I was browsing my Instagram feed the other day when an image of a Solander box scrolled up, and all I could see was the edge of a clunky turn-in that peeked out from under the paste-down. I know that there’s often not ‘one right way’ to do things, but I really do think this is a great way to avoid that issue. I came to this style on my own, and in all the book arts workshops I’ve taken, I’ve never seen it taught this way. I love it. I hope you find it helpful. (Side note: I was getting over a cold when I did the voice over, so forgive the gravelly tone.)
My earliest memory is of walking to church on a maple-leaf stained sidewalk in Bremen, Indiana, my Aunt Marie berating my Uncle Dewey for the black grease still embedded under his short fingernails and in the creases of his hands. Dewey was a diesel mechanic, and owned Balsley’s Garage, the name spray-painted in cursive on the doors of his tow truck. He could never get his hands clean enough for church, according to Marie.
My Aunt and Uncle were in their mid to late 40s, their own three children out of the house and the oldest almost through medical school, when my recently widowed father dumped me, an infant at the time, and my 6 year old sister on them. If you’re also from a family tree that features multiple marriages and some tangled branches, you know that inter-family classism can run deep. Adults often make it clear when children are a burden.
Uncle Dewey was the one person who always had a sincere twinkle in his eye and made me feel happy. Even a toddler recognizes and remembers small kindnesses. In their home I was Punky, a nickname that was never used after we were returned to my dad and his new wife.
Love, Punky is a one-of-a-kind artist’s book that began during a residency at Pine Meadow Ranch Center for Art and Agriculture as I was exploring the possibilities of the Sewn Board Binding. The combination of the graphite-grimed pages and the cathedral-like architecture of the form feels like the perfect homage.
…and WHY the blocky stubs, you might ask? Balance.
Here’s a peek at some of the journals that went home with shoppers at this year’s Art of the Gift event at PCA. I’ll be teaching this basic structure as a “Book in a Day” class at the 2022 Focus on Book Arts conference this summer. These photos show examples of the ways the tiny canvases that make up the structure can be exploited to creative ends. Check out all the classes I’m teaching this summer HERE.
Pushing the limits of different structures is always on my mind, and the sewn board binding affords several opportunities for exploration. I learned Gary Frost’s adaptation of this binding from Barb Tetenbaum in the mid-90’s at the summer book arts program at Whitman College, and have made hundreds of books using it since. This piece was made for the ranch hands and staff at Pine Meadow Ranch Center for Art and Agriculture during my fall 2021 residency there
The flex at the connection of the floating spine to the cover material creates a fun spot for a wide range of pop-ups–this book used it to reveal some relief prints of field grass seed heads.
If you’ve made this structure before, the following images will make sense. Instead of separate spine bookcloth and cover material, both are formed from one sheet of strong paper. The book pictured is made with monotype printed Rives BFK 250 gsm paper.
Shapes can come with associations that can be hard to shake. When I first started experimenting, the basic bird mouth idea was hard to ignore, then diamond tuck and roll from the 70s came to mind, then a friend mentioned punk leather gear. So, perhaps the applications might be broader than I’m imagining. If you do something interesting with it, send me a photo!
If you’re not well-versed in the sewn board binding, I’ll be teaching a quick version at the Focus on Book Arts conference in July in Forest Grove, Oregon. Join us.
I typically don’t donate artwork to organizations outside my community, but I made an exception for the Altered Book Fundraiser at the MarinMOCA for a few of reasons. First, even though my work is varied, to say the least, altered books are a bit outside my typical thing. Second, I wanted this piece to be in the world in this particular time we’re experiencing. Third, this museum is in the California city where my grandparents lived, near to where my mother lived all of her short 39 years and where her family goes back generations. The family members and location loom large in my story, but that I’ve never had any direct connection to them.
This primer to teach children about democracy was published in the mid 1940’s. It typifies the way I was taught about our system of government, using analogies that kids could relate to, like making a family decision. It talks about why we don’t have a king, and why equality and one person, one vote is so essential. It is almost comical in its naiveté, given the way our system has been hijacked by special interests and shady actors. I’ve used Fusion 4000 to overlay colored transparency collages over a selection of the pages.
I made an extra set of hand-held viewers in light of COVID-19. The ‘reader’ may view the book through their chosen lens. An interesting, unintended result…the red viewers allow you to only see red, but the blue viewers allow you to read the text in its entirety.
