Friday, July 8, 2011

Craft in America by PBS

Well, it has been a long time since I have blogged! Since my last post, my journey has brought me to Amherst, Massachusetts. In this first year (we actually arrived to town a year ago today), my primary job as an elementary teacher, has required most of my time. As a result, there hasn't been much time for bookbinding and other creative projects. Now that I am out of school for the summer, I am getting back into bookbinding, paper folding, and working with paints and inks. I have used "screen time" to reclaim some of my inspiration.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have enjoyed watching the PBS series, Craft in America on DVD. It is thought provoking to listen to various artists talk about their craft and their inspiration. While watching this, I find myself more eager to launch into my own work, and to do so with more care and precision. The first DVD in this series has brought a few thoughts to mind.

* As artists create inanimate objects, so much thought, creativity, and the human element goes into the piece. It makes the object feel like so much more than just an item. Of course part of this happens in the way an artist puts so much of themselves in the work. But, it also happens through conversations. As artists talk to other crafters or with people who admire the work, a deeper understanding and connection is formed. I find this to be true when people reflect on my handmade books. Even if they don't buy one of my journals, I appreciate the feedback and conversations that take place around my work. I come to see and understand my work in a different way - through their eyes and their words. I realize the handmade object serves as a thread that binds people together. This is meaningful!

* The idea of passing special items and objects from person to person, generation to generation really resonates with me. I have always been more drawn to old antiques (even though I like many modern devices as well). When we make a handmade object - books, furniture, quilts, glassware, baskets, or jewelry, we give "life" to an object. This special item, when passed along to others, allows the receiving person to find their own meaning in the piece. I have a quilt that someone made for me when I was born - hand stitching. I wonder about the fabric used in the design; what else was the fabric used for? Perhaps, the fabric came from clothes worn by her relatives or from fabric that was used to make clothes for relatives. Again, the idea of connectivity comes through. While I have very few memories of the person who made this for me, it means a lot to me that she created it. As a teacher, I enjoy taking the quilt to school to share some of these big ideas with children.

*.Another idea that leaves me thinking is that many of the crafters featured in this series had very practical reasons for their trade. For many, it had to do with learning a skill taught to them from a parent or grandparent - something passed down through families. While others learned their craft as a way to earn income for their families during difficult times. And for some, the craft was deeply rooted in cultural heritage. As so much of our world changes around us, most of the skills associated with handmade objects are very old - there is very little change in the techniques and methods. Regardless of our reasons, there is something secure in appreciating the history of our craft.

* One of the artists in this series reflected on the fact that the quality of her work is better because she surrounds herself with other artists. She gets to see the work they produce, and this inspires her to stretch herself. Watching this series had a similar effect on me. Seeing the quality and craftsmanship achieved by these skilled crafters (and how their work evolved over time) inspired me to reflect on the quality of my own work while also thinking more creatively about the materials I use and how I use them.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Coptic Headband Class

Well, life has been busy as my partner and I prepare to leave St. Louis and start our new life out east. Today, we disposed of two old desks, shredded old documents, and purged more things that won't make the journey with us. Despite these preparations, I am trying to squeeze in as much bookbinding as possible and have continued to fill my Etsy shop. I am wondering how quickly I will be able to being the creative process again once we get settled.

Last weekend, I took a class on sewing Coptic Headbands. It was great fun! I will miss my bookbinding teacher, Joanne. For anyone interested in bookbinding near St. Louis, I highly recommend you getting in touch with her. She is an excellent mentor and has been quite an inspiration. I have learned so much and am always motivated to learn as much as possible when in her creative studio space. Before working with her in 2006, I tried to make a couple of books, but didn't even know about grain direction or proper glues. It is fun to look back at those books now. Her instruction has been monumental for me; the knowledge I have gained about bookbinding has forever changed my life - it is like a rewiring of the brain.

Once I got the hang of this sewing technique, it was quite rewarding and didn't seem too difficult. Starting the process was the most challenging. It is very neat to see the finished product; I love the idea of using contrasting colors to really make the headband "pop." After the class, I replicated what I learned on another book I had recently sewn and was happy with the end result, even though the measurements were a bit off. The next one will be even better! I look forward to incorporating this technique on more structures soon. The details of this sewing are in the book, Headbands How to Work Them by Jane Greenfield and Jenny Hille. But, taking a class and learning from a professional is so much better (at least for me). It gives me the confidence that I am learning correctly.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Butterfly House, Chesterfield, Missouri

The Butterfly House in Chesterfield, Missouri is one of my favorite locations in the St. Louis region. It is truly one of the best butterfly houses I have ever been to. Since my partner and I will soon be uprooting ourselves in order to move to Massachusetts, we are creating a "bucket list" of sorts, places and restaurants we want to go to again before our transition. Not having much else planned today, I heard the butterflies calling! With my camera in hand, I set off. It was a great day; the conservatory was very active! Thousands of lepidoptera were flying around the room, many landing and resting on the tropical plants all around. They just seem to be oblivious of the many humans surrounding them.

