My Field project consisted of a series of ten handmade artist books, each inlaid with a pewter medal into the cover representing a specific personal keepsake of my own, containing a series of illustrations relating to the object in question and the relationships or events it symbolises, Japanese bound with either gold, silver, or pewter thread.
While overall I am happy with the pieces conceptually, although they are all of an acceptable quality, the execution of the pieces is not at the high standard I had hoped them to be. By far the largest factor in this is of time, and there were many points in the process which were highly time consuming and simply could not be done any faster to the best of my knowledge.
The first point in the process was the sculpting of the objects, which in itself is a time consuming and delicate process, as I endeavoured to capture as many small details as accurately as possible, requiring careful craftsmanship.
However in the process of casting this into pewter, despite the mould having captured the detail well in most cases, I often found that the pewter itself did not pick up much of this detail despite me doing everything advised to optimise the mold (coated with talc/charcoal powder, and heated mould).
Even having done this however, the surface of the medals consistently came out rough, and neglecting to pick up many of the painstaking details such as the lettering on the surface of the memory stick, or the links of the chain on the heart keyring, and also leaving the previously smooth background with many marks and imperfections.
Not only this, but after casting many of the medals which were sculpted into unfired clay (due to time constraints meaning I did not have the luxury to wait for the weekly bisque firing of the kilns), they often broke on attempting to remove them from the set mould. While this largely was not a problem as the moulds still picked up the fine detail, it did make the process much more risky and frustrating in the event of air bubbles being made in the mould causing further imperfections that would have to be carefully removed later.
The only way I could find to resolve this lost detail in most cases, was to very carefully draw it back onto the surface using a dremel, which is far from ideal. This is not only more painstaking than the initial sculpting, but also more dangerous as any slip of snag with the vibrating dremel could create an unwanted mark on the surface of the medal which in itself then takes much more time to remove.
As well as drilling the details back into the sculpt of the object itself, I often also used the dremel in an attempt to smooth the background surface also. While I was not able to get the pewter smooth and polished from using the dremel alone, as it often left marks upon the surface, it was useful as a preliminary phase to file down some of the most uneven areas far quicker than by hand using sand paper.
Unfortunately however, polishing the surface with sand paper by hand is (as far as I have been informed) the only option for polishing the pewter to an acceptable standard, and any attempt to use the dremel sand paper heads only seemed to result in more marks being left on the surface. This was arguably the most time consuming part of the process which resulted in the medals not being of the standard of finish I had hoped for. I endeavoured to make sure all of the medals were polished to a passable quality, removing the worst of the marks and kinks made in the casting process and making the surface reasonably smooth contrasting the relief of the object itself, but it is far from a smooth mirrored finish.
In ideal circumstances, with a longer period of time to work with, the medals themselves would be far more polished and flawless, with the reliefs on the surface reflecting the full amount of detail in the original sculptings. This is mostly frustrating as both of these points would be for a large part irrelevant if the pewter had simply cast the surface as it is in the moulds, however if there is a more effective way of casting pewter that does not result in these blemishes (and I assume there must be), I am not privy to it, and the only advice I was offered by the technician ontop of the methods I was already using (heat and talc the mould) was simply trial and error.
The books themselves, again while all containing an acceptable level of content with a series of high quality illustrations, are not finished to the degree I would like them to be in an ideal world.
I would have liked to been able to fill the books with even more illustrations than were featured, but again due to time constraints I was only able to complete so many, and my priority was ensuring that each book had a roughly equal amount of content of an equal standard. Another point I would change if I was to remake the books, is the measuring of the pages, which were perhaps around 5mm narrower than they should have been as when I was measuring and cutting the pages I failed to account for the extra length of the spine. While I do not think this detracts from the books, it is an unnecessary imperfection that I would ideally change.
