Art & Development

Center for Book Arts Residency Wrap-up

Notes on a year(-and-a-half)-long residency.

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Printing linoleum cuts on the Vandercook letterpress.

WHAT:

I was awarded the Center for Book Arts’ 2016 Workspace Artist-in-Residence Grant. The program offers a materials stipend, 24-hour access to the Center for Book Arts’ letterpress print shop and bindery studios, a group exhibition, and the chance to take nearly unlimited classes in printing, book arts, and related workshops on paper marbling, making bone folders, etc. (Read my Residency Notes, Part 1, penned practically a year ago for more about the classes I took.) The Center also has an exhibition program and weekly events, so there are always book arts to view and new perspectives to be exposed to.

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The steps in binding a pad of Color | Cootie | Feeling | Catcher, a collaboration with Leah Rosenberg. Make a guide to evenly space the holes. Use a pin tool to punch holes (put a weight on the text block to hold it steady). Wax your thread. Start your thread so the tail goes out the side of the block (to hide the knot later). Sew down the length of the book, and back. Tighten each stitch. Tie a knot in the middle of the pad (to hide the knot, see?). Use a bone folder “beat the swell,” which is to smash down any additional thickness gained from binding.

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Steps in adding an endpaper-wrap: Use a triangle and bone folder to score a line in the endpaper. Fold along the score. Mark the depth of the pad on your end paper. Score and fold at the mark. Use pieces of newsprint as a mask to apply PVA only to one half of the end paper. Glue down to your text block and beat down with a bone folder. Smooth the edge with a bone folder too. Flip the book over and apply glue to the last segment of endpaper and smooth with a bone folder. Tada!

WHEN:

The residency is from January to December, theoretically. In reality, it’s looser than that. As a live-out studio program for local artists, they don’t have to enforce strict end dates. In fact, they offer AIRs the chance to continue working in the studios until their exhibitions, which are typically scheduled in April of the following year, affording three ‘bonus’ months of studio access. (I returned my keys for incoming AIRs and thus was keyless those last three months. It worked out most—but not all—of the time.) Additionally, AIRs are required to complete letterpress and binding classes before using the studio, and may be screened additionally before printing unsupervised, so matching schedules is advantageous.

My residency started in January 2016. I had already made a three-month, out-of-state commitment last year, so I tried to make the most of the rest of the year. I expected to be more active in the fall, but my seasonal job sapped my time and energy, and I got sick often. Moving forward, I have a more realistic sense of what I can achieve in the fall.

The Center underwent through renovations in December and January, through the spring. The space is modest, storage is limited, and programming can interfere with studio access. As mentioned in my prior post, flexibility and forbearance are helpful.

I was able to dedicate more time in the lead-up to the exhibition, so the bonus months were critical to my growth.

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In Bookbinding II, I learned how to pare leather to make hardcover books with a decorative cord on the spine.

WHO:

There are usually 5 AIRs every year. Every year’s cohort of artists is different. Some years’ AIRs are very tight, and other years’ are less present and supportive. If you’re thinking of applying, here are some tips (I was on the selection panel for the 2017 program): You don’t have to be experienced in book arts or printing. You should have a well-developed, thoughtful body of work. You should be prepared to make the most of the opportunity. And you should contribute to the Center with your presence and practice.

There are also three Scholars—who have more bookbinding experience and propose specific book projects—who start their residencies in the fall. In addition, there is a community of renters—often artists and bookbinders who produce their own work or work for clients there. The Center also regularly books Stewards to provide technical advice during certain nights of the week (ask regularly, and double-check).

I was very grateful to be able to turn to the Scholars, renters and Stewards for help. They answered questions and provided technical advice and feedback. I couldn’t have made my final project without their help! I also learned from them by osmosis, observing different styles of working, and expanded scopes of what I thought possible in book arts.

The Center for Book Arts is a small non-profit. The staff work hard, pull long hours, and do unglamorous tasks to keep the place running. Renters, teachers, and supporters supplement by pitching in or bearing with inconveniences. I’ve been thinking about how print shops are communal spaces that foster interdependence. I have had opportunities to reflect on the ups and downs, and the boundaries that make for healthy relationships.

WHERE:

One of my favorite aspects of this residency is the great location at 27th and Broadway, in NoMAD (just north of Madison Square). It took refreshingly little effort and time to get there after work. It’s very easy and convenient to get there by subway. I also got a Citibike membership, which was worthwhile. There are ample options for healthy food and groceries nearby. (That may sound trivial, but it amounts to more studio time and focus.)

