Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Salute to Steel

I know a thing or two about steel. Growing up, my dad worked in the steel industry as a technician. My husband heads up the research lab for the world's largest steel company, so he definitely knows a few things about it. 

No book arts studio is complete without a few hunks of cold hard steel in the tool shed. Whether you need a high degree of accuracy, some substantial weight, or just a true and steady surface to work with, you'll probably find a steel instrument does the job better than most anything else. Here are a few items that I find extremely useful when making books and boxes.

Starting from the upper left corner, a set of 3 angle plates keeps projects with 90 degree angles nice and square. I also use the flat side of these angles to weigh down the interior of my paper boxes so they dry nice and flat. To the right, the steel machinists' squares are also indispensable for making boxes: I use them to make sure my sidewalls are glued straight to the base of the box. At bottom right, the large steel right angle, about 1/4" thick, is perfect for folding signature sheets without having to think too much about it. Place the right edge of the paper against the steel corner, then bring the left edge over to match. Perfect folds every time!

The golden  rectangle on the left/middle is a steel bar that has been covered in bookcloth, for weighing down glued materials. Steel is way heavier than a comparable sized brick, and this particular one is 2" square (by about 6" long), making it easier to fit inside boxes than the covered brick weights I've talked about in an earlier post. 

Where does one obtain these heavy helpers? The angle plates and machinists' squares are from MicroMark. The large steel square is from Hollanders. (Check the supply resource list at the right for links.) Superman (holding a book) is from Krypton, but that's another story. 

The steel bar was the most fun to obtain. Since moving here several years ago, I have been driving by a steel supply business several times a week. One day I decided to go in to see if they could duplicate those sexy, expensive steel weights I've seen at the big bookbinding supply houses  for less money. The guys were very helpful and sent me back to the warehouse to pick out the thickness of steel I wanted, then they would cut it to any length I wished. Well, that may sound simple, except that steel comes in 16 to 20 foot lengths, and even just one of those babies has to be lifted by a crane, it is that heavy! The crane is suspended overhead and runs on tracks that span the entire length and width of the very large warehouse building. So, when they pick up your bar from the great and mighty piles and raise it up above the floor  inventory to bring it to the cutter, you can see it coming for a very long time!  When it finally arrives, the long bar is lowered into a track for the cutter, which is the biggest, meanest lookin' chop saw you ever saw, about the size of my first car. There, they cut the ginormous bar into your little measly lengths. It's all very very loud, and oh what fun to watch the sparks fly! Quite an experience in exchange for a nominal cutting fee, one even Superman can appreciate.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tool Box Tour: Second Tier

Resuming our tool box tour from an earlier post, I've assembled the next top dozen tools that will go to the island with me when I become marooned. (And if it is one of those islands inhabited with third tier tarantula eating has-beens, I'm so not going there!)

From the upper left corner:
1.  Portable hole punching cradle, to punch sewing holes in signatures, for use on the road
2.  Teflon folder for black and other dark color papers, to prevent unsightly shine
3.  Two-ended scoring stylus, when a thinner, cleaner score is needed than I can get with a bone folder
4.  UFO hammer, for setting eyelets, hammering tiny nails, and beating errant materials (like thick corners and tight coptic stitching) into submission. Quite possibly the world's coolest hammer. Comes with three interchangeable heads. Bang bang, Maxwell!
5.  Paper knife for slicing parent-size sheets of paper quickly and neatly
6.  Reverse grip tweezers, to grab and hold those things in areas too small for fingers 
7.  Spring dividers, to take the pain out of measuring all those equal distances
8.  Bulldog clips, for holdings covers and signatures together during sewing. Note these are not owl clips which will leave a wretched permanent crease in your papers. 
9.  Quilter's ruler for quick, easy cutting of paper pieces without a lot of tedious measuring
10.  Japanese hole punch (and selection of bits), to make clean, accurately sized holes anywhere on board, paper and leather
11.  Golden needles, sturdier than their silver counterparts and easier on their eyes and mine
12.  Graduated awl, for enlarging areas such as punched holes. Never use this to punch sewing holes in your signatures unless you want different results each time.