Another minor imperfection which I did not have the chance to resolve, is the noticeable glue marks on many of the covers. These marks are from glue on the inside of the covers, and expected in the process of book making. However they are most noticeable in the areas around the border of the book which I have embossed, which I originally planned to then gold leaf.
With the gold leaf strips in the embossed areas, these glue marks would no longer be visable and so I was not initially overly concerned by them, However after some consultation with a tutor who has experience in gilding, I was advised that my level of experience with gilding meant that they were “not beautiful enough”, and might detract from the skill of the handmade book. Not only this, but I was advised it may make the covers look too busy and clash with the pewter medal, and that the delicate gold, silver and bronze thread I was using to bind the books would likely be adequate to illustrate my point of value without being overstated.
While I was content not to do the gold leafing on the covers, as it allowed me to invest my time into illustrating and binding the books, I do wish that I had been given this advice when I was first consulted at my initial stage of doing tests on a spare book cover and I likely would not have then embossed the borders of all the covers in preparation for the gilding. Although I do think the embossed border is an effective, subtle yet impactful way of illustrating the pewter medal on the cover, it does raise the issue of the glue marks becoming visible and again given the time constraints I may have been better leaving them plain.
I had also considered using the metal leaf on the inside covers of the books after it was suggested to me by my tutor, however I found that I could not get the level of detail in the edges of the drawings as I would have liked, and again I was told that my skill was not high enough with gilding to produce an effective standard of work; so I instead left the inside covers plain.
The book covers themselves were fairly straight forward to construct once I was familiar with the process and using appropriate care and precision.
I had to alter this process slightly when making the covers for the Japanese bound books, rather than the traditionally bound ones which I made in my book binding induction. As the Japanese bound books have no hard spine, I had to construct two separate covers.
However, most Japanese bound books are made using a soft paper or card cover, rather than being hard bound like mine. Because of this, I needed to adapt my method to accommodate for the folding cover and pages, and so made a thin spine for each of the covers allowing them to bend.
The process of inlaying the medals into the cover was again, a reasonably straight forward if not delicate process. After having glued down the book cover, I then traced around each of the medals and carefully cut this out with a scalpel. This was difficult at times, as the book cover is quite thick and so takes many cuts, which can result in slips or the line being cut to far in or out from where it should be meaning the medal doesn’t fit perfectly. Perhaps, given more time I could have experimented with having the shape laser cut out of the book cover, however not having much experience using the laser cutter since my induction 3 years ago I felt it would be more reliable for me to do it by hand.
The medal in then pushed into the space, and held in place with super glue, with the inside cover page then being covered with a thick card like paper so as to hide the inlay.
The medals themselves are intentionally non-uniform circles, as I wanted it to be clear that each medal had been individually inlaid into the covers and felt that the asymmetrical nature of the medals’ shape gave them a more personal quality to the books.
The final part of the process was binding the books. After much deliberation, I decided on making the books Japanese bound as this allowed me to illustrate individual images and then experiment with the sequence, as well as use a series of different types of paper, including tracing paper, to strong effect. I had initially planned for the books to be unfolding concertina books for a long time, but eventually decided against this as I would have to be far more precise in planning in advance exactly what images in what sequence I wanted to include, and there is also the issue of joining the different lengths of paper. While it is possible to buy long continuous rolls of paper meaning I would not have to attempt to make joins, these are very expensive especially when looking at more specialist high quality paper, and would again not allow for me to use varying types of paper for each sequential image. Another issue I had in constructing my own concertina book, was I had great difficulty in making the pages uniform. Any slight discrepancy in the height or width of the page, or if it was not folded precisely parallel to the other pages, it became immediately evident and made it look incredibly unprofessional.
I had also constructed a more standard format of book made with page “signatures” – groups of long page strips folded within each other and sewn together at the spine, before being glued into the hard spined book cover. While these books were visually effective, looking possibly the most professional of the various methods, it again had the draw backs of being unable to rearrange the drawings at will, and while different paper types are able to be used, they would need to be in a set sequential and even order.
