Kafka, Chapter 2 (‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.’ )

Kafka, Chapter 2 (‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.’ )

When I started the book, everything went smoothly and it seemed like it would be a straightforward project. The plan was to open the paper, stack it flat to relax, and cut it to size on a guillotine. Easy, right? I had cut Japanese paper this way, so it should work and I could get to printing. Then, out of the blue, Robbie Burns’ ‘Gang aft a-gley’ kicked in. Chinese paper is shipped ‘gently folded’ in packages of 50 sheets, rather than being rolled around a core. When the box arrived, I opened the packages and lay the paper out flat so it could relax before being cut to size. It didn’t relax. I waited. I tried putting weight on top. I rolled it up and let it sit over night. In the process of trying to flatten it, I realized that, because of its soft texture, it also wasn’t going to jog well enough to be cut on a guillotine. Time for plan B. Water. The 27″ x 54″ sheets were too big to dampen and stack, so I folded and knife-cut each sheet into eighths by hand. As I started folding it in half, I realized the paper wasn’t square. The concertina structure, with pages tipped back-to-back, requires that the pages be the same size and square. Time for plan C. Sigh. I would have to fold each sheet in half and trim it to square by hand before printing, then trim the head and tail of the book block after it was glued so they would all be the same size. The paper is Double Xuan, 2-ply paper we chose because it...
Printing Kafka’s ‘Great Wall of China’

Printing Kafka’s ‘Great Wall of China’

1. In the beginning… I have been working on an artist book of Kafka’s short story ‘The Great Wall of China’ for over a year. 2016 was the 30th anniversary of my return from a year teaching English in Chongqing, Sichuan; 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the creation of Kafka’s story, although it wasn’t published until 1931, after his death. The project has been a somewhat surreal endeavour at a time when the news was full of Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall along the southern border of the US, to make the Mexican government pay for it, to deport undocumented workers, and to ban Muslims. Kafka’s story seems eerily contemporary. In the story, a half-century before the wall is started word is spread through the country that people should train as architects and masons for the future. When the work is started, it is built in sections that aren’t connected – when one section is completed the group of workers is moved to a distant place to start another section. The populace is made afraid of invaders and distracted with preventing their arrival, keeping the nation unified by focussing on a defensive project. I was delighted to get permission from Ian Johnston to use his translation, and from Vihanga Perera to use an essay he had written about the story. The text was sent to Michael and Winifred Bixler to cast new type. Duncan Major agreed to create linocut illustrations, and the wheels were rolling! I wanted to use Chinese paper and a Chinese structure for the story. After testing several sheets, Duncan and I decided the double xuan paper seemed best. It had a bit...
Light again

Light again

Here are photos of the book I made for the CBBAG SK Light Book Swap. The structure is from Paul Johnson’s Literacy Through the Book Arts, but I learned it from the brilliant Ed Hutchins.   Linocuts of lilies and jasmine (mentioned in the poem) were printed on damp St. Armand handmade paper, and the text printed in black. The LED lights and copper tape are self adhesive, and I used ATG tape to adhere the battery to the paper and hold the covers together. A thin piece of foam with a hole in it holds the copper away from a 3V battery so when the circle is squeezed the lights come on. Light! The poem is by Rabindranath Tagore, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 for Gitanjali, the collection of poems in which “Light” was...
Artistic License

Artistic License

  This painting is finished. The photograph I used as reference had an iceberg in it, and when I started painting, I intended to include the iceberg, but move it forward in the composition. I was focussed on the iceberg, although it was only a small part of the image. Hmmm. My struggle is almost always to stick with my “Less is More” philosophy, to pay attention to the image as it gets its own voice, and be willing to let go of my original plan. To find the perfect balance between what I think I’m doing and what the painting becomes. This painting doesn’t need the iceberg. The omission can be called Artistic License, but  I don’t think it’s my decision. It’s looking at the painting and realizing it doesn’t need what I thought I wanted to include. I think the creative process flows like a river, and my job is to jump in and become part of the flow. Not to struggle to keep my head above water, but to submit to the current and be in the process, pay attention but be detached enough to hear when the painting says, “enough.” I think writers, musicians, golfers, chess players, salmon fishers, race car drivers and more find a similar groove when they do what they do well. Be attentive and adjust constantly but don’t grasp too tightly. Stay in the flow. Some days are better than others. There is always anxiety at the beginning, my brain telling me I don’t know what I’m doing,  I’m not working fast enough, not sticking with the plan, or I could totally screw up. Lose a day’s (or...

Book projects- two into one

I seem to be genetically incapable of working on one thing at a time, so I am researching and pondering 2 book projects and stretching canvases for new paintings, as other ideas dance like sugar plums in the back of my mind. My commitment (last year) to make a book for Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here has been an exercise in what I don’t want it to be, and I have spent a year thinking, reading, looking at other books, and being stymied. It wasn’t until I signed up for another group project, Book-Art-Object, that a concept arose that seemed to fit, and, I hope, will merge the two commitments into one book. The title I chose for BAO is Making Bread. I started thinking about Mesopotamia, the Cradle of Civilization, the Fertile Crescent as the breadbasket, all information stuck in my head in 7th grade Geography class. And then, Baghdad as a focus of high culture and the irony of moving from heights of intellectual creativity to fear and fundamentalist intolerance. Now I am reading histories of bread and writing in my journal about having grown up in an intellectually curious extended family amid fear-instilling radio and television news reports of the Cold War, Viet Nam, and myriad civil wars, genocides, famines around the world. Man’s unimaginable inhumanity to fellow man, but not in my neighborhood. I started making bread in High School, as my Sunday morning meditative replacement for going to church, and as a way to connect with the millions of people who make bread around the planet (yes, I was an aspiring Hippy). I have added...

My method

As for my method… I work from photographs. I have tried keeping a sketchbook, doing working drawings and preliminary paintings on canvas, but those things don’t work for me. My field photos (taken with my trusty Nikon FM2) record what I found interesting and serve to jar my memory. I draw loosely, directly on the canvas, with thinned paint and a brush, and in the process of mixing and applying paint the paintings take on a life of their own. For this series, most of the iceberg photos are from my 20-year collection, mostly taken along the Avalon peninsula. The bird’s-eye-views come from the archives at Provincial Aerospace, the company that does observation for Environment Canada and the offshore oil rigs. Friends who have photos have generously offered them to me, and I’ve found a few on the internet. The photos get cropped, reversed, changed in scale or colour in the painting process; sometimes an iceberg is moved to a different coast or sent to sea to make the painting work. I love the bird’s-eye views. Early in my career, I did a series of still life drawings and paintings from objects (often fruit on a plate or in a bowl) which were placed on the floor by my feet because I didn’t have a table in my studio. Periodically I go back to that set-up. The slight feeling of vertigo, the out-of-kilter-ness of seeing something on the wall that should be down, is interesting to me. Off to walk the dogs and greet the...

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