A couple of months ago, I received an email from Barb Tetenbaum of Triangular Press. She invited me to produce a book for a show at at the Seager Gray gallery in Mill Valley, CA. Here’s Barb:
I have a deck of cards that I use with my students when they are ‘stuck’ or just for fun. It has categories of cards for structure, paper, layout, technique, text, image, color and a basic description. Then there are adjective cards. I will draw a set of cards for you and send you this ‘recipe’. You will make a book or book-like project, should be for sale, need not be an edition, due at the gallery on January 31st.
I agreed to take part and a few days later I received a second email, this time with the hand I’d been dealt:
Imagery: none *
Structure: unbound/boxed **
Text: collaborate with writer/poet/other ***
Layout: across folds
Technical: hand drawn, painted/collaged, etc. ****
Paper: pre-treated, crumpled, painted, pasted, etc. *****
Adjectives: personal, scientific, ordinary, complicated, colorful
* Wait, what?
** That’s just lazy!
*** But I don’t even like other people.*
**** Drawing? You mean like in a draft?
***** I’m sorry, did you say “crumpled?” Like when you throw something in the garbage?
Barb let me know I had the option to throw one or two of these cards back and redraw, but the hand seemed so unlike me that I wanted to see what on earth I would do. So I told her I would stick with the hand I was dealt.
Step One: Find a writer/poet/other.
Enter David Allen, currently a Biology professor at Middlebury. I asked Dave to send me some portions of text from his PhD dissertation for the University of Michigan. After reading five or six excerpts, I selected this one:
“Simulations on a two-dimensional grid reveal that if the conditions are met to destabilize the spatially homogenous equilibrium then individual patches cycle out of phase with their neighbors. At any particular time the grid has a checkerboard-like structure (Figure 2.1), and through time individual patches exhibit a two-cycle.”
Clear as day, right? And as if the meaning wasn’t obvious enough, we’ve got Figure 2.1 to rely on!
You still don’t understand? I’m sorry, haven’t you ever taken a Science class? Are you a cave person who stumbled into a time machine? Ok fine, just kidding, neither did I. Working together, Dave and I pared the text down to the following: Simulations on a two-dimensional grid reveal that if conditions are met to destabilize the equilibrium, individuals cycle out of phase with their neighbors. Somehow this now feels like a universal text, open-ended enough to invite us in and call for different interpretations. Collaboration accomplished.
Step Two: Pre-treat some paper
Ok, so I am not a pre-treater of paper. I think about that kind of activity the same way I think about catching moonbeams in jars or painting with my own body. But I am not one to ignore instructions from the Artist Book Ideation Deck, so I took a deep breath and began. Here is something crumpled then drawn then painted:
Here is something drawn then crumpled then waxed then crumpled then punched:
Here is something crumpled then painted then waxed then crumpled:
That last batch looked so much like a tie-dyed T-shirt that I was shocked out of crumpling entirely. Here is something drawn then waxed then punched:
Here is something printed then collaged then drawn then waxed then punched:
Around this point, I started thinking about crumpling again. When it comes down to it, crumpling is just folding. And I like folding. And my hand of cards included the instruction: “Layout: across folds.” Here is something printed, drawn, folded, painted, punched and waxed:
Here is something folded, waxed, punched, and folded:
This was starting to look like something I could work with. And so I continued along these lines.
Step Three: Continue along those lines.
Now was the time to begin working the paper treatment into the text until they were talking about the same thing. Eventually, I had a working draft, a series of loose sheets that described the narrative introduced by the text with a combination of pen and ink lines, holes, and folded paper:
Here are some obvious facts: This book is not colorful. This book has imagery. This book is not personal. When confronted with these facts I say: not colorful IS my favorite color. This book has no TRADITIONAL imagery. What IS personal, anyway? This exercise is designed to give some parameters and structure that get the brain moving, but not put a person in a strangle hold.
I loved working on this project. It allowed me to try some completely new things. I’ve never waxed paper in my life, but found it strangely addictive. And this folding business is so exciting that it might just show up again soon in other projects. I am continuing to sharpen this project up, and despite the hand-drawn/folded/waxed nature of the book, I still want to edition it. Because that’s my game, ladies and gentlemen. Stay tuned for the final version, soon to ship off to California.
If any of you are headed to the Codex International Book Fair (which I swear I will go to one day,) this show will be opening the Saturday evening just before it kicks off. Other artists who are contributing books generated by the Artist Book Ideation Deck include Barb Tetenbaum herself, Clifton Meador, Julie Chen, Karen Kunc, Macy Chadwick, Pati Scobey, Phil Zimmerman, and many other interesting artists. I wish I could go. The deck will be on sale. (I’m going to get a copy and maybe you want one, too?)
In the meantime, I am also working on a completely different project. I know, it’s chaos over here. More on that next week.
*Actually, I do like other people.
A note from Barb Tetenbaum:
For all of your readers who might be interested, The Artist’s Book Ideation Cards are being printed this week and hopefully will be available during the Codex fair and at the Seager Gray Gallery. If you are interested in a deck, contact myself or Julie Chen through firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie and I decided to offer the cards (a two deck set in a plastic box) through the month of February for the introductory price of $25. After it will go up to $30.
Barb Tetenbaum email@example.com
It’s really wonderful to see this process, I am just starting a collaborative book project and it feels inspiring and supportive of you to show your way through it. Thank you.
Hi Emilie, thanks for your comment. I am glad the post was helpful. It can be so difficult to work in a vacuum, I find it helpful to talk about the process here, engage with other people and hear about what they are doing. I am grateful to you for visiting. Best of luck to you with your collaboration!
i want a deck! this looks like fun. i want to see the other books, too! i am VERY STUCK these days, with a humungous deadline looming. and i need something to get my brain moving, but for prints, not for a book. however, i came over here to see what you are working on, knowing it would be helpful. and it is. thank you 🙂
Thanks Laura!! I can’t wait to have one of these decks. I have no idea what the other cards are and am looking forward to seeing them all. This was such a useful exercise for me. Maybe you should make a deck for prints? I’d love to know what the categories and options would be.
Thanks Sarah for being such a great guinea pig/participant! For all of your readers who might be interested, The Artist’s Book Ideation Cards are being printed this week and hopefully will be available during the Codex fair and at the Seager Gray Gallery. If you are interested in a deck, contact myself or Julie Chen through firstname.lastname@example.org
We plan to price the decks (2 deck set in a plastic box) at $25.
Barb Tetenbaum email@example.com
Thanks for posting this, Sarah, and we already have two orders just from your blog! Here’s an update on the Artist’s Book Ideation Cards: Julie and I decided to offer the cards through the month of February for the introductory price of $25. After it will go up to $30. (more realistic for what we have produced…). Your blog is so fab. Fab+web+log = Flog? Flab? Fwleabg? xx barb
am working on a project that is asking for translucent paper – just wondering what paper you used that is so beautifully translucent.
Thanks for sharing your process on this project.
What an exquisitely challenging project. Thanks for blogging it so well, and to Barb and Julie for producing such an amazing tool to push book artists forward.
Hi Alice! thanks so much. I love the ideation deck, I bring it out all of the time. Making that book really opened me up to some new things. Hip Hip Hooray for Barb and Julie.