Sunday, March 31, 2013

Week 13: Magic Magic

    Imagine the one thing that you are most passionate about. The thing that has your interest... no matter how rare or how common, how insignificant or how earth shattering... how dangerous or how silly... You realize how (really) unreasonable is your love for this thing. Consider how this passion is beginning to appear in every corner and closet of your house... in towering piles on the coffee tables... on chairs... under beds... in the cubbards... in the car...and in shopping bags and boxes, unopened. That's when you have to concede that maybe you are under some sort of spell. Maybe it's magic. That's the title of this week's book-of-the-week, Magic Magic.
A drop-spine case covered in paste paper and tied with a satin ribbon

Wrapped up like a present, Magic Magic looks pretty and pink. Pretty harmless, huh? But presents are magic too.  The mystery is incontrovertible.. Until the moment you unwrap a present, you never really know what's inside. Shake it to see if you can guess. Well, this present is silent. No rattling or clinking.

A wrap around case and a book inside
So what's the unreasonable and insignificant object of my passion? What's the mysterious package inside this present-shaped book? It's PAPER!!!!! I love paper. Blank paper, notebook paper, yellow legal pad paper, sticky note paper, paste paper, Japanese handprinted paper (actually, all countries' papers), handmade paper, printed paper, napkins, wrapping paper, parchment, tissue paper, waxed paper, even toilet paper!!!

A paper rack at Paper Mojo

   Recently, several of my students and I took a field trip to the local paper store, Paper Mojo, in Wake Forest, NC. Paper Mojo sells paper online at and has recently opened a storefront where the brides-to-be, mothers-to-be, fancy-party planners, collage artists, book artists and other devotees of pretty paper can walk in... and see and feel and purchase... the vast selection of decorative paper... in person.  This tiny cubicle-of-a-store in the back corner of a pink-brick strip mall is a perfect example of what happens when one is under the spell of magic. 
Paper Mojo, Wake Forest, NC
From that trip, I came home with a rolled-up tube of many gorgeous chiyogami papers for my upcoming class making Japanese books...many gorgeous marbled papers for my upcoming class making cord-bound books.... many gorgeous Italian papers just because... and the conception for this Magic Magic book, an ode to paper.

Magic Magic paste paper and more
Mixed with the commercial Japanese papers, Italian prints, and marbled papers are many of my own paste papers and intaglio prints..
Paste papers, marbled papers, and Japanese chiyogami 

Symbols and motifs are repeated over and over on the handmade papers.
The intaglio blue rose and the pagoda appear again and again...
When images are repeated often they become symbolic of some other idea. In my papers, the roses are symbolic of beauty, the pagodas symbolize a world united...

Vibrant and lively... papers in action!
No matter what the emotion, there are always papers to reflect the narrative of a story, a personality, or a life.
A paper candy wrapper at home among the exquisite marble and paste papers
Last page...  blueberries and "Gargoyles Watched Over"
To me each page is like a piece of string taffy, delicious! The papers lay in Magic Magic like Easter eggs in a basket... their  pretty patterns and lovely colors as enticing and mesmerizing as any form of magic. 

Real handblown eggs covered in paper by Sara at Paper Mojo
Paper is an odd sort of passion all on it's own and without the benefit of words or books to make it significant. ...But it has a softness in the folding that hints at an unlimited potential... a potential that can flower and grow into the most unexpected conclusion.
Paper flowers at Paper Mojo
May your passion have the magic to bring you much joy.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Week 12: Book of Symbols

   This week's book-of-the-week foreshadows the class I will begin teaching this coming week. It even has the same name, Book of Symbols. The book is a simple stiff leaf book with no extra materials or cover... just paste painted mat board pages, book cloth hinges, and my odd language of symbols

Title plate of pastepaint on mat board covers
   The symbols first appeared on my pottery as a weave pattern painted with green underglazes on a black and white glaze background. The weave symbolized life's weave...complex connections and occurrences, always overlapping and working back and forth, interconnected yet independent. Later, blue circles appeared within the weave... symbolizing individuals. Quickly, the blue circles acquired a red dot...meaning the heart. Red rope-like imagery symbolized connection, and a white stripe with close-knit vertical lines meant a barrier. Many, many symbols appeared on the pottery even as I began to write phrases on the bottom of each piece.

