Monday, December 31, 2012

Coloring gratitude

Thank-you kits! Hopefully the recipients will realize that the actual note is way inside of each. Once I write them. In Korean. This is the more enjoyable part of getting published, making things with pencil and paper in my hands, rather than staring at pixels and asking complete strangers to buy my book.
[Inserts on top.] I haven't made envelopes yet, and it's entirely possible that I will need to make more of these, but at least I'll enter the new year with a few things ready. Thanks for reading and enjoy the final bits of 2012! Looking forward to what comes.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Small gestures over time

[Last night, I couldn't sleep. I dismantled a failed tiny basket and used its parts to make a new one with old cords of patterned Japanese paper whose color ran all over my fingers and the spokes.] There is so much I have been considering for the last month that I can't sleep at night because I feel like my head is going to explode. It's growing pains, and I am always astounded by how much I still have to learn. Most of it revolves around this theme:
  • Where the hell is this ride taking me and am I supposed to sit in the driver's seat or passenger's seat or backseat and why do I feel like I'm in the trunk a whole lot more than I'd like to be?
In 2006, I went to Art Farm and met Jami. I had no idea what to expect, except that she was way cooler than me, so I was slightly terrified. She turned out to be like the big sister I never realized I could have used. She immediately took me under her wing, drove me not only to get groceries (I was the only car-less one), but to go to town so we didn't go stir crazy, go thrift shopping, explore, get stuck behind horses in the dirt roads, and eat at Ruby Tuesday's (where she taught me that it was okay to cut the burger in half and take it home, and that it was equally okay to eat it the rest of it within an hour or two of getting home). It was my first residency, and her second, and she was skilled at fully inhabiting a new place and learning all of its quirks and settling all the way in. She was in charge of the chickens and their eggs and she baked so many pies. I didn't realize there was a garden we could really eat out of until she showed me how much fun it was to dig up potatoes (I mostly butchered them with the shovel) and found bits of broccoli still growing. She stayed up late to help me with a big milkweed project, digging out the middles of the woody stems because I asked her to, even after the others had stopped, even though it turned out I was SO WRONG about which part of the plant I was supposed to be using. She was fun, and funny, and challenging, and kind, and she knew how to work. I remember sitting on the roof of a barn while she talked to me about a time growing up when she was deformed, fat, and smart.

Not only was she the first real live working writer that I had met, but she really believed in what I was doing. I got to follow her career and though she never hid her struggles, she didn't wallow in them. The morning she was leaving at the end of her residency, she came upstairs to the loft where I was still in bed, and wrote me a check that was bigger than I had seen (and bigger than checks I have seen since), saying that she wanted to commission a piece of art. She hung it on one of her huge walls in NYC and I was shocked. We met up once every year or so in the city to catch up, shop for dresses, eat, whatever, while I always got the same message and feeling of support from her. Once she loaned me her car for a trip to D.C., recommended an acupuncture place that was close to where I used to work, and of course advised me on my book and a million other things. Lightning-fast responses, succinct, intelligent, loving.

I read her first book on that farm in Nebraska. Her second on a plane to and from who knows where. Her third in a hotel suite in Miami. They all pulled in the same way; she knew how to move and shape a story. She listened to her characters. Then she got really excited about the fourth, and I remember sitting in bed with my computer when she emailed me a draft to read. I noticed one typo and one place where I was slightly confused. But otherwise, it was a whole new level altogether, and I was excited for her. So happy to see her growth. The last time we met, she knew it would launch in the fall so probably I would not see her then b/c it would be a crazy time. AND HAS IT BEEN CRAZY. The world has finally acknowledged her in the beautiful way that she has deserved for a while. And she has been receiving this love so very graciously. What's even better is that she is still the same person she was before the wild critical and public acclaim and she still says it like it is; her values are tested and solid.

All that to say,
  • I am so grateful for my friends, especially
  • friends who can teach you how to become an even better friend, and
  • friends in creative fields who support each other.
And, of course,

