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Chewing with the Paper Chipmunk

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Robin Robin

My friend Robin Robin died on Friday. He'd been ill, but stable. This came as quite a shock.

Robin was an incredible commercial and portrait photographer with a career that included long stints in Los Angeles and Paris. We met after I'd had a bad experience with another local commercial photographer. Finding someone who really knew how to take professional quality larger format transparencies of artwork in this rural place was difficult. The transparencies were a necessity so I could get images of my paper mosaic collages reproduced. My work also has a glossy sheen to it that makes it difficult to photograph. I hired Robin to retake all of the 4 x 5s of my collage artwork. He did a stellar job of it. His wife Stephanie was his constant companion in the studio, as well as elsewhere, and we hit it off in a big way.

Without Robin's quality transparencies, I likely could not have kept my work with the Bridgeman Art Library. When I had my last solo show, Robin showed up, tripod in hand, to get pictures of the gallery. It was Stephanie who, indirectly, led me to get involved with the book arts world. They both have had a huge impact on my life here. They have also simply been good friends.

A few years ago, Robin had an idea for a photography show at the local museum (if you click the link, scroll down to February). He wanted to do portraits of local artists. He wanted me to be one of them. The day of the shoot, he had Stephanie sit near me as he took the photos. As I'm sure he knew we would, we got each other in hysterics laughing (I remember I was telling her about my fantasy plastic lawn ornament, a mating turkey decoy—don't ask how we wound up there). As soon as I started gasping with laughter, he started snapping. Dang him. Then I learned further details about the show. He was planning to make the portraits wall-sized. "Robin," I nearly screamed, "you didn't tell me you wanted to be f'ing Chuck Close!" Grudgingly, I had to admit they were the best pictures I'd ever seen of myself. Robin let me have copies of the proofs to use for promo purposes and whatnot. 

One day a few years ago I was fishing some locally grown carrots out of a bag. I pulled out a multi-legged mutant that was so funny my husband and I were nearly writhing in tears at the sight of it. I wanted a picture. Then I remembered we'd be seeing Robin and Stephanie the next day. Robin could get a better snapshot of it than I could.

I should've known better. Robin took it to his studio and did a set of portraits, even rubbing it with oil to give it a nice sheen. To this day I can't look at a carrot without thinking of Robin's photos. I joked with him that he could even make a carrot look sexy, but it wasn't far from the truth. He was amazing with a camera.

And he was the sort of person one would feel lucky to have for a friend. He's going to be terribly missed.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Piddle on Papyrus

I don't have a professional graphics background. But through my work with books and printed matter, I've come to notice type.

And ever since I first started noticing it everywhere, the Papyrus font has set my teeth on edge. Trust me—in 10 or 20 years anything in Papyrus is going to look atrociously dated, in the same way that certain typefaces from the 70s scream of that era. It already looks dated.

And then there's Comic Sans. In order to better understand what it is, exactly, that makes Comic Sans so upsetting to so many, I googled "comic sans sucks." I got 30,900 hits. I discovered there is even a Ban Comic Sans web site.

Comic Sans is used so much, and so often inappropriately, that it has become a cliché. It was based on the writing in comic books and developed for balloon captions for a Microsoft children's program. Most comic book writers don't even actually use it. They use other comic fonts.

I hadn't realized, but quickly discovered, that lots of people loathe Papyrus too. In fact, "papyrus sucks" gets 1,090,000 hits on Google. There are even a few anti-Papyrus groups on Flickr and blogs devoted to hating Papyrus. It's rather gratifying to realize other people share one's own pet peeves.

As I say, I'm not a graphic designer, but I can appreciate the sentiment...

Graphic Avenger.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Show in the San Francisco Media

Designer Bookbinders, based in the UK, held an international competition last year in association with the Bodleian Library. It turns out that the resulting show, Bound for Success: an Exhibition of Contemporary Fine Bindings, is visiting San Francisco until March 6 and got a write-up in the San Francisco Chronicle today. Images of the winning entries, which are exquisite interpretations of a water theme, are also on the Designer Bookbinders' site (there's a link in the body of the text that will take you to the pictures).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Long S

I was amused by this recent post from Jeff Peachey and thought you might enjoy it too.

