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Posts Tagged ‘mary hark’

  1. My Hand // Happy Abstract

    April 29, 2020 by Erin Fletcher

    Being lost in a state of creativity and production is a splendid place to be as an artist. William Blake, the Romantic poet, painter and printmaker, referred to this as ‘happy abstract’. This concept was highlighted in a letter written by Blake to one of his patrons in 1801, where Blake expressed his apology for the delay and that something more interesting had come along.

    This letter became the content of the set book for the second OPEN • SET exhibition sponsored by the American Academy of Bookbinding. This triennial event features finely crafted design bindings from all over the world. Binders were invited to submit their work into either category: the Open Category allowed the binder to choose their own text block and the Set Category gave each binder the same text block.

    Happy Abstract was printed by the immensely talented Russell Maret. A printmaker whose work is coveted by many and hard to obtain by many bookbinders to bind. Maret split up the letter to a single line per page descending from the head to the tail. Since this layout left a large margin around the printed text, binders were invited to add decoration to the inside of the book as well. A very exciting prospect to design throughout the entirety of the book.

    PAGES
    For the design on both the pages and the binding for Happy Abstract, I wanted to create something that was inspired by the beauty of unintentional marks and shadows. The inspiration for the shadows came during visits to museums and art galleries, where I captured the shadows cast by various works of art. These complex shadows add to the aura and beauty of the work, but are also captivating on their own.

    I wanted to recreate these shadows on the pages of the book. To do this I cut stencils with black paper to act as masks during the sun-bleaching process. Some of the stencils were cut down further after a certain period of time to offer the gradation seen in the image above. I taped the pages to windows at my studio and my home for a length of about 3-4 weeks. My studio gets more direct sunlight and offered a richer ‘shadow’ from the sun-bleaching.

    The stencils were placed on only one side of the folio, the chosen side was mixed up throughout the text block. This gave a disjointed display of shadows and a spread could range from no shadows, one shadow, or two different shadows. You can see views inside the book by clicking here.

    The endsheet closest to the text block was cut to mimic one of the stencils used for sun-bleaching. The cut endsheets cast a shadow on to the first and last page of the text block, giving the reader a similar experience to what first inspired me.

    BINDING
    I came to find the inspiration for the binding from my middle school students. My colleague Colin Urbina and I teach a Book Arts Middle School program through the North Bennet Street School in Boston. We teach a variety of artist book structures in addition to having them create their own content. They use all manner of instruments to do this: watercolor, crayon, colored pencils, markers, ink, charcoal and pastels. Each bench is set up with a piece of binder’s board to protect the surface from their flurry of creativity. The consequence of this creates a collection of abstract and unintentional marks.

    I pulled various shapes and marks from these boards to create a new arrangement for the binding. These shapes were then translated as back-pared onlays using a mix of handmade paper and hand-dyed calfskin. To capture the spirit of the watercolor markings, I layered the dyes with a paint brush (seen on green, grey and blue onlays) to make it look mottled.

    The markings would be built up in three layers using the following techniques: onlays, embroidery and tooling. Some elements would stand alone, but I was really interested in how these techniques would interact with each other. The embroidery is done mostly in a random way, with varying lengths and thicknesses to the stitches. I also used back-stitch and French knot, two common stitches in my work.

    With the embroidery finished I moved forward with covering and the third layer of the design: tooling. I used a random selection of tools from my collection (including some handle letters) to build up the design further. Impressions were done over the onlays and right along side the embroidery. I used a variety of pigmented matte and metallic foils in similar tones to the onlay pieces. I love this small addition of color and shimmer that the tooled impressions brought to the overall design.

    I used a very special handmade paper for the fly leaf and paste down. Papermaker and activist Mary Hark made a trip to Ghana to aid in the building of a papermaking studio. With an abundance of kozo growing as an invasive species, the community was able to harvest this plant to benefit their environment and build their business. This Ghanian kozo handmade paper has thread inclusions collected from a nearby textile factory. The circumstances, color palette and use of thread felt like a perfect pairing to the text and design of the binding.

    To see the entire catalog of bindings in the OPEN • SET exhibit click here. Even though the exhibit will be traveling across the country, it may be challenging to see it in person for a while. The Grolier Club in New York City, which served as the opening venue, posted images from the exhibit here.


  2. Teaching at Paper & Book Intensive 2018

    August 28, 2018 by Erin Fletcher

    In May of this year, I had the honor of teaching at the Paper & Book Intensive which was held at Ox-Bow School of Art in Saugatuk, Michigan. If you aren’t familiar with PBI, it’s a two-week intensive camp where participants take three workshops on topics related to bookbinding, printmaking, paper-making, conservation and book arts. Everyone stayed in lodging on the grounds at Ox-Bow and ate together during mealtimes. During off-hours, people spent their time creating, mingling, making toast from the 24-hour toasting station or roasting marshmallows at the fire pit near the lagoon.