To reduce further frustration

Funny timing, because last night I was despairing about how completely computer-y things have taken over our lives. But here I am, back on the damn thing, trying to outline this simple but hard sewing kit (and it's only one of several options). THIS IS THE KEY: It's made in thirds!
Instead of basic origami that I was used to, which always folds easily into halves and quarters, this dastardly thing is not a pinwheel. I fold the two big diagonals (both valley folds) and then do the grid by eye to make nine squares total. [In grad school, a guest teacher told us she'd show us a trick for how to fold a piece of paper perfectly into thirds. High anticipation, b/c this had eluded me for years. She said to fold a piece of paper into perfect quarters, and then cut off one quarter. Though it certainly works, I don't like tricks that leave me with scraps. So I still eyeball it, and since I'm already using uneven handmade paper, I don't mind that the final bit is not perfectly square.]
Then the steps go a corner at a time, so you repeat the same thing 4x. Pinch one corner and tuck the rectangle down and under it so that it sticks up into a point.
I don't think these images help much but they show the second point, going clockwise.
These images get even more confusing, as you go around to the third and fourth points. There are pre-creases you can make to help guide the folds that become the diagonals inside the square, and these instructions are much clearer than mine. The last one is the one where it all starts to come together if you let it.
Then the fun part: fold all the points in, going clockwise (you can go counterclockwise, too, as long as the points go in a circle consecutively). The last point tucks into the first one.
Done! To make sure you (or whomever gets it now) can put it back together, it helps to draw onto the outer and inner squares in a way that makes it obvious how it sits on itself. Though I can tell you from experience that it's entirely possible to end up folding it not quite right even while following the marks.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


For many months (and maybe even for a few years), I had tried to figure this out from a picture from a book of the unfolded sheet, decorated. I thought I had figured it out, once I folded it back together with the design intact. But I had it wrong! It's a strange route, going from seeing Korean sewing kits in Jeonju to Chinese ones in Brooklyn to cutting and folding and copying from a book that doesn't lay flat when open to hastily browsing booths in Silver Spring and finding a sample by a New Hampshirite who learned from a brilliant German who figured it out from the Chinese sewing kit.

Now I can finally put away the tiny square I had originally folded and left out with my supplies (and even took with me to Santa Fe to try and do it over), because I can make it! Tiny victories.

Friday, December 28, 2012


1. Another bin organized.
2. Paper scraps woven.
3. Technical drawings attempted.
4. Book read.
5. Shipping boxes stored.

Tiny steps, smaller than toes, but a good distraction from the malingering cough (which is a good substitution for situps).

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three more knots tied

1. Finished reading Life Along the Silk Road. It took much longer than I would have liked, and wasn't the smoothest read, but paper showed up a lot in there. I absolutely love the shoe and its design pictured inside. Fancy people could afford to line soles with paper!

2. Donated to Vaya Cuba. Steve works HARD to work on incredible collaborative book projects every year in Cuba.

3. Donated to Hand Papermaking. The only publication of its kind in the field, and they provide other wonderful services to papermakers worldwide.

Now I'm dreading the backlog of digital images that I need to archive online. I used to be better at doing this as I shot, but now it's as unfun as cleaning the bathroom. Which reminds me of one of the more entertaining paper stories from the book:
   After many years of study Fengda accrued sufficient knowledge to try his hand at calculating a calendar. It was 924 and he prepared the manuscript himself, complete with drawings of the Plough constellation. In subsequent years he employed scribes to copy his calendars, but they had to reuse old paper. Fine paper made in central China was rare and expensive, and even local paper was sometimes hard to find. As a result, paper was rarely thrown away, particularly not if it was inscribed with scriptural texts, for these made the piece of paper a sacred object worthy of reverence in itself. When a monk discovered that inscribed paper was being used in the privies of the Chinese imperial palace, he was mortified and wrote a poem to vent his feelings:

    Confucian scholars study the Five Classics, Buddhist scholars the Three Baskets,
    Confucians are considered to observe the proper ritual and to be filial and loyal, and so they are chosen as officials.
    Yet in their examinations they use the same characters as those used to write the Buddhist sutras.
    Some of them do not think of this and they disparage the sacred texts of Buddhism, using them as paper for the privy.
    Their sins are as numerous as the grains of sand in the River Ganges, and many lives of repentance will not be sufficient to erase them.
    Their bodies will sink for five hundred ages; they will forever be condemned to the life of insects in the night-soil pit.

    We do not know whether Fengda used paper for such purposes, but in 928 while looking for a suitable sheet for one of his compositions, he came across his youthful poem and appended a short note: 'This was written in my youth, when I could hardly manage the way. . . . I was but twenty years when I composed it. This year, happening upon the poem again, I am overcome with shame.'