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Printing a “pressure plate” of cut paper, and wood type.

WHY:

I also really appreciate the way that the residency and access to the Center enhances my skills and capacities. One of my most memorable moments was responding to an evolving situation quickly by printing a poster, and being able to distribute it while still printing to appreciative people. I’ve adapted to having access to printing; my foray into Riso printing while the Center was being renovated was an expensive reminder of printing otherwise.

Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to create my final project without this residency. I greatly increased my book arts skills. Though I’d done relief printing in undergrad, I hadn’t ever gotten very comfortable with letterpresses. By the end of the residency, I’d gotten more fluent at solving problems, and working with, not against, the nature of lead type.

My final project is Working Together: a mix-and-match book of nice and not-so-nice modes of collaboration. It’s inspired partly by investigating collaboration as a subject and a practice over the past two years, and partly by politicians’ disregard for others over the past several months. While mix-and-match books—as well as teaching cooperation—might be associated with childhood, I have come to think that collaboration is not a skill once mastered, but a lifelong series of choices.

I’m very grateful to the Center for Book Arts for this opportunity, and by extension to the NEA, NYS Council on the Arts, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, and NY City Council for supporting the Center for Book Arts.

I feel like I’ve worked my way into the rhythms or the fabric of the Center. It’s nice to feel a sense of kinship with the other shop users, and to feel that I have a place I can go to, belong, and do my work. The Center welcomes AIRs to stay on with affordable studio rental rates, an option I’ll likely explore in the future.

Working Together is on view, in the Workspace Artists-in-Residence exhibition, through June 30.

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Meta-Practice

Center for Book Arts Residency Notes, Part 1

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Ways and Means tool roll, 2016, two-color print of line cuts, linoleum, and moveable type (not shown) on canvas.

For the past three months, I’ve been taking classes and doing lots of letterpress printing at the Center for Book Arts in their Artist-in-Residence Workspace Grant program. It’s been neat to get to know this compact Manhattan non-profit printshop, bindery, and gallery, and the community that keeps it running and makes it vital.

Right after returning from Kala in February, I dived straight into a five-day, intensive Bookbinding class at the Center for Book Arts. The class was taught by Nancy Loeber (see her beautiful books of reduction woodcut portraits). I loved the pace of the class—she kept a phenomenal energy up, and exposed students to a tremendous amount of technical knowledge. We made many different soft and hard cover book structures, made our own book cloth, and practiced techniques to make our books more precise and tidy. The class was also a great way to spend time at the Center, and get to know a few of my fellow AIRs, Scholars, and other students.

I learned about pressure printing in a fun weekend class with Macy Chadwick. I’d never heard of pressure printing before. It’s a sort of ingenious process, similar to collagraph. You make a plate out of paper or other thin, flexible materials, only instead of inking up the plate, you sandwich it with your printing paper that you set in the grippers. That all goes around the cylinder, where your paper picks up ink from a thick acrylic plate. The result is a print that is mostly solid, with texture and ghostly halos. It’s loose, quick, and experimental—qualities that are opposite of most other letterpress methods.

I also took a broadsides letterpress printing class with Rich O’Russa, who encouraged my wacky experimentations printing on cloth and locking up type on angles. It was a great way to get more practice setting type and learning the quirks of some of the Center’s seven letterpresses.

After taking these classes and the Renter Training class, and printing during the Supervised Printing nights, I was recently given the go-ahead to print unsupervised in May.

I’ve been printing activities for activity kits using moveable type, linoleum, and polymer plate.

I find setting moveable type to be incredibly time-consuming, frustrating, and both antagonistic and contiguous with my typographic sensibilities. On one hand, I have a pretty good sense of typography from doing graphic design and calligraphy, so the shapes of my typeface of choice, Lydian, is familiar. On the other hand, my discernment is also the source of friction—it’s hard to express how much it gets my goat when I find an italics or condensed letter in the roman job case, or worse, in my lock-up when I’m already on press.

Letterpress is physical in the extreme. Every letter, every point and pica of space, has to be accounted for with a corporeal material, which has to be stored and organized to some extent in a communal printshop. The reward is an ineluctable perfection of slight imperfection, that polymer plate doesn’t achieve. After setting type for a few projects, polymer plate feels so fast and painless—and the painlessness is both relaxing and unnerving. I got the feeling I’m not learning anything right now. But it’s also nice to go home at a reasonable hour.

