It is always a pleasure at Artist Book Fairs to meet and converse with visitors. While at the Society of Bookbinders Book Arts day recently, I had fascinating conversation with a gentleman who had asked about these books. We discussed whether they are 'sketchbooks' . I explained they are made for my own purposes and contain various collections of words, extracts, images, drawings and paintings. They inform the various projects that I may be focussing on. To my mind, they are more than sketchbooks, but neither are they journals, or diaries. In amongst the pages are a collection of other peoples 'voices' and my responses to them.
The physical, often slow process involved in producing these books allows connections to form. It is while being 'active' - either drawing or writing, that I find ideas begin to evolve allowing my thinking about the particular project to become clearer. The artwork in these books tends to be more resolved than just sketches. The books are containers for research and ideas supporting other work. I see them as a place to anchor thoughts in the process of defining what I am trying to express.
During the conversation the gentleman responded by saying "so they are commonplace books?". Being unfamiliar with this term I became curious to find more information.
A commonplace book; a book into which notable extracts poems, etc are copied for future reference, often together with one's own ideas and reflections.
First recorded in 1570 -90, the commonplace book is most closely associated with England of the 18th and 19th centuries. When books were so expensive, passages would often be copied out into personal notebooks as a method of study. Generally these notebooks were kept private. In 1685 English physician John Locke published his influential book A New Method of Making Common Place Books in which he set out his unique method of indexing information. This method was to be used for at least a hundred years.
In an article from 1970 William Cole has this to say "Common place is not the best word for a book whose contents are usually far from commonplace. The quickest definition of the genre is 'an annotated personal anthology". The key word for the commonplace book is annotated. it is not just an anthology: the compiler reacts to the passages he has chosen and tells what the passages have led him to think about."
While Robert Darnton not only sees commonplace books an aid in recollecting complex information gathered over years from multidisciplinary subjects, but as a source of creativity and means to order experience.
'By selecting and arranging snippets from a limitless stock of literature, early modern Englishman gave free play to a semi-conscious process of ordering experience. the elective affinities that bound their selection into patterns reveal an epistemology - a process of knowing- at work below the surface." (Robert Darnton found here).
So in conclusion would these books be better described as Commonplace books? I would suggest the 'annotated" element is to be found in my drawings and paintings - these are my responses to the passages which resonate for me. This wonderful chance encounter has opened a window into an exciting world of people passionate about books in which they too have 'anchored' their responses in searching for understanding of the world around them.
The event last Saturday started with a talk by David Jury. He spoke about some of the various collaborations he has worked on. Having studied and taught design, David enjoys working with text and traditional letterpress using it in a variety of modern layouts. The image above shows an example of his collaboration with Pete Kennedy. Pete was also present and entertained everyone with one of his unique performances of apulhed. Alongside the performance visitors were also treated to a glimpse of his beautifully illustrated books.
The high quality of work on show highlights the diversity being produced within the book arts community- from the beautifully crafted work of Dr Paul Garcia, exquisite hand made paper s by Mandy Brennan, the magic pen drawings from Chrissie Nichols (inkpotandpen), to Caroline Penns intimate small books. When exhibiting it isn't always possible to get around to see all the work on display so there were others I glimpsed but unfortunately didn't get to speak with the artists! Various demonstrations followed in the afternoon by Batool Showghi, Sumi Perera, Tracey Bush and myself before sadly the day came to a close! A huge thank you to the organisers for bringing the event together.
I have been sorting and selecting work to take to the Society of Bookbinders Book Arts day which is on Saturday 6th April. The event includes guest speaker David Jury as well as a variety of book artists displaying their work.
I will be taking a number of works produced over the past several years, as well as showing some sketchbooks. I wonder if this is the right description for them as I often use them to record background information to the particular 'theme' I may be working with. They are more like journals combining drawings, quotes, articles, referances, and all manner of information!
I prefer to use handmade sketchbooks or books bought from fellow book artists. The selection above were made by Lola Swain. I couldn't resist her beautiful hand marbled papers. I have to say it is a joy having such beautiful books to work in. A peak inside the blue one on the left reveals drawings which formed part of the research that led to the 'The Great Gathering"
The red book in the middle is nearly complete. It records information relating to what I consider might form an "an ark for our time". The work was initially inspired from an old drawing of my son's and my interest in the global seed banks ( Svarlbard and Wakehurst). The sketchbook incorporates an ancient flood story, and thoughts about how this continues resonate in the present age (ie rising sea levels and climate change). Having read several articles about declining crop diversity, I decided to use seeds as my focal point.
I am also part of Bookscapes Collective.
Bookscapes is a group of six artists that have developed a group practice specialising in site specific interventions and exhibitions.