, I knew it was unthinkable to wake them up the next morning and simply tell them that they wouldn’t go to school. So I closed down shops (also because we decided to self-isolate as completely as possible, and that includes not going to the post-office), and spent the evening and next morning setting up a time table for home schooling, printing out material, and keeping their schedule as close to the known as possible. Instead of telling them the next morning “no school for you today”, we told them from now on school was happening at home and presented them with a time table. We discussed how our “Kurzke Uniform” would look like, and kept dressing them in it every day.
From that moment on, I taught Maths and English every day, plus two extra subjects in the afternoon: Geography, Music, Art, PE, science, German. My son asked for French lessons, and knowing my own limitations I booked a French class over skype for him.
On Tuesday we did maths from 9-10, had a short break with a snack of fruit, did English from 10.20-11.20, had a short break, and then guided reading with my son from 11.30-12. Somhow I managed to cook a very quick dinner at the same time, and at 12.10 we had a warm lunch. I went on a cleaning routine – that’s extra important if you have someone on quarantine in your house. To their great joy, I let the kids join in and gave them a cleaning job each. My daughter asks every day which task she is allowed to do that day. We finished the day off in the afternoon with science and outdoor PE for one kid (football in the garden), physio exercises for the other kid. And then I started to prepare for the lessons on the next day…
On Wednesday M. was starting to feel better, and helped here and there. He’d cook lunch, and just help with stuff. Still, my life had turned in an instant. From doing art, reading news, and being worried about the world, I went to no-time-for-news, preparing lessons, delivering lessons, and organising kids.
I crave alone time. I crave art time. I weep for lost chances, and feel betrayed by the world. I made such an effort in the first two months of this year. And it looked like it would pay off. And now this health crisis just jumped in my way and keeps me away from the rewards of hard work.
But, to my surprise, with all the bad, good things happened too. It is hardwarming to see the level of support we received from everywhere. I am so grateful for all those who helped get my daughter’s physio and mobility equipment out of school to us, who shopped for us, or – in one instance – handed over their supplies of tampons and sanitary pads because these have become a rare item.
And I actually enjoy seeing my kids learn. I am so proud on how they are doing. They are eager to show me what they know, and actually love being home-schooled. On Wednesday my son asked whether we could just carry on with school through the holidays, – he didn’t want to do an Easter break. On Thursday both resisted the idea of interrupting school work for the weekend. And on Friday afternoon he said: “I am soo tired. Home school is just as tiring as real school. – But better.” Which I take as the highest praise. And I think it’s good that they are looking forward to the weekend and doing nothing for a while.
For me, it’s not back to art, unfortunately. I am looking forward to the weekend. I hope I’ll manage to write a little, and maybe film the skillshare class that I have already skripted (and online teaching is by now my only source of income). But I have more imporant plans:
I fear that, with Brexit still under way and all that, difficult times are coming. And I plan to turn a good portion of our garden and lawn into vegetable patches. I’ll start today with a very small (about 12 square meters) of potato field. So it’s digging and turning soil today and preparing classes tomorrow. Sowing seeds and planting stuff will come next. – One thing at a time. We are told that staying active is important, so I guess gardening is a good thing. And with schools in the UK closing from this Monday, home-teaching has been made easier: School now sends us teaching material and learning schedules for every week.
I wonder when I will next see a supermarket from the inside. I wonder when I will feel at rest and ease. I wonder when I will see friends and extended family again. I worry about more vulnerable family members. I wonder how these isolation measures will change society as a whole. I worry what will happen with the economy for us personally and the whole country, Europe, and the world. I worry what will drop out of this politically in the end.
But mostly I am busy looking after my family. And although I crave alone time, I am more grateful than ever for having children and being with my family. Not all’s bad that’s going to come.
Types of thread… – there are so many! Just from reading clothing labels, we are used to different fibres in your threads. There’s cotton and linen, silk and cashmere, hemp and jute, polyester and nylon, and many more. When looked at in a systematic way, the first distinguishing factor is whether it is a man-made or a natural fibre. (If you want to read more about fibres in general, I recommend this Wikipedia article.) Many of these are used by bookbinders. Fibres are used to secure pages to each other and to the covers, for actual binding thread but also for cords and tapes used as support and connection between the book block and the covers, for headband stitching and decorations on the covering material, as well as attaching a covering material to book boards. And let’s not forget that fibres may make up the covering material you are using in the first place (when covering boards in paper or fabric).