You can bid on the book at the link above. All proceeds to go the institution. (If you see the exhibit in person, send me a photo of the installation. I’m curious to know how they’re displaying it, given the current political climate.)
If you need something for your bookish friends and family, check out the Books for Sale section.This set is one of my recent favorites.
Other people’s birthdays, retirements and special events are a gift to ME, as I get to experiment with materials and techniques outside of my typical studio work. Often, these experiments inform future work and they always help to hone my bench skills. So THANKS to my pals for letting me make you something fun.
Introducing Summer Day, a piece inspired by long days spend outdoors, examining the component parts of plants, having those materials in hand and seeing and feeling how the sun had transformed them and prepared them to reproduce. A trail from a solitary bee makes an appearance too. (I’ve always wanted to market a line of solitary bee houses called The Solitary Bee B&B…)
The papers were all made from fibers harvested near my former studio on Mission Creek. Papers from wheat stalk, sedge, tule (bull rush), iris and day lily form the bulk of the piece, with accents of pulp painting with pigment dyed abaca/recycled cotton. Stitching methods include the basics – back stitch, running stitch, chain stitch, along with some couched, spun tule paper. Threads include waxed linen, cotton thread and hand-spun milkweed from a crop of volunteer flowers next to the porch at my new house/studio.
If you missed it the first time, want to re-visit it, or if it’s all new to you, here’s how to print and assemble your copy of Gyromancy. (Note: I posted my old address from 20 years ago in the initial post, so if you tried to email your details and it bounced, try again at robertalavadour (at) gmail (dot) com.)
Some of my favorites pieces began as gifts for friends. When I’m trying to surprise someone with a special treat, I seem to be at my most unself-conscious. And the results often surprise me – the objects seem to have come into existence as if by magic, not any labor or planning of my own. ‘Tis the Season (2018) is just such a project. This tunnel book started as a gift and has been re-imagined into an editioned artist’s book. This sculptural work features five relief prints hinged with Arches Cover Black and bound in a simple case with bone clasp closure. See all the details, along with a video of the innards, at the Books for Sale page.
There are some estate sale finds that I ruminate on for a long time, taking them out once every couple of years then tucking them back into a box in the closet. I can’t part with them because I just KNOW that at some point an idea is going to bubble up. This summer was the time for the 40-some booklets of “green” stamps that I’d bought about a decade ago. There were all sorts – green stamps, blue chip stamps, and lots of brands that I’d never seen before.
Each of the books was dismembered, then the stamps were soaked off the acidic pages and adhered to Kitakata with wheat paste. Luckily, many of the stamps were still intact in perforated but un-torn blocks, but many floated up loose, or in strips of four or five stamps. 26″ x 20″ sheets of the Japanese paper were filled over the course of several weeks.
It’s rare that I plot out a book and follow my own sketches. My usual m.o. is to make drastic changes as one idea doesn’t work out, bobbing and weaving my way to something that feels satisfying and resolved. This time, however, things went pretty much according to plan, although I did print the prose twice, being unhappy with my registration on the first try.
Six of the seven copies are now available for sale. See the details here.
Another small edition completed! While the finished piece has a fairly simple look, the construction was a bit more elaborate. The theme for this year’s Guild of Book Workers call for entries was ‘Formation,’ and I started thinking about how we’re formed – the things we pick up and discard, both in terms of physical objects in our lives and in terms of the traits we see in others and either adopt or reject. I was thinking specifically of Virginia Lindberg, a lovely woman who made an off-hand comment to me once that I’m sure didn’t even register with her, but which has stayed with me and helped me to see what true kindness is.
I wanted the book to be made from scraps and formed into something larger. I started with narrow strips of Rives Heavyweight left over from another project, folding them into what I call an ‘infinity fold,’ which is basically a figure 8. You can watch a quick tutorial on how to make the panels below.
The finished panels were then sewn together with pamphlet stitches, then small patches of Fusion 4000 were sneaked underneath some of the folds so that the resulting accordion could be relief-printed using acetate masks to keep the panels discrete.
The plates were made from pressing heated closed-cell neoprene onto remnants and an old book that I’d found at thrift stores and estate sales, with one carved piece in the mix.
The text was impressed into stripes of Rives Heavyweight with a label maker, the texture playing into the quilted theme of the piece. The words that weave through the piece read,
The finished book is just smaller than the size of my hand, and the folded, printed pages provide a nice weight and texture. In the end, the piece wasn’t accepted into the exhibit, but I’m happy with it all the same. Details available here.