The Center is located in NoMad. As the site is not capacious, and is also used for classes and events, it is helpful to approach with flexibility, cooperation, and forbearance. The location is great—close to many options for transportation, food, and art stores around 23rd Street, Madison Square, and Koreatown.

The 2015 Workspace AIRs’ exhibition, along with two other shows, are on view through June 25. Stop by to see eclectic interpretations of the book form; you will also see the studios as well.

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Meta-Practice, Thought Experiments in Agency, Travelogue

Kala Fellowship: Residency Notes, Part 1

Notes from the first half of a printmaking residency in Berkeley, CA.

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A view of Kala’s printshop.

[Note: Kala is redesigning their website—sorry for links that may soon break.]

What

I just wrapped up my first of two stints as a 2015-2016 Fellow at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA. Kala is a 40-year-old non-profit arts organization, at the heart of which is a massive print shop in the top floor of a former Heinz ketchup factory. Their printmaking facilities span etching, stone lithography, relief, letterpress, and screen print. They also have an electronic media center with a 44” printer, a darkroom, and a shooting room. Around the corner, they have another space, which includes a gallery, collections, a classroom, and three project space/studios.

It’s like an Artist’s Playland.

As a fellow, I receive access to the printmaking studio, free tutorials, a free class, the use of a 100-square-foot private studio, a discount on classes and purchases, and a stipend.

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Demo from the Repeat Pattern Screen Printing class with Emily Gui.

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Studio 270º.

When

The fellowship lasts up to six months. I’d heard that a few past Fellows were able to be active all six months, but many were not, likely due to finances or jobs. The Bay Area’s high cost of living is another limiting factor, for international artists and at least one other NYC artist I’ve corresponded with. I have also been told that many Fellows schedule their stints towards the end of the Fellowship period.

I committed to 2.5 concentrated months due to finances and logistics. I just wrapped up a 4.5-week stay from early January through early February. I will be back for a second stint in June and July to make more work and to install my work in the Fellows’ show and attend the opening. The exhibition is scheduled to open in mid-July.

I was mostly focused on studio work, but I was able to visit the re-openings at Berkeley Art Museum and the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, and Related Tactics: Declarations for the New Year at Southern Exposure. I also enjoyed the Kala Artists’ Annual in the Kala Gallery (on view through March 26)—it’s a great way to be introduced to the work of the AIRs that I was working alongside, and be inspired by the range of work and media.

Actually, I’d been in a Kala Artists’ Annual many years prior. I interned there after undergrad, and used the presses for my reduction woodcut prints. In the intervening years, I visited the gallery, wrote about an exhibition, and submitted applications to the Fellowship program. I think my familiarity with Kala, printmaking, and the region were very helpful in my planning and expectations.

Where

Artists couldn’t ask for a better location. Just across the parking lot from Kala are a large hardware store and Looking Glass Photo & Camera, probably the best photo store in the East Bay. Across San Pablo are independent businesses Discount Fabrics, MacBeath Hardwood, Ashby Lumber, and Urban Ore (building materials salvage). An art supply store with a decent selection of printmaking supplies and paper is located 1.5 miles away.

You can also find Kelly Paper in Oakland and TAP Plastics in El Cerrito. (I don’t usually promote chain stores, but I missed these two after I moved to NYC, which lacks adequate counterparts.)

Just across the street is Berkeley Bowl West, a fantastic grocery store with prepared food. Its produce section is probably bigger and fresher than anywhere I’ve been. You get healthy grab-and-go food or stock up on groceries in the Kala kitchen. It’s a major perk of the location.

Kala’s split spaces—print shop and gallery—are located on different sides of the same block. To access one from the other, you can walk through loading docks and a parking lot, a sidewalk that fancifully circumnavigates trees along car-heavy San Pablo, or through neighboring JFK University and more loading docks. It’s not far, but it feels like it is.

This part of West Berkeley was industrial, and the building has its own monolithic architectural beauty. However, artists should note that access is easiest for those who can readily climb a short ladder, walk steep ramps, and climb stairs.

I borrowed a car, which made a world of difference for my commute from the peninsula (south of San Francisco), and getting supplies. West Berkeley is not very close to BART (the subway/commuter rail system). For artists coming from out of town, I recommend staying as close to Kala as possible. If not, having a car—and a high tolerance for traffic or the willingness to commute during off hours—will be useful. At the very least, I think you’d want a bike and a bike map.

