In 2012, Mary Uthuppuru created Undefined Lines. This unique artist book is designed with a cover that converts into an easel, making the image heavy content read as a guided tour along a trail commonly traveled by Mary. Using ink and watercolors to layout each scene on Rives BFK, the pages have a very soft, nostalgic feeling.
Undefined Lines is a really unique structure. The binding acts as an easel to direct the point of view of the imagery. Where did your inspiration come from for this structure?
I chose to depict a hike I take every morning in a forest near my house. It is there that I sort out the agenda for the day, contemplate what might be on my mind or just clear my head. Being a little reserved with letting imagery be the message in my books, I decided that this book would be centered on large ink drawings with watercolors.
This structure was a complete response to the content. In an unusual way, unusual to me, I created the pages of the book before considering how it would come together in the binding. As I finished the image panels, it occurred to me that I did two things: I created single sheets that then needed to be bound, and the image format begged for each page to be upright when viewed.
So I leaved through all of the books about artist books I could find, hoping something would trigger an idea for my unique situation. First, I stumbled upon one of Claire Van Vliet’s bindings and I remembered the quilted books for which I first came to know her. The Lilly Library has a copy of her book Woven and Interlocking Book Structures from the Janus so I paid a visit and found a binding style that worked for my pages. The woven paper allowed me to bind the single sheets in an elegant and mostly hidden way. Another inspiration for the binding came from Susan Skarsgard, from whom I took a class at the Paper and Book Intensive in 2011. She showed us a non-adhesive structure that allowed the spine piece to slide into the cover to allow for the pages to open completely flat, something I found out I needed once I decided on the cover format.
Next, was to find a way to get the pages upright. I wanted the viewer to have the experience that they were walking through the forest with me. With the images as large as they are, I thought this would be possible especially if I could get the pages to turn towards the viewer. As each page is turned down, the viewer would find themselves in a new scene. I looked for inspiration in objects that are propped up for use that already exist like iPad cases and art easels. I made a few mock ups, but none of those things would work without making the book look clunky. Remembering that the box itself could act as the “easel”, I found the simplest ways possible to prop up the book. Having the box act as the cover in the form of a multi-flap portfolio was a good solution not only can all of the flaps be folded back for my purposes, but it also had a good-for-travel sort of feel. Once all the flaps are closed, it is self-contained.
Last week you discussed your use of painted tissue for the cover of Fantasy & Nonsense. For Undefined Lines, Interpreter of Maladies and other works you’ve used paste cloth. Can you talk about your process for creating paste cloth?
I first learned about paste cloth at my first Standards in 2008 in Toronto. Martha Cole demonstrated her beautiful technique of creating and using paste cloth for books as well as textile pieces. She even provided everyone with her recipes. I don’t use her recipe but I make a very simple recipe for mine which is just paste cooked as though you are using it for repair work, strained and thinned to the desired consistency, then divide the paste to be mixed with Golden acrylic paints. For the cloth, I use undyed natural cotton or linen…usually cotton since it has a consistent texture and tight weave that provides a nice smooth surface for combing if desired. All of my paste work with paste cloth is done on Mylar taped to a hard surface for drying.
The cloth is sprayed with water and spread flat on the Mylar. At this stage, I make sure the fabric is laying evenly and the threads are not warped or distorted. The cloth is then pasted out with clear paste until the whole piece is evenly coated. Using your hands or a long ruler, turn the pasted cloth over onto the same piece of Mylar and smooth out gently with your hands getting rid of any air bubbles. At this point, you have to start making design decisions. If you plan on combing or drawing through the paste, then you need to decide if you will allow the color of the cloth to come through, by applying a layer of clear paste first, or if you want to build different colors on top of one another, in which case you just start your painting. If you are merely painting a design with the paste/paint mixture, you are ready to begin. Paste cloth lends itself to building rich designs by layering different colors or patterns on top of one another which is really fun to play with depending on the book’s subject matter.
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Thanks Mary for a wonderful interview. It was great of you to share some of your techniques and creative processes.
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UPDATE: Check out this wonderful review on Undefined Lines over at the Abecedarian Gallery Blog. The post includes a great slideshow of each page of the book!
I’m interested in finding more info on the binding Mary mentions by Susan Skarsgard – a non adhesive structure with separate spine. I’ve looked through PBI programmes and can’t find any reference. Perhaps you can pass this on to Mary and I can ask her directly.
I’m enjoying your posts very much.