Sunday, December 28, 2008

I can't resist an explanation

When I posted my last blog entry I thought I wanted it to stand with no explanation. However, I do try to stick with the topics of book arts and metalworking. So why is there a poem on this blog? Well, in the bigger picture it's potential material for a book. Or it's the background/inspirational stuff. The things that never come to fruition are just as important to me as the ones that do.

There was an interesting discussion on the Bay Area Book Artists mailing list this past fall about how much text to include in artist's books. How many words, if any, do you need to explain something? Can you trust the reader to "get it?" I think I often go too far. Mostly because I am so aware of how easily miscommunication happens.

We also had a BABA poetry session recently, which was very enlightening, and made me think further about the use of words. I don't consider myself a writer, but occasionally something pops into my head. That was the case for "My life in a photograph." Recently I went back to it and removed about 30% of the words. Then I thought it might be an interesting blog entry. The collage that accompanies it is very old - probably from 1986 or so. The subject of the collage is memory and loss, so it seemed appropriate for the poem.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My life in an old photograph

My mother holds me in her arms, smiling,
squinting at her father, the photographer.
She is very young, her hair in two braids
on top of her head, her cheeks would be rosy
if the photo was in color.
I am 3 months old, gazing away from both of them.
Behind us, a corner of the white clapboard garage,
green trim around the window. A glimpse of roses,
beech trees, and a compost heap
full of big fish-bait worms.
In my quiet studio I take fine-pointed scissors
from my workbench
and snip away the leaves on the trees.
Beyond I see a deep dark space,
filled with distant stars.
A black space to fall into forever.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A walk in Central Park with my gameboy camera

Gameboy camera photos from a walk in the park on Thursday. The actual screen is 1.75 inches square. Except for the large koi, these are 200 pixels wide, about 2 inches. The camera has adjustments for brightness and contrast, and will store 30 photos. I import them into my computer by putting the gameboy on my scanner, then I increase the contrast and brightness in Photoshop.

I think these have a lot of potential for use in artist's books. You can see them larger in my flickr gameboy camera set. Of course there is a gameboy camera group on flickr.


Koi, 400 pixels wide.

Reflections in water.

Rose garden.

Portraits do work, sometimes. Anything complicated just doesn't register on these few pixels.

And the Dalai Lama, from a t.v. program. This also shows the entire Gameboy screen.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Book Arts Jam 2008

I did an artist's talk. The audience was nice, lots of questions. I love giving my opinion, I guess that's why I have a blog.

My books on display in the member's exhibit. It was hard to take photos, or I'm not an accomplished photographer. But it's a nice setting.

More of the member's exhibit.

The dramatic book with the prayer flags is by Lark Burkhardt.

The crowd in the member's exhibit. Everytime I tried to take a photo of people admiring the books, they walked quickly out of the shot. I need to get stealthy.

Here's where I'm like your grumpy Aunt Sarah, who complains about everything: Most big hoity toity crafts fairs charge big bucks for a booth. You have no idea if you will make your money back, much less if you will make any profit. And of course the attendees pay at the door, and that's not really cheap. But the Jam is is so reasonable, for both the artists and the attendees. I believe it's $40 for a table. And it's $2 for parking. Period. There is no admission charge. It's a wonderful place to meet other artists, to get ideas, to share what you have learned. The energy and enthusiasm are incredible. There aren't many places where you can start talking to a stranger in the restroom about making an artist's book with random junk attached to the pages. It's wonderful that Foothill College is willing to host us.

My only complaint? I'm a serious introvert, these events exhaust me. And I never get to see it all.

If you want to be on the baba mailing list to be notified of the Jam, go here. Note there is a read-only list that has only official Bay Area Book Artists announcements.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Offering Chant in my dreams

Yesterday morning I woke from my dreams hearing a song I listen to frequently in my studio. It was the Offering Chant on Rain of Blessings by Lama Gyurme and Jean-Philippe Rykiel. I'm sure it's well lodged in my head, along with most of his other music, but am still surprised to find I was dreaming it.

