Sketch Up

October’s book art collaboration with Spring Leaf Press was meant to be simple; five sketches in five mediums- colored pencil, graphite, pen, watercolor and a print all wrapped up in a simple binding. I chose to draw some Japanese Anenomes growing in my father’s nursery.

And it was simple, but it was also…difficult. Not conceptually, but as an exercise in patience and skill. I procrastinated. I would sit down, stare at the flowers and pick up my pencil. Then I would get up and weed, or look at the clouds, take a walk, brew some tea. I started paying attention to what was going on in my head as I prepared to draw. I found myself questioning my abilities and troubled by thoughts of indeterminate judgement. What if this drawing isn’t any good? It won’t reflect my talents because I’m not taking enough time. Why am I so impatient? What if my ability is judged based on this single image? And on it went, without taking into account the drawing was supposed to be a sketch, not a perfect copy. Without taking into account this was an exercise, not fine art. Without taking into account that is was supposed to be fun and uncomplicated.

I finally focused enough to complete the sketches. They turned out fine. I am stronger in some mediums than others and the images reflect that (colored pencils, yuck). I’d like to say I had a breakthrough, but I realize that much of my work is only completed after prolonged procrastination and I am rarely happy with the results. Recognizing my approach to this exercise helped remind me that it is better to produce flawed pieces and enjoy the process, rather than put off potential perfection and complete nothing.

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Destroying Angel

I’ve been a little obsessed with fungus lately. It’s because of the rain. All sorts of varieties are showing up- Turkey Tail, Chicken of the Woods, jellies and corals. Some are edible, some, not so much. For example, the Destroying Angel is one of the most toxic mushrooms in North America. Once eaten, flu-like symptoms develop within 4 to 12 hours. After a period of sickness, the symptoms disappear for approximately 24 hours. If the signs of amatoxin poisoning are not recognized in time, the liver shuts down followed by a hepatic coma. Most people never wake up. Don’t eat it!

Anyway, mushrooms, specifically, the Destroying Angel, was my focus for September’s collaborative Space Paste/Spring Leaf exercise. There were two controls, a scroll format and science.

The body of my scroll is hand-dyed cotton. The pattern is a result of paste resist. The imagery consists computer generated iron on transfers (the science!), thread drawings and fabricated journal entries about a father-son hiking trip gone wrong.

If you would like to read an account of someone who survived ingesting the Destroying Angel, check out Richard Eshelmans’ post on the Cornell Mushroom Blog.

Dye, dye, dye, my darling

It’s autumn! The days are getting shorter, the squash is ready to harvest and the black walnuts are staining the roads of Central Pennsylvania. Not only do they stain the roads, but anything else they come in contact with, which makes black walnuts a popular and easy source of natural dye and ink. There are many recipes floating around on the interwebs but as long as one has walnut husks, water and heat, there should be success.

Here is one more ink recipe to add to the mix:

Materials: black walnuts, plastic bucket/bag, stainless steel 2 gallon pot, stirrer, gloves, cheesecloth/coffee filters, funnel, rubberband, denatured alcohol, large bowl, clean 20 oz bottle, gum arabic (if desired)

Collect the desired amount of black walnuts. I used about 20 walnut husks (more will increase the concentration, less will decrease it).

Put the fruit in a bucket, or bag and let it break down (I filled a bucket with water left the walnuts in it).  It is ideal when the outside husks have oxidized and are completely black. The green fruit will give dye, but they are difficult to peel.

Wearing a pair of disposable gloves, peel the walnuts and reserve the husks. Meanwhile fill pot about two thirds with water (I used the water from my bucket) and heat until boiling.

Put the husks into the pot and simmer for an hour. After the hour is up, begin checking the color of your dye. Black Walnut gives anywhere from a pale sienna to a rich dark brown (adding iron, like nails, results in a brown-black color).

When you are satisfied with your color, remove pot from heat and allow it to cool. At this point the contents look like black sludge.

Place cheesecloth over a bowl and secure with a rubberband. Slowly pour the pot’s contents over the cheesecloth. The sludge will remain on top, while the liquid filters into the bowl. Wrap up the cloth and squeeze to release the remaining liquid.

At this point I added 4 teaspoons of gum arabic to act as an emulsifier and help the ink bind to the page.

To filter the liquid more finely, place a coffee filter into a funnel, the funnel into a 20 oz bottle and slowly pour in the liquid. It takes a few hours for the liquid to drip through. If you are impatient, you can gently agitate the filter, but the fibers break easily.

Add 5% denatured alcohol to the resulting volume of ink (for example, I ended up with 32 oz. of ink, so I added  1.6 oz. alcohol). Denatured alcohol is available at any hardware store in the paint section. This keeps mold and bacteria from growing in the ink.