Although the Japanese bound books do also need to have uniform pages, small discrepancies within a few millimeters do not ruin the aesthetic of the book and are simply evidence of it’s hand crafted nature. As well as these practical reasons, I also found the style of Japanese binding to be the most visually appealing, especially with the specialist thread that I ordered.
For the large part I am very happy with the use of the thread, and think it adds a beautiful quality to the covers of the books, as well as making them distinct from the usual japanese bound books using linen or cotton thread, these threads – the gold thread especially – were incredibly delicate. Unfortunately I was unable to find metal coated threads in the various necessary colours (gold, silver, and bronze) in uniform thicknesses. The silver thread was the easiest to work with, being a slightly thicker silk thread comparable to the thickness of linen thread which is most typical for book binding. The copper thread while much thinner, was still manageable, and involved me tripling up the thread on the needle before sewing, which was slightly troublesome at times but for the most part straight forward. The gold thread however, was especially difficult to work with. Unlike the bronze and the silver threads, which were standard silk threads coated with metal leaf, the gold thread was flat and ribbon like. This meant that it had much less structural integrity than the other two, and was prone to snapping. Without the time to start the binding again from scratch, and not wanting to waste the valuable thread, I could only attempt to very carefully and delicately tie the snapped lengths back together in a way which is not noticeable from the outside of the book, and although they were durable when I had finished binding them I can only hope that they do not fall apart upon being repeatedly handled. Illustrating this, half an hour before the show deadline after rushing to the photography studio in order to take photographs for my professional practice documentation (website, press pack, and business cards etc), one of the gold thread books got knocked to the floor immediately after I had taken photographs of it, the impact of which caused the threads to burst apart.
It being 30 minutes before the deadline, and with the gold thread being notoriously the most difficult to bind, I did not have time to fix this book for the show. This is a disappointing setback, and certainly in future I would aim to find a thread that was closer in description to the more workable silver and bronze threads, rather than the flat type which I have used for these.
Overall, I am pleased with the format of the books and I feel they are both original, interesting and desirable items. Certainly given more time for finishing, they have the potential to be very high quality and beautiful objects of a professional standard, and also something which I believe to be quite saleable. They combine a set of skills and materials which do not often come together, sculpting, pewter casting, book binding and illustration, with the use of specialist threads, to create a set of unique pieces.
I am also pleased with their display, clearly showcasing each individual piece in a setting alongside their original objects in a manner which is formal, yet not intimidatingly so, and still accessible and inviting to handle. Arguably the best of both worlds, and the ideal form of display for this series of artist books.
So far the key theme around all of my work this year has been that of our personal relationships and bonds with the objects in our life. While the object itself may contain little value on it’s own, made perhaps of cheap materials or poor quality, it is what the object comes to represent to us an individual that gives it significance and value to us.
My Field project is a clear development conceptually building upon the research and ideas of my Subject project from Christmas, incorporating my research from my dissertation on the ability for two people to form and maintain a continuing bond through the use of objects. It is a development not only in concept, but also in format, continuing with the use of medals in the tradition of immortalising and memorialising a significant person or event, however with the imagery on the medal depicting the object symbolising this event rather than matter itself. It brings to the foreground the unconscious associations that we make with all objects, and exploits the purpose of medals themselves as objects whose entire purpose is to act as a symbolic talisman, allowing for a trigger or re-engagement with memory. We understand them of being representative of their meaning, rather than evaluating them on their physical qualities, which I aim to show is true of all objects in our lives. These qualities of the medal, combined with the ability of the artist book to express and explore memory through imagery and sequence, makes these books the perfect vehicle for demonstrating these personal object relationships to the viewer.
While the term sentimental value or sentimentality is often one which is used to deride or undermine, suggesting it is something to be humoured or tolerated, I argue that this is not the case. Rather than being a sentimental indulgence, it is in fact a critical part of our ability to form and maintain relationships with one another that allows us to also do this with objects.
