Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Guatemala Sketchbook Trip - Part 2

One of my favorite places on our sketchbook workshop in Guatemala with Amy was the "Convento de las Capuchinas".  Upon entering the building one is immediately struck by the contrast between the dark, shadowy hallways and the brilliant light that fills the central courtyard with its burgeoning bougainvilleas and fountain. After wandering around the outer ruinous grounds and beautiful gardens I decided I wanted to draw the courtyard.  I found the perfect spot and nestled myself contentedly among the arches.  

It may appear that I have drawn the columns too fat and wide, but they really were quite stout.  Below you can see a photo showing the columns and the lovely arches.

The building was consecrated in 1736 but suffered damaged during the severe 1751 and 1773 earthquakes.  When I looked it up on Wikipedia it said there were two kinds of nuns that lived in the convent, "discalced" and "urban".  One of the differences between them was that the former were not allowed to drink chocolate and had to wear rustic clothing while the latter were allowed to drink chocolate and wear fine clothes and jewelry.  I think I know what I would choose. 

The view from upstairs was stunning and there was a well-maintained museum on the second floor.  We were not allowed to take photos but I got a quick sketch in of some amazing tinwork. 

The day after the convent we visited the "Parque Central" for more sketching opportunities.  I wanted to sketch this church but ran out of time.  It had so many statues on its facade it would have taken me forever!

I did, however, make a sketch of the fountain in the center of the park.  The fountain is called "Fuente de las Sirenas" or "Mermaid Fountain" and is rather risqué (IMHO).  Amy liked to call it "La Fuente de Leche".  I debated whether or not to ink this one in but decided that statuary is sometimes best left un-inked.

As I said in my last post, one of my favorite things to do in Antigua is to observe the woman who are often dressed in traditional clothing and frequently have something balanced on their heads.  I asked one of the women if it was hard to do and she said no... that she learned it when she was a little girl.

Another colorful site are the street fruit vendors.  I love their little covered carts that always have fruit piled high and some unknown, colorful bags hanging from them.   

The photo below shows two icons of Antigua: the famous arch, "El Arco" and a tuk tuk.  We ended up walking everywhere so I didn't get a chance to ride in one of them.  I imagine it is a bumpy ride on the cobblestone streets.

Just past "El Arco" is another church which is not to be missed called "El Merced."  The white decoration on the cream building reminded me of icing.

One morning we ate in an adorable restaurant right off the central park square and it had a fountain in each courtyard.  I really liked this fish fountain.

I love how the fountains run the gamut from the Virgin Mary to risqué mermaids.

I also couldn't resist including a photo of the millstones that are embedded in the streets.  I collect millstones and had to appreciate this detail.  Imagine how hard it must have been to carve the surrounding stone to fit them in.

As I sit here writing this blog post looking down at my feet, I wonder why I like this shape so much and the heart sutra comes to mind, "Form does not differ from Emptiness and Emptiness does not differ from Form.  Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form."  It reminds me that this life is full of contrasts that define each other...like the silent, dark hallways and light-filled courtyard of the convent at the beginning of this post.  To take the observation even further, I am also aware of the contrast between the vast effort and movement in traveling to the colorful, exotic Guatemalan highlands and the return to the grey, still days of sitting in front of my computer in Ohio. Both have their appeal... but I could not appreciate one without the other and herein lies the beauty and play of this life.

“That which is empty, is full of everything in the cosmos.” ― Meeta Ahluwalia

Friday, March 16, 2018

Guatemala Sketchbook Trip - Part 1

Last week I attended Amy Bogard's Sketchbook Workshop in Antigua, Gautemala.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but the trip was utterly fantastic!  Guatemala is truly a feast for the senses. I was overwhelmed by the textures and colors of the textiles, the food was ricísimo and I can still hear the music and smell the incense from the Lenten Processions.  After a delicious breakfast every day, Amy brought us to a location to sketch.  Below you can see Amy on the roof of our posada with Volcán Agua behind her.

