the creative continuum; copying, learning, traditions, style

The very first book I made at about age 5 is the trusty ‘staple binding’. Bookbinders pretty much hate staples (and TAPE!), but it’s a great way to make a book with kids, and no sharp tools. IMG_9980

The next 2 books: one punched-and-sewn, one fabric-covered hardcover! I only remember making the panda one.

For whatever reason, my mom (Zoe) sent me to a really hippie alternative school in Seattle for Kindergarten through 4th grade (She really wasn’t a hippie, but is still a free-thinker). Orca Elementary is still a well-known school; I was there for its first years, in the 1970’s. I probably would have stayed in alternative schools in the city, but Zoe married and we moved to suburban Edmonds, where I entered the mainstream public school system at age 10. I remember feeling pretty traumatized, because my teachers and friends at Orca constantly supported my creative energy, artistic skills and odd fashion choices, and I wasn’t feeling that love anymore. Also, the kids from then on were largely competitive and mean. I attribute a VERY large part of who I am now to the Orca School and the encouragement I got there to be weird. Also, maybe later on I found a lot of good LSD.

Anyhow, I have these 3 books I made as a child at Orca, which foretell so much; not only my first books, but my first sequential art, including speech bubbles! Some of the details kind of blow my mind.

I have been meditating on issues of COPYING and how we learn, on craft traditions, and STYLE, and such ideas as these.

A friend of mine recently talked with one of my first bookbinding teachers. She told him that I “learned everything I knew” from her, and that I am (still) “copying” her. I admitted to him that yes, at first my binding style was very close to what I learned from her, but I have since branched off in a hundred different directions. He replied with the idea that she had also “copied” all of her previous teachers. It’s how we learn. Indeed, in her marketing she emphasizes the “16th Century binding” style of her books and she probably wasn’t alive to learn it straight from the monks, right? She didn’t invent it, right?

If not for ‘copying’, these skills wouldn’t be passed on through the generations. I have worked very hard to gather new skills and tools and create my own, evolving style. I take tons of art classes, more than I can afford to, and I have studied with some of the best teachers in the country in the 15 years since I last saw this woman. Her claim is ridiculous, but I’m still working on getting over it.

Maybe, partly, because I accused someone of copying ME last year. I am so ashamed of myself. To be fair, she came to me after taking one class from me and TOLD me she was going to. She also bought a book from me to take apart and figure out. I had a chance to open a dialogue about it, but I was too surprised to say much; I’m slow like that. I attacked her in a bitchy, passive aggressive way later on. Again, I’m so ashamed of myself. Definitely one of those painful “learning experiences.” However, it forced me to decide not to ‘be like that.’

I don’t want to think of art and craft, or skills, as finite possessions, or begrudge someone the pleasure of making something, starting something new. There is ‘enough’ for us all. I had been on the fence about teaching, but I pretty quickly decided to keep on doing classes after this happened. I will teach a hundred people to make books, a thousand people, in a 16th Century style, or any other. People aren’t exactly knocking my door down to learn these skills. If I could find someone to help me and learn from me the way I did with her, I would be over the moon! And I am constantly seeking new teachers, myself. Bookbinding and book arts may be trendy in some places, but I still think we are an endangered species, overall.

Much has been written on this topic, but for me, that’s all for now, just a few more photos of badly made and stored books from the early 1970’s….meditations on style.

 

I love that on the back cover, I have green plant-like things coming out of my hands. Huge mittens? Maybe. Could you guess that I would get totally into farming and permaculture in my 20’s?

The “angulge” is my favorite. She’s going to be next year’s Winter Holiday card. Oh, and those aren’t toilet seats, they’re wreaths.

“Howie the Talking Apple” is a classic, pointless story. It is a sewn hardcover book, though, with pastedowns, terrible glue, bad paper, melted crayon crumbs, and scribbles from my little sis’.

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This is absolutely my favorite page. I’ve never lived through a fire; I have no idea where this came from.

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This page is pretty awesome, too. Weird, brunette crying crowd.

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Howie gets eaten and thrown in the garbage. It’s really a pathetic story. Also, I’m super obsessed with composting, I would never throw food in the garbage. But, I STILL do that ‘leg leaving’ thing in my comics, all the time! I love seeing that.

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My early handmade books and drawings give me a lot to think about. Thank you, Zoe! For sending me to such an awesome school.

Also: Looking for a bookbinding Intern! Skagit Valley/La Conner area. Seriously.

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