 Life's Weave mug
This Book of Symbols is a small catalog of symbols created to decorate my pottery and illustrate my prints. There are no words in this little book... but the translations of the symbols are printed on a small card that accompanies the book... and further along in this blog post. :-) ...that symbol means I'm smiling....

Looking inside Book of Symbols...
Pages of symbols on a backdrop of paste paint... color and pattern
A harlequin pattern in green and black and a red bridge against a turquoise mesh
Another piece of pottery where many of these symbols are used is The Red Bridge teapot.
The Red Bridge teapot
  Although beautiful scenes and garden motifs illustrate much of my work, the symbolism of the imagery gives each piece it's own hidden story. Another personal symbol, the orange lantern, has been so strong an image I often use it as an illustration in both pottery and books. ... And it's the name I've given my print shop, Orange Lantern Press! The orange lantern is the connection between the past and the future. It's difficult to see how to approach the future without a clear view of the past... and the orange lantern shines in both directions.

Orange Lantern

Orange Lanterns in Taipei

  This is what the symbols in Book of Symbols mean:

 Page 1: a blue circle- means an individual
 Page 2: a tiny red dot - means the heart or soul of an individual
 Page 3: a green loose weave - means the weave of life
 Page 4: a white vertical stripe - means transformation
 Page 5: a white vertical stripe with thin close-knit black horizontal lines - means communication
 Page 6: a white vertical stripe with tiny black dots on the edging - means mending or adhering
 Page 7: a wood-grained wavy border stripe - means nature or earth connection
 Page 8: a red and yellow wavy border stripe - means human connection
 Page 9: a window - means vision
 Page 10: a harlequin pattern - means tricky
 Page 11: a red bridge - means overcoming obstacles
 Page 12: a pagoda - means a unified world, or the masses, common folk
 Page 13: an orange lantern - means connection between history and the future

 Most of the time the symbolism in our life goes unnoticed. The contrasts, life journeys and transformations are masked by the mundane, the necessities, the cosmic roar of the information age... We don't see the marks of the ancient cave painters nor understand the murmurs of the poets on the street.. but if we look in our own heart and mind the symbols are all there waiting to be transcribed to our consciousness.

Doorways of a French ruin in a field in France

Humanity has used symbols as communication for tens of thousands of years. Strangely, regardless of the culture or time period, many of the symbols and their meanings are similar.  The symbols below... and the ideas they convey... are still relevant issues today.

                  The Tibetan symbol for creation is a seed of the universe rotating clockwise in the spiral of potential energy.

                    The sign for aum, the Hindu greeting of peace.

Wishing you a universe created in peace.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Week 11: Opening Reception

   Artists are always making things. Paintings, pottery, sculpture, books... Whatever is the medium, there is always the work of making the work. Eventually, the work is put on display... for sale or view to the public... When there's a new exhibit of artworks, there is always an Opening Reception. That is the title of this week's book-of-the-week.
The cover: title plate and card of a vessel by potter Cynthia Bringle
This little book is a collection of postcards for artists' receptions. These postcards come in the mail... or are posted on bulletin boards in art centers... or on countertops and wall boards in galleries. Their lifespan is short, but the work that goes into these exhibits... and onto the postcards... may take a lifetime.

Thoughtfulness, social consciousness, and craftsmanship might be the focus of the exhibition. One teacher I had said all original art is initially viewed as insanity. Uh oh.

Another mentor said, to be authentically creative... we often need to retrieve our childhood playfulness and openness... to respond to our inner voice and not adapt it to social norms. Uh oh.

One teacher said that art is simply communication... with materials. I like that.

So I try to find the story in every piece of artwork I see, whether it's a painting, a poster, or a pot.

