Pandemic life in the studio

How are you doing, 7 months in? I'm sometimes finding it difficult to focus. Read on for an example of my pandemic life in the studio.

Today, Thursday, which I know because Ed and I had a discussion last night about whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday, and were gratified to be able to determine that it was Wednesday without the aid of a phone or other digital device—um, what was I saying? Oh, yes. Today I came into the studio to continue work on a book edition whose deadline is rapidly approaching. (Do you remember last year's book edition?)

But first, I decided, I should tidy up. The library table was especially cluttered.

A couple of days ago, I had lost the smaller half of the two-piece tip to my 0.2mm mechanical pencil when I was reaming a clogged lead. It had rolled off my drafting table to somewhere on the floor. I decide that this will be my starting point. Pulling away the chair, the portfolios, the rolling cart, stools, I find the tiny bit of metal almost immediately. Wow! It's going to be a productive day, I think. So I ream the tip and put the pencil back together, and it works! Better and better. On a roll, I pull the other 0.2mm mechanical pencil out of the mug and fix the clog on it.

Things are going swimmingly. But I've pulled all this stuff away, so I take the opportunity to vacuum and mop the floor before replacing everything. On my hands and knees to scrub up a spot of pink paint, I see a dried trickle of ink on the wall. As I'm scrubbing that off as best I can, I ruminate on how long ago I might have spilled this Quink. (I can tell it's Quink by the bluish color it turns as my scrubbing dilutes the ink.) Now sitting on the floor, I see other spots and flotsam that simply require action — the push pin, the dusty floorboard … the absolutely filthy floor protector! What happened here? Did I crush a pencil lead between the floor protector and the floor? Cue the vacuum, the mop, the scrubbing sponge.

Zeke on the studio futon
Zeke in the studio.

I turn around to see our dog on the futon chair. He looks so adorable, I snap a picture of him and send it to my son. Logan is always happy to have another photo of Zeke. He messages back, do I have any "press(ing) needs" he can build me for Christmas. As if this is a question. Happy to take break, I look at bookbinding equipment for awhile. And learn a couple of tips about backing that I hadn't known before, and yes, there are couple of things I would like. Of course.

But back to what I was doing: At this point, my studio is so far from being a suitable place for work on a book edition, that my courage almost fails. I clean and replace everything I took apart — to find the tiny pencil piece, remember. I do this, resisting the temptation to open the new issue of Alphabet that arrived in yesterday's mail and sits invitingly on the surface of my drafting table. Instead, I clean under Alphabet.


drafting table tray, organized
The tray of the drafting table

I take everything out of the divided tray attached to the drafting table, and proceed to clean, organize and replace nearly everything, labeling envelopes for stamps, tabs, labels, abrasive papers, translucent sheets, etc.— all the small flat paper-like things I use so often in my work. As I organize, I briefly wonder at how I managed to acquire 25 different black pointed markers and somehow decide that I needed every single one of them immediately at hand. I discover three—count 'em, three—beeswax holders, seven random business cards, and three triangles. I decide that all three triangles must stay. When I finally finish, it is beautiful, at least to me.

New direction

I never do get to the library table. But somehow this cleaning and rearranging also rearranges my work on the book edition. When I settle down to work, I am heading in a new direction with renewed enthusiasm.

library table, untouched by tidying

Workshop with Mike Gold

I enjoyed this past weekend's workshop hosted by Chicago Calligraphy Collective. Taught by Mike Gold, the workshop was entitled "Over and Over". All weekend we focused on taking one text and lettering it over and over, using different approaches.

My quotation for the workshop was this: "Stare, pray, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." - Walker Evans. (But if an exercise didn't lend itself to the quotation, I chose something else.)

In this workshop with Mike Gold, it was instructive to see the work of my fellow workshop students, a gathering of accomplished calligraphers. The work was so widely varied! You can see some of this work on instagram here. The Chicago Calligraphy Collective has really got it going on, especially as an online presence for those of us members who are not local.

Mike Gold is teaching this class to other guilds via Zoom. For instance, the Columbus guild is hosting this workshop October 24 & 25. If you're interested, sign up!

Brush lettering weathergrams during a glorious autumn

Pentel Color Brushes and Artist Brush Sign Pens on Kraft paper. Stamps added before and/or after.

I am so enjoying a brush lettering class with Elizabeth McKee. She was my very first serious calligraphy teacher, way back in 1988-1989. The homework assignments have included making weathergrams, and this has been perfectly consonant with what I want to do. These past few weeks here in Montana, our dog Zeke and I have simply wallowed in the beautiful autumn. And we've enjoyed long walks among the brilliant trees and blessedly clean air and gorgeous sunlight.

