Friday, May 29, 2015

Why Use an Old Dilapidated Book ?

click image to enlarge
The book I'm using for this project is a 1922 edition of Christopher Morley's book Translations from the Chinese. I picked it up at my favorite used book store, the Book Barn in Niantic. Which is a really fun place to go if you love books. It wasn't expensive and it's in terrible shape.

It's only a little musty smelling, and that's been dissipating. The cover and binding is worn and loose, the paper is yellowed, brittle and the glue is dry so the signatures are coming loose. 

click image to enlarge

So why in the world I want to use a book like that for an altered book project?  Well, normally I wouldn't. Last summer I began this project, worked on it into the fall and then had to put it aside for a while. Recently, I've  begun working on it again.

It's hard to explain what I'm doing but I'll try. I've had a lot of success in my career as a fine artist painting landscapes. Shows, sales, awards, galleries, I've been down all those roads. Just when I was beginning to achieve all the things I thought were so important I began to lose interest in those things.  Sales are always nice of course because they keep you in art supplies and allow you to travel and such for painting trips etc. but all the rest didn't really interest me any more. Once I began to get into all the big national and international shows regularly, and win awards I knew that my work had reached a certain level and that if I just kept painting I'd continue to exhibit and win more and better prizes (even given the vagaries of juries and judges). I would just have to stay the course and keep doing the same thing I was doing. But for me keeping the status quo is a death knell and will drain the life from a thing instantly. 

The last five years have been a tug of war inside me as I struggled to continue to paint and exhibit and also to sketch.  What I really wanted to do was sketch (all the time!) and play with mixed media, and printmaking and book arts. I still loved painting but I could tell even five years ago that the bloom was slowly fading from the rose. 

Over the course of the last two years while absorbed with caring for my mom and her eventual passing I was also extracting myself from most of my long held memberships, and associations in the fine art world. That was partly due to having to stop doing some things to take care of mom but also because I knew down deep that I wanted out of those things. 

This was a hard decision, and a slow process of extraction because I was scared!!! It seemed I was throwing away everything that I'd worked almost two decades to achieve. Was I crazy??

When I began this altered book project I chose this old slightly smelly, falling apart book because I wanted this piece of art, book art no less, to be about me enjoying my art. It was not going to be about painting to make a sale, not to please the aesthetics of a gallery owner, not for a judge, not for an award, not for a client, but simply for me.  It wasn't going to be archival, it wasn't going to be neat and tidy, it wasn't going to be juried or judged or sold. It was going to be for me to play in and enjoy the process of making art with all the borderline "craft" things that many fine artist wouldn't touch. 

It's also about not letting your art get too precious, or thinking that your art is so high brow that you'd never consider using a stencil or a stamp or a marker. It's also about letting go and making art on a structure that is already falling apart and may fall apart completely in another year or two and not caring about that because the true art was in the process. 

I hope that makes sense at least to some of you. I'm still not quite sure I even understand where I'm going with this new direction but I do know that this is all about me enjoying my art, and hopefully helping others enjoy making art for themselves too. 


  1. You have courage to give that up! But I know how you feel, change is good. Have you cut your own stencils at all?

  2. Hi Mary Lou, yes, I'm cutting my own stamps, and I've hand cut stencils and have recently purchases a Scan n ' Cut whihc allows me to scan in an original drawing and then it cuts it into a stencil. Way fun!

  3. I've hand cut stencils too, pretty neat you have that machine. I love what you are doing with your journals. If you were on the west coast I know I would have fun in your workshop. I've watched your YouTube videos too, really great!

  4. Since I'd never heard of Morely I looked him up on Wikipedia and found this lovely advice:
    "After his death, two New York newspapers published his last message to his friends:
    'Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.'"

    I think Morley would understand and approve of what you've written in this post!

  5. That advise is lovely, and creativity and unanimity definitely are not a good mix! It is serendipitous that the book and Morelys message made it's way to your studio. What a clear message of validation for change. And as an added bonus, you have inspired me too, good feelings all around, life's about the journey!


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