I have been hard at work on Round 6 of the CBBAG Altered Books Round Robin.  As this is a collaborative long-term project that speaks to the very essence of who I am as an artist,  I have been blogging about the month’s theme and creative process to respond to it.

For those not familiar with a round robin of this nature, here are the rules:  Each book artist in the group begins altering a hard cover book of at least 50 pages on a theme of their choice.  The original artist creates one two-page spread of original artwork within the book.  They then send their altered book with instructions to the next person on the list, who will create their own two-page spread in the book, and then send it on to the next person on the list, and so on until each altered book has travelled around the group and returned to its home.   After seven months+ of circulation, my book should come home to me containing six pieces of original art in addition to my own, and each of the artists in the group will own a similar book.  You can read the previous rounds here:  Round 1, Round 2, Round 3, Round 3 update, Round 4, Round 5.

This book, when it arrived, was overwhelming in its size.  It is a large-format tabletop National Geographic Atlas of the World.  I could hardly believe my eyes when the box arrived!

Now, if you know me, you’ll know my love affair with maps of all kinds.  I use them frequently in my work.  They fascinate me for their beauty and evocative nature.  The use of maps can speak of so much more than geography.  For me, they mean more as records of journeys within ourselves, ways of mapping our place in the spiritual and ephemeral world as much as the physical.  I particularly find old maps deeply pleasing works of art.  I have been influenced by such books as The Tattooed Map by Barbara Hodgson, and the work of Nick Bantock . . . .

The alterations in this book are fascinating.  The rules the original artist chose are very different from those seen so far.  Talented paper artist Susan Kristoferson originated this particular altered book in the Round Robin.  Her rules are simple and deceptively challenging:

  • The book has to close flat.
  • Many pages can be used, torn, glued, folded or removed.
  • Nothing other than what is in this book may be used.
  • Write about and include what you were thinking about as you worked.

Now, I have worked with Susan a little.  I was privileged to be a guest in her home recently, and to hear from her some of the exciting and interesting things she is working on.  I don’t know her well, but what I do know of her brought a real smile to my face when I read this.  This was the sort of thing I really hoped for in this Round Robin, and I have harboured a real feeling that Susan, of all artists, would certainly not disappoint.  I was right.

Susan’s rules are clearly designed to stretch the artist, to push the artist outside the habitual forms of working, out of the ‘comfort zone’ and into something potentially spectacular.  The alterations in this book from the rounds preceding this one are interesting, imaginative, and best of all, involving even more paper engineering than we saw in Round 5.  Such works in paper have always intrigued and delighted me, and I felt my lungs expand with the room in which to work this book provides.

I knew instantly what I wanted to do.  I had only a few days before watched a fascinating documentary about the intriguing Mappa Mundi held in Hereford, England.  I wanted to make something of a Mappa Mundi of my own.

Now the Mappa Mundi is a story in map form.  It is not a map for geographical navigation, but is more akin to the hide painting visual histories created in some Native American cultures.  The orientation of the Mappa Mundi is with the East at the top, rather than North, built around the Christian concept of the growth of humanity originating in the East and growing outward from Jerusalem over the rest of the world.  It depicts events in history illustrated and written around depictions of physical features in the growing world.

My concept?  I wanted to choose an appropriately exotic map spread, perhaps of Africa or the Orient.  I then wanted to turn it into the appearance of an old “Here Be Dragons” type of map.  I would then add drawing, writing and possibly even some paper engineering elements to simulate waves upon which rides an old trading ship.  I began by perusing the book carefully, studying the maps and the alterations that had already been done.  I was permitted to add to the work of other artists if I wanted to, but none of the pages lent themselves to the style of alteration I had in mind.  I finally landed on the Indochine page.  A sense of deep satisfaction welled up within me:  Oh, the Orient!

