Wire Binding (1)

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.

Embroidered Book (1)

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. …

Binding by H. Kurzke using painted boards, Büchertiger Studio & Press

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.

Waxed Linen Thread (photo by H. Kurzke)

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.

Spun Silk Binding thread

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.

Three Jotters, Büchertiger Studio & Press, bottom bound with 12-strand silk, middle one with Perle 5 Silk, top jotter bound with linen thread.

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:

Toben from Baile Mor Books
Cecile Coyez from Reliure Coyez
Heather Dewick (see her instagram here)
and to someone else in Brasil, but unfortunately that didn’t work out in the end

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.

miniature binding by Cecile Coyez (photo by Cecile) (2)

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
Coloured Silk Thread (photo H. Kurzke)

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
Stab Bindings by Toben from Bale Mor Books (photo by Toben) (2)

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 Silk

12/3 NM spun silk, with about the same thickness as a Perle 5 thread, and thickest of my natural silks.

8/2 NM super spun silk, about the same thickness as the 12/3, but a bit firmer.

5/2 NM super spun silk, the thickest of the three.

braided silk

I have various other silk threads available. A description can be found on this page. In brief:


(1) Used under a CC license (click for link to source) – Thank you for making it available!
(2) Photos used with the kind permission of Cecile and Toben. – Thank you!

Interview: Jenny Stevenson

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.

Jenny working at home at a collapsible table and bench

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.

Offset, artist book by Jenny Stevenson

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 showing a page from a sketch book

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.

Sketch Book Jenny Stevenson

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.

detail of a collage, Jenny Stevenson, 2020

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

Shelter, artist book by Jenny Stevenson

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

“Cut Across”, artist book by Jenny Stevenson

Hilke: Thank you for taking the time to work on this interview with me!

If you want to see more of Jenny and her art, why not try her Instagram Stream or her Webpage.

All images in this article are used with kind permission of Jenny Stevenson.

Is this (still) bookart?

Me with my current work in progess, I don’t really have a working title, unless maybe “my pregnant statue”

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.

“in conversation” book art by H. Kurzke, 2018

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.

different paper mache hands

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.

What do you think?

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 😀