Given all this, it's no wonder that I can't seem to stop making these weathergrams! I'm addicted to that slightly rough drag of the brush on Kraft paper, the daylight within the strokes as the ink feathers on the paper. And I have been hanging them around the walking trails in Bozeman. (I'm not sure whether to replace the ones that have disappeared, or find another place to put them. If people are taking them as souvenirs, that's okay. But perhaps they're simply taking out the trash. Or maybe the deer like them. How to tell?)

Weathergrams were developed by Lloyd J. Reynolds, a calligrapher who had a profound influence in the western US in the 70s and 80s. The form is a sort of Western melange of Japanese tanzaku, haiku, wabi sabi, and more. Weathergrams are not sold but given as gifts or hung from trees and allowed to weather. If you want to know about weathergrams, read Reynolds' booklet on the subject. And that booklet has been digitized here by The Haiku Digital Foundation Library.

Read more about Lloyd Reynolds at the website of Reed College, where he was a professor for 40 years.

PBS Nova: A-to-Z

Don't miss this great new PBS Nova television series on writing, "A to Z". I did miss seeing the premier showing of "A to Z: The First Alphabet" last week. It's the first of PBS Nova's really good two-part program on the history of writing. I was able to see it online here: Brody Neuenschwander, shown above, designed the program

The second half, "A to Z: How Writing Changed the World", looks to be even more interesting. It airs Wednesday, September 30 in the US.

More about the PBS television series on writing

John Neal emailed this about the series:

Brody Neuenschwander writes: This series has been twelve years in the making and four years in the filming and editing. The first program investigates the origins of writing, seen globally. Writing was invented four times and in four places: Egypt, Sumer, China and Central America. In each case the same steps were followed, which leads one to ask important questions about the very nature of writing. But the alphabet was invented only once, and from this single origin spread around the world. In this program stunning footage from Australia, Egypt, China and Europe will show how hieroglyphs and cuneiform were first created and how they function in a very similar way to Chinese and Maya script. The leap to the creation of the first alphabet came in a surprising way and in an unexpected place: the wastes of the Sinai desert. As this alphabet spread and evolved, it replaced pictographic systems everywhere except China, Japan and Korea. In so doing, the alphabet changed the course of history.

The second program looks at the materiality of writing and the differences between the world’s three major writing systems: the Latin alphabet, Arabic and Chinese. How do these systems function and how are they different? How did these differences influence the history of each culture? And what part did different writing materials play in the development of written communication (papyrus, parchment, paper)? The influence of all these factors on the development of printing will be shown, helping us to understand how the shapes of letters can have an immense impact on the history of whole societies.

There is a third program on “script and identity” that will not be shown in this PBS/Nova series, but will appear later online. However, all three episodes areto be broadcast on BBC4. The manipulation of script for political purposes will be investigated, as will fascinating questions such as “How do the Chinese adapt their script to digital technology?” and “How do young people in the Arab world send text messages?”

For those of you who love the sculptural elegance of Egyptian hieroglyphs, the grace of the Chinese brush in action, the brilliance of medieval manuscripts sparkling with gold—this will be two hours of pure pleasure. And we guarantee: you will learn some things you never knew or even thought about!

Who doesn’t love tunnel books?

I love tunnel books, and have since I was a child. About a year and a half ago, Bound & Lettered (Vol. 16, No. 2) published an interesting article about a very cool tunnel book by Mary Conley. My friend Rose made a beautiful tunnel book using the instructions laid out in the article, and I began thinking about tunnel books some more. But so far I haven't acted on them ... because, as the saying goes, " life is short, and art is long".

A tunnel book I made in art school with a text by Ann Fadiman.
A tunnel book I made in art school with a text by Ann Fadiman.

Back in art school, though, in about 2006, I made a tunnel book from a drawing of a child on some steps in the shuk in Jerusalem. And later, for another class, I had a blast making a tunnel book of butterflies with text from a essay by Ann Fadiman, "Collecting Nature", from her collection of essays entitled At Large and at Small. Oh wait, I've blogged about this before, just a mere 13 years ago. How could I have forgotten? 🙂 And here, wherein I claimed that I'm not a fan of tunnel books! Re-reading that post, I still have some of the same opinions about their drawbacks, but it seems that I've warmed up to them in the past decade. And I really did love them as a child.

This guy has such fun making a tunnel book from a stack of identical postcards.

And here are just a couple of links to some favorite tunnel books I've seen around the internet:

All the pretty little clamshell boxes

Finally! Among all the not-quite-right clamshell boxes, a clamshell box that fits my pencil portfolio, How To Be In The World! Goldilocks would be proud. (Remember my first clamshell here?And that first failed box for this portfolio here?) The finished box is pictured here, housing the portfolio and resting on the ones that didn't quite fit.

During this process, I ran out of bookbinding board (aka binder's board). Given the state of my bookbinding board, I wasn't absolutely sure about that. In my quest to finish the box immediately (hah!), I ended up organizing my motley collection of board. Which included a trip to the hardware store a digital caliper tool. So efficient, yes? Not. Now they're organized by thickness and grain, and I was able to ascertain that yes, I had indeed run out of the particular book board I needed.

