The Book Artist Did It

November’s project between Space Paste Press and Spring Leaf Press taught me a valuable lesson in my continuing exploration of the book arts. I am a book maker, not a book modifier.

In what we thought would be an enjoyable change of pace, Mary and I decided to alter two books each. The books had to be under five dollars each and the alterations had to reflect the title. To prepare, I looked at a number of artists who use books as a medium including Guy Larame who fashions impressive paper landscapes and Melissa Jay Craig who creates organic, sculptural installations. Yet when I looked at my books- The Flaming Forest by James Oliver Curwood and The Victim by Thomas Dixon- I had no idea how to change them in a constructive, illustrative way, so I chose to alter them in a destructive way.

The Flaming Forest. Flaming. Fire. The answer was clear. As a book artist and lover of stories, the thought of burning a book was downright deviant. In the end, I was able to justify it- the book was old, and not in an out of print, first edition kind of way but in a stained, covered with mold, allergy attack waiting to happen kind of way. Armed with my father’s propane torch and a trusty poker, I reduced it to ashes. Those ashes went into an equally old glass bottle where it shares space with some carefully saved book scraps and hemlock needles. I sealed the bottle with beeswax and the contents continue to appear scorched and abandoned.

The Victim. The plum and green cover reminded me of The Butler Did It tales and dinner theatre. Someone was always done in. I borrowed another of my father’s tools, a 22, and shot passionate bullets into my victim. To cover up my crime, I tied the book up, attached it to a weight, and sunk it to the bottom of the lake (or more accurately, into the fish tank).

Thanks to this project, I know that I do not look at books and wonder what I can turn them into. Instead I look at raw materials and wonder how I can turn them into a book.