I left the screening of Pressing On: The Letterpress Film feeling sort-of. . .sad. Melancholy. I’m a sentimental person by nature, and seeing a trade that was discussed with such love and passion by all of the interviewees slowly being lost to time and technology certainly struck a chord with my sensitive, sentimental little heart. The film made me feel such a deep concern for preserving the legacy of the letterpress, something that can only best be done with the guidance of the previous generations’ masters. Learning from them – who have become so knowledgeable and so dedicated to their craft – is the best way for future generations to preserve the techniques and the knowledge needed for letterpress printing. And certainly, it feels as if the clock is ticking down rapidly for this – the generations with experience won’t be here forever, so the younger generations must be inspired to learn this wonderful craft before all those who know its secrets best are gone.
I don’t know if it’s something I could pursue with the same passion as the numerous interviewees, but I, at the very least, want to gain some experience working with letterpress printing at some point in my lifetime. I was struck by the images of the process of letterpress printing in the documentary; the process seems so intimate, like the individual artist’s creativity is so intricately intertwined with the final product. Modern technology takes away that individual artist’s touch, undoubtedly – creating digital art on my laptop feels much more departed from me, physically, than traditional drawing with a pencil and paper.
I think the speed, the accuracy, and the ability to perfectly copy prints you’ve already made that comes along with modern processes does add a particular ease to the processes, but these technologies really seem to take the artist away from their projects, to separate them physically and conceptually.
I am, by nature, impulsive. Any planning I may do prior to a project – whether that be personal or for a class assignment – is minimal; I prefer to give myself general guidelines, with room to experiment and explore and just be creative within my constraints. As such, the accordion book I assembled is a testament to my impulsive processes: I knew, ultimately, how I wanted my book to look; I had a grasp of how I would assemble the form and content. However, everything beyond that was impulse, with my choices made solely to further the purpose of my book as an aesthetic object (I am reluctant to call it a “work of art,” for it sounds to pretentious in my mind to refer to my own creation as one). Thus, I would define my accordion book as an artist’s book, perhaps a visual book, with my intended purpose as one of aesthetics, or, as Amaranth Borsuk would describe in The Book, my “impulse [was] to create an original work of art through the accumulation and juxtaposition of [chosen] materials” (115).
My book aligns with the typical appearance of an accordion book, with pages folded into an accordion fold, and my book is bound between two covers, a choice made less to denote a “beginning” and “end,” a “front” or a “back,” but more to protect the content inside – physically, yes, but also conceptually, with the two covers acting as unassuming enclosures to safely contain the content and its personal meaning to me. The choice to cut out the phases of the moon, as well as assorted star-like shapes, was the foundation for my whole book; I arranged the content intentionally to show through the cutouts, like little windows into my personality. The content being scraps of colorful tape, torn pages of an old book, postcards and thank-you cards and photo cards, wrappers, stickers, and all manner of small, colorful objects I could collect from within the simple space of my room, as well as text taken from specific songs that have had a particularly strong effect on me throughout the years. From the very first mention of the accordion book project, the concept of my book was “conceived of as a whole” (141).
However, the way in which the content would appear through the windows was not entirely planned – I framed two of the moon phases intentionally, but the rest of the phases, as well as all of the stars, were left up to. . .fate, I suppose? Whatever would show through would only ever be a fraction of the full image, which correlates to how I understand people to see me: Whatever people – me included – understand about me, my personality, is only ever a fraction of my true self. And, though my title, too, was unplanned, I suppose it is serendipitous that “We Are Stars By Nature” was the end result, mirroring the ways in which the nature of my content – and, ultimately, the nature of myself as the author – is revealed through the moon and stars.
This sentiment, the idea that my content reveals something intrinsic about my own nature, is imperative for my intended reader. Though the content may seem silly to some, it is important to me, and I would want my reader to see that through the ways in which I’ve arranged the pieces, as if journaling, and the ways in which those pieces appear through the windows. Truly, then, my book “relied on the viewer’s interaction with the object to make meaning” (145); any interpretations a reader could make about me would be entirely based around how they interact with my book. The text content, too, provides insight into my nature; each line is intentionally and carefully selected to convey an element of myself.
With such considerations, I would say with a finality that my ideal reader is myself, that the purpose of my book is to collect my scattered pieces and display them in such a way that I might be able to better understand who, it is, that I am.
Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018.
The vivid, swirling red bark pattern on the cover of “The Tree of My Mind” by Emna Zghal immediately caught my eye. And the cover art is fitting, not only for the title, but for the content, which the Women’s Studio Workshop states “explores connections trees have with words and meanings.”
Though this book doesn’t appear to depart from the norm very much, at least not compared to some of the other books listed on the website, the striking colors and intriguing concept drew me in; the metacommentary of the presence of trees within words and meanings, while written on a surface that was once a tree, is just stunning to me. And stunning, too, are the illustrations inside.
Though naturalistic, all images relating to trees, they all seem to convey something very human, beyond the image of the face in the veins of a leaf; many of the patterns remind me of the biological connections within all of us, patterns of cells and veins and organs.
In terms of the written content, everything relates to trees in some way, but all of the excerpts, the bits and pieces, are pulled from a wide range of different sources. The description on the website describes them as “ranging from Qur’an to poetry, French chansons and more.”
The images, coupled with the quotes and excerpts, create an elegant picture of the tree as it is connected to literature, to words and meanings, and to us as human beings.