Threads are used when sewing dust covers, pouches, or bags to protect the books, and leather thongs (which arguably are fibres, too) and fabric tape can be used for added features such as book marker ribbons and closures.
Ideally we want all our books to be made quickly, from cheap materials that keep the book in good condition forever on a shelf but are compostable once we don’t want them anymore. The book should remain looking perfect at all times and at the same time open easily and readily stay open. Stains should be easy remove, but marking, dying and painting on should be easy, too. …
Since the world is not perfect, we have to decide which of many desireable properties are most important to us in any given case. That makes bookbinding so very interesting to me: Every single book is a problem that has to be solved. Sometimes simply stapling is the best binding method for a job (nothing than a simple stap binding with wire). Sometimes we will instead want an ornate leather bound tome with lots of gold finishing and fore-edge painting. – And most of the time something in between is what we settle upon.
When it comes to durability, not only the choice of material and binding stype are important, but how the different, employed materials and techniques fit together.
From the view of a book conservator it is much preferable if the thread fails before the paper does. When the thread tears through the paper, pages fall out. And althought a failing thread also means that pages and whole signatures will come loose and might fall out, re-binding or housing a stack of paper that’s not torn is so much easier, than first menting a weak and broken fold. On the other hand of course, if the thread is too weak, it will fail needlessly – and annoyingly – while the paper is still in good condition.
The best paper, conservation wise – as far as I am aware of – is rag paper. And it is the sort of paper that conservators have a lot (like in hundreds of years) of experience with. Rag paper from earlier times (like in the middle ages) might have contained cotton but also all sorts of other plant based fibres like linen and hemp. Thus it is not surprising that we find that linen thread is most sympathetic to the paper made from it: It ages at about the same rate, and thus becomes weak at about the same rate.
And thus it came to pass – or at least that is how I understand matters and imagine history to have developed – that in the West we overwhelmingly use linen thread for (hand-)bookbinding, and it is widely viewed as the best choice of fibre. Obviously there are different strengths available, and conservators who work with already aged and weak paper will choose a weaker thread than a bookbinder who binds new paper. But in general linen thread is strong because flax, the plant that produces the linen fibres, grows to tall height, making a thread that is exceptionally hard to break. That makes it ideal everywhere where a strong thread is sought. Historically as well as still to date, linen thread is therefore used in all kinds of traditional crafts: leather works, sail making, tent making, for puppets on a string, or for sewing on functional elements like buttons – and of course for bookbinding. And as bookbinders we always dabble in other crafts: We employ leather working techniques for leather volumes, embroidery for fabric covers, and so on. How wonderful and practical that we can always stick to the same thread that becomes like a familiar friend under out hands. And all that with the knowledge that we have chosen the best thread in any case.
A while ago (in 2014), I bought the book “Japanese Bookbinding” by mast bookbinder Kojiro Ikegami, and more recently I rediscovered it and followed some of his instructions more closely.
In (Western) bookbinding books targeted at beginners the Asian or Japanese bindings are taught in a much simplified way (I wrote similar instructions here) that make it a very accessible method for quick and easy notebooks. But when done properly, they can be elaborate, lush, and quite far from the quick and dirty method we are used to calling an Asian binding.
One of the things I discovered was that he uses mainly silk thread for his bindings. As I wanted to learn Japanese bookbinding better, I decided to source some threads… I don’t want to bore you with things I have already written about. Check my blogpost from last autumn, in which I showed you different silk threads that I tried and how the binding turned out. Following that post, I asked a couple of binders for their opinion in exchange for some free threads. I ended up sending threads out to:
I asked all of them what kinds of binding they would want to try the thread on, and depending on their answer, I sent them slightly different samples.
The first Cecile tried was the Fine Silk I sent her. You can find it in my shop here. Her verdict:
experiment with @buchertiger silk thread : and my conclusion is that it is the best thread I have ever tested even on very small surfaces ! 👍
Cecile Coyez from Reliure Coyez
From Heather I don’t have any photos to show, but she wrote about her experiments. She tried the thread on some pamphlet bindings:
I used the silk 12/3 on a pamphlet binding. I was easy to thread into the needle, despite being a bit fluffy on the cut end. – Nice springiness to it, but the softness of the thread makes it very easy to pull through sewing holes. Unlike linen thread, it sits and stays, like a good dog, to where you pull it. 8/2 Super Spun Silk; a pamphlet again: It feels a bit looser than 12/3, sits in sewing holes really well, and frays out beautifully once tied off. 5/2 Super Spun Silk: as above, but it has untwisted in some places, so looks a bit uneven. fine varigated silk thread: much thinner, but still very strong”.