This organizing led to some research on what thickness of board I should be using. Turns out, the 0.074"/1.9mm board I was using was just right, while 0.06"/1.5mm board is good for smaller books, and the 0.12"/3mm board I have on hand would be good for very large books and boxes. I usually stick with Lineco board because it's available locally. Davey Board (link is to Talas) is popular, but difficult to cut, I understand.

By the way, there is some great information about bookbinding board in Matt Roberts' and Don Etherington's dictionary of descriptive terminology on the website of CoOL (Conservation Online).

Well, now I've got the box-building bug. I've thought of so many things in my studio that need clamshell boxes, but I have some pressing deadlines right now. Look for posts later in the fall showing clamshell boxes for ... my collection of artists books, especially, but so much more that begs for a box.

An online italic calligraphy class with John Stevens

I recently finished a wonderful five-week online class with John Stevens. Take a look at his work and you'll see why anyone would be lucky to study with him. The class was entitled "The Italic Letter". I had not studied italic calligraphy, per se, for quite some time.

We began with a look at "basic" italic (ha!) and a close look at the basic shape of the strokes. Here's one of my earlier study pages.

a page of basic italic text with a particular form of finials
A page of basic italic calligraphy with a particular style of ascenders and descenders

We considered the placement of lettering on the page, and .... well, so much more. Here are two study sheets, one a block of text and the other a study in two weights.

The third sheet is a block of text, considering ledding and layout.

a page of italic in two weights
A study of italics in two weights
a page of italic as a block of text
A block of italic text
Then we began looking at going smaller. Here is one sheet of diminishing sizes, and another at the smallest size I could manage.
a page italics from fairly large to tiny
Using various pens, I worked my way down from about 4mm to a pointed pen modified to a very small broad edge.
Just about the smallest italics I could manage, with a penny to give you an idea of size.
Just about the smallest italics I could manage, with a penny to give you an idea of size.

John will be repeating the class soon. I highly recommend it! Sign up for his newsletter to be notified of new classes.

Clamshell box #2 – measurement fail

clamshell box fail

I just finished making this clamshell box for my abecedarian pencil portfolio, "How To Be In The World". Except that it's about 1/16" too shallow to fit all the pages! Simply checking the fit after I made the inner tray — the first of three components to be made — would have made all clear. But I didn't.

So now I have a beautiful clamshell box that needs a content. And a stack of pages that still need a box. Ah, well, I had planned to make three clamshell boxes this week, to solidify what I learned in the online bookbinding class through the University of Utah. Looks like the second and third ones will be virtually identical!

Rachel envelope

It's been that kind of day. I wrote a letter to my niece using sumi ink and a 1/2mm Brause dip pen. It looked quite nice, if I say it myself, except that I discovered a huge, wet splotch of sumi ink on the back of the letter when I began to fold it for mailing. I mailed it anyway. Sometimes you've just got to move on. (The scroll-point red marker on the envelope went a little better.)

Bookbinding classes on the internet

Clamshell box and flat-back cased-in book.. Lavender from my friend Rose.

Early in the summer I came across the "Summer Bookmaking Series", a variety of online summer offerings of University of Utah's book arts program. You can see what was taught here (you may have to scroll down). One could sign up for the whole series, or do it a la carte, which is what I did.

I took the Flat-Back Case Binding on August 3, and made the green book pictured above with Emily Tipps during the two-hour session. I was impressed by both Emily, for teaching it so clearly in the allotted time period, and me, for following along successfully in that same two hours! The recordings of the classes are available a month after the live class. (Yes, I have some shiny spots on the spine front of my book. I could have avoided that by taking a little time taken to cover the surface when bone folding, or by using a Teflon folder instead. It's a model. I'm happy.)

The Clamshell Box was not part of the series, but a stand-alone class. I signed up too late (in May!) to get into the live August 15 class, but there was an option to buy the session recording and materials kit. This is what I did. When the recording became available a few days after the live class, I watched the seven videos and made my clamshell box with very little trouble.

I'm very pleased with what I learned in both classes, and will make a few more of each before my time for viewing the recordings runs out.

My work in Letter Arts Review!

My ABC pencil portfolio in Letter Arts Review!

On Monday, I was thrilled to receive my copy of the current issue of Letter Arts Review. It's always a good day when the LAR arrives, but especially so this time: my ABC pencil portfolio, How to Be In The World, was featured in it — all 28 pages! If you follow this blog, you've read about the portfolio several times here. The final product is definitely a ship of Theseus: every single page has been redone at least once.

Although I'm understandably infatuated with those particular pages, the entire issue is an excellent one. It includes an interview with the inimitable Julie Wildman, a book project by Louise Grunewald, Anna Pinto on pastels and pochoir, and more. Get your own copy here.

(In a few weeks, I may be letting up on the exclamation points. Maybe.)