I can hear the next question formulating in your mind even as I write this: where can I find all this bounty to call my very own?

The teflon folder, paper knife, and dividers are from Hollanders; bulldog clips from Staples; scoring stylus, quilter's ruler and golden needles (made by DMC) from Jo-Ann fabrics and crafts; Japanese punch and bits (go ahead, get them all!)  from Bonnie's Best Art Tools, reverse grip tweezers from European Papers. My UFO hammer came from Thomas Mann, but I no longer see it on his website so try Otto Frei. Graduated awls can be found at jewelry supply vendors, bead shops and shows, and hardware stores. I made the portable cradle from a Scrabble board using directions from my very first class with Shereen LaPlantz. Most of these and other resources are listed at right so you can embark on yet another shopping frenzy for the perfect tools!

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Useful Sewing Reference

Still somewhat on the topic of things to keep us busy for quite some time, The Guild of Bookworkers has some useful resources on its website, including this delightful little booklet, Stitches and Sewings for Bookbinding Structures. The booklet was a handout for a conference presentation in Toronto last year, and features sixty (count 'em, 60!) sewing structures for books. Prepared by Betsy Palmer Eldridge, a name you will recognize if you have ever found your way through the Keith Smith books on non-adhesive sewing, the pages are descriptions and reproductions of five dozen ways to bind a book. 

While the booklet is mostly a visual reference (the photos are digital images of the presentation boards), you can find your way through the sewings by following the helpful arrows that appear on each example. Where Keith Smith explains each movement of needle and thread in great detail, this instruction provides only a succinct description and is elegantly simple, maybe just enough to learn a new binding or two. If nothing else, you can appreciate the thread color patterns, use it as a quick visual guide when reading Keith's books, and marvel at the imagination of those who came up with all these variations. (Ooooh, bright color thingies .........) 

Did I mention this treasure is free? You can download it from the Guild of Bookworkers as a handout or in booklet format that you bind yourself. (I printed out my copy on nice paper and bound it with the 7-hole pamphlet stitch. I may add a cardstock cover with a nice label at some point.) While you are visiting the GBW resource collection, you might browse the other resources there and see if anything else catches your eye. See how easy it is to expand your project list? Enjoy! 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hedi Kyle Festschrift

If you've ever made a blizzard book or a flag book, you can thank Hedi Kyle for inventing these structures among many others. My book arts teacher, the late Shereen LaPlantz, attributed both her inspiration to create artists' books as well as numerous projects to Hedi in her final book, The Art and Craft of Handmade Books (Lark Books, 2001). Shereen loved to tell Hedi stories in class; tales of inventing book structures in the car on the way to teach the class (thus was born the Interstate Highway Book, later renamed the Slip and Slide).  A few years later, my friend Smudge (Becky Erickson, from Dayton, Ohio) brought us a blizzard book and a sheath of photocopied hand notes on how to make it. I spent the next few months taking apart and reassembling the model, interpreting and rewriting the notes, until I could successfully make it on my own.

Written on my bucket list is "Take a class from Hedi Kyle," something I have never quite managed in all these years. If you have a similar wish and experience, take heart--I may have found the next best thing. In conjunction with the recent book arts conference sponsored by The Hybrid Book/University of the Arts in Philadelphia, a wonderful collection of articles on Hedi Kyle's work written by many noted book artists has been published. My copy arrived last week and I haven't been able to put it down. 

