Thursday, April 30, 2009

Photocopy Love

The winner of April's giveaway didn't have a lot of competition when it came to pulling names out of the hat. Perhaps it was an unappealingly geeky skill question (should I change my giveaway entry terms to accepting any comment, like most bloggers do? Comment on this post to have your say). The question was about your favourite invention of the past thousand years. E nominated the soap-filled dishbrush, which I thought was brilliant, but the randomly selected winner is....

Sandy who won the 'Leonardo Da Vinci mirror writing kit'. In her winning comment Sandy said, "I was just doing some photocopying, and thinking what a wonder of engineering the machine was. All those little parts that keep working AND it collates, staples, and hole-punches. It's a mystery and a miracle."

Congratulations Sandy, I hope you and your daughter enjoy the mirror writing!

I wanted to link this post to the Shrine of the Photocopier, but when I went to look for it, the page no longer exists. However, the Sticky Institute in Melbourne (whose site once included the now lost Shrine) promises a Festival of the Photocopier in 2010. The Sticky Institute is home to their newly leased docucenter III C3100 copier, a typewriter pool, badge machines, staplers, and zine love. Their Facebook posts about all the wonders of their new photocopier makes them one of my favourite FB friends at the moment.

I appreciate photocopiers too, especially now that I don't have access to a letterpress printing press (or indeed even a digital printer for my laptop). Many of my book-related ideas these days are photocopier-friendly, since that's the most available technology. However, a good photocopier has been remarkably hard to find in Hamilton. The free or cheap copying I've had access to has all been of such appalling quality that I despaired of ever finishing Happy Bus, my almost-ready-to-print zine. But a few days ago I discovered that as a teacher at WSA I can access a perfectly lovely copier at discounted rates for my personal use! Hooray!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spirit of Anzac

I had perfect weather for installing the chalk poetry at the Museum the day before Anzac Day.

I started under low cloud which burned away by the time I had finished the seven poems, to a clear warm/crisp afternoon.

There were lots of people around to see what I was doing, read what I had written and offer comments and suggestions.

The Museum staff liked what I was doing so much they asked me to write some poetry inside on a brick wall so it was my first indoor chalk installation. Unfortunately none of those photos turned out so well.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Anzac Chalk Poetry Friday 24 April

I'm looking forward to doing some chalk poetry in Hamilton tomorrow. It looks like Anzac Day will be rainy and so I will be writing Anzac poetry outside the Waikato Museum on 24th instead of the 25th of April.

This is a smaller scale chalk poetry installation and I am trusting that this time I won't be left barely able to walk for days afterwards, unlike my February marathon. I'm not writing my own poetry this time, as I don't have much war themed poetry to call upon. Instead I have been reading lots of other poets, old favourites and new discoveries, to choose a suitable selection. It's been fun taking an editorial/curatorial role. I look forward to sharing my choices with visitors and passersby.

If you are in Hamilton on Friday and want to come and see my chalk before the rain washes it away, I expect to be finished by noon. If you can't make it, I'll post photos this weekend.

Here's the poems I'm writing excerpts from, or
in full.

John McCrae (In Flanders Field)

Siegfried Sassoon (The General)

Siegfried Sassoon (Prelude: The Troops)

J.S. Manifold (The Tomb of Lieutenant John Learmonth, A.I.F.)

R.W. Hamon (Anzac Poem)

Frances Cornford (Unshaken world)

Virgil (Aeneid X)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Kayaking Raglan estuaries

I went kayaking with Sarah the other day. She borrowed an double inflatable sit-on-top, which was an adventure just to inflate and deflate. It worked perfectly well, but to be on the safe side we stuck the calm waters of various estuaries and inlets on the south side of Raglan Harbour.

Exploring by kayak is so peaceful and yet stimulating, as you get to see the world from a different direction than travelling by road. I like peeking into people's backyards. And these folks living right next to the estuary must have one of the nicest spots on earth.

One of the unexpected treats of going to Raglan was finding my old friend Brian McMillan running HQ cafe where we enjoyed excellent hot chocolate and coffee. Luckily HQ still leaves time for Brian's band Cornerstone Roots, whose music I love.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Learning to make books

Foredge bound book using monoprints (by Martha Simms) on heavy paper

When I was first learning to make books I learned each new kind of technique in the process of making a book I cared about: one that I wanted to show or give or sell. Relatively few of the books I've made have been blank because in general I am most interested in how to construct a book to enhance or complement the content (usually one of my poems).

Labyrinth book with separate board covers covered with painted paper (painting and book made by Adrienne Grant)

I mostly followed the directions in books like Alisa Golden's excellent Making Handmade Books. I picked up a few techniques off the internet, and a few from attending short workshops. The things that I value most from workshops have been almost incidental to the teacher's curriculum. The point of the workshops were to make a particular book, with a structure that I've never, or rarely, used again. But from my teachers I also learned how to find paper grain, measure accurately, fold crisply and cut cleanly. I learned when to use glue or paste, how to apply them properly and how to sew through paper. These basic book-craft skills have been the most valuable to me as they are the building blocks of my artistic practice continuously applied to many and diverse projects.