For nine years, I have been part of a teaching team inspiring second graders about these majestic creatures. From the life cycle, to behavior patterns and other interesting facts. In my quest to inform them, I have learned so much and am forever grateful for the knowledge and appreciation I have gained. This environmental passion was heightened and magnified through the inspiration of two wonderful colleagues. One of my favorite parts of this kind of environmental education is that children learn how delicate nature can be, also how colorful, amazing, and patient.

It is interesting to stand back and watch other people interact with them too. You can see the uncertainty on the face of some - young and old. Some of the children are quite afraid of them; I understand that. They might but them in the same category as bees or other flying creatures. I can't wait to explore some of the natural aspects of western Massachusetts. I hope one day to be able to plant a butterfly garden in my own yard so I can watch these awe-inspiring transformations in my own space.

I have added a photography section to my Etsy page; one of these photos is there now - the others will soon follow.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Plunge Into Etsy

A number of years ago, a colleague of mine (who also happens to be a very good friend), went to a craft show in northern Missouri. She met a potter who made this wonderful tall sleeping man mug. The potter was telling my friend how she had not made many sales in her actual brick and mortar shop; in fact, she had barely enough money to buy the clay that she needed. After joining Etsy, this artist found great success selling her work online. (I am not sure who the artist is, but would be interested in knowing if anyone in cyberspace happens to know.)

At the time, my bookbinding endeavours were relatively new. But, I kept this story in the back of my mind. Once my products got to the point in which I felt as though they were "quality enough" to share with others, I considered the idea of selling them online. In December of 2008, I took the plunge, setting up my account. I sold my first two items within hours and days of posting my first few items. While this initial success slowed, I have enjoyed the challenges and joys of selling online. I have especially enjoyed the personal connections that I have made with people from all over the globe.

My friend retired last spring. Now, I am preparing to move to Massachusetts. She came to my classroom the other day, bringing this clay figure with her. She is gifting it to me. Not only does it remind me of the valued friendship that we share, but also of my journey into the world of Etsy. I look forward to putting this functional sculpture right along with my other treasured art supplies once I get my new "art space" set up - be that a closet (like I have now) or a whole room.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Custom Orders for Teachers

Much of the last several weeks have been spent working on custom bookbinding projects. These three are for teachers who make a difference every day! As this school year winds down, don't forget about those special teachers in your life.

1) A teacher that I work with is expecting her second child soon. Her teaching partner asked me to create a photo album to present as a gift from the class. The children created advice to the baby and these illustrations were sewn into the book. When I photographed the book, I realized that I put the covers on the wrong sides; hence, the pictures were upside down! I felt ill - what a terrible mistake! My mentor shared that being able to fix mistakes is a key element to bookbinding (as well as many other areas of life). Realizing that I had a few days to redo it if I needed to, I cut the stitching on the spine and resewed the book, aligning the pages correctly. My obsessiveness took over and I had to complete it that evening - it couldn't wait until the next day. At first, I was concerned that I would need to flip all of the pages and worried that the holes might not match. And, what if my thread tension is different and the pages don't fit correctly. Then, I realized that I would only need to change three of the sections; a little planning and trimming fixed my problem perfectly. In fact, the book might have felt more tight and secure upon this second sewing.

2) I had a student teacher this semester; she was excellent by the way! She taught a writing project that required students to create a polymer clay character as part of their planning process. I used the left over clay and a rolling pin to create two polymer clay covers for a special book. Our students illustrated book sections advising as to what makes a good teacher. I sewed these as well as several blank sections into the book. This was my first clay covered book. I wonder how it will hold up over time. Hopefully, it will be a special memory of her time in our classroom.

