Adventures in Content, Charleston SC

Brien Beidler, a friend and colleague,  works at the Charleston Library Society and invited me to Charleston to teach Adventures in Content a month ago to a wonderfully enthusiastic group of people at Redux Studios. In a two day workshop setting, the students would work through their own artist books prompted by a list of three words chosen by me. In order to simulate the creative process from concept to completion, everyone was asked to think about these words before class. Once we all met in the morning, we went around and discussed our ideas for our projects. With those thoughts floating around in our minds, we began by getting our hands dirty with some practical techniques that are useful in many book projects.

Getting traction on a new piece, whether it is an artist book or otherwise, can prove to be more difficult than it seems at the start. There are moments when a particular stage requires an unusual amount of problem solving. Outside of an institution or a classroom setting, where someone is guiding you through the creation process, you have to find your own solutions. When working on your own, it is hard to figure out what you need or how you work. The best solution I found to these moments is the project Kristin, of Space Paste Press, and I developed in 2011. We not only wanted to be able to stimulate new work but also to have a sounding board when certain things caused us to get stuck. Prompting one another with topics, communicating during the creation of each project, and talking about the finished pieces provided me with the most thorough insight into my creative process so far. I reflect on this project and these questions so often that I decided to develop Adventures in Content around this idea. How do you incorporate good content into artist books so that the result is professional and engaging? What do you do when you hit a wall?

Trying out some techniquesIn the above photo, you can see everyone trying their hands at paste paper, paste cloth, and book cloth. There are so many ways to customize these materials to take on the feel of each project that they become a huge asset in the book artist’s tool box. The greatest part about working with people from varying professional backgrounds are the wonderful things they contribute. Experimentation gave us great results!

what can we get when we crinkle wet paste paper? a stamp being used to get great designs in the pasteBacking cloth is especially handy for the times that you need durable materials but can’t quite find the pattern or designs you are looking for in stores. Below, one of the students is practicing the technique with a small piece of cotton.

Sep132014_0040Working alongside one another while making these materials helped share simple, yet powerful innovations.

Sep132014_0045 Sep132014_0050Below are some photos of lovely paste papers, cloths, and book cloths made by the students.

Sep132014_0053 Sep132014_0054 Sep132014_0070Breaking for lunch, we fortified ourselves and released our brains from the exhilarating morning. Soon as we got back though, we got to a few more decorative techniques before everyone went to town on their individual projects.

Sumi ink and salt used together create a delicate but wonderful design in its wet application.

Sep132014_0072Acetone transfers are a great way to get imagery or text on a piece of paper that can’t be run through a printer. Citrasolv was suggested as an alternative to acetone. (It certainly smelled better, but caution should always be taken when using any kinds of chemicals in the studio. Gloves and ventilation!)

Sep142014_0029 The rest of the afternoon was spent with everyone working on their artist book mock-ups. Before the end of the day, I brought out the year long project with Kristin and gave everyone a few more things to think about over night.


The second day began with everyone jumping in and getting back to their individual ideas for their books. I made my way around the room, discussing ideas with everyone and enjoying the great projects that were developing.

After a little while, we all grouped together and each person presented their book project to the group. This gave us an opportunity to get immediate feedback…what is strong about the book? What would each of us like to see more of? Is the format working with the content? As an instructor, I couldn’t have asked for a more creative and responsive bunch. Everyone gave great feedback and helped generate a supportive working environment where we could all share these ideas. Thanks to the insightful responses, everyone left with fantastic mock-ups or the starts to their final pieces.

Sep142014_0014 Sep142014_0015 Sep142014_0016 Sep142014_0019 Sep142014_0026Thanks to all the participants, and Brien of course, for giving me the opportunity to teach this class. It was a blast and I look forward to teaching it again soon!

Steamroller Printing Event

It has been just over a week since the steamroller printing event took place in Michigan City. I have been reminiscing about the day’s events again because the post show opening is this Friday at Walnut Ink Projects (details at bottom of post). I mentioned before that it was my first time participating in this kind of event despite hearing about them taking place just about everywhere. The scale of the pieces alone is what really got me interested. Pretty much all of my work thus far has been smaller than two square feet, however, many ideas for new work are much much bigger lately.

blocks at the ready for ink

blocks at the ready for ink

With the event four hours away from where I lived, I decided to stay all of Saturday helping set up in the morning and staying until clean up at the end. This was not a requirement of the event, but as I found out to be true later, there is no way an event like this can run without a lot of people giving their time. When I arrived at 9:00am Saturday morning at Walnut Ink Gallery, there was already a group of people in the midst of setting up. I met the ambitious people responsible for arranging this day and then set to work hanging lines that would hold the wet prints as they came off the “press”. By 10:00am tents were up, inking tables were prepped, the steamroller was in place, and food trucks started to arrive.