In many cases the designed function of the object becomes secondary, whether it be practical or decorative, and the object’s primary function then becomes to act as a symbol representing a person, event or experience. Because of this, not only are we able to surround ourselves with reminders of these relationships, we are then able to use them to actively re engage with and develop them.
In the case of mementos, these may serve a variety of different purposes, depending on the nature of the relationship. For example a gift given by a friend which is kept and used often (practically or as decoration) may serve as a reminder and a maintainer of your friendship bond. Despite perhaps not having seen that friend in some time, through engaging with the objects that are representative of them we are able to feel a sense of security.
However, if the object becomes symbolic of a more traumatic relationship, perhaps a parent, an acrimonious break up, or even a deceased loved one , these objects allow for the vital function of resolution. While the person in question may be absent, leaving you unable to continue a dialogue with them and in a state of emotional turmoil. however by engaging with the objects that are representative of them, it not only allows for the relationship to be continued in their absence but in fact gives the opportunity for growth and development. Rather than our internal image of the person being held fixed in time unchanging, as we each inevitably grow through our own constantly ongoing sets of experiences we may then begin to examine these relationships under a new light with a shifted perspective. The object acts as a grounding point, giving us a tangible focal point onto which we can project our phenomenonological experience of re engaging with personal relationships.
A fundamental part of the object’s nature is the ability to carry many layers of meaning, some of which may be codependent being influenced by one another, and others may run parallel independently. The meanings and?values that objects hold are paradoxically both contained within the object’s form and yet only truly exist within our own mind. Many values are able to be inferred and understood from examining an object in isolation, and so inherently something in the nature of that object must be able to communicate these values non verbally, they exist within the object. However the ability for these values to be read and the way in which they are interpreted depends entirely upon the knowledge , experience and values of the viewer. What to one person may very clearly and indisputably be a drinking vessel, to another from a different culture with a contrasting set of values and experiences may identify it as something else, or find it unidentifiable entirely. It is in this way then that the object’s nature exists only within ourselves.
Because of all this ability to become a focusing point for a multitude of meanings and values, which can be expressed or interpreted wordlessly to an individual, they are fundamental to our formation of self. We define ourselves through the objects we surround ourselves with, and signal to others our values and personalities.
It is then through the examination of a collection of personal objects that we may grow to understand a person in their absence, without words. While we may not necessarily always be able to interpret the precise meanings and symbolisms behind each object, we can as a viewer still understand that it holds some degree of value to the person merely in its presence. While we may come into contact with millions of objects within our lifetime, from gifts to disposables to necessities, it is a select few objects that we choose to keep for extended periods of time. Some objects may be kept for a lifetime, others may be kept for years, months or even weeks. In the case of objects that are kept for long periods of time, this is generally due to a strong sentimental attachment that transcends material value. Even objects that are kept out of necessity or convenience may accrue sentimental value over time, simply for the fact they have played a part in our lives for so long. We fundamentally understand that objects share our experience, and become tangible grounded links to phenomenalogical experience across space and time.
It is this ethos of objects as containers, vehicles and expressors of the self that I explore in my work. The objects I have chosen to immortalise range from the entirely mundane (spoon, memory stick) to the highly sentimental (necklace, pin badges). In the case of the more important items, these are tied to strong bonds between myself and the people they link to, as well as places and experiences. These objects are personally invaluable to me, and are things I often carry with me or interact with frequently. These most important objects are distinguished by the gold thread binding the books, working off the widely associated understanding of gold, silver and bronze as distinguishers for echelons of value.
The silver bound books represent objects which hold a sentimental value to me, but not so much so that the objects themselves are invaluable and could not be discarded or replaced, if not reluctantly. They are triggers for memory and experience, but the relationships they represent have not so wholly and entirely come to have been embodied in the objects as in the case of the gold tier objects.