Watch a quick tutorial on how the folded panels are made:
Proud to have Origins (2018) in Denver this month at the Dayton Memorial Library, Regis University as part of The Printed Page III, and coming up soon in the 31st Annual McNeese National Works on Paper Exhibition, Abercrobie Gallery, McNeese State University, Lake Charles, LA
Origins (2018) was printed and bound in a edition of 7 copies, five in black/white Duo bookcloth and two in red/blue Duo bookcloth. Pressure prints from collagraph plate with vintage carbon paper, porchoir, and silk screen.
Original text by the artist. $335.
Purchase information HERE.
I designed this protective box during the 2004 Paper and Book Intensive so that the students in my Breathing New Life into Dead Media class would have a place to collect their class samples. It’s so simple that I’m guessing it isn’t new, but it’s been a good little structure, and I wanted to share. One nice feature is that the finished box, if it is wide enough, provides a perfect 90-degree-angle cradle for displaying the book.
The instructions were hand-written late at night in my dorm room – forgive the illustration; there may have been some alcohol involved. The initial structure was designed to have a strap that was woven into the edge, providing a simple tab closure. (If you were in my class you may notice a bit of image editing since the original photocopies.) I’ve found since then that if the box is sized properly, it stays snugly shut on its own, and that straps and slots rarely stand up well to frequent handling.
The original one from class, pictured above, has held up well after more than a decade of being handled many times over the years by students of all ages.
So, here’s a quick how-to video. If you have questions or comments, feel free to email me, robertalavadour (at) gmail.
Happy Hands: What Smarty Pants People Say About Kids and Tools
One afternoon a friend who was teaching second grade at the time and I were talking about classroom activities. “…You know,” she said, her eyebrows scrunching into a slightly worried shape, “it’s been three days since my students touched a tool other than their screens – no pencils, no scissors, no glue. That can’t be good.”
Now, maybe it’s just me projecting my own “I must be doing something with my hands at all times” figety-ness onto the masses, but I’ve always been convinced that one of the best ways to engage students in learning is to get their hands moving. Turns out, experts who study the haptics of learning agree.
“A large body of research in neuroscience, biopsychology and evolutionary biology
demonstrates that our use of hands for purposive manipulation of tools plays a constitutive role in learning and cognitive development, and may even be a significant building block in language development.” ~ Anne Mangen and Jean-Luc Velay (2010)
The most basic tool we associate with learning is the pencil, and there’s a wealth of information on how handwriting “trains the brain,” as Gwendolyn Bounds of the Wall Street Journal puts it. Her 2010 article provides a brief outline of the idea. If you want a more scholarly look at the subject, Karin James and Laura Englehardt’s paper, The Effects of Handwriting Experience on Functional Brain Development in Pre-Literate Children dives deeper.
In beginning bookmaking classes we use scissors, bone folders, glue sticks, and sewing needles.I know that many artists aren’t enthusiastic about letting a gang of squirrely second-graders get their hands on good tools, but I’ve found that kids generally rise to the occasion, and the occasional mishap is just the cost of doing business. Real tools communicate to students that they are doing real work, and the more kids are socialized to the idea that art and fine craft is important work, the better. Using a bone folder, as opposed to a popsicle stick, is a real joy that we often take for granted. I’m not going to say that I haven’t winced at the sound of a bone folder hitting the concrete floor, or spent time with sanding tools repairing chips, but seeing the confidence that kids gain when they are trusted with tools make it all worthwhile.
Many of our projects transform paper into tools in their own right. Tools for learning, tools for expression, and tools for sharing students’ delight in their discoveries with others. In some classes, we take on the ideas of publishing and democratic multiples. Being able to make one book is satisfying, but being able to publish an edition that can be widely distributed – that’s a powerful achievement. Editioning introduces kids to the next level of tools and techniques, from something as simple as a copy machine to the use of printmaking tools required for woodcut, silkscreen, or collagraph projects. Having many copies to share with friends and family can also serve to broadcast information about the good work being done in the classroom to those families who aren’t engaged with the school, for whatever reason.
The confidence that kids (and adults!) gain by becoming proficient with tools serves them well when facing other obstacles that require creative problem solving. In art, we set up the obstacles ourselves. In life, the more tools you have in your bag, the more confidence you’ll have that you can overcome just about anything. Making handmade books in the classroom, and integrating them with learning goals and regular, required classroom content, is easier than you think.