   In North Carolina... and everywhere, artists are making their work. They are thinking about the world as landscape or as shadow box. They are telling their personal stories in poetry and in pottery. They are using clay, glass, yarn, wood, iron, paper, and a world of materials to express ideas and issues. It's all there to see at the Opening Reception.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Week 10: Baby's Blanket

Recently, I was reading Mary Oliver's latest book of poetry, A Thousand Mornings, Poems. Reading her poems is like having a conversation with a song. Oliver's poems are about common things that make life beautiful or real... window sills and chubby robins... or coffee and sunbeams... about the love of a child...about fear and sadness. The impetus for this week's Book-of-the-Week, Baby's Blanket came from two things: an old watercolor landscape I had been saving, and Mary Oliver's poetry. 
A patchwork paper cover with letterpress title plate and little hearts...
Another stiff-leaf book, Baby's Blanket is constructed from a watercolor painting of a winter landscape done by one of my children years ago. The watercolor landscape had been kept safely in a box in the closet for the past 15 years... seen daily by the dust mites and the silverfish, and every decade by me when I was hunting some family relic. Recently I pulled it out into the daylight and decided to use it as illustration for this book. I cut it into three pieces and wrote a poem about a particular snowy day in my memory. Then I printed the poem onto the triptych using antique Cheltenham type and a Vandercook letterpress. This is the poem Baby's Blanket...

Page 1
On the morning of your birth,
the snow fell
A soft white baby's blanket
covering the earth

Page 2
It was mid-March and the sun
had shown warm and bright
the day before.
I was filled with energy
and anticipation of your coming
I mopped the floors
and cleaned the house.

Page 3
On the morning of your birth
the sky alit
with the pure white beauty
of a snow-covered landscape
and you.

   It's March now and spring is probably here... last week there was snow in the Northeast and we had some cold nights and nippy days. But today in North Carolina the sun is shining, trees are budding, daffodils have been blooming for weeks and we're back to daylight savings time... It's the time of year the earth is reborn. It is the birthday for the earth!

...And I have ordered my seeds for the garden, have begun to burn the last of the kindling in the studio woodstove, and have tidied up the winter's debris of fallen tree limbs and piles of leaves. We are painting things around the house and making lists of Things to Do. It's time to get ready for the party that is spring in North Carolina... a time of year that promises healthy gardens, blooming flower beds, and peaceful natural beauty... the wonderful youth of the year. I wish you a wonderful spring in your own area... and a rebirth of hope, joy, industry, and art!

...and to my darling son, born March 16,  1980... Happy Birthday!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Week 9: Beyond the Palisade

 Wall, fence, enclosure, stockade, barrier, curtain, screen, bullwork, bastile, moat, railing, rampart, trench, ditch, barricade. What are walls for?  To keep things in and keep things out. This week's book-of-the-week, titled Beyond the Palisade is about what's on the other side of the walls we construct within ourselves.
Leather and silk and a photograph of a window grill in Angers, France
palisade is a word from the French 1600's and refers to a wall of stakes set firmly in the ground as a defense. The cut paper images of windows and stairways in the foreground of this little book act as a barrier to the patchwork imagery of photographs taken during my first trip to France. Personally, I suspect I had built my own palisade of reasons for not taking this wonderful trip. Luckily, an opportunity occurred and in 2005 I found myself in this beautiful and complex country.

Behind the cut paper are photographs of churches, government buildings and castles...
Known for the marked beauty in architecture and artistry, France's history of conflict in politics and religion is a contrast worthy of a palisade. Quaint French villages of hundred-years old cottages, chateaux and open-air vegetable markets; tiny streets of cobblestone that wind and twist... the aroma of croissants and lavendar... and French milled soap in every Super U! a tourist, I was oblivious to the social tensions and daily challenges. The only thing missing was a standard size cup of coffee.
In the villages life goes on behind hand-tatted lace curtains
A beautiful country of mild climate and excellent agriculturists... each turn revealed another beautiful flower garden.. another sweetly lowing bovine... another community of industry and artistry. The year-long dry spell and environmental legal challenges did not affect a tourist's preoccupation with the TGV, rural maps,  signposts and beautiful vistas.

A lone windmill grinds wheat.. used to make crepes in the restaurant next door.
Whether walls are built to keep things in or to keep things out, a palisade can be breeched... a curtain can be pulled aside, a window can be raised, a door can be opened, a room can be entered. All it takes is the opportunity... and courage to go Beyond the Palisade.