The bronze range of objects represents items which have no single relationship attached to them, not tied to a significant person or event, but have become significant in my life through their continued presence and use. These objects are linked largely to both routine and place, focused around my university life which understandably has been the focal point of all my routines and actions within the past year. These involve the process of walking, to and around the uni, with my memory stick; an object which I very rarely use in a functional sense but that has become almost like a talisman. A spoon, which has become bent with use attempting to chisel out my solidified instant tea which I rotate between, and often hold the spoon in my mouth absent mindedly. Then finally the origami crane, which was made by a coursemate who had put one on the desk of everyone in our year. These for the most part, remained on everybody’s desk for the next couple of months, and each being displayed and making itself at home in each person’s belongings. To me, these cranes spoke of the place and experience of university, and the community of the course, as well as being reflective of each person’s individual space.
Fundamentally, my work expresses the emotional engagements between the individual and the object, relating to their on personal experience, as well as the object’s ability to then express this and other personal values to others.
In response to the feedback of my tutors, and in order to expand the focus of my degree show piece, I am intending on creating one, or a series of handmade books. While I have had some experience with book binding in the past, having made on on my foundation course, being three years ago my memory is understandably rusty. After speaking to the print room technician I was told there was a book binding workshop running later in the week which he could fit me into. I had already at this point taken out a whole series of books on book binding from the library which I have been finding useful, but books are never a replacement for practical teaching in my experience and I was certainly grateful for the workshop.
We began with an A1 page, which was measured into strips 14.85cm long and 12cm tall (as this divided perfectly into the A1 page). Before cutting them, we also measured half way into each strip and scored it with the bone folder tool in order to form the crease of the pages in a way that is even across all of the strips
After each strip was cut, it was then folded into half to create 4 pages using the bone folder, following the crease made earlier but being sure to line the page ends up equally.
Putting all of the signatures together making sure they are aligned, a mark was then made 1cm in from either edge of the spine of the book on the top and bottom pages. Two further marks are made, each 3.3cm in from the 1cm marks at the edges. These measurements may change depending on the size of your book, but the aim is to create 4 (or more) evenly spaced marks from the top to the bottom of the spine. From these, a line is then drawn across all of the folded edges, making sure that every signature fold has a mark on it.
Pierce holes into each of these marks on each page strip with a sharp tool
The page strips are placed inside each other in groups of two to form “signatures”, creating a set of 8 pages
Using the holes, the two page strips of the first signature are then sewed together by threading in through the bottom hole, out through the second, in through the third and pulling the needle out again on the final fourth hole.
After having sewed the first signature, the second is sewn onto the first. Taking the thread coming out the fourth hole of the first signature, we thread it into the fourth hole of the next one and out the third, in the same pattern as previously. However, rather than continuing down the spine of the second signature, we then move back into the third hole of the first signature, and out the second hole, then moving into the second hole of the second signature, and out the first hole. This is much more intuitive in practice than in reading, demonstrating the usefulness of a workshop over simply reading the instructions out of a book.
This is then repeated on all of the signatures until they are each bound to the one before it
In order to bind the spine, a section of scrim is cut, 1cm shorter than the length of the spine, in this case 11cm
The spine is covered in PVA, ensuring the glue gets in the creases between the signatures
The scrim is then glued down tightly onto the spine and sides, and the pages are left to dry in a press with the spine exposed, or failing that a set of heavy books.
While the pages are drying you can move on to working on the cover. The cover consists of a sheet of grey board, 2mm thick (although larger books may need thicker covers), with each side cut 2mm taller than the height of the pages so that the covers overlap the edges, but also 2mm shorter length as this will be accounted for with the spine. The strip for the spine should be the same height as the covers, but 1mm thinner than the thickness of the spine pages.