Step 1: Get Ready, and Find a Classroom
You may assume that once you’ve established yourself as a book arts expert, you’re ready to search out opportunities to teach. But teaching is a skill that that even some really great artists don’t possess. Many of the skills that are essential for being a good instructor – punctuality, organization, time management, follow through – are those typically NOT associated with artists. If you’re one of the lucky people who have a good balance of left brain and right brain strengths, great! If not, you might want to start small and see if teaching is a good fit for you. The Alaska State Council on the Arts has a helpful online guide for artists that includes a short self-assessment.
It’s also good to take the time to understand which age groups are the best fit for your skill sets and temperament. It’s amazing how quickly a couple of kids can make you feel like crap about yourself. Teenagers can be particularly difficult, especially if you are going in for a short-term project. Younger kids tend to be like dogs – i.e., friendly, wanting acceptance and affection – and older kids tend to be like cats. It can take time to build friendly relationships with teens, and in the meantime, you need a thick skin and the self-assurance that you’re providing something valuable, regardless of a lack of positive feedback.
A good way to get your feet wet is to volunteer to be a studio assistant for an artist who has a reputation for being a great teacher. In exchange for prepping materials and helping clean up you’ll be able to see materials management, instruction, and classroom management techniques in action.
If you plan on working for several organizations, it often makes sense to work as an independent contractor. Make sure you qualify to be paid as an independent contractor AND that the terms offered cover things like taxes and overhead. If you’re not sure what being an independent contractor entails, check it out here.
The first thing you may need to do is expand your idea of what a classroom is. If you’re up for non-traditional classroom settings, your local arts organizations can be good resources. Many organizations serve home-schoolers, day treatment centers, youth summer camps, senior assisted living centers, and other groups and venues. By getting on their radar, they can refer students looking for one-on-one instruction as well. Event planners and convention center personnel can help connect you with corporate gigs, and travel industry professionals can help you explore things like destination crafting.
If traditional K-12 classrooms are more your speed, the best thing to do is to connect with an enthusiastic teacher who can help you navigate administrative hoops. This is one time when starting at the top is usually not the best idea. Top-down art activities that teachers are asked to shoe-horn into their incredibly busy schedules are seldom successful. Having an administrator in your corner is nice, but having a teacher sing your praises to his/her peers is the gold standard of promotion.
Artist’s residencies can be a good fit if you are able to be away from home and/or a day job for a week or longer at a time. Many arts organizations run Artists in the Schools programs, maintaining a roster of artists that are marketed to school districts in their region. A residency can be a great way to immerse yourself in a community and really get to know the students, staff and parents a bit. They can also be exhausting, so make sure your energy level is up to the task. When budgeting, be sure to look at things like dog-sitting, restaurant meals and the other hidden expenses of being out of town.
Interview your prospective employer or host organization to make sure they have their ducks in a row. Being asked to work alone in a setting where you aren’t familiar with safety and emergency procedures, where there are students with special needs you aren’t trained to handle, or in large classrooms that require more management than one person can provide should be red flags. A reputable organization will always provide on-site support staff for visiting artists.
Make sure that you have good photographs or illustrations of the proposed project so that the organization you partner with can effectively promote your class. If you have good layout and design skills, you may want to offer to help with posters, mailers, and images for social media distribution. Be sure to provide a clear and engaging written description of your class offering that the venue staff can just copy and paste.
Step 2: Prepare Your Projects and Materials
When planning activities for a classroom setting, it’s always good to start simple, allowing plenty of time for the main project and having a simple bonus project or two ready to go in case the group gets done early. The biggest thing that will torpedo your experience, and that of your students, is to be too ambitious. Unless you are leading a master class of experienced adults, keep things simple and allow plenty of time. When students and the instructor are stressed out, it’s no fun for anyone. I have one strict rule I try to adhere to: No one cries in my class.
I am a big advocate of using the best materials that you can, given the budget for the project. Even when your students are making a set of samples, stay away from copier and construction paper. Something as simple as using reclaimed ledger paper, or a custom color of cardstock instead of those icky pastels can transform a project. Some instructors see a materials fee as a convenient way to pad their income, and most students are on to this tactic in pretty short order. Charge what the materials actually cost, and if you have some left over at the end, divide them between the students.