Part of the text from the liner notes: "Offering Chant - Offering is an essential aspect of Buddhism. It leads to the broadening of one's spirit in an ever expanding dimension, whereas keeping things for oneself prevents an opening to the world. . . Generosity extends itself to those in material need or inwardly in pain. It also unfolds itself, as in this chant, . . . the practitioner thinks of himself as offering in spirit all the universes, all the beauties and all the wealth they contain; thus he is able to offer more and more, as he continually opens himself to the dimensions of the infinite."

I wonder what this dream means. Maybe it's an area I should be working on. Maybe it's an idea for a book.

I'm not a Buddhist, I'm not anything related to organized religion. But I have been interested and curious about Buddhism for 20 years. Back then, friends took me to a ceremony of blessing somewhere in the east bay. I was moved by the simplicity and beautiful calmness, but felt like a tourist in someone else's church. Now I meditate irregularly, think about the issues, etc. I also shy away from talking about these things most of the time because it's an internal dialog.

Recently I have been listening to some of Pema Chodron's talks, available on audible. I find her explanation of the Buddhist precepts very easy to understand. There is a good interview with Bill Moyers here.

And on a sort of related note: In you're in the U. S. Please Vote! No matter how this election goes, I will be happier if it is fair and a majority of people express their opinions. Of course if you are on the fence, you can email me, and I'll try to influence you!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Starry Night

"The Starry Night over the Rhone" 1888, Vincent Van Gogh, 28.5 x 36.25. From a show of nocturnal Van Gogh paintings at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

"The sight of the stars always makes me dream. Why should the spots of light in the firmament be less accessible to us than the black spots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to go to Tarascon, we take death to go to a star." Vincent Van Gogh. The year after writing this, at age 37, he committed suicide.

"Street in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer," 1888, Vincent Van Gogh, from an earlier MoMA show.

For years I didn't like Van Gogh's paintings, except for his ultra-famous "The Starry Night." With sunflower images on coffee mugs and shower curtains, it all seemed trivial to me. I couldn't see the content. Recently, I read a book on drawing, with a great chapter on mark-making. A Van Gogh drawing was one of the examples. Suddenly, I came to see a raw energy that speaks so clearly to me. Then I realized it's all there in the paintings. Isn't it delightful to make these discoveries?

When I look at someone's art, I assume it expresses their personality. Would I want to invite that person for dinner? Do I admire their technique, but have no desire to spend more time with them? Or am I too put off to hang around and get to know them?

Looking at Van Gogh's paintings and drawings, I would love to have dinner with him. I imagine him to be a very direct person, perhaps difficult because he's so outspoken, but honest and frank. Maybe he doesn't have a lot of refined social skills, but that might not matter. We could talk about the stars, fairy tales and what makes art meaningful. When I can put those shower curtains out of my head, I really love his drawings and paintings.

Check out the drawing above. ("Street in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer," 1888) You can see the movement of his hand, you can see where he has diluted the ink, where the pen is running out, but he rushes on to finish. The scribbly lines of smoke seem to indicate a hint of a breeze. I wish I could draw like that.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Book Arts Jam - October 18, 2008 - Los Altos Hills, CA

Click here to see a larger view of the front and back of this postcard. Please note: the artists and designers hold copyrights for the images and design. See the back of the postcard for details.

The Book Arts Jam will happen this year on Saturday, October 18, from 10:00am to 4:00pm at Foothill College 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, California. Free admission, parking $2.

From the website (go there for more detailed information):

"Join us for Book Arts Jam 2008, a one-day regional celebration of the book and print arts, co-sponsored by the Bay Area Book Artists and Foothill College. This year’s event features a one-day exhibition of artists’ books with talks by exhibiting artists; hands-on demonstrations; an exhibitors’ showcase with work by more than 40 artists and craftspeople in the book, paper, and print arts; a slideshow of recent member work; silent auction; prize drawing and refreshments.

The intent of the Book Arts Jam is to bring together book artists and audiences interested in the book arts to create a forum for artists to show and sell their work, and for visitors of all kinds including, book arts fans and artists, as well as audiences new to book arts, to see the work of others and learn about the book arts. The jam will encourage visitors to learn, explore and create through demonstrations, hands-on projects, and displays."