block getting rolled with ink

block getting rolled with ink

But there wasn’t time to admire all the progress. We had eleven 3ft by 7 ft blocks to print throughout the day and each block would be printed at least three times. Luckily we had two art students on hand who pretty much took care of inking all day long. This is a big job (excuse the pun) because these blocks required a LOT of ink and a keen eye to be sure there was enough deposited on the entire image. So once the first block was sufficiently covered with ink, the excitement of seeing the heavy machinery roll over it was almost too much to bear.

in place and ready to print

in place and ready to print

In order for the printing to succeed, two boards of equal depth and size were laid on either side of the block. Each board was big enough to accommodate the length of the steamroller so that it didn’t have to mount and dismount the set up between prints. (The following images may help understand this idea better.)  So the inked block was laid down on the pavement between the two  boards. Next, a piece of muslin cloth had to be laid on the inked surface, in alignment, without allowing any creases across the whole surface. This operation required six people to accomplish, another instance where volunteers were certainly necessary. Finally, a thick mat was rolled out on top of the muslin to keep the cloth in place as well as to distribute the pressure evenly across the block. Once complete, everyone stepped back. Time for steamrolling.

ready, set, go!

ready, set, go!

After the cheering stopped, the mat was rolled away and the cloth print was carefully lifted. There is nothing like pulling a print, especially one that requires many people to move it. This excitement got artists and spectators really into the process. People who came to just watch ended up jumping in to help put down a piece of cloth or  carry away a freshly pulled print. The enthusiasm was infectious and I could see many people going away with an excited insight into this strange event.

muslin above block

artists and volunteers holding cloth at the ready

muslin placement

laying the cloth down

smooth down muslin

keeping it smooth

hanging a print

hanging the finished piece

The block Andrea and I had collaborated on was due to print around 1:00pm. So when the time came, I was ready to see how our block would turn out. I even helped ink up our block myself! The successful inking is still something I am working on in my own studio so I was eager to get some guidance from the folks who had more printing experience under their belts.

inking our block

inking the block

our block in place

block ready to roll

muslin on our block 2

muslin on the block

steamrolling our block

padded and ready

steamrolling our block


our printed cloth

its a print!

Finally, our block was printed a total of four times. Three of the prints were on the muslin supplied by the gallery and one was on some handmade paper Andrea made specially for the project. The prints themselves came out in a variety of ways. The first was inked a little light, so the solution to that was obvious. The second print, on paper, had some spots that appeared to have printed twice. This most likely was due to the nature of the paper moving a but during the roll and it turns out it should have been dampened before printing. The last two prints on muslin were a little better but still there was some ghosting or double printing.

printing with paper

lining up the paper

printing with paper 2

laying it down

steamrolling paper print

can’t get enough steamrolling

paper print

a print on beautiful handmade paper!

It was great to see the block finally printed, however I found myself wondering why some of these things happened the way they did. Due to the nature of the event, there wasn’t time to have a conference about the issues each print had. But all of these unknowns emphasized the areas in printmaking that I need to strengthen. I have much more experience making blocks than I do printing them. It is still difficult for me to identify which parts of the printing process to alter in order to fix certain problems with each print. This of course can only be solved by doing more printing and ideally while working with people who have that knowledge. All of this makes me eager to continue learning about this medium because it has certainly become a big part of my work.

After the prints were pulled for our block, I took a break for lunch. After I came back and the rest of the day continued like the first half. People continued to come and see the steamroller seemingly squash the contents below only to have a printed piece as the result. Kids were absolutely fascinated as much as the adults they were with. And to top it all off, we were able to print all but one print before the impending rain storm visited the event. Luckily printing in oil means that the prints were safe and sound.

Opening for the show full of these prints is:
Friday, September 5, 5:00-9:00pm.
Walnut Ink Projects
607 Franklin St, Michigan City, IN

Keep on Rollin’


On the road again and it is finally time for the steamroller printing event at Walnut Ink Gallery. It is something I have been anticipating for so long that I’ve almost forgotten my role in the event. That is just the nature of things that force you into over preparedness. When I say force, I mean that you can’t help but be ready. The blocks have been cut and delivered and the event is the printing, so I’m all set! Being able to see the fruits of our (mine and Andrea’s) labors is a very exciting prospect.

What’s more, I can finally show people what I have been yammering on about for the last few months. Being a part of such a large composition has been truly educational and a goal of mine for some time. I have some wonderful people coming out to Michigan City to see my block being printed and to participate in the day. Having this kind of support not only benefits the gallery and increases appreciation for printed media, but it means a lot to me personally to see my own fan club…something that is generally not so physically represented…although I wouldn’t object to some fans in the studio occasionally.

I will post a full summary of the day, hopefully along with some video, so stay tuned.