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Papermaking Day

I never used to understand the appeal of making paper. Rip up a sheet of paper, put it in a blender and make... a sheet of paper! How exciting. I stuck to found and purchased papers and left the wet stuff to other folks.

Then one day a long while back I got curious. I made a primitive mould and deckle with some screen, tore up some old junk mail, shoved the pieces in a blender with some water...and made some surprisingly cool-looking papers. I was hooked.

I eventually got a pour-style mould and some dried sheets of different kinds of pulps from Carriage House Paper. I discovered the thrill of experimenting with various (and sometimes strange) inclusions and the joy of running one's fingers through a vat of cool proto-paper slush.

On the other hand, it can be a tiring process. I went for a long time without doing it. Then recently my friend Michele wanted to start making paper. I loaned her some books, which was all well and good, but what she most wanted, please, was a demo of that pour mould. And so I pulled out the old papermaking paraphernalia.

We got some especially interesting results with a mix of blue jean and sisal pulps, which I'd been rehydrating since the day before. Michele is a hoot. She's a former mathematician, and at one point in the process she expressed out loud her desire to have a math book to deface--this paper would sure be improved with some equations! Said I, gazing at my pile of university library discards, "Would physics do?"

The results are still drying under clamps and boards. I can't wait.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Comet Pictures

This is only related to paper in a loose sense. I often used to use 35mm photos as source material for my collage work. I have quite a few photos in boxes, books and piles. Every once in a while I scan a few. These are of the comet Hale-Bopp from 1997.

This one on the left was taken at a mountain pass off of Highway 299, a twisty road that heads east from here. I had gone inland, because here on the coast it's too foggy most of the time to get a decent picture of something in the sky.

There were quite a few other people skywatching there as well. After I'd set up my tripod, a truck pulled up and parked behind me. Whenever it became dark enough between passing cars to take a picture, its driver would beam his headlights on me, ruining my exposure. I suspect he thought he was being helpful, providing light. I wanted to go tell him what he was really being, but felt intimidated. Eventually, though, I did manage to get a few snaps and was happy.

That general time when the comet was around provided a few strange memories. One night that March there was also a lunar eclipse. It was an unusually clear evening, and I was driving down the highway with my husband just after dark. The sides of the road were lined with parked cars where there normally would never be any. People stood all around staring up in a daze, gazing back and forth from one part of the sky to another, from the huge comet to the eclipse and back again. It looked like a scene from a Sci Fi flick. The aliens are landing. Or the Apocalypse is about to begin.

This picture on the right is especially for my friends D. and M., who weren't yet born in '97. D. loves comets and all things astronomical. This was taken in McKinleyville, not too far from where they live.

I happen to like comets too, although not with such a scientific bent. By coincidence the year before Hale-Bopp appeared, I did the paper mosaic collage Sleepers Awake (below). This comet was actually constructed from pictures of a galaxy from an old book. I cut them up into little bits and rearranged the bits into a comet.

I guess, in the end, I did manage to make this somehow be about paper.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Louisa Boyd's Work

It occurred to me I haven't shared any Flickr finds or web discoveries in a while.

I've been enjoying Louisa Boyd's intriguing book forms, collages, paintings and other work on her Flickr stream.

Some of her books certainly add a new dimension to the concept of a sculptural book. She binds (and sometimes alters) books, then tears and shapes the pages to make objects. Often these relate to birds, or are even shaped like birds. The one pictured here is "Paper Bird #1--Housemartin."

As for her non-bird books, in recent times I've been growing a bit jaded by altered books in general. But then I see something like "Keeping Secrets" (pictured below) and my interest perks up and I want to look again.

Her paintings and other works are also interestingly textural and evocative.

