Thursday, February 09, 2006

In and Out of the Box

I made all sorts of discoveries when I was cleaning my studio this past weekend. I came across this little assemblage box, which I really love.

I made this...gosh, probably 5 years ago. Inside the box is a small accordion book, made from an old bingo card and disk.

It's been sitting up on top of my bookshelves, and had tipped backwards, out of sight. So it was nice to rediscover it.

You all were SO nice about my artist books. Really, I so appreciated your comments. The world doesn't give much attention to artist books, so it's lovely to find people who appreciate them! I got many emails asking me about my book making experiences, how I started and why I stopped making them. I added a short comment, but I wanted to explain more.

Like many of us, I've pretty much always been fascinated with paper and fibers and color and pattern. Back in college -- at which point I had a great part time job in a fabric store -- a friend of mine gave me a rubber stamp of a bolt of fabric. And that led to an obsession with rubber stamps, which I proceeded to collect and use with wild abandon thereafter. For a time, I circulated a 'zine of rubber stamp art called "Yikes!" that was really fun...I'd throw out a theme and people would mail me their stamp art creations, on postcards, on that theme. And I'd lay them out and publish them. It made going to the mailbox a lot of fun.

And that led me to making books. After all, I needed to "contain" my stamp art somehow.

Around that time, we moved back to California and I became a full-time, stay-at-home mom. It was gratifying to be with Caroline at home, but I had a much harder adjustment than I expected I would.... I was in a new community, and the only people I met knew me as Caroline's mom or Roger's wife. It was disorienting, and I was surprised to discover that I had more self-esteem invested in my attorney and independent professional woman identity than I realized.

During this time, I was sliding slowly downhill into a depression and, as corny as it sounds, trying to find myself in my day to day life as wife and mother. Shereen LaPlantz's book Cover to Cover hadn't been out for very long, and a good friend of mine, Becky (a rubber stamping friend in Ohio) suggested that we work through it together and do the lessons and make books which we'd swap. Becky had had the amazing fortune to attend a workshop from Shereen in Florida through some book arts guild, and she couldn't rave enough about how fun and exciting and addictive it was. So, we started collecting supplies and making our novice books.

Somehow, around this time, I happened to find Shereen's address and phone number...and I just about fainted with excitement when I discovered that she was in my *same* area code! Shereen lived in Eureka, California, 4 hours north of me. I was on the phone to her in a shot, and immediately signed up to participate in a 3-year long book making workshop that would require me to travel to her studio twice a year over 3 years for long weekends, and do exercises and homework in between those studio weekends.

I can still remember the excitement of that first workshop weekend. Partly, I will admit, it was the unusual experience of leaving Roger and Caroline (age 3 or so at the time) for a long weekend for nothing but creative fun. The workshop had 12 women in it, all really interesting women with different backgrounds, from all over the country. Shereen's workshop -- an entire floor of her house -- was astonishing and overwhelming. She had cabinets and drawers full of fantastic artist books, some by her, most by other artists, and she encouraged to look through the drawers and handle the books whenever we wanted. She had a whole room full of bookshelves, all of which were filled with books about paper arts and calligraphy and book history and art in general.

And then there was Shereen herself, a lovely, down-to-earth woman with a lot of creative talent, great business sense and a good practical mind, and a wonderful sense of humor.

I made this flower structure on one of those weekends, I believe.

So, for three years I made books and books and books, all different structures and using all different materials. I'd found a new identity: artist. And I loved it. After each workshop weekend (which were heavenly oases of creative bliss) we'd come away with assignments, one of which was a challenge to make an edition of books on some theme or topic. It was always so fun when we returned, 6 months later, and spent the first evening of our workshop trading our books and talking about our processes.

Here's one of my exchange books. called "The Dilemma of the Modern Woman." (Sorry for the fuzzy photos... ) It was presented in a box, which looked like this when opened.

The inside book was a star accordion, and each "page" was a paper-doll, so it stood up to look like this:

Each paper doll reflected a dilemma, with conflicting thoughts on each side of each paper doll. One was "I want to stay home and bake cookies," with "I want to travel the world" on the other side. Another was "My idols are my mother, Donna Reed, and Martha Stewart" opposing "My idols are Hilary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Gloria Steinem."

I actually sold quite a few of those books. I think it struck quite a chord in women of my age.

Toward the end of the three-year period, Shereen, a breast cancer survivor over many years, learned that her cancer had returned and had metastacized in her spine. Her cheer and resiliency was a true marvel, and she continued to teach as much as her health allowed. I went up to Eureka to visit her a few times, and during one of them, I helped her look at slides of artist books for possible inclusion in the book she was working on then, The Art and Craft of Handmade Books. I'll always remember this afternoon with her...we had a great time looking at slides and talking about what made which book successful or not, and why. I learned so much that afternoon.

I was teaching artist book classes at a local art store and through a few other sources, which was fun. I'd never taught anything artistic before, and I was astonished -- in a good way -- at how creative people were -- but also astonished in a shocked and horrified way at how much, um ATTENTION some people needed. I will NEVER forget the day I was teaching a japanese bound book, and I had my dremel drill mounted on a small drill press for students to use to drill holes in the book board and pages... and I turned around JUST IN TIME to stop a woman from trying to put her NEEDLE under the drill... "to make the hole bigger so she could thread it more easily." I kid you not.

Anyway. I was especially exited when I was invited to teach a series of artist book classes at a big art conference. I worked so hard to plan the workshops (knowing I'd be teaching teachers) and making samples to show how the structures I was teaching could be was a great time and I had lots of fun and I even came home having made a profit.

But once I got home...I was pooped. I just didn't feel like making any books. I figured I was burned out and I just needed to give myself time to get re-energized. But somehow, that feeling never came back. The thought of gearing up to set up new workshops at the art store sounded like drudgery. And meanwhile, I'd volunteered to help make a raffle quilt for Caroline's preschool, and that led me back into a fabric store where I discovered that cotton print fabrics were a lot more interesting than the little calico prints I'd started quilting with in the 1970's. Freddy Moran's House book was brand new, and seeing how she took nontraditional fabrics to put her own twist on traditional quilt structures just thrilled me.

After that, plain old paper seemed so...well, flat.

And I haven't looked back. It was a wonderful chapter in my life...I gained a lot of knowledge, made some great friends, and maybe most importantly, started thinking of myself as an artist. That was a huge thing. Shereen died in 2003, and I miss her tremendously. She had a profound affect on me, and I think about her all the time.

But now I'm wary about mixing my passion and my need to earn income. Luckily, I have work I enjoy that pays well, and I can keep my quilt art just "for me."

And as for the books, I pull them out from time to time and enjoy them. I have fun sharing them with friends, and I always marvel at what amazing works of engineering and creativity they are.


  1. Diane, thank you for sharing Shereen and your was emotional for me as I know how intense and priceless such connections are with others and it was a gift to be reminded of it.

  2. Diane, thanks for sharing your wonderful creative journey. What an inspiring artist you are! Books are near and dear to my heart, and I am a great admirer of book art. Jen

  3. Diane, what a special gift you found with your friend Shereen. Thanks for sharing this journey, is there a book in there waiting to come forward?

  4. O Diane...more privately.

  5. Your books are wonderful and your story is too. I can see why you were attracted to making books, because you're an artist and a writer too.

  6. Catching up with your posts a little late - read this one and 'couldn't put it down.' What a wonderful story - I love your assemblage and have thought about making books myself, but it seems too detail-y. On the other hand, I might just try it...
    Thanks for sharing this.