    I had been invited to teach my 2-day Introduction to Embroidery on Leather workshop during the first session. In the first session, participants take two different workshops, one in the morning and the second in the afternoon. This meant, as an instructor, I had two different groups to teach over the span of four days. I had 13 students in the morning and 12 students in the afternoon.

    My workshop took place on the second floor of the print building. The space was wonderful. It is a newly constructed building with high ceilings and tall windows on all four sides that looked out into the woods. After getting settled and going through materials, we embarked on our first task of poking lots of holes into leather through a paper template. The room was so quite and still, that a unique soundtrack began to play out. The ping from the pin vise and crunch of the paper template mixed with birdsongs and swaying trees.

    The participants were working with buffalo skin for the samplers. It’s a leather that I love to work with and is very forgiving with embroidery work. Although certain challenges presented themselves with the darker skins. After we finished punching, we went through each stitch one by one. Students were invited to bring their own threads to play around with, so there was a nice mix of materials being used on the samplers. Some worked and some didn’t.

    At the end of the first session, everyone convened into the painting studio for a show and tell. I had been so distracted teaching by my workshop, that I didn’t get a chance to visit the other studios. So it was really great to finally see what everyone else had been working on.

    Above are samples from Letterlocking with Jana Dambrogio (left) and Vasaré Rastonis’ Conservation Binding Model for a 13th Century European Manuscript workshop (right).

    Above are some pieces from Velma Bolyard’s Paper Threads: North Country Shift (left) and Rebecca Chamlee’s The Printmaker as Naturalist (right) workshops .

    Many of my students had little to no experience with embroidery work, but everyone was determined to master each stitch. Threads were sewn and then torn out to make second and third attempts. I was really impressed with everyone’s ability to navigate through diagrams and hard-to-see demonstrations. In the center of their samplers, I asked each participant to design a letter in whatever stitch or stitches they preferred. Some students also began embroidering into bookcloth and paper. The participants in my workshop definitely felt the intensiveness of PBI!

    After session one was complete, everyone had a day off to recoup and relax. I went into town with some PBI pals to shop the local antique mall and each some local grub. Afterward, we walked to Oval Beach at Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful beach and view of the lake. We even made a couple of duck friends along the way.

    As an instructor, I was able to take a workshop during the second session and I chose John DeMerritt’s The Prototype: An Exploration of Edition Binding. I had met John a few years back during my second year at North Bennet Street School and have admired his work and ingenuity, so I was really excited to pick is brain.

    The structure of John’s class was informal, which freed everyone up to work on their own projects. We had materials to play with in order to develop prototypes. As someone who rarely gets a chance to spend time on personal work, it was very welcoming to have these 4 days to work out the details of an artist book that has been lingering in the back of my brain.

    On our final day of John’s class, we were commissioned by Mary Hark (papermaking instructor) to build a box for a paper quilt.

    We devised a design for the box and chose materials as a team. Mary let us choose from a selection of her papers for the box and we choose a beautiful crinkled indigo paper for the tray that proved to be rather difficult and pulled many of us together to trouble shoot. And without proper weights, we had to use body weight after attaching the tray to the base.

    photo credit (right): Cristiana Salomao

    photo credit (right): John DeMerritt

    I was tasked with creating an embroidered paper label for the box. We chose to use the coordinates of Ox-Bow and the dates of the second session as the title, as it represents the time and place of both creations. In the end, the box and quilt were put into the auction and was finally sold to the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.

    At the end of session two, we assembled once again in the paint studio for another show and tell.

    Above are examples from Béatrice Coron’s workshop From Book Shelves to Cat Walk: Wearable Papercuts and Artist Books (left) plus Chela Metzger’s workshop Early Modern Record-Keeping Book Structures: Model Making and Investigation (right).

    Just a few pieces from Bridget Elmer’s workshop The Typographic Print (left) and Mary Hark’s workshop Papermaking Informed by a Sensibility for Textiles (right).

    Post show and tell, people began to wind down and get ready for the festivities ahead. That evening included a silent auction followed by a studio tour to see the various work created by the artists in residency. Along the tour, I savored some local Ox-Bow brews and chatted with a very talented artist about her brightly colored macramé sculptures. Check out the work of Noël Morical.

    On the following day, everyone gathered at the meadow under the theme of Renaissance in Space. We ate hors d’oeuvres and cheered on the jousters. Afterward we filed into the painting studio for one final dinner, which included lofting balloons from table to table until they popped. A mighty group effort.

    The evening quickly turned into night and people began to say their farewells. PBI was a truly incredible experience and one that I will never forget. Despite the pressures of teaching, my time at Ox-Bow was relaxing and inspiring. Being surrounded by creative and talented people who are both encouraging and supportive for two weeks can be life changing. It’s an experience that I would recommend for anyone that is apart of or wants to be involved in this community.


  • Visit My Bindery
    My name is Erin Fletcher, owner and bookbinder of Herringbone Bindery in Boston. Flash of the Hand is a space where I share my process and inspirations.
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