P.S. I won't be an exhibitor this year, but will have some books in the member's exhibition. There will be at least 50 books from the various members, plus the exhibitor's showcase, which you will remember as the large area filled with tables of artist's books, if you have attended in the past. I will also be talking a bit about my work at 1pm, and doing other stuff in the area. I always leave the Jam feeling so energized, I hope you can come.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What criteria do you use for entering competitions?

Recently I asked members of the Bay Area Book Artists mailing list about criteria they use to apply to exhibits. I recently applied to several shows, and didn't get in. When I was doing metalwork, I felt pretty good at picking shows to apply to. I certainly did get turned down plenty, but I had a sense of which shows would be likely. I knew for example that words like "elegant" or "refined" ruled out my work.

Below are some comments that I received from BABA members. If you would like to add anything, you can leave a comment, or email me at (change the "AT" to the symbol.) I'd love to hear more ideas.

from Karen Koshgarian:
"After years of exhibiting, I've concluded that taking rejection personally doesn't serve me well. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Being included doesn't mean the work is sensational either, but sometimes fits with the "story" of the show.

"Case in point: I was included in the recent Lark publication 500 Handmade Books. The particular book that was accepted did not show the interior shot that would have made the book much more understandable. By showing only the cover, which had an airplane on it, it then became a companion to the spread. The book on the opposite page also had an airplane theme. HOWEVER, my book was a sequential, shocking look at September 11. It was not meant to be a pretty picture. Something was appealing about the cover, because it was also on the inside fly and as a pull-out, I can only guess it was because I used a three dimensional form with the cover. You couldn't even tell it was an altered book, which would have made more sense with the spine showing...I used the California State Legislator's Handbook for 2001. So in this case, yes it's nice to be in such a collection, but I can't make any meaning out of that, and still be sane!"

from Kay Hille-Hatten:
"From my observation curators putting shows together have a general idea or vision of the show, then when the applications come in they look at what they have and develop the look of the show. Artists with high quality work don't always get in because they end up not fitting into the "look" of the show. It can be frustrating both from a creative and financial point of view. When I've subsequently seen shows I was rejected from, I could tell what I had submitted didn't fit the look (of the show). I'm not sure this helps but it eased my frustration some when I realized what was happening."

from Conni Rizzuto:
"There is really no way to predict what may be accepted into an exhibit.
Selecting an exhibition that provides specific criteria that will be used to judge the books is a definite advantage. Knowing who will be doing the jurying also helps-- are they traditionalists, or do they open to artworks that test the boundaries of 'bookness'? Sometimes jurors will reject artworks because several similar ones were submitted.

"If there are 300-400 entries, only 10-20% of the entries may make it into a show. So having an idea of how many entries there have been in the past shows will give you some idea about the extent of the competition. You might find this on the gallery's web site in a press release or a blog about a previous exhibition. If not, call the galley and ask.

"One of the things that I do is look at the sponsor's web site to view the 'selected artwork' from previous exhibits. This gives me a fairly good indication of what the standards for selection might be.

"Finally, I usually try to name my artwork so that it is related to the theme of the exhibition. I make sure that my statement about the artwork clearly indicates its relationship to the theme."

from Dorit Elisha:
"What I have done in the past is create a specific piece for that show when I saw an interesting theme or challenge. If it wasn't accepted I didn't care. I was happy to have gone through the process. I guess it's kinda getting in through the back door."

from Lark Burkhart:
"It does seem as if it's a case of reading between the lines. I applied to the San Diego show too, and because I know the Atheneum tends to show more traditional work and also that there's a strong link between printmaking and book arts in the San Diego book arts community I submitted 3 of my codex-type books, 2 of which featured monotypes. And 2 were accepted."

The question of paying to show your work was also raised. Artists already pay for the photography, the shipping, and other related costs. I met an artist years ago who said he just quit entering shows. At that point in time he was known enough to be getting invitations to museum group shows, like the Craft and Folk Art Museum. And of course he had a lot more time to spend making art.