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.”
– Sir Richard Burton

Our whole group was composed of seven intrepid women sketchers.  There is something magical that happens when you bring a group of women together for "crafty" purposes...a bond is formed through storytelling, shared experience, and connecting from the heart.  For six lovely days we sketched, drank wine, explored, oohed and aahed, shopped and sampled the local cuisine. 

On our first night there we were eating dinner when someone spotted the Lenten Procession coming down our street.  "La Procesión", as it is called, is an incredible display of passion, devotion, and artistry.  When witnessing it one feels like they have stepped back in time...or into another world.  The strong smell of incense filled the night air and crowds lined the streets to get a view.  It was truly a sight to see and we were lucky to be in Antigua during this time.  This video shows two clips put together.  The first part is the "Mary" float held up by purple-robed devotees.  And in the second part of the video you can hear the sad dirge music that accompanies the floats.

The float with Jesus carrying the cross was double the size of Mary's float and must have weighed a ton. The float itself swayed back and forth as the men underneath stepped in unison. There were probably 40 men underneath with pained expressions on their faces.

The next morning on our way to breakfast I was soaking in the color and repetition of form.  More than once I almost hit my head on the window sills that stuck out from the buildings because I was distracted by all the sumptuous details.

Our first day of sketching we didn't even have to leave our posada.  I am going to have to do a whole post on our hotel because it was so fabulous.  It was chock full of antiques on every available surface.  One of our first assignments of the trip was to choose a theme and to do a spread.  It could be anything...a color, a material, or whatever possibilities you might imagine.  I chose to sketch the wooden saints.

Here is a photo of the wooden Joseph santos and a close-up of the sketch.

One morning for breakfast we went to a coffee shop called Bella Vista and it truly lived up to its name.  As we were sitting there sipping our coffee and eating huevos rancheros, Volcán Fuego decided to belch a little smoke.  It was awesome and a little scary...but apparently it does that quite often.

One of our first nights in Antigua we passed by this church called San Hermano Pedro.  I fell in love with all the detail and made a mental note to ask Amy if we could sketch it one day.

The next day some of the group sketched the outdoor "lavanderia" near the church and Christina and I set up our little stools by the sidewalk and sketched the church for an hour or so.  You can see her sketch here.

Here is a close-up of my wonky church.

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

As I get older I find it harder and harder to leave the comforts of my house.  But when I take a trip like this it reminds me of the joys of taking a chance and trying something new.  I was completely and utterly enamored with Guatemala.  I have traveled a fair amount in Latin American countries and I've never been to a place where the women actually wear their traditional clothing.  I could have sat in the central plaza all day just gazing at the beautiful women balancing their gorgeous hand-woven textiles on their heads.  If you even have a hint of interest in taking this course I would encourage you to do so.  This trip was like a breath of fresh, incensed air to my soul and I am so thankful to Amy for enabling me to lose sight of the shore for a while. 

I have so many photos and sketches that I am going to do several more posts about the trip so check back soon for more or sign up to receive the latest post through email!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Coral Tree Linocut

In 2016 my husband George and I took a trip to Costa Rica.  George takes Xavier students every year to Costa Rica and as part of the trip we visit Bijagual Ecological Reserve.  In an previous blog post I wrote about how I spied some brightly colored seed pods down by the Bijagual river.   Little did I know how fateful that day would be.  At the time I photographed the pod and did a sketch and didn't think about it again until I was choosing the subject for my next linocut last year.   

Even if you had told me that it would be the most difficult linocut I have done to date, I don't think it would have stopped me.  I was so taken by the beautiful shape of the fruiting body...not to mention the colors.  And so last June I began sketching and planning the print.  Below you can see part of the sketch and the tracing to plan the layers.  (You can see the full pencil sketch and process video here).