Who

This year there are eight Fellows. Kala also has about 50-70 artists-in-residence (AIRs). The AIR program is similar to a membership, allowing access to the print shop and media center. For local artists working in print and digital media, the AIR program’s tiered rates can help make it a great alternative to a private studio.

I really looked forward to becoming part of this Kala community. When I interviewed Kevin B. Chen for my ‘zine, CO-LABORATION, he said:

As a young person, Kala Art Institute was an amazing place to be—a shared facility for printmaking with an ethos of collectivity and collaboration. This was seminal in my thinking about artistic practice as part of a larger dialogue, a community. It was (and is) a real community of artists whose ideas and work didn’t exist in the vacuum of a solitary studio, but rather was in the open and collectively shared. The notion of gestalt—the whole is more than the sum of its individual parts—took root for me then.

At Kala, I encountered these moments of serendipity. It’s a communal space, so I admired Emmanuel Montoya’s oversized woodcut prints, and the nearly silent way he and his assistant worked together. Having only ever seen monoprinting with oils, I was impressed by how an artist used watercolors on her acrylic plate, and she kindly explained the process. Often the print shop felt like an atelier—artists were quietly engaging their solitary studio practices, respectfully allowing others to do the same. Then, someone might put on the water kettle, and gradually artists gathered for lunch, and there’d be a friendly, energetic dialogue.

My most meaningful instance of serendipity is being a concurrent Fellow with San Francisco-based Leah Rosenberg. She began her stint in January, too, following her residency in Omaha and project in Hamburg. In the past, she and I collaborated with the late, painfully missed Susan O’Malley. Re-connecting with Leah, at Kala (where Susan’s “Be You” mural for Print Public is just across San Pablo) was some sort of cosmic gift, a confluence of Kala’s mysterious ability to survive an economic environment hostile to arts organizations, the jurors’ visions, and our own good luck. We are collaborating on a participatory project for the exhibition in July. It was also so nice to have a buddy. Doing a residency can be isolating—you’re away from your home and partner, and somewhat at the mercy of an institution yet on a self-directed journey, so having someone to share the experience and mutual support is strengthening.

How

Fellowships are awarded via an annual open call juried by outside curators and artists. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve applied. I submitted an application last spring, and got an email requesting confirmation of my interest in summer or early fall. I’m finding that artist’s experiences of residencies are highly shaped by the liaison, and Artist Programs Manager Carrie Hott (see her work, which I’ve mentioned here) was professional, responsive, interested, and interesting.

The Fellowship seems set up to support artists and let them get to work. At the Orientation, Studio Manager Paper Buck (see his work) asked us what media we’d like to use, and what tutorials we’d need. On the spot, he incorporated a screen coating and exposing tutorial. Carrie handed out keys to residents and fellows. That was day one. We were free to access the studios 24/7.

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Changing out the tympan in a Vandercook letterpress tutorial with Carissa Potter Carlson.

Kala relies on an honor system, and trusts AIRs and Fellows to work within their experience levels. If you are fluent with a piece of equipment, they might briefly talk it through with you, or they might leave it at that. If needed, you can request a tutorial. Brief tutorials are free and scheduled with individual staff members and teachers. You can also request a longer tutorial—available to AIRs at an hourly rate of $40, which I think is very artist-friendly, and free for Fellows.

Kala also offers a free, completely optional class to Fellows.

It took me about a week or two to get rolling in the print shop. When I was eager to get a screen printing refresher, an AIR was kind enough to walk me through it.

Kala’s requirements of Fellows are minor—donate three works (typically editioned work) to the permanent collection. Include credit lines. Submit good photo documentation. That’s pretty much it.

Why

I had an overwhelmingly positive experience over the past few weeks.

I’ve been exploring artists’ agency and interdependence, and want to make activity kits along these themes. I shipped my sewing machine to Kala, but ended up wanting to use my time at Kala mostly to print; I can always sew back in NYC. I did a lot of screenprinting on fabric, a little bit of letterpress and polymer plate, one woodblock (thanks to encouragement by KBC), a little participatory project, and the collaboration with Leah.

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Big roller, split well, birch plywood woodcut

I had books about artists’ self-organization and alternatives, but put off reading them. Printmaking is preparation-intensive, and I felt like I had plenty to do in the print shop everyday. I’ve been mulling these podcasts and articles.