Pamphlet stitch with wrapped covers (from letterpress paper)

Now that I am preparing to teach a couple of bookmaking courses I am thinking a lot about how I learned what I do. I want to equip my students with confidence in all these basic skills, experience with making a variety of types of book structures (including the books shown here), and an understanding of how to combine different techniques to design and create their own unique and expressive handmade books. Everything I'm planning to teach can be applied to their projects at home with inexpensive and accessible tools and materials.

Flag structure made with old calendar pages and painted paper

I'm teaching two five week courses.* The Tuesday evening class will learn and practice these skills by making lots of little books, with relatively simple but increasingly challenging structures. The Thursday morning class will learn the same basic techniques but will work towards applying them in one larger and more substantial coptic bound book.

Coptic binding with separate board covers

The first book my students will make is one I have written especially for them called Basic Book Craft Skills. Students will get the printed sheets to make up as part of their first class. It's only 16 little A6 pages, more of a zine than a book really, but it summarises some of the most basic skills needed to make any kind of book.

If you can't enroll in my classes but would like a copy of Basic Book Craft Skills (pamphlet stitched by me) for yourself, you can buy one on Etsy $2 (+shipping).

*Both classes will be held at the WSA Art School, upstairs at Arts Post on Victoria Street, Hamilton. The cost is $75 (or $60 for WSA members). Contact WSA for more details or to enroll.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sketchcrawl the Tron

The first I heard of Sketchcrawl was on Quirky Artist's blog early last year. Then on nearly my last day in Melbourne this January I started chatting to Janice-Marie Hook on the tram because I was admiring the handmade labyrinth book she was sketching in. She was on her way home from the Melbourne Sketchcrawl that very day! I had missed out, but was inspired to organise (together with my housemate Adrienne Grant) a group in Hamilton to participate in the next worldwide Sketchcrawl, which was yesterday.

I was also inspired by Janice-Marie to make a labyrinth book like hers to use on my sketchcrawl. It's one of the structures I'll be teaching in my 'introduction to making handmade books' course next semester. It was just the right size to fill with an afternoon of sketching.

We met up outside the Public Library in Garden Place. Cafe table umbrellas are good to warm up the sketching with.

Then we sketched the Farmers Market happening outside the Council buildings. There were buskers playing lively folky recorder and lots of people bustling about. Sitting there in the sun with our group of sketchers I felt part of a moment of quite cosmopolitan culture in Hamilton.

Next stop was Casa Bella Lane, where we got sushi and sketched by the fountain.

Anna, Bethwyn, Robyn, Wendy(?), Adrienne


Some of our sketchers were losing their drawing puff at that point, and when Bethwyn said she wanted to go to Remains to be Scene and spend her birthday voucher we crawled round the corner to the best vintage clothes shop in New Zealand. None of us escaped without buying something fabulous. The Fuzzy Felt Ballet set may have been an impulse I will regret, but I am writing this very happily wearing my new grey cashmere sweater and white linen pants.

I resisted the temptation to shop for as long as I could by first drawing this lovely 1960's coat on a headless manniquin.

Last stop was sitting outside the Belgian, back at Garden Place, with beer and battered chips. Finally some boys joined our all-girl group of sketchers. We kept drawing until the light was almost gone. Someone pointed out that I was wearing the right shoes for the event.

It's a funny thing, because I've never really done my drawing in the company of others doing the same thing. Just seeing what other people do, and being part of conversations about drawing, was a great confidence builder. I don't think any of us on Sketch Crawl the Tron yesterday feel we have a natural talent for drawing. We all started out self-conscious and embarrassed about the marks we were making.

I think not having any really 'good' sketchers among us (ie someone who can consistently dash off something easily recognisable) freed us all up. We gradually stopped being so shy, and shared and laughed about our efforts more and more. As the day wore on I played around with different approaches and techniques. I got to see that my persistance with pattern, Anna's loose playfulness, Adrienne's dogged pursuit of form, are each in our own way, as valid as a natural talent for drawing.

As soon as we can organise a scanner, more sketches from Sketch Crawl the Tron will be posted to They will also be on exhibit in the Window Gallery on Ward St for a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Stations of the Cross

This week Hamilton Garden's are transformed from lovely and special public park by day into a contemporary art gallery by night for the Stations of the Cross, Easter Art Installations. A host of volunteers (90+) set up and pack up about 20 installations - some of them very large- every night for a week. The logistics are boggling. The presentation is museum quality: from the beautiful programme to the mini-host kit (test tube of wine and a wafer in a paper bag) to the little lamps lighting the footpaths to the free coffee and hot chocolate at the end.

The Stations of the Cross is a popular event in Hamilton, with crowds lining up to enter and then milling about in the early stations. As many of the pieces included sound (my favourite was Cooked, the Cook Islands Association drummers) so there was a lot of competing noises from different directions, especially at the beginning. The crowds and the noise made my dominant feelings at the first four or five stations harrassment and irritation.