Somehow between sketching, gardening, travel and visitors I didn't end up printing until the end of September.  I remember printing the first layer right before I went on a trip.  When I returned a week later I went down to look at the prints.  I pulled one out of the drying rack to inspect it and my heart sank when I noticed there was an error.  And it was not a small one.  I had forgotten to carve away a section of the plate that I wanted to be white.  At first I tried to play it off like it was no big deal and that I could live with it.  I mocked it up on my pencil sketch.  Then I mocked it up in color in Photoshop.  Finally after resisting for at least a week I realized the ugly truth...I had to re-print.  Below you can see my  mistake.

If you want to see all of my desperate mock-ups I posted them on my Nessy Press Facebook page here.
After making the decision to re-print I forged ahead.  Below you can see photos of the plate and the print at each stage.  This print was a mixture of reduction cuts and multiple plates.  I made separate plates for the red berries and the brown twig and pod centers.  The base cream color and final magenta color shared the same plate...meaning after I printed the cream color I carved the plate away.

Below you can see a video of me pulling the final color.  (Turn your volume up... I added music!)

(Music by the Polish Ambassador)

Here are a few carving shots along the way.  I posted more process shots on my Instagram account @nessydesigns

One super exciting thing that greatly helped me on this print was the purchase of an amazing, old drying rack at the Springfield antique show last September.  I don't think I would have had room to dry these giant prints without it.  Below you can see the drying rack and the final plate before and after inking.

One of my favorite things to do after I finish a print is to photograph the print close-up from a million angles .  Here are a few of those detail shots.

I have to admit this print pushed me to my limits and has been a great teacher.  The work forces me to accept reality...to accept mistakes that are made... to learn discernment...and to learn to enjoy both the highs and lows with as much equanimity as I can muster.  I have loved this print and hated it and then loved it again.  People often question me as to why I would want to spend eight months working on this print when I could have painted a hundred paintings.  And I am not sure why.  But I do know there is something to this struggle.  There is something achingly beautiful about giving it your all and not being a hundred percent sure it will turn out.   It is a delicate balance of fear and love this bringing something from the whisper of an idea to a finished piece of art.  Those coral red seeds planted themselves in the depths of my being and something grew...something grew. 

The Coral Tree print is now available at NessyPress.com.

"Do what you love.
Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still."

—Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Handmade Book with Block-printed Cover

For my last birthday I received numerous heartfelt gifts from my friend Jodi.  Jodi is an incredibly creative person who makes beautiful watercolor mandalas and I was stumped for a while as to what to give her in return for her birthday.  But one day I was on Instagram and I came across an artist named Andie Mayr who does INCREDIBLE blue and white stampwork.  If you are on Instagram you must follow her...her call name is @regnitzflimmern.  (If you are not on Instagram you can still see her work here.) After I saw her work it dawned on me that I could carve my own stamp, make my own block-printed bookcloth. and make a book for Jodi!

I first learned to make books like this from my friend Amy Bogard.  Amy leads sketchbook workshops around the world (in fact I am going to Guatemala with her in March!).  But the first trip I went on was a trip she led to Taos, New Mexico where I made my first sketchbook (you can see it here). I like Amy's technique because she starts off with an old, used book she finds at the Goodwill.  She then takes the pages out and has a nice already-made book spine and cover which saves a lot of time.  Because I wanted to make my own bookcloth and I wanted to make a fairly square book for my friend's mandalas, I chose to start from scratch.  That means cutting book boards and applying bookcloth.

Below you can see the block-printed bookcloth and book.  In this post I am going to show you how to make your own hand-printed bookcloth, how to make the book itself, and also a book satchel that I made to match the book.  If you want to buy an old book and use its cover you can skip to step 7 to begin.  

"Books are a uniquely portable magic." — Stephen King

1. Design Stamp and Transfer to Block

The first step is to draw your design and then transfer it to the block.  I usually trace my design onto tracing paper.  You can then turn it over and rub it with a credit card and it transfers perfectly.  I used safety-kut for my carving material.  It is especially nice for this because it is thick and you can grab ahold of it well for stamping.  You can make your stamp any size.  Mine was about 1 inch square.