Louisa additionally enjoys keeping in touch with like-minded people through her Facebook page, so if you're on there you might want to check that out as well.

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Victorian Cutups

As I mentioned earlier, I've been looking at Mrs. Delany and Her Circle, the catalogue for a recent show about the 18th C. collagist that was at the Yale Center for British Art and is soon to be at Sir John Soane's Museum in London (14 Feb - 1 May). Another exhibition catalogue I've been browsing is Playing with Pictures: the Art of Victorian Photocollage. The related show started at the Art Institute of Chicago, and is currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY through May 9. The book is quite enjoyable. I wish I could see the exhibition, which was just favorably reviewed by Roberta Smith in the NY Times. She says:
"Breakthroughs aren't always all they're cracked up to be. Collage, one of the riverheads of modernism, is usually thought to have been introduced around 1912, when Braque and Picasso began gluing pieces of newsprint and wallpaper to their Cubist drawings. But what if it turns out that at least one form of collage was practiced decades earlier, not in Paris in the teens but in Victorian England in the 1880s and '70s? And not by ambitious your-body-my-art macho geniuses but by women at the highest reaches of society, including the Royal family?"
She ends the review by noting how modern the concepts behind so many of the pictures in the exhibit look. Many are strikingly reminiscent of work by well-regarded artists of the later 20th C. through today. "May this exhibition serve as a reminder that the most interesting thing about such distinctions [between the Victorian works and modern fine art] may turn out to be the inevitability with which they fray, as more kinds of visual play, by women and others, comes to light."

Well-promoted exhibitions such as this make me hopeful that perhaps, finally, we'll get rid of the irritating notion that Picasso and Braque invented collage.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Codex Goes to the Fair

As it turns out, my last two available bottles of Codex, out of an edition of 5, are heading to San Francisco this week. If you're in the Bay Area this weekend, Feb 6 - 7, consider stopping by Eureka Books' booth at the San Francisco Antiquarian Book, Print and Paper Fair at the Concourse (7th and Brannan), where they will be on view and available for sale. They'll also have copies of a new edition of my miniature Cat's ABC (more on that soon). Eureka Books put up an online catalogue sampling (PDF) for a peek of some of the rare books and ephemera they'll have there. 

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Adverse Events on Codex...with Some Poisonous Plant Exposure

I have a collection of pharmaceutical informational inserts. I mostly use them as art material. Some actually came with my own prescriptions, and some were given to me. (It's helpful to have an acquaintance in the medical field who is willing to pass these things along.)

I first started paying attention to them when I was putting together an entry for a We Love Your Books show in '07.  The theme was A (is for add) B (is for book) C (is for collaborate). I chose to do P is for Pills. It was probably the first book-related thing I did that I packaged in a pill bottle. I filled it with little pamphlet-style books made from the informational inserts.

At any rate, I felt that my bottles of "Codex" (tiny books in capsules that, as a work, I'm calling The Literary Cure), needed a little something more--an accompanying informational insert, of course! So I opened up InDesign and Illustrator and got to work.

Of this edition of five, three are already spoken for, and one will be headed to a big book fair at the end of this week. I have not actually made that many bottles of Codex yet. Tiny capsules with tiny books are slow going for someone with hand issues (that is, me). The three that are being purchased were ordered by someone who is willing to wait, even knowing that it might take me months. What a great person! I partly added the insert for her. She deserves a little something extra for her patience.

All this reminds me of the funniest real pharma insert I've seen. Have you ever read the fine print on some of these? This was for a well-known sleeping aid. It had the familiar charts displaying the adverse events that had been noted in clinical trial subjects. After all the various bodily systems and their related side effects were listed, there was a mysterious category of "social circumstances." Here it was noted that one research subject, after consuming the sleeping aid, had experienced "exposure to poisonous plant." I tried to imagine... a crazed sleepwalker nibbling on a euphorbia? Running through a field of poison oak? The possibilities...

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