I have a bit of prior experience with accordion books – not really making them, per se, but I have quite a few accordion-style photobooks in my collection – so the prospect of making one in class was exciting. Listening to the possibilities of scanning images in, of the different folds and sizes that I could play around with for this class project, sparked inspiration, and I knew I wanted to make a found-object accordion book, of sorts.
Over the weekend, which I spent at home, I collected scraps of paper, bits of colorful tape, stickers, and the like, as well as an old book my mother gave to me with express permission to rip the pages out as much as I want because, and I quote, “I love Nathaniel Hawthorne, but this one was really dry.” I am a sentimental person by nature, and I was tempted to include pictures, ticket stubs, and other sentimental trash things that I’ve hoarded saved over the years; however, because I am so sentimental, I decided against it – I don’t want to end up losing anything or deciding that I regret gluing it into a class project, no matter how I inevitably feel about the end result.
That left me with bits and pieces, scraps and snippets of things that carry less. . .emotional weight, so I knew I would want to do something truly interesting with my book in order to make it my own. I scrolled through some Google image results for accordion books, just looking for some inspiration, and I stumbled across an image of an accordion book with the phases of the moon cut into the pages. It looked pretty, and I decided I wanted to attempt to emulate it, but with my own personal spin on the design.
I still plan to use the moon phases – I’m not that creative, much more of a simpleton than I’d like to admit, and space is pretty – but I want to make the images, the ripped book pages, the scraps and the stickers and the snippets visible within the cut-outs intentional, artistic in some way or another. In essence, I want to use the cut-outs to elevate my found-object idea above and beyond just old receipts and clothing tags pasted into a folded piece of paper.
I haven’t gotten too far with the actual cutting-and-pasting process yet, but I know where I’m heading with it, and I’m excited to see where it goes and where it ends up, ultimately.
I suppose when I first learned that we would be physically making books throughout the upcoming months, I was a little intimidated; I have never considered the process, never looked into bookmaking and bookbinding on my own, which I’m almost ashamed to admit now, as someone who has ventured into numerous different artistic and crafty pursuits in the past. I was expecting stab-binding to be difficult, to take time to adjust to, and certainly I experienced a learning curve, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to pick up on (much faster than charcoal drawing, speaking from experience).
Less surprising, however, was how much I enjoyed the process of stab-binding. I ended up making a few small books, looking into several cute DIY tutorials on YouTube as I did, but ultimately, I’ve included an image of my favorite one (and the tutorial I used for it can be found here).
While I’ve never really been one for journaling, and I usually just buy spiral-bound sketchbooks from Michael’s, the process of learning this simple bookbinding technique has inspired me to consider making these things for myself, little handmade journals and sketchbooks that I can be both proud of the construction itself and the contents inside.
Now that I’ve had some experience with stab-binding, and bookmaking in general, I anticipate that it’s a hobby I’ll find easy to pick up and continue long after class projects and assignments are necessary to complete. Perhaps I’ll make cute, handmade books as gifts for my friends—perhaps a bullet journal for a close friend who, unlike me, is an avid fan of journaling, or a photobook for another friend’s polaroid photography. At the very least, I know that the experience of creating my own little books is an extremely positive one, and it’s an experience I plan to continue and to share.
Silence, I have found, is intimate; in day-to-day life, silence presents me a unique opportunity: the chance to be personally intimate with myself. Silence offers a space for personal reflection, for deeper understandings, and for the advancement of the imagination. While reading the excerpt from Jorge Luis Borges’s essay “On the Cult of Books,” I found the same to be true: silence, and reading in silence, allowed me to perceive the text better, to understand the words being said in a much deeper sense. And on a less scholarly front, I was able to read and understand without consideration for pronunciation; if I skipped over a word or a name I couldn’t immediately pronounce, the action didn’t impede my understanding or slow my progress.
This tendency to read in silence as a means to foster deeper understanding has been documented throughout history; in an excerpt from the historian Roger Chartier’s book A History of Private Life, Volume III: Passions of the Renaissance, this sentiment is communicated, as silent reading is described as offering “immediate internalization of what the reader read” (Chartier).
In reading aloud, however, I found myself focusing more on the pronunciations of the words I was reading than the content itself. Words and names that I did not immediately know how to pronounce halted my progress, and I found that I was reading faster internally than I could keep up with while speaking. And, quite frankly, reading aloud makes my throat feel sore. St. Ambrose, in St. Augustine’s descriptions as quoted by Borges in his essay, seems to mirror my own qualms with reading aloud. As St. Augustine describes, St. Ambrose “would get through fewer books than he wished” if he committed to reading aloud rather than silently, and the process of reading silently could allow him to “preserve his voice” in ways that reading aloud does not permit (Borges 360). Chartier expresses a similar sentiment, claiming that “Reading aloud was slow, laborious, and externalized; silent reading was faster, easier, and more immediate in its impact on the inner self,” a statement that I would expect St. Ambrose to agree with (Chartier).
Though I still prefer silence, I cannot deny that reading aloud did encourage me to consider the inflection of the words I was reading and the impact that inflection has on the content of the text more than I would while reading silently. Reading aloud and adding appropriate inflection, then, does lend a sense of power to the words that isn’t present while reading silently, and there are some works—very many, actually—that deserve to have such power rooted in their words, from a child’s bedtime story to a preacher’s Gospel.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” Selected Non-Fictions. Translated by Eliot Weinberger, Penguin, 2000, 358-363.