Thursday, December 31, 2015

Week 52: When the Earth was Amber

   The last book of 2015 is titled When the Earth was Amber. There are no words in the small 3 x 2.5-inch cord bound book, but each page of used teabag paper has a hand-traced map of somewhere on the earth, a hieroglyphic symbol, and possibly a sliver of local mica.

tea bags of tracings, hieroglyphs, and mica
The book was constructed based on constraints derived from the Artist's Book Ideation Card set created by book artists Barbara Tetenbaum and Julie Chen. For order information go to
This creative tool turns making artist's books into a game, but also opens the mind to unique combinations of design as well as focusing on specifics in a unique, yet random way. There are seven categories: Text, Technique, Image, Paper, Layout, Color, and Structure. Each category has seven different choices and all a book artist needs to do is select one card from each pile. A second stack of 52 (surprising!) Adjective cards accompanies the set. The book artist may choose one or more of these.. return one for another, or generally make up the rules as they go along.

...Amber with all seven Ideation Cards and the Adjective Card..
The Text card drawn specified that text be abstract, non-verbal, or gibberish.
Hand drawn heiroglyphic symbols were placed somewhere on each page. Some have documented meaning, others were created as the personal language of the artist. Actual translation of the symbols is not necessary as each person sees their own meaning in the words.

...Amber with the Text card drawn... 
The Technique card drawn directed that the book be made with mixed media. Incorporated into the used teabag paper pages are leftover tea leaves. Mica flakes collected from the ancient Appalachian mountains in North Carolina were glued on most of the pages. Jute was used for the cord bindings, and linen thread was used to sew it all together. All of these elements have been used by peoples across the world and the ages... with commonality and timelessness as well as reverence. Gold thread was specifically NOT chosen because it might detract from the communication expressed by the other elements. 

with the Technique card.. and mica
The Image card indicated that the drawings should be traced, re-drawn, or lifted from outside sources. For When the Earth was Amber, parts of a vintage National Geographic European map were traced with Sharpie marker onto the used tea bags. 

with the Image card... and vintage map
The Paper card specified that the paper be transparent or translucent. For this book, a collection of the artist's used tea bag cache was raided and proved perfect for the requirement. This also fit the specification of the Adjective card, layering.

with the Paper ideation card...

The Layout card indicated that it should be minimal and restrained. The natural dyed markings on the paper made by the seeping tea, the simple pen tracings, and the single hieroglyph per page work together to give a strong voice with little effort.

with the Layout card...
The Color card drawn said to use muted or pastel colors.

with the Color card...

The Structure card directed to create a codex style book... Though several more modern structures were suggested, the artist chose to use one of the oldest codex forms, the cord-bound book. It's historical significance, as well as the way the cords are reminiscent of a warp and weaving... add to the narrative of the continuum of time and man's relationship to the Earth.

with the Structure card

on the sewing frame, getting bound into a codex

As mentioned, the Adjective card drawn, specified that something in the book should be layered. Cambridge English Dictionary defines a layer as a ​level of ​material, such as a ​type of ​rock or ​gas, that is different from the ​material above or below it, or a ​thin ​sheet of a ​substance. Both the mica and the thin translucent tea bag paper serve this purpose... But especially the way the lines of the tracings show through the paper... overlapping each other, and alluding to how countries' borders and geographic landmarks change through the ages.   

with the Adjective card... layered...

   In the recent past our Earth has become very small. We can fly around the world in hours, and speak to someone across the world instantly.  Now, this year, our world leaders are faced with finding solutions to unprecedented changes to the Earth's surface. The last map book of the year, When the Earth was Amber, is really about how we will find our way into the Earth's map of the future. May we find the right path.

   The last book of 2015 is done. It wasn't what this artist expected... but none of the books really were. For the friends and students who have been nearby and had to listen to the whining and complaining about how hard this theme of map has been...and how LOST this artist has often felt, a true apology is offered. And also grateful thanks for listening. For those who have taken the time to read the blog, a huge thank you. It has to be the power of the book and the written word that makes it all worth it, and ultimately delicious and irresistible. 

   The blog will continue in 2016, but with a new twist... Rather than a book a week, each month a new book will be created using the Artist's Book Ideation Cards. 

Have a Joyful and Bountiful New Year!

Dedicated to Paulus... who has always honored books and poetry, but especially the Earth.

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