A visit from the Book Arts Bunch

The Book Arts Bunch (BAB) is an Indianapolis based group of book artists and enthusiasts organized by Jack Cooney for the last 10 years. This group is just one more way to stay in contact with professionals in the field and to discover the great resources that we are for one another. I first met Jack around the time the group began assembling and was instantly charmed by his enthusiasm for all things books and history. I love joining the group any chance I can get up to Indianapolis for their meetings. So it was with great enthusiasm that I suggested the BAB make a trip down to Bloomington.

An obvious stop was to the Lilly Library to see the exhibit now on display: Spiritualists, Sorcerers, and Stage Magicians – Magic and the Supernatural. (On display June 2 – August 30, 2014) We met in the exhibitions area and admired the fascinating items on display while we caught up with one another. We even had the chance to glimpse some newly acquired bindings before heading to lunch which provided even more time to continue catching up and share the latest news.

Image from Spiritualists, Sorcerers, and Stage Magicians: Magic and the Supernatural at the Lilly Library (property of the Lilly Library)

After appetites were satiated, we all visited Carmel Montoya’s studio to see the treasures she crafts in her street side workspace. Working under the name BABA (Bloomington Atelier for Book Arts), Carmel creates colorful artist books that invite the viewer to play and respond. She inspired many of us to see familiar structures in a new way!

Carmel showing an artist book piece

Carmel showing an artist book piece

another of Carmel's pieces aptly having to do with magic

Another of Carmel’s pieces having to do with magic fitting the theme of the day

With the day getting on, a few of us continued to my studio where I had a chance to share some of my latest work. It is always helpful to have someone in the studio as it is a great chance to see your own work through the eyes of someone else. New insights to an object you know so well are invaluable. For me, there is always some inspiration to work towards another aspect of my work during these interactions.

A huge thank you to the Book Arts Bunch and to Jack for organizing yet another lovely day!

Steamroller Print

This August I will be participating in my first steamroller printing event put on by Walnut Ink Press! More event information is on their Kickstarter page.

Here are the event details:
DATE: Saturday, August 23, 2014
TIME: 11:00am-5:00pm *There will be assigned printing time slots for each artist
LOCATION: Walnut Ink Projects, 607 Franklin St, Michigan City, Indiana 46360

Image from last year’s event. (Photo from Walnut Ink Press)

So what is a steamroller printing event? The picture above is helpful but I will explain. This will be a day long event during which very large wood blocks will be printed with the use of a steamroller. A 3′ x 7′ block of MDF board was distributed to each artist, or collaborative pair who agreed to participate. Everyone then cut their design into the surface, and later the blocks will make their way to the event site. When it is time to print, each block is laid on the ground, inked with large rollers, and then a piece of paper or cloth is laid down on top of it. Finally, and most excitingly, a steamroller is driven across the stack to make an impression (photo above), which is the pressure required to print such a large relief image. It is also super cool to see a steamroller drive over things!

My desire to do a steamroller print extends beyond the excitement of seeing the machine drive over the block. I’m attracted to the idea of a giant print because there is a lot of potential in such a large space and it is rare that you get the opportunity to find someone with the equipment required to print it. There is a lot to consider when composing a giant print…it is not enough to think of an average sized design and blow it up. There is something lost in just making something bigger or shrinking something down. When the scale changes, the concept also changes.

So when my friend and colleague, Andrea Peterson, asked me last year to collaborate on a print for the event, I nearly jumped through the phone from excitement. We soon made plans for our first collaborative piece. We both thought about the large format, agreeing that the concept needed to take advantage of this large space. After stewing it over a while, we talked about our current interests and found out that they share the same ecosystem. Andrea had been studying radialarians, protozoa that build very interesting skeletal structures around their endoplasmic centers, and float along with the zoo-plankton in the deep sea. When looked at on their own (and magnified), they look more like creatures from outer space than the ocean, and this appealed to me very much. I have also been captivated by life within the deep sea. There is such mystery involved with the vastly unexplored place. There are so many creatures that either live so deep they are hard to encounter easily or are so small you need magnification to find. Because this block is so big, we came up with the idea to blow up miniature lifeforms to epic proportions and allow them to interact with one another in the print. The vastness of the sea could be conveyed as well as these seemingly minor lifeforms that are rarely encountered by the average person.

Now that we had our theme it was time to figure out when we could make it all happen. Since Andrea and I were collaborating from a long distance away, 4 hours drive to be exact, each part of the process needed to fit into two intense sessions. Those days were packed, but well worth it. Below is the process from drawn composition to proofing the block all captured on film (digitally). It is a great glimpse into the process.

mary and andrea drawingSESSION 1: During our first meeting for the block, Andrea and I decided to begin the planning stages by working on pieces of transparent paper. This allowed us the freedom to draw components, move them around, and layer them where necessary for the overall composition. These pieces could be endlessly arranged and rearranged until it felt right. Once we agreed on the drawing, all of these pieces were taped to a piece of craft paper that was cut just larger than the block we would be carving.

andrea schemingIn the above photo, Andrea is drawing where areas need to be filled in or adjusted. You can see how the various layers interact with one another. This work was done in one day as I was passing through town. However, with the drawing done, we were able to roll it up and have everything ready for the next time I came through.