The spiral bound, soft cover booklet is 330 pages, black and white, with many illustrations, diagrams and photographs, in addition to written contributions. It is jam-packed with lots of how to do it instructions for several of Hedi's creations, as well as for structures created by the various artists who were inspired by or are based on Hedi's work.  Contributors to this Festschrift (anniversary booklet) include Keith Smith, Pamela Spitzmueller, Emily Martin, Carol Barton, Julie Chen, Betsy Palmer Eldridge, Timothy Ely, Susan King, Claire Van Vliet,  and Peter Verheyen, just to name a few. As you can see by the scanned photo above, there are enough post-it notes on my copy to keep busy for several months. 

The book is available from rutherfordwitthus. Now I must go find my bucket list so I can rebind it in a Hedi-inspired format!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Screen Printing 101

The schedule was clear this week, creating the perfect opportunity to really get into a few projects I've been hoping to explore this summer. When I was a student at the Art Academy of Cincinnati back in the day, I majored in graphic design and printmaking. My real love then was silkscreening. It always seemed like a magical process to me. There were no color printers on everyone's desktop or color copy machines. It was one of the few ways to create quick multiple editions of art. Screening ink always produced a solid, matte finish print, a visual quality that I also prized. I produced about a half dozen prints that semester, many of which sold through local galleries and art fairs. 

Later in life, I acquired a Gocco printer, the small Japanese screen printer that exposed screens with photo flashbulbs. The manufacturer discontinued this item a few years back, and supplies are becoming more scarce, plus the Gocco had a limited image size (roughly 4 x 6 inches). It was a real workhorse, however; for one Art Continuum project, I pulled 900 prints of a program cover from one screen! (The usual life expectancy for a screen was about 125 prints.)

I always meant to return to silkscreening, but life and work intervened. By taking some time off from teaching this summer, I finally have time to explore some of these past obsessions. It is amazing how today's equipment for screening hasn't changed too much, except the manufacturers have figured out how to take some of the mess out of the process. Last winter, I got a Yudu screen printer, an all-in-one unit that exposes and dries the screens and provides the print bed. This week, I finally got to try it out. It took nearly all day to produce a good first screen: some of it the time between steps to allow for drying, and some of it due to very poor instructions provided with the unit. But, when I finally got an acceptable screen, the printing process itself was just as easy and magical as I remembered.

Some of the paper ephemera I acquired in my recent trip to Paris served as my graphics. I enlarged some of the handwritten letters, cleaned them up, scanned them, printed them out on transparency material, and then created my screen. I chose a variety of materials to print--fabric, boards, text weight papers, canvas, vellum-- to get some preliminary experience with how the ink and the process would work on the materials I am most likely to use in making books. Just about everything I tried produced good results. Some of the more textured surfaces printed fuzzier than the smooth ones; that was to be expected. I experimented with pulling ink several times over the same surface to deliberately get a more muted, blurred effect. Above are some photos that are representative of the day's explorations.  

I'll be testing the use of these printed materials in my next several projects so I can see how they glue, fold, and otherwise survive the bookmaking process. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Lit Fest Roundup

This past weekend was the Printer's Row Lit Fest (formerly the Book Fair, and let's be fair, it is still all about the books!) We were there for the opening bell, and it did not disappoint. There seemed to be more vendors than last year, and, good news for the economy, people appeared to be buying lots of books. This event is all about the thrill of the hunt, so here are a few of the items I found in my quest for cool.

A 1934 booklet on Block Printing with Linoleum, that begins ..."Linoleum block printing is comparatively new, starting with the discovery of linoleum ......" All of the illustrations inside are block prints, including the ones with text, and are quite charming. A few weeks back, I had found a book of John DePol's wood block prints, so I can see where the next collection of resource books might be headed. 

My favorite find of the day was a collection of 12 stencils from the 1893 World's Fair Expo in Chicago, depicting the various buildings at the fair in great detail. They are about 8" wide by 4" tall and are in excellent condition, still in their original container. When I took them out at home to examine them more closely, there was a nice little stash of stencil drawings at the bottom of the box. I'm happy the stencils had some use in their original life; the drawings are signed with children's handwriting. I do believe I feel a "Devil in the White City" artist book coming on! (If you haven't read Eric Larsen's book of this title, it is a great summer read.)