On a related note, Hariette Estel Berman has professional guidelines here. The most relevant article is "Top Ten Tips for Getting Into a Juried Exhibition, Show, Book or Magazine." Hariette includes instructions to make a contact sheet in Photoshop to accompany digital images.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

We travel in Boats

We Travel in Boats, 9.5 x 4 x .5 inches closed, ©2008, Davey board, Hahnemuhle Ingres paper, Prismacolors, acrylics, Dr. Martin's white ink. Larger view on flickr. (click "all sizes") This will be donated to the Book Arts Jam silent auction.

I had this drawing left from my tests for In my Dreams We travel in Boats. The cover was cut from Davey Board with a jeweler's saw and painted with acrylics. It's interesting to see the two books side by side. From the front, the content is very similar. The back of this one is blank though.

Monday, August 04, 2008

In my Dreams We travel in Boats

In my Dreams We travel in Boats ©2008 6.5 x 3.25 x 1.75 closed. The open book is about 17 inches long.

There is no real front or back in this book. It is based on dreams I have had about boats. They are large, simple boats, like rowboats with no oars, or lifeboats. They are always white. The web page includes text from parts of the dreams. There are three pages of notes and photos showing the stages of construction.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Primitive Wire Edge Binding

Another binding test. This one is 2.75 x 3 inches. I made it with black Arches Cover, steel wire and black waxed cord. The drawing was done with Dr. Ph. Martin's white Bombay India ink.

To make the cover I cut out a piece of paper 3 inches high and 5.5 inches wide. I folded it in half and punched two holes in the fold. I always make a template for the holes so they are spaced the same (more or less) on each page.

This book was fairly quick to make, but when I spread it out to stand, the pages tend to not pivot easily. I have to carefully place each one to make the page edges parallel. I don't know if that's a bad thing, but I am working on a book with metal hinges right now, so I do notice it.

There are larger photos and more views on flickr. Click on "all sizes" above the image to see it larger.

For more on wire edge binding see this post and this one.

My mother-in-law is having some problems, so posts will be sparse for awhile. I haven't quit blogging.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Lose some, Win some

7 Extinction Events ©2006, 7 x 7 x 3 inches. Cover: copper. Pages: Arches watercolor paper, collage, acrylics.

I received a rejection letter earlier this week from the California State Fair Fine Art Competition. I submitted Dream Focusing Device and Tooth Icon. I have won prizes there before, and for some reason felt confident that I would get something in. But jurying is so subjective and there are many unknowns. I do wish they would give you more of an idea when they send the rejection letter. "We juried millions of really good art works, and just couldn't accept them all" is not much of an explanation. It does make me look again to see if I should have sent something different, if the images were bad, if I didn't fill out the form correctly (that has happened before - don't rush through those forms). Maybe the juror thought "teeth!? - eww, that's gross." And it did make me want to get into the studio and make something so much better than I have ever made before.

Then yesterday my copy of Lark's 500 Handmade Books arrived. I knew they had decided to use a detail shot of 7 Extinction Events. But I was thrilled to see that Steve Miller, the juror, also mentioned it in his introductory essay. "When it comes to the whimsical and playful, Judith Hoffman's "7 Extinction Events" brings the house down. A book that pops out of a dinosaur is simply too exciting not to be included in this collection. . . " (p.7) I am so delighted.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wire Edge Binding Test

Wire edge binding test.
Aine Scannell asked about using single sheets for wire edge binding. Here's a test I did to see how lighter paper would work. I think the paper was Super Fine Text from Daniel Smith. There are larger photos and scans of my notes to myself in my flickr set, Tests, Tools, Tips.

You can see in this detail that I wasn't consistent about tying the knots.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Levert/Casanova, 6.5 x 5 x 2 inches (closed), copper, brass, record found on the street, mechanical parts, broken mirror, acrylic paint, Prismacolor pencils, book covers, fabricated, wire edge binding. It may look like I'm being incredibly productive, but actually I'm finishing things that were abandoned in mid-stride. I'm also trying to think of going to the studio as work, so I don't make other appointments in that block of time. There is a web page with more views here. And for larger photos, check out my flickr artist's books set.