2. Carve Block and Print Bookcloth

The nice thing about working so small is that if you mess up you can throw it away and start a new one.  Or you can test several designs.  Below you can see my stamp and the ink pad I used.

Here is a short video of the stamping process.  I was worried my lines were going to be wonky so I drew one starting line.  It was actually more forgiving than I expected.  Things weren't perfect, but it really doesn't show too much in the end.

3. Cut and Glue Boards

I forgot to mention that I cut the book board first. The size of your boards will determine the final size of the book so it important to think about how you will use the book.  This was the largest book I have made yet, but I wanted it to be square so my friend Jodi could draw her circular mandalas in it.  (Here is an example of a more vertical sketchbook I made for my friend Christina). 

When making a book it is best to use acid-free bookboard.  It is nice and thick, although that makes it hard to cut.  It is best to use a fresh blade and go over your cut many times.  I usually make the spine about 1 inch wide.  Once the boards are cut you can then add an inch around the edge to determine the size of the bookcloth.  I also leave a space between the spine and the covers that is two times the thickness of the board (which usually is about 1/4 inch).  This will allow your book to bend properly.

Once the boards and bookcloth have been cut perfectly to size it is then time to glue the boards down to the bookcloth.  I like to use a brush to apply Yes paste to both the board and the bookcloth.  It is also helpful to trace in pencil where the boards go beforehand.  After gluing everything in place I put a piece of protective paper over the whole thing and then press the boards by putting heavy books on top. 

4. Cut Corners

I wondered if the term "cutting corners" comes from this step.  It is not a form of "cheating," but a very helpful step in bookbinding.  By cutting the corners, one is able to eliminate excess cloth that would make the corners bulky when folded.  I like to angle my cuts slightly and it is important to not bring the cuts all the way to the corner.  I leave a space that is a hair more than the thickness of the board.  This will allow your corner to be covered.  It is always better to leave a little more space to ensure corner coverage.

5. Fold Corners & Glue

After the boards are dry I then fold the corners around using Yes paste again.  In this step I try not to get too much glue on the boards (mainly because I press it again and don't want my protective paper to stick to the board).  It is possible to also glue the endpaper on at the same time and then it doesn't matter.  But by doing this as a separate step it allows one to fix any problem areas if a section has not glued well.  Press with books again after gluing. 

6. Cut and Glue Endpaper

For the end paper I used Canson paper.  If the cover is plain, it is fun to use a more decorative endpaper.  If I had to do the whole book over again, I might have done minimal stamping on the outside and then made the endpapers full of stamp, but that will have to wait until next time.

I usually leave between an 1/8-1/4 inch space between the endpaper and the edge of the book.  I also use Yes paste again for this step and then press with books.  Always use protective paper between your pressing books and your project!

7. Make Signatures and Hammer Holes

The term "signature" refers to the pages of your book that are stacked and folded as a group and then sewn to the spine of the book.  For this project I used Stonehenge paper mainly because I had a lot leftover from printmaking projects.  Printmaking paper is nice to use because it tears beautifully.  I never knew until I took printmaking that you can just lay a ruler down onto paper and tear it to make gorgeous deckled edges.

It is a good idea to make the paper about a 1/2 inch smaller than the size of the book board.  That gives 1/4 inch space around the edges. Once the paper is torn  I like to score it lightly with an exacto blade where I want the paper to fold.  This helps to make a clean fold.  

I usually make each signature contain 2 or 3 pages.  For this book I had a total of six signatures, 4 with three sheets and 2 with two sheets.  It really depends on the thickness of your paper.  I have made books before where I overstuffed the book and the pages were always pushing the cover up.  It is really a matter of trial and error.  It is also nice to press the signatures after you have folded them.