3) My nephew is a second grader in Michigan. His mom asked me to make an end of the year gift for his teacher. So, I created this green hinged box structure and included the hand painted paper that is integrated into much of my work. Several handmade cards are included. These cards are what inspired me to launch art as an "obsessive hobby" in 2004. A hand cut black panel is attached to water-color paper. Several layers of coordinating colored paper frame the design. Envelopes were created by folding an outdated atlas - a great way to outdated paper from recycling. Once the teacher uses the cards, the box will serve as a special container for many years.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Second Grade Immigration Journals

As a second grade teacher, I enjoy incorporating bookbinding into my language arts curriculum as often as possible. One of our capstone projects comes during the Coming to America unit. Students study the lives and perspectives of immigrants; mostly we focus on historical immigration. We read many wonderful children's books about the topic. Many of these use excellent descriptive language. Students also work with the drama teacher to present a play inspired by many of our literature selections.

We dress the children up in all kinds of old clothes and fabric, and take their photo. From there, they imagine themselves as an immigrant character from long ago. Many children base the character on their own ancestor. Others are creative in their selection. Then, we set up two simulations for the children. One is a passport simulation in which they stand in a long line upon their arrival to school to be questioned by "inspectors at the passport office" (teachers). Their photo is attached to the passport. Finally, students experience an Ellis Island simulation, where we take them on a walk in areas of our campus where they have rarely been. We take them in the attic and through a fire escape, down in the basement of another building. We use chalk to draw a boat on the sport court and have them cram together. This year, they even had some water splashed on them. Once we leave the boat, students spot the Statue of Liberty (a teacher wrapped in green fabric holding a green binder and a foam crown). They gather around her and sing, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free..." Then, we lead them to the inspection station. Many children comment that while they know this is pretend, they truly feel like an immigrant.

During the last few weeks of the unit, the teachers create fabric journals for each student in the class. In some years, students select fabric from the mountain we have collected over the years. One remnant in particular, a red floral print on heavy canvas, was left over from a colleagues curtains several decades ago. There was so much, she made overalls for each of her own four kids. The scraps were turned into immigration journals - we used the final piece last year. This year, we involved grandparents and families by asking students to write letters, asking for some fabric that can be used. One child brought in pieces of her great grandmother's wedding dress and veil. Another child brought in a handkerchief embroidered an ancestor. My colleagues and I cover book board and use binder rings to secure the pages together. These rings also give us the flexibility to take pages out or to add more depending on the circumstances.

Students then imagine a historical fiction story of an immigrant character from 100 years ago. The expound about learning of their journey, leaving their homeland, life on the boat, and entering an immigration inspection station (usually Ellis Island). Finally, they write a paragraph or two about their first night or week living in America. Because we spend so much time leading up to this moment, the children often find inspiration from the books we read.

I am always completely amazed at the effort and quality of work that comes through on this project! Even the emerging writers really put forth their best, and often do better on this assignment than on others. Some of the stories read as though they are actual stories from long ago While each one follows the sequence and includes historical information that we outline in class, each one has unique and interesting characteristics that set it apart from the others. I think these stories are so great because they can truly connect to this handmade journal, a book that features fabric that they have selected and come to feel an attachment to. Also, the immaginative experiences really enhance their thinking!

Here are some of the books we enjoy in class:
* Coming to America by Betsy Maestro
* Watch the Stars Come Out by Riki Levinson
* How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Story by Eve Bunting
* When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest
* The Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff
* If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island by Ellen Levine
* Hannah's Journal by Marissa Moss
* The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

Monday, February 15, 2010

Painted Paper

I love painted paper! Somehow, it brings me back to childhood - playing with watercolor paints or crayons - even the time in elementary school when we put crayons in our glue to make the white adhesive change colors. I love the array of commercial and handmade decorative papers that is used in bookbinding and handmade box projects. But, it is also fun to experiment and create my own. There is just something about getting messy, playing with colors, and accepting the final product.

It is great to spend a couple of hours with liquid acrylic paint, black ink, Arches text weight paper, water, and other supplies. I love spreading out and going crazy (being careful not to get paint on the dining room table or the floor). Each sheet comes out unique and completely one of a kind! When trimmed into smaller pieces, the art looks very different. I can't just paint one sheet. I keep going - mixing the paints ever so slightly as I go along and spreading out the wet paper all over the living room floor until it dries. Yesterday, I painted 9 pieces of paper. When there is enough acrylic paint left, it is fun to paint book fabric. Like the paper, this painted fabric looks very different when attached to the cover of a book.

I have made a few journals in which the entire book block is comprised of these painted pages (one of these books will be posted to Etsy soon). At other times, I cut the paper and use it to embellish the book. Sometimes the painted paper is used to surround the spine of each section on a Coptic bound book and at other times, it is used for the cover of the book. Regardless, I find a great deal of satisfaction knowing that the paper used is partially designed by me, but mostly by the water and paint nearby. It seems to take on a life of its own.