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  1. Book Artist of the Month: Mary Uthuppuru

    January 20, 2014 by Erin Fletcher

    FantasyAndNonsense-MaryUthuppuruIn 2012, the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers held an juried exhibit of design bindings based on a book of James Whitcomb Riley poetry called Fantasy & Nonsense. The text block was beautifully letterpress printed by Tryst Press and includes wonderful and whimsical wood engravings by Berrot Hubrecht. 

    Mary Uthuppuru’s binding of Fantasy & Nonsense is covered in a thin hand-painted tissue, which allows the scattered LED lights embedded in the covers to shine through. These lights glow at alternating intervals and represent the goblin’s “green glass eyes” as described in the poem Nine Little Goblins. The book is housed in a cloth covered clamshell box, which contains a compartment holding three spare batteries. Watch the video below to see the LED lights in action.

    The exhibition was held in conjunction with the 2012 Standards of Excellence conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. At the time the books were on display at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library, where Mary’s binding was awarded second place. 

    There are so many creative elements in this binding and so many design questions I have for you. Can you talk about your process for creating the painterly look of the cover?
    While I usually use paste cloth (Mary will discuss her paste cloth technique in next week’s post) when I want total control over cover design for my bindings, this book had unusual needs. Paste cloth, while thin, would not allow me the translucency that I needed for the LED lights. Not only did I need the cover material to allow light through, but I needed it to look like the surrounding material when the light was off. For this reason, I turned to Japanese tissue mounted to cotton. The tissue could be painted exactly how I wanted, and in the areas where the LEDs would be placed, I could thin it even more. This way, when everything was painted, it would blend in, but when the lights were on, it would have the effect I wanted.

    The steps for getting from plans to the final book are as follows: create the cover design on a piece of paper to scale, plan the circuitry and light placement, bind the book, add circuitry, work on the cover material. (You’ll find some in-progress images below: layout of design and circuitry, layout of circuitry on front cover boards and detail of wiring.)

    FantasyAndNonsense_process1-MaryUthuppuruFantasyAndNonsense_process2-MaryUthuppuru FantasyAndNonsense_process3-MaryUthuppuru

    The general design for the cover was painted on the tissue, predominately the midnight blue background and the trees. Next, the dry painted tissue was mounted to the cloth with PVA/Klucel G mixture. Once dry, the material was lined up with the paper design and holes were punched where the eyes in the design were to be. I then toned a thinner tissue to match the surrounding areas and put that in place. Finally, the painted design was completed and attached to the book being careful to line up the eyes over the LEDs.

    FantasyAndNonsense_process5-MaryUthuppuru

    Back of covering material and back cover of binding.FantasyAndNonsense_process6-MaryUthuppuruCovering material and front cover of binding.

    Your use of soft circuitry is very exciting and I’m looking forward to seeing how your work progresses with this technique. When did you first experiment with combining this technology with your bookbinding work? What challenges have you experienced? 
    I first started using the soft circuitry when Leah Buechley came from MIT to Indiana University to give a lecture and workshop about the promotion of these materials. I lucked out because my friend was helping put the workshop together and was able to get me a seat. During the workshop, we each created our own soft circuit using conductive thread, a battery and an LED light. The workshop was given in hopes of putting this technology in the hands of people, specifically educators, who make things and have the potential to distribute these skills to kids, especially girls. During the lecture, Leah explained these goals further and showed some amazing applications of the circuitry.

    After this exposure to the potential uses, I was really interested to try the technology in books too, but I wanted to wait until it actually fit the project at hand. It is easy to be excited about a technique or tool and use it just because you are excited about it. It is especially the case with lights and circuitry. It is my feeling that once you add lights to something, that you are trying to draw attention or add extra glitz. I wanted to be careful to reserve this eye catching element for a purpose, not just an adornment. It was this project that was perfect for the lights.

    The challenge comes when you try to figure out how to hide all the electronic components that, while small, are tricky to keep from distracting from the overall design. I wanted to avoid sacrificing my aesthetic to allow the new components, so it can be tricky. With Fantasy & Nonsense, the biggest challenge was hiding the LEDs under the book cloth and trying to figure out how to wrap the conductive threads around the spine.

    CircuitryBox-MaryUthuppuru

    It also required some additional education on my part since the lights are timed with a microcontroller that had to be programmed. I applied these similar techniques to a box I made and donated to the Guild of Book Workers Standards of Excellence auction. The box has a moon (which is also a button) that when pressed, lights up three lanterns. It was built so that when the lid is lifted, there is a panel that folds out and reveals the circuitry. Also included were supplies for a small project and a tutorial for how to put something like that together. (All of this is available for download on my website.)

