Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hand-Made Art Book, No. 1 (2004)

I recently wrote about making chapbooks of poems, and my interest in making hand-made art books.

In 2004, when I was living outside Taos, NM, I made an art book as a birthday present for my mother. This was one of my first experiments in making a hand-made art book. I made it out of several disparate elements tied together mainly by their symbolic significance for my mother. It was an experimental project, using several different print media, designed to be sensually interesting, made as a gift.

Mom was already having serious Alzheimer's at this point, and I thought long and hard about what to do for her birthday. I wanted to do something I knew she would like, something creative, without being something she would find hard to understand or appreciate. So I made this small art book. Even if she could no longer understand a poem I had written, she would appreciate that I had written it.

The overall theme was travel and pilgrimage, and the book's title ended up being Journey. The book was thought through and assembled in November 2004.



The book is loosely bound with black sewing thread, making a simple two-point sewn binding, pierced at the fold. The cover was a sunprint cyanotype I made on a sunny day at my camper on the mesa above Taos, which I then embossed with leaf imagery using stencils. I signed and dated the book on the inside front cover.



The inside covers consisted of a sheet of translucent vellum printed with gold music notation, symbolizing Mom's long engagement with music as concert pianist and piano teacher. Inside that is a gold-threaded sheet of handmade purple mulberry paper, included for its sensuous colors, and because royal purple was a color that Mom liked. And because I just loved this paper: when laid beneath the gold-printed vellum, it made the gold music notation stand out vibrantly and seem almost like gold leaf laid on purple velvet.





The core of the book is three poems I had written while living in New Mexico, along with collages of photos I had made while traveling around the Southwest. Each center sheet was printed on my printer, front and back in separate passes, then folded in half and leaved together. Also, wrapping the center printed pages was a sheet I made that had B&W photos printed on one side, then on its inside had illustrations and text using scrapbooking materials such as rubber stamps and stick-on letters.



The center spread contains the book's title and colophon, worked into the photo collage that is the heart of the book. It may seem odd to put the book's title and colophon on the center spread, but this is an art book, and you can design it any way that seems appropriate. My thinking here was that the center spread was the book's main point of interest, the spread that would grab you and make you look at it slowly and carefully. So it was the "payoff," if you will, the point of arrival; therefore, it seemed appropriate to place the title there.





The end pages of course are like the front pages in reverse.



This is a one-of-a-kind art book, made for a special occasion. I found it among my mother's papers after her death in 2008, and kept it for my own collection. (I hadn't planned on that when I made it, but life took so many twists and turns in the intervening time that when I found it again, it seemed right to keep it.) During the turbulence of the past few years, between moving house and dealing with chronic illness, I misplaced the book, and found it again a few months ago. Finding it again was another reason I've been thinking about making hand-made books, hand-made paper, and so on.

This book was meant to be a sensual experience, incorporating tactilely-interesting papers, striking colors, poems, several B&W and color photographs arranged in collage layouts, and typography. I set the type as part of each photo collage, combining them in software on the laptop, choosing fonts that seemed poetically connected to the book's theme and content. So some fonts are calligraphic, and others are text blocks like old hand-set type.

(Mom loved the book, by the way. I mailed to her for her birthday, and she phoned me to thank me for it, fairly gushing with pleasure. Which pleased me immensely, as it meant the project had succeeded in its purpose.)

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5 Comments:

Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Perhaps we're looking at the future of books here once e-books take over as they inevitably must. When books were first produced they were art objects and there would be something nice about them ending up back there so that a gift of a book was something.

4:46 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I think this is why books will never really go away, despite what the doomsayers predict. There will always be artisanal books, just as there will be for other arts.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Gwilym Williams said...

Art,
Many thanks, you've just solved a seasonal headache for me! Now where did I put my scissors...?
Re your comment at Mr Bleaney it's an interesting idea of yours, perhaps almost a truism, that we we feel we need someone's "permission" to be poets. I came to write poetry in anger. In my case it was Thomas Gray's most amazing Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard gave me permission.

12:53 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hi, Gwilym, thanks for the comments. I can hear the scissors from here. :)

Thomas Gray's poetry is, I believe, rather underrated. That's a heck of a poem.

The permission to write is a mentorship thing, even if it's indirect, and comes through the poem rather than directly from the person. It's a good thing that it keeps happening to so many poets, from so many directions.

1:04 AM  
Anonymous edizioni fantasma said...

hi, i'm searching for art book over internet and i found your handmade book...
it's very interesting and poetic.
i have just started a new project called EDIZIONI FANTASMA and maybe you could be interested.
i hope!
cheers.
nicola

3:10 PM  

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