I have arrived at Round 4 of the CBBAG Altered Books Round Robin I have been participating in since last September. You might not think a piece of work to do once a month would be much of a challenge, but in amongst a full time job, a family and a very active visual arts business, time to sit down and devote concentration to it has been difficult to achieve.
To recap, I am participating in an Altered Books Round Robin for my local chapter of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild. As this is a collaborative long-term project that speaks to the very essence of who I am as an artist, I decided to share the process. I expected it to be interesting and challenging, as, other than my own book, I am responding to the style and theme choices of other artists. Once a month, I blog about the month’s theme and creative process to respond to it. For those not familiar with a round robin of this nature, check out this post for the rules.
Halfway through the Round Robin year, the process has already borne its share of surprises for me. I have had to reach to places inside myself in order to respond to themes chosen by other artists. As I have contemplated the fourth book to come across my desk, as I have felt my own response to it, I find a consistent theme of my own emerging. No other project, not one of the many other collaborations I have participated in has ever demonstrated to me so thoroughly the purpose my creative and artistic process serves for me. I found myself questioning my family today: Am I a painfully serious person? They laughed, no. Yet I see at this halfway point that, no matter how tongue-in-cheek the original subject matter, no matter the levity of my own initial response, each spread I have prepared for these books has taken a serious, thoughtful, spiritual tone in the end. From the beginnings in my own altered book, ‘Dictionary of Sorrows’, I went on to create a spread in ‘Teaching Kids to Shoot’, illustrated by the images of serious-eyed female combat soldiers that spoke to the dramatic change in the roles of women in traditionally male-oriented activities. From there to my soul-response to ‘Patterns of the Earth’ that speaks to the fundamentals of my own artistic practice – the capturing of the dialogue between earth, nature and soul that is the bedrock of my artistic, spiritual voice. And this week, to the activities in ‘Cubs Guide: Discovery’.When I opened this fourth book, a smile came up from the very deeps of my soul. I was an active Brownie, Girl Scout and Cadet until I was about 15 years old. Leafing through this book brought happy memories, a few chuckles and another fleeting insight into the things in my life and growing up that informed the person I am today. It takes me back to the hikes in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains with my scout troop and with my siblings, always carrying home rocks and feathers and leaves. I am the fourth of five children, the youngest of three sisters. Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, my mother often sewed clothes for us (home-made clothes were an economical alternative in those days). One Easter, when I was no more than six or seven, my mother made matching car-coats for the three of us in sky blue linen with a white linen collar. My mother refused to sew pockets into mine, as she said I would only fill them with rocks . . . I was happy to receive those hand-me-downs and graduate to pockets. And she was right, I did fill them with rocks. And acorns. And daisies. At least it was better than my brother’s propensity for carrying home snakes and lizards . . . .
The aim of this altered book is for the artists to choose an activity from the ‘badges’, perform it and then alter the book to express their experience. We have been encouraged to include three-dimensional objects in the box that relate to our activities. Well, you may be utterly certain that the first page I stopped on was
“Black Star Requirement No. 2: Make a collection of natural articles such as leaves, weeds, rocks, seeds, etc., and tell about your collection . . .”
I browsed the rest of the book, but just kept coming back to that page. Since before the days of the blue linen coat, I have always been an inveterate collector of natural objects. Shells, stones, seeds, leaves, bark, feathers, bones. . . . I have jars and jars of them on the shelves above my desk. I like to keep them where I can see them and allow them to inspire me. I use these materials extensively in my collage work and my books (for example, take a look at ‘A Walk in the Woods’, the link is above the masthead at the top of the page). In the end, it had to be.It was immediate apparent that I would need to express this spread more like the collage work I do. I searched through my materials and found old botanical prints of seed collections. I started my background by laying these in with a monochromatic colour scheme to begin. From there, I began altering and adding, layering and layering, allowing a colour theme and overall foundation to emerge. Words always form part of the work that I do, and all the while I worked on these pages, my mind roved, searching my psyche and my memory for words to convey the deeper sense of memory and connection this spread was conveying to me. The building up of the layers came to represent a sedimentary laying of memory and influence from these early beginnings, layers that have built into the person I have become today. These influences and the way they have emerged to shape my creative practice are a source of joy and happiness to me. I am the happiest I have ever been when immersed in the minute detail of the natural world: roving the forest unhurried, examining every different bark or moss or pine cone; wandering for hours along a riverbank, experiencing every stone texture polished by the cloth of the river with my senses; laying on the sand of a beach, examining the microscopic shells that reside there, unseen, unnoticed . . .Embellishment with a collection of barks and seeds develops the spread. In the end, the words that express my innermost belief and perspective come from Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”