And, there was a wedding at Lit Fest, for a couple that met there two years ago. The wedding programs were bookmarks; the bridal party's flowers were origami blossoms made from old book pages, the bridesmaids carried Japanese paper parasols, and the groom's boutonniere was made from a copy of a Kipling poem that was the favorite of his deceased father. Apparently our invitation went astray, but we did read about it in the Tribune

We attended a talk with Elmore Leonard, an author who still actually writes all his manuscripts in longhand and does not own a computer. He once owned a Royal manual typewriter, but quickly discarded it when it didn't cooperate with his typing style. He doesn't do email; he has a website which he has never visited (he has people), and in general has no use for computer technology. Amazing!

The rain cut our visit to Lit Fest a little short, but the weekend was long on fun. We had Mary Beth Shaw and her husband, John as our house guests this weekend. Mary Beth was showing her work at the 57th Street Art Fair, and we got to spend a little time together before we went off to our respective events. I also missed Mike Meador's annual warehouse sale (in Indianapolis) and all my buds who went to that event .... can we please get these calendars coordinated so I can do it all?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Printer's Row Lit Fest

The final countdown is on for this weekend's Printer's Row Lit Fest in Chicago, my favorite festival of the year. This will be my fourth time to attend, every year since we moved to the area. Up until last year, it was called the Printer's Row Book Fair, but this year the name was changed. For some, it is all about the content of the books and the authors; for me, it is all about the physicality of the books, just what you would expect for the maker of mostly unreadable bindings. We don't need no stinkin' content to enjoy the books! Whatever they call the event, it is certainly a lot of fun and always holds fabulous discoveries and adventures for me.

The many different bookstalls are lined along the streets in the Printer's Row district of Chicago, home to the city's main printing industry back in the day. A few printers still reside there, alongside some good pub-style restaurants and specialty shops including several rare book stores. During the fair, you can stroll from tent to tent, browsing tables of books, prints, paper ephemera, and who knows what else you'll find to amuse. When you become weary, you can pop into one of the author's tents and take in a lecture or discussion panel, enjoy some music at one of the entertainment stages, or pop into a rare book store and gaze in wonder at the beauty contained within the shelves and cases. 

It's also a great place to see and meet your favorite authors, up close and personal. Last year we saw (not so close, as it was in a large auditorium) Studs Terkel, just a few months before he passed away, still sharp as ever in his 90's. I attended a discussion panel with Lily Koppel, author of The Red Leather Diary (which I had just finished reading) and Deborah Rodriguez, author of the book about becoming a hairdresser in Kabul. In the afternoon, I wandered into a tent with a panel that included Tony Fitzpatrick, a mixed media Chicago artist whose work I had just discovered a few months prior.  My authors' list this year includes seeing Elmore Leonard, Lynda Barry (What It Is), Harvey Pekar (American Splendor) and Chris Ware.

There are always some interesting booths of self-published poetry books, 'zines, and my new friends at the Chicago Calligraphy Collective (whom I taught this past weekend) will be lettering your name on beautiful bookmarks at their table. Book arts students at Columbia College sometimes sell their work at very reasonable prices, and a few other handcrafted books usually turn up in unexpected places. 

My search list always includes looking for older books on bookbinding and related topics, ephemera that I can incorporate into my art, new titles from small press publishers,  and stuff that just calls to me. There is an origami paper and book vendor, and you can always find old type drawers and wooden letters., postcards, posters, postage stamps, and more. Paperbacks and hard covers, new and used, rare and not really, it's all there for the finding. 

The photos above include a few of the treasures I've found in years past, including books on books, an entire album containing hundreds of vintage non-postage stamps, silkscreened prints from old high school yearbooks, and French postage stamps on communication.

And now I'm off to plot my adventure for this year . . .