The cover is an old record I found on the street. It is badly scuffed and very appealing. The pages are old book covers. I started by attaching the objects to the cover, alternating between painting and attaching stuff with nuts and bolts and epoxy. I was mostly thinking about sound, music, and the feelings music can convey. The rest of the choices were made intuitively. I believe the mechanical thing on the cover came from the inside of an old walkman. I had drilled holes in the pages so I could bind the book with a spiral. When it was close to finished, I tried it with the spiral binding. The spiral had to be really big in diameter to accommodate the thickness of all the pages, and I hated it. So I set the project aside. Then I discovered Daniel Kelm's wire edged bindings. His are beautifully done and technically masterful.

It occurred to me that I could use a low-tech version of the wire edge binding for this book. I cut two notches in the edge of each page. (1) In the detail above they are hidden under the notched copper. I cut tooling copper into 1 inch strips, folded them in half the long way and oxidized them in liver of sulfur. The tooling copper has notches to match the ones in the record/cover. I cut brass wires (2) just shorter than the length of the strips of copper. To attach the strips of copper to the pages I laid the wire in the fold of the copper and riveted the strips onto the edge of the page matching up the notches. I couldn't get the rivets to form nice little round heads because the tooling copper is so thin and soft and the materials underneath are also soft, so I just hammered the posts over. (3) I'm using ear posts for these rivets, but you could also use wire, bending it on one end before inserting it into the hole, then cutting the other end off and tapping it down. Just make sure the wire is a snug fit in the hole. In the detail above you see the ear post head on the right. The jump rings (4) that hold the book together are copper wire. Several of the wires wanted to slide out of the tooling copper strip, so I hammered the ends of the strips a bit. (5)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Instruction Manual for the Moon III

Instruction Manual for the Moon III, 2.75 x 4 x 2 inches (open), Brass, copper, copper, clock parts, rulers, found objects, fabricated. This little book is the third of a series of three, probably the last I will make. It may be my favorite of the three. There is a web page here with more views.

Instruction Manual for the Moon III, pages 3 and 4. The gear at the upper left actually turns. Here are links to Instruction Manual for the Moon and Instruction Manual for the Moon II.

What's with my name and url on the bottom of the image? I get people hot-linking to my images without asking. You would think some of them, like online newspapers, would know better. And when they use an image of a book by one of my students, it feels particularly bad, because I feel responsible for where they go. In almost all cases there is no link to my website and no credit for the artist. I can only track down a few. So I decided I want at least my url as a part of each image. This seemed like the least intrusive way to do that.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sources of Inspiration 5/5: Death

7 Extinction Events ©2006, 7 x 7 x 3 inches.
This book is about the extinction of the dinosaurs, but also about my own personal extinction. It's the one that matters the most to me.

7 Extinction Events
I have always thought a lot about death. As I get older, it gets more real to me, and makes a bigger appearance in my art. I wonder where we came from before we were born, and where we go when we die. I sometimes envision a starry landscape. I see a vast world, with small houses, or temples, here and there on the hills. The stars wheel slowly overhead. From a distance this world would appear to be one tiny point of light. It is small enough to hold us all as the atoms of one being, yet large enough to hold our spirits, with great spaces between us.

Man Moon-Go ©1989, 4-3/4 x 3 x 3/4 inches. While reading "On Dreams & Death" by Marie-Louise von Franz, I found this quote: "Many people made a doll to serve as a substitute for the corpse. The Chinese made one from a loincloth and called them Moon-Go." A few pages later she quotes Origen: "the spiritual body (which it is believed we reincarnate into) will be of a divine nature - the whole of us will see (will be eyes) the whole hear, the whole will serve as hands, the whole as feet."

Fish Messages, © 1992. 2-1/4 x 5-1/2 x 1 inch.
Fish for me symbolize both birth and death. Sometimes I imagine a giant fish that gives birth to the universe from her mouth. Everything flows from her, and then everything returns to her.

The fish who swims in the sky, ©1993. 3.5 x 6 x 1.5 inches.
I also see fish as creatures who can go places we can't go. They could bring back secret messages or information that would help us, including information about the before-life and the after-life.

