Saturday, May 9, 2020

Finishing Strong: Chicago

"Art takes time - Monet grew his gardens before he painted them." -Atticus Poetry

Had to be at least ten years ago that I went through a phase of fooling around with white oil pastels on ordinary white tissue paper.

Now that in and of itself is not much of an artistic experience. The marks of the pastel crayon barely leave a trace behind.

But load up a paintbrush full of watercolor and push it across that tissue paper - carefully, so as not to completely demolish the wet tissue - and suddenly those almost invisible markings leap into bold relief.

One day, after an hour or two of .playing with this process with no particular end in sight, as one does, I looked at my work and a theme jumped out at me. My creations reminded me - not just a little but a lot - of my post-college twenty-something life in Chicago.

Then and there, I decided to make some sort of a little book about that life, and use these papers as the background motif.

After prowling the aisles at the craft store, as one does, I found a perfect blank make-your-own-journal kit with heavy card stock pages and a cover, complete with instructions for how to bind everything together in the end.

So I ripped and layered my tissue paper paintings into agreeable fragments, glued them into place with watered-down Elmer's for a nice collage-y look, and sat back to admire my progress.

And then, I was fresh out of ideas.
The Magnificent Mile at night, starring the Water Tower

Well, to be fair, I probably had a few other items ranking higher on my priority list than a book about my past life, but in any case, this project got put on the back burner for a while.

But not too long. Within a year or so, I came up with an idea for illustrations. Since my Chicago life was pre-smart phone and even pre-digital camera, I didn't have many photos to draw upon. So Google came to my rescue. I spent a few nostalgic hours looking at photos of my old stomping grounds in the Loop and printed off my favorite scenes on glossy photo paper.

Thank you to all the photographers whose work I, um, borrowed. I appreciate your artistry.
In 1980, it was called the Xerox Building. Now it's something else but it's still shiny and tall. 

When I went to mount those photos in my book, I realized I had a new problem. The Elmer's glue that held the tissue paper in place was completely dry but not quite cured, I guess you would say. The surface of the pages was a bit tacky, and some of the pages occasionally stuck together. I was not about to let my pretty purloined photos or my perfect background papers get ruined, so I now needed to engineer a solution around that.

More time passed.
The Picasso. Love. 

Eventually, genius struck. I cut up manila file folders to build little flaps for the photos. Fashioning a custom shelter for each image, I then glued them into the book, creating a kind of lift-the-flap experience.

Successful troubleshooting is a heady experience, and I was rolling forward with a full head of steam.

Until the next dilemma struck.

What to do about words?
Bitty little Water Tower and soaring John Hancock. Don't make me choose my favorite. 

I wanted to provide some narrative, a bit of storytelling about how I was impacted by the sights and scenes of the photos, but my options were dismal.

I could not write on the pages. Too bumpy and also sticky. See above.

I could write on a different piece of paper and then cut and glue that paper to fit on my pages. But that would cover up my fabulous tissue collage. Not an option.

I could write on the manila flaps of my photo protectors. Hmm. I pondered this for a long time but decided that strategy would not give me enough room to write. Sadly, the flaps were just too teeny.

Once again, I set the book aside.
The only down side of my binding technique is this bulky knot at the back of the book. I'm fine with it. 

And by aside, I mean that I shoved all the loose pages with their adorable tissue collages and manila-flap-protected photos and the equally adorable cover into a Ziploc bag, along with instructions for binding the book, and ignored them for many years.

Probably eight years.
The L rolling through the Loop. 

A year ago, the book resurfaced. I looked through my work so far, remembered how happy I was with the start of the book and also my frustration of stalled ideas, and decided to keep working on it.

But these old directions on how to bind the book? Pssh, I didn't need them. I'm sure there are plenty of binding tutorials online, I told myself. Let them go.

And so my binding instructions were unceremoniously tossed into the recycling bin.

So this winter, when I pulled this book back out onto the table once again and resolved to finish it, I realized I now had two problems.

!. Still didn't know how to add text to the book.
2. Now I didn't know how to bind it either.

Much to my chagrin, my Google searches did indeed turn up plenty of binding tutorials, but nothing that would work for a book, like mine, with three holes for binding. Most handmade books that need binding apparently have an even number of holes, and the methodologies don't work for odd numbers of holes. So after another week of intense experimentation, I improvised with a long leather cord, and a simple X pattern that efficiently and effectively holds the book together.
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. 

With that problem solved, I went back to the issue of how to add the text. Once day, as I sat at my dining room table, looking at the pages and wondering what to do, I absent-mindedly admired how the translucent tissue paper layers so beautifully, and allows me to see traces of the bottom layers through the top layers. If only, I mused I could add a top layer of words that would still let me see through to the patterned layers below.

And that's when it hit me.

Tracing paper.
Calder's Flamingo. Adore. 

Fast forward one more week for shipping, and I finally found myself scribbling out my thoughts about each Chicago landmark onto bitty scraps of translucent tracing paper and then, when the ink was good and dry, gluing them onto the collaged pages where the underlying colors and patterns still peek through.

Miracle of miracles, my Chicago book was finally done!
Goodbye, Chicago!

I mean, never mind the fact that it took me almost twice as long to make the book as the six years that I actually lived in Chicago. But art is a stern master, and I've learned - as one does - that I cannot rush the process.

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Want to see the other journals I've finished? Check them out here:


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