Tea, anyone?

I love a well brewed cup of tea. I hold the warm mug in my hands, watch the steam curl into the ether and mentally go over my to-do list. Which brings me to my incredibly delinquent June collaborative project with Spring Leaf Press.

If memory recalls (it was four months ago. Yipes!), there was only one rule of engagement; a record of time passing. I graphed my tea consumption over the course of a week. I initially imagined this exercise on a heavy weight paper with mug screen prints placed solidly on top of one transparent chart, all folded neatly into a concertina format. Due to time constraints, I made some changes. I kept the format so that the information could be addressed a page at a time, or all at once. Instead of cutting stencils, I painted a watercolor image of each mug in my cupboard. I scanned them into photoshop and did the rest of the imagery there. Individual graphs took the place of a master chart. I had the book printed at Office Max on a thin, slick paper. In the end, the book has a more disposable feel (much like take out cups on the way to the office) than I originally anticipated, but it seems appropriate. The implied heaviness of the drinkware printed on the flimsy material creates subtle tension between permanent and provisional use.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to brew some tea.

Thank You for Flying Flight 67

George Carlin gave a spiel about airlines that changed the way I think about the language of flying. Now I smile every time I get on a plane. In early September I booked a flight with U.S. Airways to Seattle, Wa. with a layover in Philadelphia. I prefer a left window seat. I like to stare into the clouds and pretend it’s the flower sea in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (then I, ahem, ponder other, more academic things). As my thoughts wander, I  also spend a lot of time looking down at the patchwork of farmland that covers the ground. That visage was the inspiration for my Spring Leaf/Space Paste exercise for August.

Mary and I decided on a tunnel book format with five frames. One line of text determined the theme.

This was my first time constructing a tunnel book, so I made two mock ups. I chose matte board for my panels and had impressive blisters by the time I was done cutting the demo and the final copies. I used a variety of novelty papers to represent clouds and farmland. My line of text is adhered on the back- Flight 67. Seattle, Wa to Philadelphia, Pa.

(Space) Paste Paper

Not only did I have the opportunity to view a number of artist’s books at the Lilly and Fine Arts Library while I was visiting Bloomington, Indiana, I also made paste papers with Mary of Spring Leaf Press. I can’t wait to make more.

Directions as follows:

Mixture should be a 1(wheat starch):4 (H2O) ratio

In a double boiler, pour a small amount of water into pan and allow to heat up

Pour wheat starch into the measured amount of water and mix until the clumps are gone

Gently pour starch mixture into pan, stir constantly

After 1-2 minutes, the mixture becomes milky and begins to thicken to a pudding-like consistency

Keep stirring for a few more minutes. The mixture becomes glassy and bubbles begin to form

In order to test consistency, place some of the mixture on the back of a spoon and smoosh it against the wall of the pan- it should be stringy

Remove the paste mixture from heat and allow to cool

Wet a mounted screen and pour the now congealed paste mixture onto it

Work paste through the screen. This is the tedious part. The more you work the paste through the screen, the finer the consistency becomes

Massage paste with a paintbrush and add water until it reaches the desired consistency (make sure water is absorbed into paste before adding more water)

Add desired colors to paste mixture

For paper: secure a piece of mylar and place paper on it (for easy clean up). Dampen paper with a sponge, or spray bottle and begin

For cotton cloth: dampen both sides of cloth. Coat one side with unadulterated paste, flip to the other side and begin. If you use clear paste as the first color, painting other colors over it will result in a ghost image

Some samples:

Barbara did it better

As usual, I’m lagging a bit (you know, a month, or two behind) on my projects and posts.

I completed Space Paste/Spring Leaf  project #5 for May. There was only one stipulation for the month: ephemera.

I have a small collecting problem when it comes to natural objects. Feathers, stones, twigs… they all end up in my pocket. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to reduce the piles of snail shells and seed pods cluttering my living space. With the help of a friend, I turned a warped job case into two curiosity cabinets. I placed a transient treasure in each compartment. Except one- in that compartment sits a small book filled with abstracted watercolor and ink drawings.

I was pleased with my creation. Until I visited the Lilly Library in July and got my hands on (thanks, Jim!) Wunder Cabinet by Barbara Hodgeson and Rollin Milroy. And may I just say, squeal! Inspired by the wunderkammern of Germany, these two constructed a beautifully crafted two-layered box containing an assortment of flora, fauna and oddities. Each piece is cataloged with curatorial diligence and corresponds with one of three books (paper made by Reg Lissel) included in the package. It was a delight to sort through each compartment and discover the keepsakes waiting for me.

Thanks, Barbara, for showing me how it’s done.