Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Art of the Japanese Stencil

Stencils have long intrigued me as they are one of the oldest and simplest methods of making multiples of images. At the hands of a skilled artist, they can also be one of the most challenging and beautiful.
     This lovely mid-century sample book of designer's stencil patterns recently stopped me in my tracks. It is printed on Japanese paper in a method called katagami, and is one of six books (all sold, mind you), from the Boston Book CompanyI felt they all warranted display for reasons that should be apparent. With Japanese stab bindings, the six albums contain nearly 600 full-page designs in all. The catalogs are from Kamiya Kichinosuke of Matsuya (the company name).
     Katagami, is the term for the Japanese paper stencil used to make elaborate patterns for printing on a variety of substrates. Although stencilling can be a relatively simple printing process, this technique took skilled craftsmen years to master. The history of katagami can be traced back to the samurai warrior's armor in the 8th century, but it wasn't until the 17th century when the practice of printing the patterns on kimono fabrics began to flourish in Japan. In short, the stencils are made from a thin sheet of mulberry paper treated with persimmon juice to give it strength and water resistance. The sheets are then hung in a closed room and smoked for several days in order to harden the persimmon coating. For more detail, the Cooper Hewitt Museum produced this text for an exhibit on katagami in 1979, and recently demonstrated the process here 


My discovery of the Japanese katagami books at the Boston Book Company led me on a trail to another curious book about the process. The Book of Delightful and Strange Designs was written and printed in three languages in 1893 by Andrew White Tuer (1838-1900), a London stationer and printer from his Leadenhall Press, one of the most innovative of the Victorian era. Tuer writes with a wry wit and keen interest about the Japanese stencil process from the vantage point of a novice, often deferring to "the Gentle Reader" in his comments. He does draw a few interesting comparisons and insights to lithographic printing when describing the registration process. 

Tuer's book is a very quick and fun read and includes 100 katagami examples. One of my new favorite sites, Codex99 also wrote a great analysis with footnotes on this same book (which I discovered only after finding the Internet Archive version.)
     As another fun sidenote, I learned that Andrew Tuer and his printing partner Abraham Field, were responsible for publishing the influential Printer's International Specimen Exchange from 1880 to 1898. This annual subscription for the "technical education of the working printer" taught a whole new generation of printers around the world about printing and design at the time. The images below are from a Specimen Exchange set which British Letterpress kindly shared on Flickr.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Second Lives of Books

After viewing the new Chronicle Books edition, Art Made From Books, by Laura Heyenga, it appears the literary landscape is being altered more than I could imagine. The work of twenty-seven international artists, including one anonymous artist who participates in guerilla book sculpture, are recognized in this anthology for their sculptural interpretations, transformations, and REcreations of the book. These engaging new works are about the book as object. Their medium is the raw materials of discarded, damaged, and abandoned books. Their message is the telling of new stories. 

In some cases, the books revert back to nature where their pulp originated, such as in the work of artist Guy Laramee, seen above, who carves volumes of books into beautiful zen gardens and remarkably accurate representations of steep topographical terrain. These carved literary landscapes reveal a new message about time and the erosion of our culture, yet they are inviting enough to step inside and explore if one only could. 

No anthology of altered books would be complete without the remarkable work of Brian Dettmer of Atlanta, Georgia. Dettmer, who contributed the preface to this book, cuts up books with the deft skill of a neurosurgeon. As he cuts away, he reveals new words, stories and images, and breaths a new life into each of his works. As one would imagine, Dettmer's intricate handwork requires some very sharp x-acto blades, and he claims he buys them by the thousands. He admits he often replaces his blades about every ten or twenty minutes, depending upon the thickness of the paper he is cutting at the time.  

Dettmer's collection of used x-acto blades. 
Source: Austin Kleon

In an informative introduction to Art Made From BooksAlyson Kuhn addresses the notion, impulse and debate surrounding altered and augmented books. To give us some historical context, she describes a popular pastime of embellishing books in 18th century England called extra-illustration. Publisher's often included blank pages in their bound editions so people could insert their own artwork, and customize it with prints or clippings from other sources. As Kuhn so aptly describes, "the original bound text was supplemented by the owner, who then possessed a uniquely curated edition—an interesting variation on vanity publishing." 
     This genteel hobby of embellishing lost favor in the 19th century, after critics justifiably accused the extra-illustrators of dismembering treasured books. In recent years, many of these historic augmented books have since become highly prized by librarians and book collectors. The Huntington Library in Pasadena currently has an exhibit of 40 extra-illustrated works in their collection dating from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. "Illuminated Palaces: Extra-Illustrated Books from The Huntington Library" is on view until October 28th.   

Argentinian artist Pablo Lehmann transforms books and text by cutting them, leaving it to the reader to interpret the lovely web of words he weaves which resembles a net of lace paper. 

British artist Jennifer Collier treats paper like cloth and stitches it with thread. She works with pages from books to create everyday household objects and clothing. 

In a completely different take, Jeremy May of Littlefly in the UK, creates literary jewels fashioned from the laminated pages of books and colored papers. His wearable jewelry of rings, bracelets, pendants and more, come nested inside the excavated space of the original book. Each unique object carries a serial number.

Lettering, paper and book artist Pamela Paulsrud turns books into stones. Touchstones she calls them—which carry the weight of time and storytelling—just as the wave-washed stones found on the beach. 

These artworks are just a cameo of the many engaging examples featured in Art Made From BooksThe twenty-seven artists featured in this anthology have each found new narratives in the raw materials of discarded and damaged books, and their altered, augmented and eviscerated works have become the beautiful ruins in a new literary landscape.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Eskimo Book

The Eskimo, a 15-page scrapbook, has long been sold off on Etsy, but I find the book so endearing I wanted to include it here. There is no name or age given, but it is said to be made as a class project in the 1930s, rendered with construction paper, crayon, pencil, and ink. A close look at the hand-cut letters on the cover reveals some clever production handwork, as it appears this young student folded some of the symmetrical letters (The H, E and O) in half before cutting them out. I'm not sure what the intention of the four cornerpieces were, however the choice of the muted color palette perfectly suits a book on the Eskimo, as in theory, these monochromatic colors typify the landscape of the frozen North. I think the standout image of the entire book is by far, the 3-legged black polar bear silouette. It's a stunning design—almost postmodern in concept with it's simplicity—though my guess it was copied from a photo. None-the-less, it was very perceptive to willingly illustrate a polar bear in black on white, which is contrary to our very notion of one, but it works beautifully. I hope the teacher gave this kid an A+ on this book. It is well-deserved.

To see more kids book art, checkout the former Letterology links on The Story of Paper and the original AutoFaceBook.

Friday, September 20, 2013

First Class Travel

Taking a leisurely trip back to Czechoslovakia to see some first class luggage labels. I do hope the Hotel Esplanade has a giant red M with a real fountain, just like on their label. Most all the labels displayed here are available for sale at this time.
::This souvenir is available here.

::Praja Hotel Atlantic is available here.

::Hotel Koruna is available here. 

::Available here.

::Another CSA label from here.

Two versions of the Hotel Jalta luggage label from different sources. Version one on left is available here. Version two on right is available here

 :: ::Hotel Continental is available here. 

::Available here.

:: Available here.

::Available here.