If there was any stress, it was completely self-inflicted. At residencies, I am quite aware of the many artists who would like the opportunity I have, and I tend to want to earn the right to be there by being very productive. But the creative process isn’t linear. And I dabble around in too many media for processes to go perfectly every time. I usually reach a point where I have too many ideas and not enough time left, so I try to simplify and prioritize. The hardest part is letting go of what I can’t or needn’t do. For example, I re-printed a three-color repeat pattern screen print on 10 feet of fabric. It took me about 1.5-2.5 hours every day for six days. If I were able to let go of the flaws and mistakes of the first print, and adhere to my list of priorities, I would have moved on to other projects. But I was obsessed: I knew I could make it better.

Printmaking can be highly technical. For some, its established markers of craftsmanship can make it intimidating, and mastery expressed in minutia can make it seem arcane. But printmaking can also be looser and inventive. I like how you can also make it up as you go along, like making jigs—improvising and refining combinations of materials, time, pressure, and alignment. A folded playing card is a great tool for picking up prints from the press. A “jigsaw” woodcut of squares and triangles could be done in minutes on a miter saw. A plastic sheet can be a backing for screenprinting a t-shirt, or a tympan for printing a woodblock. Do whatever works.

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I devised a simple pulley system for printing and drying yards of fabric.

 

 


 

Thanks so much to Kala Art Institute, its funders, staff, interns, the jurors, AIRs and fellow Fellows for this tremendous opportunity and amazing experience thus far…

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Art Competition Odds

art competition odds: Kala Art Institute 2015 Fellowship

The Kala Art Institute’s 2015 Fellowship Award received 275 applications for eight Fellowships and four Honorary AIR awards.

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Fellows comprise about 1:34, or 2.9% of applicants.

Fellows and Honorable Mentions comprise about 1:29 or 4.3% of applicants.

See last year’s odds, or all Art Competition Odds.

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Sights

Get Excited: September Exhibitions

So many shows to be excited about this fall! These are particularly promising.

Through 11/2
Intersecting Editions @ Castle Gallery at the College of New Rochelle, New Rochelle, NY
Group exhibition of artists whose work spans print and ceramic media.
Curated by fellow Bronx AIMer Sarah Rowe and Rachel Sydlowski.

Through 9/28
Chicago in LA: Judy Chicago’s Early Work, 1963–74 @ Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn
I have to catch this show before it closes!

Through May 2015
Secondhand @ Pier 24, San Francisco, CA
Group show on appropriated photography including Hank Willis Thomas and Matt Lipps.

9/5-10/11
Pablo Guardiola @ Romer Young Gallery, San Francisco, CA

9/5–1/4/15
Nam June Paik: Becoming Robot @ Asia Society, Manhattan
The venerable new media pioneer.

9/12–?
Adam Brent @ Auxillary Projects, Greenpoint, Brooklyn
One-fifth of BROLAB inaugurates the new digs of the artist-run alternative space of Jennifer Dalton and Jennifer McCoy.
See @auxproj on Twitter for more info.

9/13–10/18
Mona Hatoum: Twelve Windows @ Alexander & Bonin, Chelsea
(Full disclosure: helping out with this installation.) I think it’s an effective, provocative intervention.

[Not to mention my show, The Eve Of…, which also opens 9/13!]

9/19–20
Chashama Open Studios @ Brooklyn Army Terminal, Sunset Park, Brooklyn
A gazillion studios in these seriously massive old buildings, whose awe-inspiring scale alone are worth the trip. Also check out studios of Bronx AIMer Brian Zegeer and CCA alum Carl Auge.

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Art Competition Odds

art competition odds: Kala Art Institute 2014 Fellowship

The Kala Art Institute’s 2014 Fellowship Award received 330 applications for nine Fellowships and six Honorary AIR awards.

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Fellows comprise about 1:36, or 2.7% of applicants.

Fellows and Honorable Mentions comprise 1:22 or 4.5% of applicants.

See last year’s odds, or all Art Competition Odds.

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Art Competition Odds

art competition odds: Center for Book Arts’ Artist-in-Residence Workspace Program

The Center for Book ArtsArtist-in-Residence Workspace Program received approximately 150 applications for 5 AIRs in 2014.

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Participants comprise about 1:30, or 3.3% of applicants.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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