After you have all of your signatures folded, the next step is to use an awl to make holes for sewing the binding.  I usually make a template and mark the pages with pencil.  It is best to only do a couple pages at a time.  For this book style I punched 8 holes per signature.  The two sets of holes at the ends are closer together.  This is not set in stone.  You can play with the placement and spacing of these and there are beautiful examples on Pinterest of other options.

8. Make Holes in Cover Spine

I also used the same template from the signature to make holes on the spine of the book.  For six signature you will have three vertical lines of holes.  I made these holes with an awl.

9.  Sew in the Signatures

I forgot to take a picture of this step but decided a diagram would be better anyway.  Below you can see how I attached the signatures.  I usually use waxed linen thread for sewing in the signatures.  It comes in a variety of colors and I was happy to find the perfect blue to match this book. 

I usually start at the bottom and tie a knot.  I then begin on the inside of the spine, exit to the outside, grab the first bead and then come back in the same hole.  I then enter the first hole of the first signature.  From there it is simply a matter of going in and out.  The only tricky part comes when moving between one vertical line to the next and I can never quite recall what the exact problem is. But I usually muddle through and make sure that it looks good from the outside. 

In hindsight, I think the beads I used were a bit large.  Smaller beads would allow the book to lay flatter when opened.  I mainly chose those beads because I fell in love with the gold toppers.  When I was at the bead store I had meticulously picked out 20 of those gold toppers from an assorted bin of hundreds of beads thinking I might use them on the satchel.  The man behind the counter politely said, "Let me give you a total so far...that will be $65."  I guess maybe they were really from India and contained gold?  I left the store with my 6 blue beads and  6 gold toppers.

10. Carve Title

Once the pages are sewn in, the fun part of decorating your book begins.  For this project I decided I wanted to add a metal placeholder frame on the front that would hold a tag that would title the book.  Sticking with my hand-carved theme I decided to carve a stamp for the title.

11. Attach Label Frame

The metal frame came with screws but I didn't want the screws to poke through the cover. I was happy because I luckily had these mini-brads that I thought would be perfect.  Unfortunately, the bookboard was about the same thickness as the arms of the brad and the points of the brad just barely poked through. I ended up gluing the brads in place and decided to carve a bookplate to cover the barely-pierced interior cover.

12. Carve and Print Bookplate

Below you can see the bookplate I carved to cover the holes made by the brads.  If you decide to carve your own bookplate make sure your text is backwards when carving!

Glue Bookplate

As you can see below the bookplate covered the holes made by the metal frame on the cover perfectly.

13. Attach Back Cover Storage     

It is also nice when making a book to add storage to the back cover. This can take many forms and I originally planned on making a big envelope out of leftover bookbinding cloth.  But on a trip to Michael's I fell in love with these adorable mini envelopes.  I am a sucker for a twine wrap closure!

I had some help when trying to glue the envelopes.

14.  Get ready to explore!

My favorite part of these projects is photographing them when I am done.  It is amazing how much blue and white I have around the house.  I also ended up putting those hearts at the bottom into the mini envelopes.  Every time I go to Michael's I am drawn to the laser cut wood section and this project gave me the perfect excuse to finally buy some.

15. Make a satchel for your book!

As an extra bonus I decided to make a satchel to match the book.  The satchel ended up a little wonky because I made a mistake on my measurements, but in the end you can't really tell.

When I went to the post office to mail the book to Jodi last week I paid the book rate and as I was walking away I asked, "How long will it take to get there?"  And the woman replied that it would take less than two weeks.  "TWO WEEKS!!!," I thought.  I can't wait that long!  I have never been good at keeping surprises in.  But three days later I received a text form Jodi telling me she had received the book and loved it.  She said she could feel the love pouring from it and I loved that!  She is often able to put words to how I feel and she was exactly right.  Every detail that went into this book was an act of love.  Happy Belated Birthday Jodi!

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” ― Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey