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 have 're-used' pages from Resurgence Magazine as a base on which various drawings have been superimposed. Allowing some of the text to remain on show felt an important part of the process providing a stimulus for the image. At times this approach proved more tricky than I had anticipated having to work with balancing the text and the compositional elements of the drawing.
Now Beyond the Page has finished thoughts quickly turn to the next event. I am looking forward to joining the Society of Bookbinders Book Arts day in Kentish Town, London on 6th April. This promises to be an interesting day - an opportunity to meet some old friends and to meet new faces. As well as a variety of book artists showing work, Sonia Serrao's own artist book collection will be on show, plus various demonstrations, and a talk by guest speaker David Jury. All this in one place, on one day - sounds like the place to be!
Stories of a great flood are universal and can be found throughout history. This piece of work was initially inspired by a drawing of the ark made years ago when my son was young. It has always been among my favourite drawings with it's unselfconscious, confident simple outlines. It set me on a path wondering about what a 'modern' ark might incorporate. My initial thoughts moved to the Seed Banks at Kew, and Svarlbard, which have been set up to preserve the worlds seed diversity in the event of a disaster.
I then came across an article reporting that due to unusually high winter temperatures the ice had melted causing a flood in the Svarlbard Seed Bank. A stark reminder of the erratic weather patterns which are constantly making headlines. As the new millennium unfolds we are facing real uncertainties of sea level rise and retreating coast lines.
So what is an ark?
"Ark: a place offering protection and safety".
Using this definition as a starting point, I have sought to bring together elements of our shared human histories, by using images and text to weave 'conversations' across the past, present and future. The potential and scope for creating an artist book representing the ark, while inspiring, is enormous. I therefore needed to give myself some boundaries and create a focus. Returning to the widely known story re the ark, I chose to reference the biblical story of rains falling for forty days and forty nights. This provides a structure of a total of eighty pages which are then contained within a substantial box.
Using contemporary voices from from Resurgence Magazine as the base from which other voices are drawn, forms another structure for the work. Drawings tracing our history from the first rock drawings, combine with other significant objects to create a narrative where each page references the collective wisdom preserved in numerous cultures through the ages. This wisdom continues to speak to us today. Also included are a few more childhood drawings made at the turn of the millennium which symbolise the voice of the future.
These eighty pages are held between Lunaria annua (otherwise known as honesty seeds). Their inclusion at the beginning and end of the book serve as a reminder of our need for honesty and the 'hard truths' facing us in dealing with these challenges. They are equally a symbol of hope and renewal.
The work will be on show at Turn the Page, Artist Book Fair, Norwich in May.
Artbookart artists - including myself, Lola Swain, Karen Apps, Gwen Simpson, Sally Chinea, Jane Woollatt and guest artist Louise Swain have had enormous pleasure in bringing together a group show - Beyond the Page. The centre point around which the show revolves includes various book works and artist books inspired by the wonderful book Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson.
From one starting point, a variety of work has been produced - all unique and different as each of us found a sentence or a character to respond too. The show runs from 15th -21st March at Emma Bell's Gallery 70, Leigh on Sea.
Here's a glimpse...
(More info about my own work can be found here and about Artbookart artists here)
Work by Chris Ruston
“All of us bound together, tidal, moondrawn, past present and future, in the break of a wave”.
I have thoroughly enjoyed spending time with this beautifully written book by Jeanette Winterson Having reread the book several times, something new is revealed with each revisit. Each time there have been new discoveries, new understandings and new thoughts. It is a story full of mystery and enchantment. Attempts to define the story do not do it justice. It evades direct interpretation. It’s attraction is this elusive, part glimpsed, weaving of individual stories. It allows plenty of space for the readers own imagination to interact with the text. My challenge has been to find a way to respond visually to this language. I wanted to create an artist book which captures something of the ‘atmosphere’ of the story but did not want it to become too literal.
A number of sentences particularly resonated with my own experiences and thoughts, so I decided to use these as ‘jumping off’ points. After several false starts, I finally settled on a series of four books using two different structures. I generally make more than one as I find this prevents me from becoming tight or too precious.
Each is book is a unique work - while some similarities exist between them, the drawn marks and text vary in each. The chosen structures, like the story, are not linear. Jeanette Winterson likes to challenge traditional methods of writing, describing her stories forming a spiral, where the characters link backwards and forwards across different times and spaces.
"Salts My home town. A sea flung, rock bitten, sand edged, shell of a town. Oh and a lighthouse."
With this structure, the book unwraps to reveal a number of sewn signatures. The cover extends beyond the internal pages, which further reveals two seahorses enclosing the centre pages of the book. The viewer is given a range of options in how to proceed. They can open the double page spread starting with the centre pages, or turn to the front as in traditionally bound books. The arrangement of pages is such that the content can be 'read' in a variety of ways.
Times Lost Hero
" Nothing can be forgotten. Nothing can be lost. The Universe itself is one vast memory system. Look back and you will find the beginnings of the world."
As the book opens a small seahorse rises from the centre of the book. In Lighthousekeeping, Babel Dark finds one of these fragile fossilised creatures while exploring a dark crevice in the rocks. Regarded as a talisman, he keeps it in his pocket referring to it as 'times lost hero' Using a double map fold structure, the seahorse emerges into the light from rock-like pages. It's delicacy in contrast to the weight and permanence of stone.
The book cover utilises an envelope fold, creating pockets for two further books - one dark, the other light. They capture the sense of dark and light elements running through Jeanette Wintersons story. Watery marks form the 'language' in these pamphlets. One is static, dark like the interior of a cave, the other full of movement and light. Letters disperse and float throughout these pages suggestive of the stories being carried around the world by the flashes from the lighthouse.
Detail - a page from artist book responding to the novel Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson. At the start of the book, the orphaned child Silver, leaves Salts to live with Pew in the lighthouse. They travel in what is described as a mackerel boat.
"Times lost hero" rises from the centre of the book. A pop up book structure which consists of a double map fold.
I am fortunate to walk along the seafront each day and continue to be fascinated and inspired by the shifting light and textures revealed at low tide.
High tide and a gentle breeze creates subtle marks across the surface of the water. Blue tones
fade to grey on the horizon, but on other days when the wind blows, it becomes a muddy brown as estuary floor is stirred up.