That being said, when working with adults, I highly recommend preparing enough materials (at your own expense) to put together twice as many project sets as you actually need. Many students, especially in rural areas, don’t have access to things like good paper, binder board, or the tools (like board shears) for prepping materials properly. They will appreciate being able to purchase a set of quality materials so that they can practice their new skills at home, and there’s no reason you can’t mark the kits up, especially if they come with something extra, like a small, basic bone folder.
For classroom projects, where budgets can be tight, you can get a lot of mileage out of building a relationship with someone at the local print shop. Offcuts from commercial jobs are often large enough for a variety of projects and usually end up in the recycle bin. I usually wait to plan projects until I’ve had a look in the recycle bin, then plan everything else around that. While it’s tempting to stock up on stuff when it’s free, be careful about taking more than you’ll use in a relatively short time. I’m always reminded of my daughter’s friend asking me in class one time, “Is this the paper that I had to sit on when you gave me a ride home last week?” Let the print shop be the storage space, and keep your own workspace (and car, and garage, and dining table!) clear of clutter.
One thing that I fully support hoarding is alternatives to adhesive, which is often the most expensive part of a classroom project (35 gluesticks x $2.59 = $90.65!) Double stick framer’s tape, mailing labels, mailing dots and other sticky fixes can save a lot in the long run, and they eliminate the mess and drying time of white glue (Elmers) or glue sticks. Of course, understanding suitable stable and/or reversible adhesives is part of any good bookbinding class, so don’t skimp if the purpose of the class is formal skill building.
The adage of measure twice, cut once is even more important when prepping materials for others. You don’t want to wait until you’re in front of 30 students to realize that the covers for your book aren’t going to fit because of an error.
TIP: Always be aware of projects that might present an inadvertent safety hazard. Book structures that require cuts in the center of an unfolded page for things like windows can be especially problematic. One way to mitigate this, especially for books created from a single sheet of paper, is to drill a nice size hole with a drill press through the entire stack of papers. That gives scissors a nice little place to tuck their noses into to begin a cut.
I got a great tip from Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord once that I’ve used many times over the years; put the materials for students in clear Ziploc bags with a sticker on the front listing everything that needs to be returned to the kit.
- Threading needles (thread them ahead of time)
- Re-threading needles (make sure you have 10-12 spares)
- Measuring (include a marked template in the kit)
- Providing too many choices (keep paper and other selections simple)
If you’ll be in a classroom more than one day, always count on 2-4 students missing a class. Come to each session armed with projects that are at the same level of progress as the rest of the students. That way, kids can jump in and not feel singled out or left behind.
If you’ve got a materials preparation tip you’d like to share, leave a comment.
So, you’re ready to get up in front of a crowd and lead them through a book-making project! Here are a few things to make sure you’ve done ahead of time:
- Treated yourself to a simple manicure. Nothing saps your confidence like realizing as you start your presentation that your hands look like the Crypt Keeper’s
- Practiced leading a friend through the project from beginning to end, editing instruction notes as needed
- Checked to see that workspace is sufficient, and room temperature is pleasant
- Prepared extra large visual aids for demonstrating small, nuanced techniques, like tailored corner coverings
- Allowed each adult student to introduce her/himself and express what s/he expects to get out of the class
- Outlined the day’s/session’s schedule for the participants
- Identified a source for water and the restrooms
Try to keep the instructions simple, clear, and straightforward. Here’s a short video of instructions for a Japanese Stab Binding that illustrates some of the concepts in prior blog posts, and should give you a good idea of how I break down instructions into small steps:
There are a few things you may have not have noticed that were essential to making this a simple project for students. First, I made sure that both paper selections were cut to exactly the same size (few things are worse than realizing that covers don’t fit). Second, all the text block paper and cover paper was carefully drilled with a drill press to that there was no punching required. I was careful to use a drill bit that would make a hole that was just large enough for the needle to pass through easily, keeping in mind that in some spots, the needle had to pass through twice. Many older students struggle with hand strength, and struggling with too-small sewing holes can result in broken needles, frayed thread, and frustrated students. Third, I was careful to use clear, precise, consistent language throughout. It’s surprising how confusing it can be sometimes if you use even simple words like “into,” and “through,” interchangeably.
Kits were prepared with the binder clip included, the needle was already threaded, and the decorative cover papers made the finished book nice looking, even though it was just a small, simple project.
Stay tuned for more posts with instructions for some of my favorite projects, along with some creative classroom management techniques.