Monday, November 30, 2009

Using Transparency and Translucency in Books

Above: A look at some of the translucent pages layered together.

In my last post, I mentioned that I am using vellum for many of the pages in this book. I thought I would explain my thinking and the intent behind this choice.

Working in ceramics, I could make any shape or form (within the limits of my skills, of course!) that made sense for the idea I wanted to communicate. So in choosing to limit myself to the book form, the particular structure and materials employed are inherent to the meaning of the work. At this stage, I'm not planning for the book I'm making for the Book*Art*Object project to have any ceramic parts. Incorporating porcelain or other clay has to make absolute sense, and not be about working with clay because that's "what I do".

It doesn't take long working in the book arts to come across the scholarly contributions of Keith Smith to the field. In addition to five volumes of practical binding techniques, he has also published a number of titles exploring more theoretical concerns of using the book as a vessel of expression. Eventually I hope to own the entire collection, but late last year I picked up a second hand copy of "Structure of the Visual Book" (1994).

I have to confess that I am nowhere near finished reading this book in its entirety. It isn't that it is heavy going or difficult to understand. It's just that there is so much to consider and experiment with, that I haven't got far. It is certainly a book that you can dive into, to read what Smith has to say about say, blank pages, and although my plan is to read the book from front to back eventually, I can see there will be sections of particular relevance to the way I work, that I will return to again and again. If you never had a look at this book, I really recommend it.

Early in the introduction, Smith talks about using transparent materials as pages. For me, after working with porcelain, the concept of transparency bounces back and forth, in my head anyway, with translucency. Most ceramics are static objects, so working with books, the whole idea of "turning pages" and the power and meaning in this fundamental action is still very exciting to me. The act of page-turning represents the passing of time in the work, and if the page is made from a transparent or translucent material, then it seems to me to imply the way the past and the future can impinge on the present, if we let them.

In his book, Smith talks about using a number of transparent pages in sequence to enable imagery to be built-up and torn-down again by the turn of the page. He also discusses the way a shadow will be cast by the page as it is turned, moving into and out of focus. Both of these seem to me to work well as metaphors for emotional turmoil, for the way we grieve and do the emotional-work that is required of us in order to deal with loss. I'm incorporating a mix of pages in my book, transparent, translucent and opaque and I'm hoping they will work together to suggest the stop-start confusion and growth that occurs at these times.

Above: Translucent pages layered together.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Detail shots

With the heat we've been experiencing here this past week, I haven't been too well, so progress on my book has been slow. I have started printing the first digital pages, but that involves a lot of colour checking and testing, and I haven't really progressed since last Monday.

However, I am finding how beneficial Photoshop is for this type of project. Combining the layers function and with adjustments to the opacities allows me to move imagery backwards and forwards, and experiment with potential page orders. This satisfies some of my urge to keep up the momentum, but of course I'd rather be working with the actual pages.

Below are some detail shots of different orderings of pages. These are just tests - it may be that none of these are in the final book, in just this way. In case you haven't guessed, quite a number of the pages will be vellum, and therefore transparent. In my next post I'll write a bit about why I made this choice.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Book Art Object

While I've taken a break from blogging lately, I've still been making art. It's been a great source of both consolation and distraction, and I feel lucky to have it as part of my life.

Back in August I joined Book Art Object, a group of book artists established by Sara of Double Elephant fame. The idea of the group is for each member to make a work in response to a set poem or novel. There are a few guidelines to draw the works together, such as size of finished work and inclusion of a colophon acknowledging the inspiration and the group, but other than that, we have left our options open, at least for this first project. One of the most appealing aspects of group membership, apart from being part of this special little online community, is the fact that at the end, every member receives a "full set" of the books made. If you would like to follow our progress or read more, head over to the blog here.

The set piece for our first project is a very evocative poem, by Rosemary Dobson. Here it is:

Learning Absences (1986)

Being alone is also to be learnt
Long time or short time.

Walking the length of the house, shutting
The doors and the windows

No longer calling casually over one's shoulder.
Returning to find no trace

Of the other, companionable living -
Bread smell, the stove still warm,

Clothes on the line like messages,
Or messages written and left on the kitchen table:

"We need to keep watering the cumquat."
Or, "I have paid the milkman."

At night, at this season, lingering at the window
Not being certain where to find Halley's Comet,

And looking a long time at the darkening sky

Text taken from "Rosemary Dobson, Collected Poems", part of the Angus & Robertson series 'Modern Poets'. Published 1991, ISBN 0 207 16864 4. Text copyright © Rosemary Dobson 1991.

It is important to me that any works I make extend the concepts that I have been exploring over the past few years. Since starting my masters, I've been examining transience and change in life, and this has at times inevitably led to works about death. I view death as an inevitable part of life, and something to be worked with and understood, before we finally must face it ourselves. There is in fact so much (in fact, almost everything) in life, that could prepare us for death and make it less frightening, but many people choose to avoid looking at this truth, which surrounds us.

Only 3 weeks after the poem was chosen for the group by Sara, my mother died. At first I wondered whether I'd be able to continue in the group. It wasn't apprehension about the subject matter that raised this for me. I was more concerned about my health and energy at this time, which I view as one of the most important and significant psychological and spiritual moments in a person's life. I want (and need) to be able to engage with the learning and adaptive processes that can be catalyzed by an event like this. I knew I was entering a challenging and tiring period.

Eventually I realized that the poem chosen by Sara and the opportunity to make work in response, were a gift and as long as I remain open, the project could be very healing and therapeutic for me. So I plunged in and began thinking about how to approach the poem.

Inspired by some ideas I've had rattling around for ages, I've taken the subject matter of the poem as a starting point, rather than working more illustratively. I'm aiming to draw parallels between the cycles of the seasons and the human life cycle. Dobson focuses on the experience of absence, probably the most painful aspect of loss or death. In mt book, I'm working with the idea that because change is constant, there is always absence of what was before, and this process can help us learn to deal with those "big" absences.

This is quite a long wordy post - I haven't chatted with you for ages so I've got lots to talk to you about! But before I go I thought I'd share a little of the imagery for the book. I started by developing a digital image for each season. Bear in mind that these then have to be worked into pages, and will change somewhat. Below are spring and winter.

Next time I'll tell you how the book will be printed and how I developed this imagery.