SESSION 2: A few months later we had our second and final session with the block. I arrived at Andrea’s place on a Friday evening, and that night we stared at the blank block that was ready for us to carve. We talked about our game plan and decided to start fresh in the morning.

Andrea picked up a great tip for transferring drawings to a block for carving. If you buff in white acrylic paint with a rag into the surface of the block and let it dry, the drawing will very easily transfer when rubbed face down. Also, it is really easy to see what you are carving during the process since you have created a visual difference between carved away space and the untouched surface.

drawing stitchThis is a digitally stitched together photograph of our overall design. It looks really rough, but because we are smart, we were able to figure out how to transfer the whole thing in a legible way. (click on the image for a larger view)

Jun212014_0091Above, Andrea is burnishing the drawing, pencil side down, onto the acrylic treated surface of the block. Below is the wonderfully crisp result.

Jun212014_0095As we rubbed the drawing from the back with bonefolders, we were able to peel back the drawing to make sure it transferred clearly.

Jun212014_0101This is the drawing transferred in its entirety. It is easy to zone out during the cutting process, so we left enough guidelines for those moments, but we didn’t define everything so that there was still room for changing the imagery as we felt appropriate. The drawing transfer was completed by lunch time. After we were fed, we were ready to get into the meat of the business.

Jun212014_0124So we began to carve and carve and carve. It felt really slow at first, but as we both set into the rhythm of cutting away material, things just moved forward.

Jun212014_0127 Jun212014_0131 Jun212014_0136We carved into the night and had to move the block inside. There was a giant rainstorm rolling in during the early evening, and since the sun we were enjoying earlier became non-existent, we decided to move it indoors. Plus the bugs would have chased us inside anyways.

So we continued to cut… Jun212014_0139We carved our night away and eventually grew tired. After a very full day of work, we had over 75% of the block carved and had bruised palms to prove it. Stretching our sore limbs, we called it a night until the following morning.

Restored by sleep, we walked outside to greet the block. Another sunny day allowed us to move the operation outside again, and when the sun hit the block, the lines seemed to dance. We didn’t have too much left to do and quickly set to getting it finished.

Jun222014_0006carved stitchAbove is another stitched together image of the completed block carved. (click for a larger image). Satisfied, we celebrated and decided to pull a proof or two to make sure that we in fact cut everything to our satisfaction. Below is the inked block…there is such magic when you roll that first layer of ink onto a newly carved block. All of a sudden, something that was only in your head is finally a reality. This block was not only interesting to look at, but the imagery was showing some great movement like we had intended.

Jun222014_0018So we laid a long piece of craft paper down, rubbed the whole block for a very long time with barrens, and we pulled two proofs. Below is the second proof…


Jun222014_0048 Jun222014_0058We spent a good amount of time looking at and discussing the print. This was the time to correct anything that might have needed tweaking but we felt confident that the work done on the block was absolutely what we intended.

At this point, people could clean up their block and call it a day. But not when you are collaborating with a paper maker. We did clean our block, but because the event will be providing only cloth to print on, it was decided that we should make very large sheets of paper to print on as well. Why not? Thanks to the help of family members, a large frame was built (a giant version of a traditional mould and deckle used during sheet forming) and coated with clear coat to make it waterproof. A mat layer was laid down over the bottom frame, then a single layer of pelon (the whitish material in the photo below). All of these layers were wet down with a hose and the second frame (or deckle) was laid on top.

Jun222014_0064Next, plastic was laid across the space and filled with water and pulp (image below). We made sure to disperse the pulp evenly throughout the bath getting rid of any clumps.

Jun222014_0065The next step was to pull the plastic from beneath the water/pulp mixture like a magician pulling out a table cloth. Here we are poised for this one-time-shot action.

Jun222014_0071Success! As you can see from the photo below, the water is draining, we didn’t fling any of the contents out of the frame, and everything seems to be settling uniformly.

Jun222014_0072Below is the future sheet of paper left to drain completely. Once enough water has left the sheet, it was put upright to dry on the frame.

Jun222014_0077The whole process from block print to sheet forming took no more than three days of work spread out between two visits together. So far, it has been a great experience. So great that I would do it again and have been thinking of future block ideas. But before I get ahead of myself, there is still the printing event. Stay tuned for updates either here or on my Facebook page. And if you are in the Michigan City area August 23rd, I hope to see you there! Come say hello!