    CircuitryBox3-MaryUthuppuru


  2. Book Artist of the Month: Mary Uthuppuru

    January 13, 2014 by Erin Fletcher

    InterpreterOfMaladies5-MaryUthuppuru

    Mary Uthuppuru received ‘Best Binding’ for her work based on Interpreter of Maladies. This award was given at the opening reception for the second edition of One Book, Many Interpretations exhibition at the Chicago Public Library in 2011. A total of ten titles were chosen by the CPL, a handful of bindings were created for each title and the award for ‘Best Binding’ was awarded to one binding for each title. 

    Housed in a beautifully shaped slipcase are nine individual books. Each book is bound in the Bradel binding style with handmade paste cloth. Details explained below are hand stenciled. Titles are stamped in gold. 

    This piece is so complex; you divided Interpreter of Maladies into nine books, which can be arranged two different ways to create either a map of India or the United States. I’ve never read these short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, what inspiration did you find within the text to execute the binding in this manner? 
    This was my first competition binding and it was a perfect book for me because I have an intimate look into the content of Lahiri’s subject matter. Interpreter of Maladies is a compilation of nine stories featuring Indian people both in India and the United States as they deal with cross cultural issues and in some cases, the westernization of India. While the stories are about a specific culture, Lahiri writes them in such a way that they speak to a more universal experience.

    My husband is the son of an Indian father and a Japanese mother who moved to the United States for college in the 1960s. They moved here at a time when communication and travel is nothing like it is today. Letters were written and silences between phone calls were very long if at all possible. My first memories of visiting them were the numerous maps throughout the house. After a while it became clear that when you move to a new country with your family on the other side of the world, especially at the time that they did, there is comfort in looking at a map and seeing the two places a little closer together. It is this element that helped me tie the content of Interpreter with what became familiar to me.

    Since the stories take place in India and the United States I wanted both maps to be a part of the design. However, I didn’t want to overload the books with too many design features. Having the maps only appear one at a time as simple line drawings inset in the cover was the perfect solution. Additionally, I wanted the ability to create an intense color similar to marigolds, a flower present in various aspects of Indian culture, so I created paste cloth for my cover material. This also allowed me to easily stencil guides for arranging the maps into both configurations without which would make it nearly impossible for the viewer to figure out their order.

    InterpreterOfMaladies-process2-MaryUthuppuru

    Stencils used to create guides to help in arranging maps.

    This shuffling of book covers and rearranging them to create the two countries helped reinforced the difficulty of the themes in the book: life is a challenge, and when you move to a new place or what once was familiar changes, you have to make adjustments…and it can be difficult.

    – – – – – – – – – – –

    Below are images of the map blueprints and how the covers can be arranged to create both the United States and India. 

    InterpreterOfMaladies-process4-MaryUthuppuruInterpreterOfMaladies2-MaryUthuppuruInterpreterOfMaladies6-MaryUthuppuru

     


  3. Book Artist of the Month: Mary Uthuppuru

    January 6, 2014 by Erin Fletcher

    DestinyOfChoice1-MaryUthuppuru

    Can books save the world? Can artist books raise consciousness, create awareness or change thinking? These were the questions that EcoEditions aimed to answer through a collection of artist books that could raise awareness on the state of our environment. For her submission, Mary Uthuppuru, created Destiny of Choice in a small unique edition of three. Each book is bound in the Ethopian style with a tab closure on the fore edge. The title is hand stenciled on three unique covers sourced from boxes that were headed to the recycling bin.

    DestinyOfChoice4-MaryUthuppuru

    The text block is made from trash entirely sourced from Mary’s house. Which is also the major influence for creating this book. Most of us assume our trash is going straight to a landfill, but we lose sight of the fact that it may not. Mary’s concern with reducing the amount of waste that comes out of her household is an attitude that more people need to obtain.

    The books were sewn with dental floss (which Mary notes was unused for hygienic purposes). The illustrations and text have been inkjet printed onto packaging material. Other bits of trash including plastic bags and plastic netting were scattered throughout the text block.

    DestinyOfChoice3-MaryUthuppuruDestinyOfChoice2-MaryUthuppuru

    This artist book is brilliant; once again you successfully bring together humor and interactive elements. Destiny of Choice was part of EcoEditions, an exhibition at 23Sandy Gallery. Did you create this artist book specifically for the exhibition?
    This book was created for the EcoEditions exhibit. It was also a part of the hoped for quarterly project with Kristin of Space Paste Press. As mentioned earlier, we hoped to create more advanced projects than the one book per month endeavor. At the time, we were both thinking of environmental themes so it sounded like a really good goal, create a book that can also be submitted to an exhibit.

