Monday, October 15, 2012

Transitioning From Ceramics To Bookbinding

Several years ago I fully expected to be and remain a potter for all of my days. Working with clay brought me incredible joy and I loved experimenting and honing my skills in both hand-building and wheel throwing.

Lupus had another plan for me.  It was, to say the least, a bit devastating to find that the ceramic studio environment was making me ill. I am embarrassingly sensitive to a remarkable number of everyday seemingly harmless chemicals and even more sensitive to more aggressive chemicals and particulates in an industrial environment. Even not-so-extreme temperatures cause my body great distress.

Miniature Accordion Book, 2009
By Amy L. Burns
So in 2008, at the height of my illness with Lupus, I made a difficult choice - to change mediums, leaving behind the pleasure of clay and taking refuge in paper.

The choice to move toward book arts was natural. I had always been an avid reader and lover of all things "book". As a child I wanted to be a poet and author. In college I wanted to be a librarian. So, it made perfect sense that creating books, (or in some case destroying or reinventing books), would appeal to me. It almost surprises me that it took me so long to find book arts - particularly considering I had at least a little exposure to book arts over my short lifetime.

Part of the transition meant learning new skills. There isn't a direct skill transfer from pottery to book arts, although there are definitely similarities. It may be much easier to see the differences between the two.

Minimal Tools Required.
Top: Pinch Pot
Bottom: Paper Bag Book
By Amy L. Burns
Clay is from underground, paper from trees and plants growing above ground. Clay must undergo something of an alchemical process from being raw water-soluble clay to firing in extreme heat of 1000 - 2000 degrees in order to become a solid permanent object impervious to liquids. While books, once created, are fragile and easily destroyed by heat (451 degrees burns paper) and water. And even though one's hands could entirely build a clay object without the use of tools, the most important equipment required is a large, expensive and energy consuming kiln, while book binding tools could easily be a matter of an awl and a needle that fit in one's pocket, with hands doing the rest of the work (tearing paper, smoothing folds). Finally, ceramics, whether wet or fired, are quite heavy, breakable and thus do not lend to a nomadic life.  While books are generally lighter, more compact, and less fragile than clay for transport.

Lidded Vessel, 2008
By Amy L. Burns
Still, it is the similarities that surprise me most. Both mediums are very dependent on the makers hands. Both (as I experience them) require precision of a kind, and detailed work on a tiny scale. Both clay and paper are very tactile materials whether in their finished or unfinished states. And both can be somewhat forgiving or quite temperamental. What I find most striking is how both pots and books are vessels, containers... one holds objects or liquids and one holds thoughts, ideas, images.

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