And suddenly nothing is the same, and we all wish for a time when it was. I can't say my life has changed enormously, in that I didn't congregate in crowds, we didn't meet up with people a lot, we're both pretty much home bugs, but there's a cloud of fear over the country - the world - already and it's only going to increase. It seems wrong to say anything unfeelingly cheerful. It seems wrong to say anything unnecessarily miserable. Everything seems wrong.
I've made a list of things that Now would be a good time to get done - the mountain range of ironing, the chaotic tangle of the garden, a billion plates ready for when I can get to a press and print again - but knowing I should, I could, isn't the same as having any kind of drive to do them. I did start cutting back the dogwood (which, I can't help noticing, has turned into quite a sturdy tree since the last time I looked at it), and on the arty front I've done a little gentle collage from old prints towards a concertina book (on the theme of lockdown - what else?) but mostly I'm rereading favourite books. A comfortable slippers approach to life. Maybe it's not such a bad idea, for now.
Every time I write in here, I say the same things - my, hasn't it been a long time since I last posted; I'm still driving up and down the country on a far too regular basis; I've missed a few more exhibitions. Alas, I say the same things because, broadly, everything is the same. I'm driving up and down the country even more frequently, but things are different only in a matter of degree. So please bear with me, because I expect I'll be saying the same thing in the next, no doubt distant, post.
However, I've managed a few things within that general framework. I had a piece in the annual Bath Society of Artists open exhibition, and one in Ormskirk's Chapel Gallery Lancashire Open,
and this last weekend I've had a table at the Hebden Bridge Print Fair, which was very enjoyable (they have an exhibition at the town hall too, on for another fortnight).
I also put some postcards into the Old Lock Up Gallery's annual fundraiser, which always feels worthwhile - and means there's been some printmaking in the mix, I'm relieved to say - and have made a few more patchwork landscape collagraph books, which please me ridiculously. And for now, that's it. I don't know what else might be just beyond the horizon - I'll see how life unfolds.
BABE - the Bristol Artists Book Event, and a tag bound to gather a few unbookish follows - only comes round once every two years and is highly popular. Once the word goes out for booking, you either get on with it straight away or run the risk that within a couple of hours (max) every last table has been snaffled. Two years ago I just managed to book the very last one, so I didn't hang around this time. It only seems to become more sought-after as an event to exhibit at.
It takes place at Arnolfini, on the waterfront - a fantastic spot, especially if the weather plays nice - over two floors, plus talks and presentations on the top floor, and seems to be able to guarantee a steady stream of visitors over both days, even when the sunday is Mothering Sunday. Being on my own, I didn't get an opportunity to see much of the rest of the first floor, nor any of the ground floor, but as I managed to buy a couple of beautiful books within a few tables of mine, that's probably (sadly) all for the best. Met a few instagram connections, sat behind their own tables or standing in front of mine, so that was rather nice. Missed some stands I meant to visit that were well within reach, so absolutely no excuse. Enjoyed - as does just about everyone! - the coffee and cake trolley that visits the exhibitors twice a day (the cakes are very very good). Talked about books and folds, life and its various twists good and bad, printmaking and words, to many people till my lips hurt (not sure what that's about). I'd forgotten how much I enjoy these events - I should maybe try for a few more.
It's not my baby any more, and initially I had no intention of exhibiting (as it would require at least a modicum of making), but Claire gently pushed me to share a table and, like a foldy thing (a deckchair, perhaps?), I folded and said yes. As the Holden Gallery was no longer available for the fair, it took itself under the shade of the Design Manchester umbrella, and last weekend we ended up in the Old Fire Station on London Road along with Manchester Print Fair and a handful of other workshops, food and drink suppliers etc.
The venue was quite something - ornate pillars and tiled walls (including some ?art nouveau tiles), all painted a very improbable blue but with enough peeling areas to hint at what's underneath, and a floor of various paving arrangements presumably indicating the usage of the areas. Chilly, too - one of those places where you venture outside to get warm - and there was always the possibility that one of the pigeons that flew in from time to time might decorate the artists' books at our end and/or (they are notoriously generous in some regards) the prints at the other end. As far as I'm aware it didn't happen - surely we'd have heard the cries of anguish. A triangular courtyard was host to the food and drink elements, which led to more anxiety at times as the occasional drinker brought in his flexible beer glass and gently bounced along to the music. Again, I don't think there were any actual disasters.
The whole building has been sold, and I heard various stories as to what it's going to be, but I'm happy enough to wait and see. It would be nice to think that the book fair et al might get another chance to be there next year, though thicker socks might be in order.