Heather Dewick on testing my silk threads
As you can see above, Toben followed my experiments and did a series of stab bindings. If you want to read more about how he faired working with the threads, you can read a whole blogpost about his experiments here. In summary he wrote:
I would not hesitate to purchase or use any of these and happily recommend them. Ultimately the 8/2nm “super” spun came out top for me, with the variegated Silk Perle 5 a close second. I liked the 8/2 best of all because of how it held up both during and after binding. It sews easily, kept it’s shape, and hasn’t lost its definition. The Silk Perle did get slightly fluffier in binding, but I’m a sucker for variegated colours so all is forgiven.
Toben from Baile Mor Books
He did have a few difficulties with the thread and found (just like I myself, see previous blogpost) that the thread got a bit fluffy while sewing. It is a common recommendation among bookbinders not to wax silk thread (as we would do with linen) as it then looses its sheen. However, that really only applies to filament silk which can be used for headbanding. This spun silk can, and I think if you binding with it, it should be lightly waxed by hand. – But maybe you want to experiment yourself?
Here’s a link to different threads:
12/3 NM spun silk, with about the same thickness as a Perle 5 thread, and thickest of my natural silks.
I first met Jenny at the Sheffield Artist Book Fair last autumn and was immediately smitten by her and her books. Despite their diverse subjects, they share a common aesthetic: many have a concertina as the basic element, lending flexibility and movement to the structure, with abstract collages in a calm colour palette and no text on the pages.
It was end of November when we finally found the time to meet up. I rang the doorbell, and Jenny let me in to a large open living room and kitchen that showed clear signs of children living in the house: drawings on the fridge, craft projects hung from the ceiling, small people’s tables, and toys in display cases.
Put up near the window was a collapsible table and bench with paper pieces and art materials and a small book in progress.
Hilke: (looking around in the room) I am always interested in biographies, how the places we find ourselves in, literally as well as figuratively, shape what we make. And how sometimes just everything seems to slot into place.
Jenny: Yeah, definitely. I sometimes wish I had a studio somewhere, a place to my own. But working in the house currently suits me well and works best with the family situation I find myself in. My children are 3 and 7 years old, and mostly I work while they are away in school or preschool or while they are asleep. Surprisingly, however, I found that working like this and with the kids, I get more work done than ever before.
Hilke: That’s amazing! Most parents seem to complain about the lack of creative time. Why do you think it’s different for you?
Jenny: Before the kids, I worked as an art technician at a secondary school. My work gave me a sense of achievement and it satisfied my need to be creative. I still made my own work, but very slowly, and usually only when a deadline of a call for art was looming. After I had the kids, I gave up the job as a technician, and it became so much more important to do something for myself.
It is in the small time slots when I am alone or they are asleep that I get my table and bench out, unpack my materials, and become very focussed on what I want to achieve.
Hilke: I see. How would you describe your books and how you work?
Jenny: I love to work with different layers, textures and combine them all. In my collages I bring together my own material from sketchbooks, mixed media layers and mark-making experiments, and I combine those with carefully selected elements from magazines to form an organic whole.
Hilke: What is it about the book format that appeals to you? Why not make stand-alone collages?
Jenny: Books appeal to me as fairly small and handheld artwork. They are intimate and playful. The viewer holds it in their hands, and is able to experience it at their own pace. And I like how in a book the elements move, bringing the different collages into relation to each other.
Hilke: How do you approach a new work?
Jenny: Let me show you my sketchbook. I use mind-mapping to choose my theme and then gather research: other artists who worked with similar elements, drawings of the subject matter, markmaking in response to the theme and I make notes all the way through.
I also glue in paper samples, a trial collage at a later stage, maybe. – I always think through the concept of a piece. Recording my thoughts and research helps me to think and later to talk about my art. And by the time I start with the first collages, I have a clear idea of what book structure I am going to use, and what kind of feeling I want to portray. I create more collages than I need for a project so I can choose which will work best in the book and which relate well to each other.
Hilke: Moving from one collage to the other, what drives you on? Are you dissatisfied with the collage you just made, and try to make it better?