They are then laid out onto your bookcloth fabric, making sure they are all in line with each other with a gap in between the spine strip and each cover which is 3 times the thickness of the board. In this case the greyboard is 2mm thick, so I have left a 6mm gap either side of the spine and the covers.
After marking where each board goes, one at a time glue each piece with PVA onto the bookcover, using your bone folder tool to make sure that the cloth is stuck down firmly, especially on the edges of the board.
Cut down the book cloth so that the excess around the grey board is the thickness of a ruler
Fold each edge to a right angle over the corner of the grey board, and then cut it 2mm thicker than the initial fold. This ensures that the corner of the grey board is completely covered by the bookcloth when it is glued down
One side at a time, cover the excess bookcloth in a thin layer of PVA, and using the bone folder to ensure the cloth is tight to the top edge and flat to the inside of the covers. Again using the bone folder, press inside the gap between the spine board and the covers so as to reinforce the crease which will allow the covers to fold.
After having done the two length sides of the book cover, we now remaining shorter sides. Once the cloth has been coated in PVA, be sure to press down the overlapping corners of folded book cloth at the very top and bottom so that it is flush with the edge of the book and with the cloth you are about to glue down. Then, as with the previous sides, pull the cloth tightly onto the board and rubbing down all the surfaces with the bone folder.
If all has gone well, you should have a completed book cover.
Once the spine has dried, and the pages are as compressed and tight as possible, we can then glue the pages to the cover of the book. Line the pages up so that they are pressed against the spine, and then carefully open the book cover keeping the pages where they were. Place a piece of waste paper underneath the top page, so that glue does not seep on the other pages, and then cover the top page with glue and carefully close the book cover firmly ontop of it, holding it in place for the glue to fix. Once that has set, turn the book over and repeat this with the other side, making sure not to glue the spine.
As with the pages, leave your book in a press or under heavy books overnight to set, and your book is complete!
When looking at artist books, they can take many different shapes, sizes and formats aside from just the standard “book”
One of these different formats of books in the “Concertina” or “Accordion” book, which consists of two covers but without a spine attaching them together, and the pages are folded and stretch out into a long sequence.
As with all artist books, there can be very many variations on each format:
The laser cut card which when folded creates an unintelligible, but beautiful image, is surrounded by the lino embossed pattern, both features which I particularly find attractive.
With this concertina book, the cover is only attached to the one side of the book with the pages unfolding away from it. and the cover itself folding over itself and tying shut. Not only has the paper been cut into, casting shadow patterns behind it, but the inside of the cover has also been used to add to the image of the book.
One of the strengths of the concertina book is the ability to create drawings which run across the pages, to create a continuous image but with each page also being framed as an individual image. Another interesting thing to note is that most concertina books seem to use only the one side of the page, rather than both the front and reverse sides.
A series of artist books can create an instillation, in this case despicting a cityscape. These books are made up of different colours, and height of book while keeping the number of pages and their width seemingly consistent to create a sense of unity between the books. The unremarkable, patterened covers are oddly contrasting with the brightly coloured and patterned contents of each book.
A similar variation on the Concertina book is the “Carousel” or “Star” book. When stretched out, it creates the same zigzag pattern as the concertina, but containing generally 3 layers of pages which allow for the use of stencilling to create space and depth of imagery and surface
These books allow for a real emphasis between background and foreground, as well as the framing of each image. Not only can they be viewed sequentially, but each picture can also be sectioned off and viewed independently, with the design of the page being used to literally frame each panel. The way in which the silhouettes of the crows then intersect with these white frames also adds to the sense of depth and layering, as they appear to be above the layer of the frame.
As with all artist books, they do not necessarily need to be made to look as clinical and professional as a standard book. The use of handmade paper especially can alter the look and tone of a book, changing the tone from precise and clean to something much more personal and rough, giving an expressive and raw feel.
The layered pages also allow for literal “windows” to be made looking into the pages of the book by limiting your view of the image, rather than just simply embellishing or adding depth to it.