So way back when, I signed up for a weekend of Japanese bookbinding and box making with Lucy May Schofield at Hot Bed Press, and this last weekend it arrived. Lucy was fresh from Japan, where she currently lives, and back in Britain for a series of workshops, residencies, talks and the like - we were the first lucky few to benefit from her visit (and her green tea biscuits).
We had a fantastic time, making four little books with Japanese stab stitch bindings - I've tried this before, with Elizabeth Willow, and enjoyed it immensely; the bindings look great and are relatively simple to create. This time we added fiddly but (and I might have been alone in thinking this, they were something of a faff to deal with) ultimately very satisfying corners to the books, and the covers had neatly folded tiny TINY edges (my patience didn't stretch that far! I cheated and stuck most of mine - it was either that or scream, tear everything up and throw the pieces into the air).
But the wraparound box was the thing of true beauty, and I was in love from the moment Lucy handed around an example on the Saturday morning. In fact overall it wasn't dreadfully complicated either, and I would be happy to make another one. Soon, before it becomes more complex in my memory. Much of it is about being reasonably precise (so I should probably get past the occasional problem I have where I think I'm joining up two points to finish off a square or a rectangle, yet somehow I end up with something more akin to a potting shed) and - when I'm in the zone - that's not really a problem. Lucy had brought us a selection of japanese papers for the covers, and pieces of kimono fabric for the boxes - all very vibrant, and a picture of everyone's work at the end would have been a riot of colour, but you'll just have to make do with mine.
Suddenly suddenly suddenly there seem to be many things needing me to get down to producing work NOW! Not one of them has turned up suddenly, of course, but I find it enticingly easy to ignore deadlines until I'm just about to trip over them and fall flat on my face. It really is no good at all, making as it does for regular bouts of sheer panic, but thus far I seem to be incapable of changing my habits.
To be fair to me - and I do always like to be fair to me - two of those deadlines are in July, which is hardly tomorrow, and although in work production terms July feels far too soon, I suppose if I panic now I might even be ready by then.
Before that, though, comes the excitement of BABE, the Bristol Artists Book Event. The Arnolfini is in a lovely spot, right on the harbourside, and the fair is always stuffed full with brilliant people and wonderful work. I'm not without work to adorn a table (phew) but the recent Leeds fair means I could do with some substantial topping up, and already the clock is ticking. If anyone is in the area in April, do come along and say hello.
Well, it was good! I'm never ready (perhaps my better half is right, and I do get something out of the last minute panic and excitement, but I have to say that it doesn't feel that way to me!) and this fair fitted that pattern perfectly. It left me, at the beginning of day one, suspended between wanting the fair to go well (of course) and not wanting too much to sell because it was ALL out there on the table. There were no backup supplies, and I like to follow the approach that more is more. Not to a ridiculous level, but if there were too many spaces, I'd know that was because there was nothing else to fill them with and I'd expect other people to know too. I finished some books during saturday and during the evening (you see? This is what it's always like) because it seemed a waste of all that too-late flurry of activity the week before if I then didn't take them to the fair at all.
And a little bit of everything sold, which was rather nice, and didn't highlight too much that, quite often, that little bit of everything was actually all of everything, right there and then. I decided not to rush through the turkish map fold 'books' (they're not books yet) and make shedloads of annoying and irreversible errors - I like to think they'll be ready for BABE in April.
Last year I thought it might be fun to make one-off books from time to time. For fun, I repeat. For no purpose other than fun. I started with a simple concertina monotype book, in response to spending endless hours scarcely moving in a traffic queue - just a verge, with a list of the plants I identified on the back of the monotype.
I put it out at the Manchester Artists Book Fair. People liked it, which was, of course, a very acceptable state of affairs. It sold, and a couple of people asked if I would make something similar for them. In my innocence I thought, well why not? It wasn't in the spirit of a unique book, I suppose, but I'd enjoyed making the first one. Whereupon I discovered that, while making a single book with no purpose seemed a simple undertaking, making more of them, with people in mind and some kind of a deadline (which I spectacularly failed to meet), was somehow infinitely more difficult. I would do a monotype. I wouldn't like it. I would do another, think I liked it, then find it wasn't so very different to the one I didn't like. Eventually I ended up with half a dozen, each based on somewhere, sometime. Later still, they acquired lists, covers, and now, finally they are finished. I'm moderately happy with them but they took much much longer than I ever would have dreamed. I won't say never again, but in any similar future situation, I'll think very hard before I say anything at all. They're on the 2015 Books page (accessed from Book arts).