The fish who swims in the sky
Inside are guts. The last page is a silver outline of the body. I thought of it as the spirit of the fish.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Sources of Inspiration 4/5: The wish to create tools to aid me in life

Dream Focusing Device, ©2007, 8 x 5.5 x 6 inches

I would love to have tools to solve the problems in life that are so vexing. How can I remember more dreams? How does the moon work anyway? Wouldn't it be nice if there was an instruction manual for all of life? Why are we here? You can look it up in the index.

Instruction Manual for the Moon II, ©2005, 2.75 x 3 x 2.5 inches.

Instruction Manual for the Moon II

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sources of Inspiration 3/5: Found Phrases

This is part of a series on my sources of inspirations. There is an index here. These posts are greatly expanded from my 8 minute talk for the Conceptually Bound show.

Sometimes the text taken from books and titles of articles will spark the idea for a book. I find it pays to keep a collection of these phrases, both as inspiration and possible book titles.

Comet Found, ©1987, 2-3/8 x 3-1/2 x 1-7/8 inches
The title, and the text inside this book came from an article in the science section of the San Jose Mercury News titled "Comet Found to Have Heart of Darkness." I envisioned space as a river of stars, flowing from the mouth of a fish, the source of all life.

Comet Found
This was a very early book. I lightly scratched the text in the border and stars on the formica pages.

Astronomers Say, © 1998, 7 x 4 x 1/2 inches (closed).
This book came from an article in the paper titled "Astronomers Say They Saw Space Mirage."

Astronomers Say
I am fascinated by star charts. All the star names were made up by cutting up text from the article and putting words back together. The ones that sounded appropriate became the star names.

The Distance of the Moon, ©1990, 2 x 3-3/4 x 1-3/4 inches.
This book illustrates a story in my all-time favorite book, Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino.

The Distance of the Moon
I used phrases from the book on each pair of pages. This one says "She was the color of the moon." I have read this book 6 or 7 times. The imagery is very spacey, cosmic, and poetic.

My favorite unused quote is from Farok, a character in "Dune Messiah" by Frank Herbert. I'm hugely paraphrasing here: Farok sees the ocean for the first time. He says he went into that water one man, and emerged another one. Then he says "the universe is unfinished, you know." Somehow this quote has been in my head for years, but hasn't become part of anything.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sources of Inspiration 2/5: Childhood Memories

This is part of a series on my sources of inspirations. There is an index here. These posts are greatly expanded from my 8 minute talk for the Conceptually Bound show.

zero to twelve, ©2007 4 x 2.5 x 3.5 inches (closed).
There are so many things I remember fondly from my childhood. Many of them seem to have informed my art-making urges. I have always treasured things I find, on the street or in creek beds. The penny and old bottle cap above have such nice patinas. You can see a cicada through the window above. There were cicada in Ohio, where I was born, and where my grandparents lived. I remember hearing their buzzing sound, and seeing their exoskeletons attached to trees. They seemed very mysterious to me. At times these early memories rise up in my mind with a force that surprises me. The numbers on the plastic protractor and the dial (below) refer to charts, maps, time and distance.

zero to twelve
Of course I was fascinated by dinosaurs. And we frequently played pretend games like cowboys and Indians, or Daniel Boone, depending on what movie we had seen on t.v. To start a project like this, I get out all the things that seem related and spread them out. They can dictate the size of the book, and whether the general tone is funky or jewelry-neat. I usually start with one or two interior pages and work out from there. I like to react to things as I go along when I'm making a book with lots of found objects. This makes a nice change from the meticulous metalwork, which is mostly planned out in advance. It's also a chance to indulge in some nostalgia. I still miss the landscape of the midwest, the rolling hills, deciduous forests and the fireflies and crickets.

Myself as my grandfather, made of crickets, grass and rain about 5 inches high, ©1987
Although we moved a lot, I have always felt Ohio was home. We visited my grandparents there as often as possible. I often think about the line of people who precede me. Not only as genetic ancestors, but as people who have contributed to my view of life, even if it's just to react against them.

Myself as my grandfather, made of crickets, grass and rain
I am fascinated by the old layered medical diagrams. The second layer here is a large gear, which I used to represent the spirit. I'm thinking of myself as a cog in a much greater mechanism. I am connected to my ancestors by gears and we are also connected to many other people. The whole world is a large mechanism that has many interrelating parts.