Guest Columnist Sas Colby

"I follow my obsessions closely: drawing, stitching, painting, collecting, arranging, listening and reading. The process involves placing elements in relation to one another, responding to the sound of a word or the force of a color or the feel of a material. Sometimes my movements are large and sweeping as in a drawing that occurs on the wall. Other times they are tiny and controlled, as when I am altering a found book and entering another's visual plane."

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For the Love of Books

A monthly column that has absolutely nothing to do with the business of publishing, and everything to do with why we're involved in it. This month: Advice for the Budding Bookmaker: You Make the Book of Life -- Guest columnist and book artist Sas Colby sh
"Books of Uncommon Prayer" - Altered books. Each 4.5" x 3"
(c)1996 Sas Colby

Do you have stacks of old magazines, souvenir maps, theater programs and family photos piled in the corner for some unformed project? Do you savor the inherent narrative suggested by an old shopping list? Do the lyrics, "Don't start collecting things" go against the hunter-gatherer in you? If so, you may be a budding bookmaker. Perhaps you've collected some family stories and pictures and you'd like to make a special present for your relatives. In 1915 we would have glued our souvenirs and greeting cards into a scrap book, but in 2001 the cool and creative become artist bookmakers. You can make an updated version of the scrapbook, a one-of-a-kind personally made artist book.

Artist's books are now becoming mainstream. Books such as GRIFFIN AND SABINE et al, which are directly related to artist's book activity have proliferated in the commercial publishing world. I'm fascinated by the spate of visual journals which have appeared in the past five years. Frida Khalo's comes to mind, and there are others by lesser known individuals, such as SPILLING OPEN, THE ART OF BECOMING YOURSELF, by Sabrina Ward Harrison, (Random House - Villard Books, NY). These books indulge the voyeur in us. We are allowed into the author's private journal to see both written and painted musings on her life. I'm currently enjoying I SEND YOU THIS CADMIUM RED...A Correspondence between John Berger and John Christie, (ACTAR). The privacy of a correspondence about art and inspiration is made available to readers in this sophisticated visual presentation. When postmarks, postage stamps, and handwritten addresses with notations are reproduced, I experience the vicarious thrill of receiving mail from distant places. A book whose form duplicates a diary, such as DIARY OF AN AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER by Graham Rawle (Penguin 1998), provides a similar thrill and is directly related to artist's books. It conveys the immediacy of the hand made in its pages which appear to be collaged text and found images held together by adhesive tape and paperclips. The attention to trompe l'oeil detail in this effort includes glossy surfaces wherever the adhesive tape appears.

Artists' books are wonderfully inventive and can be made out of anything from a tin can to a feather boa. You'll need a theme for the book and your own quirky imagination. No special skills are necessary. Spontaneous books can be like instant replays of the day. Once I made a little book to chronicle a Thanksgiving dinner, complete with food stains and quotations from dinner table conversations. Another tiny volume featured a silver teapot purchased on a trip. Each page was a drawing of the teapot in different locations: the teapot visits the rose garden; the teapot makes some new friends, the teapot in the photo booth, etc. If you don't draw, record your experiences with a camera and arrange snapshots and commentary into a visual story. Bookmaking can be done when you might otherwise be bored, visiting the in-laws, or watching the game. Some might be knitting, but you'll be doodling, cutting and pasting.

"Mr. and Mrs." - Collage, acrylic and found objects on canvas. 20" x 19"
(c)2000 Sas Colby

A personally made book is a cherished gift because it has your hand in it. Imagine the thrill of receiving a padlocked book with your name on it, titled "For your eyes alone." Hand made books are ideal repositories for our fetishistic obsessions. Like outsider artists, we can lavish hours on them, collaging pages, recording dreams, attaching locks of hair and nail clippings to the pages. They can be small enough to hide, to bury, or to give in secret.

Some people achieve emotional catharsis by writing a letter they never intend to send. Adapt that technique to making a book that's just for yourself or your unrequited love; let the indulgence of complete privacy lead you to discoveries beyond those of the usual journal.

Although today's book arts are a highly developed art form, our modern day scrapbooks need not be elaborate projects. Begin with a visit to the art supply store and purchase a sketchbook with paper and binding to suit your needs. The blank pages await your unique creation with collage, painting, cutting and pasting. The most user-friendly adhesive is a glue stick. There is no obligation to fill every page. Simply tear out the extras, or leave them, like empty spaces on a calendar, at the back of the book. You could keep a visual journal by doing a page each day, letting your book progress with the seasons.

An alternative to the purchased sketchbooks is the metaphorical approach. The "Pat the Bunny" method involves selecting materials that express the subject matter of your book. If it's about a trip to Yosemite, make the pages of moss or leaves. When you're planning your book, consider the emotional quality you want to convey. Should the pages be made of sand paper ("Going Against the Grain"), red satin ("Nights on the Town"), or cut up rubber tires ("The Hell's Angels and Me"). In the 1970's artists made books out of bread (the pages grew mold), and grass (which grew when the pages were watered.)

Another tip: think of the book as a three dimensional object, enclosing space and encompassing time. You can cut windows and doors into the pages, so you'll be able to see right through to the next layer. You can build pockets for poems. Souvenirs and found objects attached to a page can tell a story and be read as text. Dolls, cigarettes, matchbooks, broken glass, sea shells, spark plugs, a dead bird and a dried snake, stones, bones and baby shoes are all things I've put in books. Veiled layers create mystery. You can attach handles and tabs to the outer edges of the cover and pages. Consider displaying your masterpiece on a bookstand or a special box painted to match it. Make your book exuberant, brimming over with words and objects a vivid conversation with life - spilling from the pages.


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