Liverpool's was an artists' book fair of two halves, I think you could say. Friday, judging by what visitors said and the way many of them looked, it rained all day. People did come, but they were reasonably sparse - very reasonably, I'd suggest; I wouldn't want to trek through ceaseless wet even for a book fair, and especially not if I knew there was a second day, when the sun might play nice.
And on Saturday, hey presto! The sun shone all day long and a lot more people turned up. It was, of course, also the weekend by that time. We had plenty of youngsters around too, making an absolute and obviously very satisfying racket merely by running down and up the generously built-in ramp that gently descends around the edge of the circular room - well, we had moved in on their dedicated library space, so it seemed fair enough.
Liverpool Central Library has been extensively renovated/made-over in the past few years, only reopening just over a year ago (I never even thought of visiting as I passed through Liverpool on my way to work in Bootle many many moons ago - probably wasn't even aware that there was a library amongst that substantial row of buildings near the station). I mentioned we were in the children's library, Discover - it's hard to imagine how it's set out when not full of upstart tables, but it looks a lovely roomy area. On the Friday I arrived hot and bothered (from hurrying so as not to get too damp from the just-practising rain) and damp anyway. I'd got there, and all I wanted was to go sit down at our table and set up. I didn't shift from the room until I went home (the long way - don't ask - not for the first time - don't ask about that either).
So on Saturday, when Gemma and I entered the library relaxed and without baggage (all there already) and on a gloriously sunny morning, I looked up and was amazed to see a wonderful modern central area, open above me, with crisscrossing stairways, all the way up to the... dome? It's sort of distorted - a little disorientating but very beautiful. Later on in the day I went up to the Picton Reading Room. Just stunning - massive, round, traditional, lovely book layers and ironwork and spiral staircases and (I think) another dome. I was in love. I wanted it for my own, though I do think it might squash my whole road under its generous footprint. I've seen so many beautiful library spaces recently, I'm beginning to understand why the Library of Lost Books set up a Pinterest site of Beautiful Libraries. I was on my way to see the exhibition of artists' books in the Hornby Library, also rather nice, off the Reading Room. Like an idiot, I deliberately left my camera at home on the Saturday - surely there just weren't any more photos to take! - and accidentally left my phone behind as well (along with other things I meant to take - oh what it is to be such an organised individual) or I'd have lots of "Look at this! and this! and this!" photos to share. But the Biennial is now on, so I'll be going back (no really, I will) and can take in the library on my trip. Alas it won't include the artists' book exhibition, which ended Sunday. Many of the exhibitors were also at the fair, along with other examples of their exhibits, but Theresa Easton wasn't. I'd have loved a closer look at her subtly multi-shaded Two Thousand Insects, housed in an old letterpress drawer, but she's very kindly allowed me to use one of the photos from her own blog here.
The fair was, of course, full of lots of lovely book people and lots of lovely books. I had to fight quite hard with myself not to go round acquiring completely unjustifiable gorgeous-little-things at every stand (and no, I wouldn't be buying them to give away as presents, they would be ALL FOR ME). Picking out just a very few examples, there were wonderful leather-bound volumes and books full of exquisite drawings of beetles, bees, butterflies, intricate woven book sculptures made from twitter messages and, which really took my fancy, a book created around the shipping forecast. In the end I was pretty restrained and just indulged in these -
a book which is purely colour, eco-dyed with onion skins, from Pauline Lamont-Fisher (she makes many beautiful books) and an outsize woodcut ampersand from Andrew Morrison of Two Wood Press (lovely man, he says he'll try to identify the random fonts in my new wooden type Pi book, though I shan't hold him to it). Another one of his posters was in a crazed German font saying (in German, natch) You can kiss my arse - apparently the comment of a soldier in 1918 when asked if he'd like to stay on in the army. Should have got that too. But what I might do is ask him to bring one for me when he comes to Manchester in October.
Because YES! the Manchester Artists' Book Fair is on again, 17th and 18th October. Bookings for tables are coming in steadily (this is the 'paperwork' end of proceedings) and I'm slowly gearing up to the flurry of activity that precedes the event, then worrying over and enjoying the two days that are the point of it all, before slumping back with a sigh of relief and a pinch of regret that it's all over for another year. Still, long way to go till I get that far.
I make prints and book arts, though nowhere near as often as I'd like - no good reason, just an inability to get on with things. I occasionally go on about landscape (with which I am mildly obsessed) and various of its elements, and I like to pass comment on exhibitions I visit.