    I was really happy with the way the book turned out. Since I was already thinking of the theme, it was great timing. The theme asks artists to illicit change through the content of their artwork.  When trying to get people to change or realize that what they might be doing is harmful, I don’t think it is best to begin by ordering them around. I don’t listen this way, so I wanted to avoid a book full of preaching. The Choose Your Own Adventure format seemed really appropriate to me because the arrangement is playful, inviting the reader in. As a kid, I used to read choose your own adventure books all the time and I always approached them with a sense of reserve. I was choosing what would happen to the characters in the story, which hit home for me. So I wanted that same feeling to translate through this book.

    A favored story-telling method of mine is to anthropomorphize sometimes unexpected objects. In this case, a plastic bag is the main character of the story and while the reader decides what happens, the bag is doing the action. The reader chooses between recycling and throwing it away then how the bag gets from the garbage can or recycling bin at home to its final destination. Many people have heard about the gyres (islands of garbage) in the middle of the ocean. We all know about landfills. It is a very contemporary concern all over the world, and one that I have on my mind daily.


  4. January // Book Artist of the Month: Mary Uthuppuru

    January 2, 2014 by Erin Fletcher

    AndThenThereWere8_3-MaryUthuppuru

    In preparation for their 2013 Annual Open House and Silent Auction, the Morgan Conservatory presented participants with two sheets of paper made at the Morgan and asked them to create a piece of art to be auctioned off during the event. Mary Uthuppuru was given one sheet of charcoal grey and the other of bright white.

    Mary found inspiration from the recent drop Pluto experienced from its rank as a planet and the heated discussions that followed. As the sole character in this artist book, Mary personifies the now dwarf planet in the form of a letter, where Pluto freely express himself after hearing this news of rejection. You can read more about Mary’s process in her blog post, Poor Pluto

    And Then There Were Eight is bound as an accordion with a removable spine piece, when fully opened the viewer can experience the vast and expanding qualities of outer space. The covers are most appropriately wrapped in beautiful handmade Moon Paper from Hook Pottery Paper. The paper appears to be a 3-dimensional print of the moon, but it is actually smooth (like paper). The interior pages were given an airbrush look by using a mouth atomizer and drawing inks.

    AndThenThereWere8-MaryUthuppuruAndThenThereWere8_4-MaryUthuppuruAndThenThereWere8_2-MaryUthuppuruI really enjoyed reading about your thought process behind this book. Not only did you find inspiration in a literary influence, but also in your own sense of humor. The application of pigment really captures the atmosphere and depth of space. Can you talk about the challenges and benefits to using a mouth atomizer?
    The mouth atomizer was a really fun thing to use. I actually had it for over ten years before I discovered its use during this project. It looks a lot like a compass, but without the pencil. One end goes into whatever liquid you are using (in the case of the Pluto book it was India ink and Winsor & Newton drawing ink) and then you blow on the other tube.

    The benefit in its use is also its challenge. So long as you have the lung capacity, this tool is very simple. Blow in the horizontal tube, and the ink is sprayed from the vertical tube. The difficulty is in style. If you are trying to get consistent coverage, then you have to be consistent with the pressure behind your breath. But it is easy to get used to with a practice piece of paper. Also, beware your work space. Cover anything surrounding the piece you are working on with newsprint or other waste unless you want a speckled work space.

    ThereWere8_Atomizer-MaryUthuppuru

    There is more than one way to use it too. In this book, for example, I cut stencils from transparency sheets to create the planetary bodies. This allowed for a clean, shaded shape that is much faster and reads truer than a traditional stippling stenciled technique. It is also easy to clean by running it under water then drying.

    ThereWere8_Stenciling-MaryUthuppuru

    I first met Mary in Chicago for the One Book, Many Interpretations exhibit at the Chicago Public Library, where both Mary and I had work in the show. I’ll be featuring her binding of Interpreter of Maladies from that show later this month. From the beginning, I noted Mary’s impeccable skill and her exceptional eye for detail, but I can’t forget to mention her infectious personality. Her humor mixed with kindness and generosity makes her a delightful person to engage with and learn from.

    Like myself, Mary, is just beginning her career in the field of bookbinding. Her ambition and creativity are inspiring, as is the interview (after the jump). Mary discusses her love for bookbinding and how she caught “the book bug”. Later in the interview, Mary talks about setting up her own home studio and how being self-employed has its ups and downs. But it’s quite clear to see that Mary tackles her obstacles with smarts and humor. 

    Come back each Monday during the month of January for more on Mary Uthuppuru and her work, which will bounce between bookbinding and book arts.

    read more >


  • 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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