I began my alterations by carefully burning the edges and corners of the map to singe away the straight edges.  Once cleaned up, I then lightly sanded the surface of the paper with a fine grade sandpaper to take the sheen from the ink and to allow for penetration of the stain to come.  I then brewed a strong tea solution and began to age the pages.  I worked four layers of tea stain in, then sprinkled salt and coffee grounds on some areas to simulate foxing and left it to soak and dry.  Once dry, I aged the pages still further with distress ink to really mellow down the colours and give the map an aged appearance.

It was at this point that Jill K. Berry’s wonderful book Personal Geographies came into my hands.  This inspirational book was right on topic and very timely.  I came away from its pages with my plan for this book solidified.  I had thought alot about what I wanted this map to represent.  The nature of creativity, and being creative as a spiritual practice, have occupied my thoughts and formed the subject of my research a great deal lately.  I decided therefore to map the journey of the spirit through creativity. Viewing the aged map, I decided in the end to abandon the paper engineering elements as too busy and ‘off topic’.

From here, and remembering I was not allowed to add any material other than what came from the book itself, I began to alter the map with drawing to look more like an old map.  I drew neatlines around the entire perimeter of the map and wrote in the longitude and latitude numbers.  I then began drawing a cartouche on a piece of paper left over from a removed end paper, using motifs that resonate with me (which became seashells, pebbles, a ship’s wheel and seaweed, obviously bringing out the old salt in me).  Once the cartouche was drawn and painted, I applied it to the map and embellished it further to ’embed’ it into the drawing.  I then began my  mappa mundi alterations over the original map.

The Mappa Mundi is oriented on the East rather than today’s customary North, so I decided to orient my map on my earliest formative experiences.  I began my mapping off centre of the map, with the street on which I lived in California.  My introduction to handcraft came as a young child growing up in California, when my gifted handcrafter mother began to teach me to sew.  For decades, she kept a coaster on her bedside table I had made for her in these earliest years, embroidered onto a scrap of spring-green satin from my aunt’s wedding and sandwiched between two sheets of photo protector acetate before being blanket stitched around the edge.  I followed on through Brownies and into Girl Scouts, where there was always a heavy emphasis on crafts (perhaps those were just the things that interested me and remained with me).  We made God’s-eyes and bean bag frogs and learned to do crewel work chain stitch.

When I was 10, we were posted to my father’s home state of North Dakota.  I came under the influence of my North Dakota aunties, who extended my education in handcraft, embroidery, sewing and cooking.  It was their culture, and they were always doing something.  My two aunties were both teachers, and I helped to make crafts for their classes now and then.  One of my earliest successful drawing ventures was to create bulletin board drawings of Winnie the Pooh characters for my aunt’s classroom display.  She kept them for years!  Art class became my haunt and I drew incessantly.  Between Girl Scouts, my aunties and art class, the North Dakota years were a deep pool of influence on my creativity, and I decided to depict them this way on my map.

When I was 16, we were posted to England, and the deepest influence on my creativity entered my life:  My teacher and mentor Richard Scott. He passed away many years ago now, but was the teacher who fundamentally opened my eyes to the creative spirit and its true meaning.  Again, I depicted this time on my map as a large body of water.  There are many rivers flowing from this deep pool of influence, deep into the continent, for the rivers of influence continue to flow through my creative life from this teacher.  I included the places he took us: The National Gallery and the Tate Gallery in London, drawing field trips to places like Lavenham in Suffolk.

From here, I am working through the creatively barren years of my career as a lawyer, and the renaissance and blossoming of the last decade.  The rivers of influence from my formative years continue to flow through.  This piece of work is becoming the most intensive of the pieces I have worked on in this project, and by far the most personal.  I have felt an excited vibration in the pit of my belly throughout the work, resonating with the truth being depicted in this mapping exercise.  Jill was really onto something and I am grateful to her for her book’s help with the mechanics of bringing  this work to life.

There is only one round left in this Round Robin.  The final volume remains unopened in my studio until this mapping exercise is complete.  For now, I remain immersed in the cartography of introspection and the growth and development of a creative spirit.  What a gift.