Posts by Anna
Excuse the pun in the title, but this post is about the time constraints of our class’s press project, and I couldn’t help but make the nod to David Bowie––may his soul soar epically through the farthest reaches of outer space.
Tomorrow is the last day of class (already!) so we’ll be taking as much time as necessary, presumably the entire morning, to print our book. For three hours this afternoon and three hours on Monday we’ve been setting our pages of type, putting the spreads in a desired order, choosing colors for paper and ink, and carving linoleum slabs for illustrations. Setting type is slow and relaxing. Also, one’s fingers tend to be covered in poisonous lead residue by the end.
Carving linoleum, on the other hand, has proven to be far more frustrating from my perspective. It took me two hours and three attempts to finish my first illustration last night. Tonight I spent another two hours filling my desk with gray shavings, but this time I was able to complete two images without making irreparable mistakes. So I suppose practice helps, and I’m rather content with how they look. However, my fingers have suffered much worse than a little metal grime in this case. My characteristic carelessness has brought about a few jabs from the carving tool, and while two of them were minor, a rather forceful one from this afternoon at the press gave me a profusely bleeding left thumb and a throbbing pain that didn’t subside until after dinner. No matter that Aaron warned us of the sharp dangers––I’m still incredibly prone to risk-taking and clumsiness.
We chose a deep reddish brown as the ink for our text, and Aaron showed us how to follow the Pantone swatchbook formula for mixing. It’s a painterly process, and if you know enough about mixing colors you can step away from the swatches and create your own.
Once the ink was made, a few of my classmates began printing. They completed all 30 copies of our title page, dedication, and colophon, which is the page at the end that says where the book was published and when. It seemed like we accomplished a lot today, but we still have a great deal of work to do tomorrow. Thankfully Aaron keeps coffee brewed in the pot by the door.
I’m certainly interested in returning to the press under circumstances that are less time-sensitive. I would love to put even more effort into the content and design decisions. Paradoxically, I’m impatient with my own creativity, considering how difficult I find it to revisit and revise the things I make, and yet I don’t like to feel rushed. In terms of hanging out at the press, I hope to be able to choose an event or two from the college calendar many weeks in advance, and carefully design and print posters for them. The ones I’ve seen thus far are astonishingly eye-catching, and it’s evident how much work goes into each one.
Now for an unrelated note, regarding last night’s reading: If you’ve never heard of the book thief Stephen Blumberg, his story is fascinating. He stole approximately 286,000 books from university libraries across the nation in the 1970s and 80s––not to sell, like many book thiefs before him did, but to keep in his own private collection. His obsession with Victorian-era objects began when he was 12 years old and his behavioral tendencies were clearly influenced by his family’s mental health history (a topic that is very interesting and important to me). Even Colorado College’s Special Collections has seen the expert thieving hands of Blumberg! He made away with five books on the history of the American West, but only two were attributed to our library and eventually returned. To find out more about the bibliomaniac, click here.
Thanks for reading.
On Wednesday our time in Special Collections was spent carefully handling rare, ancient objects, like clay tablets from 2,000 BCE, or a leaflet of the Gutenburg Bible, to help us think about books’ beginnings. Yesterday, we time traveled to recent centuries, where the bird’s-eye view is quite different. Jessy covered the tables in books that bless the modern world with their novelty, artistry, bright colors, and overall intrigue––for example, one of my favorites: The Little Prince as a pop-up book!
We perused and admired, asked questions silently and aloud. Then we each sat down and explained an object of interest. I attempted to talk about the mysterious “Fire Dogs” by Ken Campbell, Caitlin sympathized with a sneezing bear in “Little Fur Family,” Nate held up the beastly novel rendition of “Where the Wild Things Are.”
Eventually the discussion moved to a book that once graced the display case on the library’s second floor, at the start of the school year. It looks like a composition notebook, but it’s made of fabric and every word is embroidered. It’s called “Common Threads,” and Texas-based artist Candace Hicks (check out her website here) sold it to our collection at a discounted price of $925. “Maybe, if you divide that cost by the number of hours she spent on it, she was making minimum wage,” said Jessy. Indeed, the book is so intricate and must have taken a very long time, especially considering the artist was just starting to refine her craft. My classmate John brought up the inevitable question: why would someone do something so incredibly tedious?
We entered into a philosophical discussion of why we play sports, why we make jewelry, why we wrote poetry, why we play musical instruments. If not seeking fame or fortune, why do we engage in repetitive, tedious activities that fall under the category of “art?” What is it that we’re looking for?
My contribution included a reflection on last semester, when I didn’t set aside enough time to be creative. By the time it was ending, I noticed more and more my deep-seated frustration concerning my artistic endeavors, or rather, the lack thereof. I dabble in many mediums and feel that I’m mediocre at lots of things––collage-making, poetry, playing the piano––instead of learnéd and talented in one area, which seems like it would be far more satisfying in the long run. I envy my roommate who has played jazz trombone from a young age, and my other roommate who draws consistently and seems to be on a path toward common themes in her drawings. My urgent goal is to find the medium I enjoy the most (it might even be radio production), and put in my “10,000 hours.” This is obviously quite tedious and will require a lot of patience. But if I’m not actively pursuing this goal, I start to feel restless and unfulfilled.
The question still stands: why do human beings care so much to use their creativity? Why do we feel this intense need to use our hands? Even after reading up on the brilliant observations science has made on this subject, there’s a philosophical curiosity that can’t be satiated. So much is happening in the brain all at once when art is being made, or music being played, and we’ll never fully understand our own minds, so the mystery will go unsolved.
It was refreshing to look at books, and not just artists’ books, through this lens; naturally, writing of any kind is applicable to a conversation about creativity and expression. Even though we’ll never fully know why we feel the urge to write, at least we can rest assured that the urge will be there.
Where on campus can you find an illustration of the charismatic and extinct dodo bird, drawn by the hand of someone who lived among them? The answer, of course, is Special Collections. Even considering the last five months I’ve spent working there, pulling and re-shelving materials from its four chambers—the CC room, Colorado room, Special Editions room, and the vault—I still consider it a treat to have an entire class period, such as today’s, dedicated to a close look at a handful of items. I intend to become as familiar as possible with the collection during my four years, and this morning was another big step in that direction. Not to mention, now I’ve seen a predictably accurate sketch of the dodo bird (while on the previous page is a terrifying, seemingly inaccurate drawing of a flying squirrel).
In this half-block, our objective is to consider the nature of books as objects, rather than engaging in an intense scrutiny of their content, which is a necessary learning activity of your average course. Part of this consideration is the process of printing. Fortunately, the Press at Colorado College is a well-oiled machine (thanks to aficionado Aaron Cohick) that exposes to 21st century students the art of the letterpress. Yesterday we learned to set two sentences of type in preparation for our group printing project.
We have finalized our ideas for the mini-book we will print next week; my two-page spread will include poems and illustrations about banned books and the role they’ve played in society. I’ll also be commenting on what censorship might look like in the future––think Fahrenheit 451 (one of my all-time favorites, by the way).
It turns out that “The History and Future of the Book” is somewhat of a misleading title. Whenever I say it to others after they ask me which class I’m taking, many of them think “the Book” refers to the Bible, when really we’re looking at all books, not just the one that’s been printed, bought, and sold the most. Thank goodness, because it’s quite fascinating to think about where books have their origins, how they function in today’s world, and what they might look like in 100 years (Kindles only? Not enough trees to make paper?). Hopefully, the book my classmates and I produce will encourage its readers to think about the same ideas.