The art itself was a mixed bag: some of it very powerful, complex and moving and some of it only superficially witty. Most of the strongest pieces were site specific, using the Gardens' features to great effect. For Mara Berzins' Power to the People we had to shoulder our way through a angry flashmob filling the narrow walkway to the Italian Garden; their t-shirts, and b/w photo faces screamed to save Barabbas when Jesus was condemned to death made for an intense experience at station five.

But it didn't feel spiritual, or even meaningful for me until I got to the eighth station, Down along the Road by Stu Barris in the little ampitheatre. Subtle film of clouds passing over the moon were projected on the Italian plastered walls below the real moon in a cloudy sky. A recording of slow bluesy guitar and plenty of room to sit allowed me to space for contemplation that the Zen garden had tried and failed to offer back at the second station (Jesus prays in the garden).

The 'wow' work was Liz Downing's Bonefide Death, a huge (3m? tall) tree/crucifix constructed out of bleached (bovine) bones. The scale and workmanship were stunning, the details of skull-like pelvises, and a couple of tiny sprigs of foliage gave me goosebumps. Installed in the centre of the sundial, one of the roaming poets arrived while I was there and read a verse that made me aware of the nail-like symbolism of the sundial's rod.

The station that resonated most for me was The Common Thread by Jackie Francis. Despite being located in the early chaotic crowd of the first station, it was simple yet sumptious, with luscious red drops reflected in the Cloud Pool. It's not just Jackie's beautiful work that makes the Last Supper station so significant for me, but that Jesus' Last Supper is generally assumed to be a Passover seder and I will be attending two Passover seders this week.

The Stations of the Cross experiential storytelling is similar to what happens at the seder, where the symbolic foods and ritual activities retell the watershed event of the Jewish Torah, Exodus. I have long nursed an ember of an idea that someday I would like to make an artist's book based on the Haggadah (the book that guides the Passover seder). Going around the contemporary art installations of the Stations of the Cross rekindled that thought, refreshing and inspiring me to consider again its possibilities.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Cold Sailing

Kidnapped from my busy life

I find myself prisoner on a run-down ship

adrift in a cold sea of crumpled tissues

rocked by squalls of wet sneezes

wracked by shuddering coughs.

The skin around my nose has worn thin

and crackles with a glaze of dried salt.

I cower in my berth,

baffled by a turgid industrial dispute

which has put all services on go slow.

Every time try to I speak up,

demanding some normality,

my voice sounds strange in a new way.

Peering through the bleary porthole

I scan the horizon for some sign

of healthy life, preparing for escape

by emptying a raft of little bottles

down my swollen throat.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Mirror Writer (April giveaway!)

One of da Vinci's 'machines' was an octogonal closet lined with mirrors. Here I am in the centre of it.

Last night I got to dress up and play the part of a Rennaissance scribe. In conjunction with the fabulous exhibition of da Vinci's Machines at Waikato Museum there was a Rennaissance Fair. There were lots of people in costume, including three choirs, a juggler, living statues, a portrait painter and someone playing Leonardo himself. My contribution was guiding people to have a go at 'mirror writing' as Leonardo da Vinci did in his journals.

No one is completely sure why he used mirror writing. On one (right) hand he was also writing in code so it was another layer of making his personal writing cryptic. On the other (left) hand, he was in fact a leftie, and the practicality of not smearing wet ink from his quill pen was probably a consideration. Both reasons were probably behind his initial decision, but as many people found out last night, with only a little practice, mirror writing is easy as forward writing, so once Leonardo had started keeping his journals like that he might have just kept going out of habit.

Mirror writing rulz

Not surprisingly, my activity was most popular with children who were delighted by the quick gratification of mastering a skill that appears so difficult but turns out to be so easy. One boy spent the better part of an hour steadily working his way through the six quotes I'd provided, then writing some proverbs from memory and finally a gleeful letter to his dad flaunting his skills. By this point his dad had been persuaded to have a go and was finding it much more difficult than his son.

My mother finds how easy it is to get the hang of mirror writing.

Some of the adults were a little shy to try out something they thought would be very difficult, but the lure of writing with a big feather pen was irresistable for almost everyone who walked past. I had people start by writing their names in mirror writing, and as soon as they could do that copying a Da Vinci quote was a cinch. The secret is to slow down enough to think about how each letter is constructed. Once your mind has grasped the concept only a few letters (g, k, j) require such concentration, and the more you practice the easier it gets. And its fun!

Pen, paper, mounted quote

The Bibliophilia April give away is a "Leonardo Da Vinci mirror writing kit". You will get a stack of tea-painted paper, a feather pen and four quotes written in both forwards and mirror writing mounted on hinged boards. The pens and mounted quotes proved so desirable that several had disappeared by the end of the evening. (Parent and grandparent readers: this would make a perfect gift for a literate child).

To be in the draw for the prize please use the comments function on this blog and tell me your favourite invention of the past thousand years. Printing press? Bicycle? Internet? Surfboard? Entries close on 10 April, randomly selected winner announced some time that weekend.

"The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding." Leonardo Da Vinci