Jenny: Well, obviously I do always try to improve, but it’s not that I’m dissatisfied with one of them. Making collages with found paper has an exciting element for me. I’m thinking for example: How can I turn that image of a lampshade into a reflective part in a window? or: How can I cut out this bowl of soup, change the context and change how the viewer sees it. And then one collage might be finished before I am. So rather than being dissatisfied with what I already have, I’m still curious to see whether I can catch the same emotional content, picture the same atmosphere, once again now that the snippets I used in the last collage aren’t available anymore. – Once I’ve used a piece, it’s gone, and I can’t use it again.
Hilke: So scarcity of material is important for you work?
Jenny: In a way, yes. But I do use photocopiers in all stages of my work. I might photocopy a drawing, sometimes onto acetate and then cut from there. I also sometimes photocopy a finished collage and then keep working with it.
Hilke: Do you have an overarching topic in your work?
Jenny: I like to discover the story in a place, maybe its history, the feeling of visiting it or how people live. Windows are a recurring theme – they offer a glimpse into someone else’s world. I’m also inspired by all the texture, detail and angular lines in buildings. I find that the imagery I work to, and the way I interpret a topic has a clear personal style and I often use the same materials and colour theme in my work
Hilke: Mhm, yes, I can see how many of your books have a strong architectural element to it. Some remind me of technical drawings. Architecture often is bold and big. – What is the biggest book you made?
Jenny: I’ve always loved working small – I must take after my Dad, he’s a modelmaker. I experimented with larger work at Uni but I always bounced right back to something handheld.
Hilke: Where would an interested reader be able to see your work?
Jenny: I’m going to be at the Turn The Page book arts fair in Norwich in May 2020, and my book ‘Cut Across’ will be included in the exhibition 2020 Vision: Magellans Voyage in Liverpool Central Library.
Hilke: Thank you for taking the time to work on this interview with me!
It’s been a while since I gave you guys who like the written word an update on what I am working at but I am planning to show you some of my current work in progress in the next week(s). In case you don’t know yet: I post quite regularly on instagram these days, and there you can find plenty of work-in-progress images. Here I figure, is the place for some thoughts about the work in addition to just lamenting about the slow process.
As you’ll know, I started about 14 months ago to work with paper mache. Back then and still now I want to view these works as book art. But some are more “bookish” then others, and while I find it easy to insist for my “talking heads” that they are books, I find it harder to insist for “my pregnant statue”. I am currently working on a variety of different projects that all use paper mache, and all are works about pregnancy and/or pregnancy loss.
Usually I define book art as a piece of art that requires reader interaction to be enjoyed (open it, turn over pages, move a scroll along), and has some element about it that we usually identify with books in any form (like reading, or looking at pictures). That excludes, by the way, audiobooks. But in this context that seems correct to me. Sometimes we refer to “books” as the content of a book. Like when you said: “I wrote a book”, you usually don’t mean that you sat down and by hand wrote a book. Instead you mean you have generated contents that will (hopefully) be published in a book format. In that sense an audio book might count as a book, but that’s not really my concern here. Ebooks could be somewhat of a borderline case, but I am not here to give super clear definitions in that regard, and am happy with a bit of a grey zone in that area. However, when talking about physical objects, then that’s what I make, and I feel I should be clear about whether I think I am making books or not.
The “talking heads” (working title) are going to be 5-8 (I have finished three at this point) heads, similar to those used for “in conversation”. At this point I imagine they will be hung in a (semi-) circle and “talk” to the viewer through scrolls from their mouths, similar to and in continuation to my work “in conversation”. This work has strong elements of installation. But I do see the paper mache head at least in part as a sculptural scroll case. It is true that reader interaction in this case is very minimal, and the presentation is very important for the piece (whereas normally for a book it doesn’t matter how and where you seat yourself to enjoy it). But still, I tend to insist it still is book art, even when it lives in the borderlands.
Now my pregnant sculpture… It will have text, that is a bookish element. I am going to cover her first completely in paper mache (so the newpaper pieces will disappear from view), and then the final layer will have paper pieces again. Maybe I’ll leave the contents open for now, so that I have something to look forward to undisclosing in the future. But I dare say so much: It will both feature found text, and the poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson (in a worked-with form).
I don’t know whether you can see it from where you are (it was difficult to take th photo this morning), but there’s a hole in her pregnant belly, and there will be a surprise inside.
What there won’t be is my own text or imagery. There are no pages to turn, and although it has elements of books (it can be read), and requires some effort (like walking around and looking at it all), I do struggle to see it as something different than a sculpture.