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Slow crawl

I think I've finally reached the turn where now I get better instead of worse, so hopefully by the new year I will be in full health. In the meantime, I've been on the floor working. I spent a good portion of one day sewing up my second book in sheets, only to find that I had made my spine too wide. It was functional but ugly and didn't feel right in my hands. So I ripped it out at night and started over the next day.
I selected Morgan hanji to use as the cover, a little thin but reinforced with shifu. Two done, and there are no more. Yay! Jean's weaving is the backdrop. Now I am onto more tying of loose ends: filing, spreadsheets, and another bin.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Immunity challenges

Got sick. Nothing big, but enough to keep me home and quiet. After moping about it for a while, I started to weave again. These two from last night, plus a scrappy baby that may or may not get a paste coat. Happy time off!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winding down

[Two shots of Fumiko's studio; her building, dedicated to art and artists, is hosting open studios on three floors of a building  this weekend. It's a beautiful space in Harlem with lots of great work inside.] After about 48 hours away, I was happy to have caught up with old friends, sold the two books I carried with me, lectured to bookbinding students, and taken some time off.
These gifts, such treasures, landed in my mailbox on the same day this week! WONDERFUL treats from Velma and Jean. Now, the real weekend begins. Happy solstice!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New history

I'm surprised that Korea elected its first female president ahead of the U.S.! Then again, looking at the way that some things seem to be moving backwards in this country, maybe I should be less surprised. In the meantime, I finally built a new section of my website devoted to the book. It still needs tweaks, but at least it's done (unlike this pile of mixed done and in-progress work).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reframing the end

Somehow, all sewed up! I have one more book in sheets and enough shifu to do a second, but want to think about it before I dive in (mostly because the embroidering is such a headache). I realized this morning why I've been feeling like I've been filling up slowly with lead: this is the time of year not just to go inside, but to tie up loose ends, finish up lingering and malingering work, and prepare for the longer days to come. I kept thinking I was supposed to do new, groundbreaking stuff. That conflict between my mind's misunderstanding and everything else going against is now finally explained.
In light of my discovery, I went through at least three bins of books, samples, teaching tools, and so on, trying to re-organize and purge. Also, I have a lecture to present on Friday at ICP, so I had to pull book samples. I'll leave filing for next week, as well as drawings of a Korean mould, a task I have somehow avoided for well over two years. If I'm lucky, I'll get a section of my website done to feature my book before I devote the rest of my week to friends, open studios, family, meals, movies, and social activity that will keep the lead from sinking.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some silences and not others

Embroidery does not come easily to me, and after all sorts of sewing and ripping out this weekend, I realized I was supposed to take the weekend (or should I say Sunday) off, doing nothing. I just have to repeat words now to finish the spine, and then the shifu will get ironed and then somehow sewn onto the book to become a cover for the cover.
Saturday was a work day, albeit an unusual one. I was part of a book fair to celebrate the 25th anniversary of a local bookstore (that is also now carrying my book, the first brick-and-mortar place to do so). There was an issue with heat and electricity, mostly that we didn't have much, so kept our coats on. But it was an impressive crowd of illustrious book folks; I sat there, amazed to have a view of Ed Young and Jerry Pinkney and their zillions of books surrounding them, an enormous number of years and experience and awards and good cheer and children taught between them. Pat Schories of Biscuit fame made the rounds to greet everyone and I treated myself to a zine by Isabella Bannerman (above), all proceeds donated to the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Fund. James Howe came and found me because his niece, a board member of the Morgan, told him to, and I laughed at his and Ed Young's stories about famous authors being a dime a dozen. Amada, the bookstore owner, is one of those generous hosts who insists on LOTS of food and music, so we were treated to a huge spread and live music (flute, violin, voice, and accordion).
I was especially touched near the end when Ed looked through my business cards (all different images of my artwork) and noticed one of my favorites that has yet to find a home. He said, "I think people will eventually come around to what you are doing. Once all the digital stuff has gotten to a point where everyone can do the same thing, they will come back to this." I was honored that everyone took the time to walk around, introduce themselves, sit down, share stories, and spend time together. I was guilty of mostly staying in my corner because 1. I was starstruck and 2. it was the warmest spot. But it was on the way to the food, so lots of interesting conversations ensued. By the time everything was winding down, a store assistant asked me if I ever made hanji rings (I was making bracelets as giveaways for those who bought my book at the event). I hesitated, but she insisted, saying that Jewish culture is heavy in symbolism and her grandfather had been a Holocaust survivor, talking about how important "papers" were. She will get married next month and wanted something simple, humble, meaningful, and affordable. So I obliged, though I would have liked to add a drop of PVA for safety's sake.

If only glue could keep everything together! If only.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Can't stop! But I will soon because tomorrow I will spend six hours at a book signing. Today: one last long walk in the sun and then tackling shifu in an embroidery hoop.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Smaller and smaller

The original vessel of scraps, and then the mini one made from those scraps...
 In Velma's excitement over the wee ones, I caught a bug...
and was up late making one and a half, then finished the second today plus the lid! Another lid to come, and great pleasure even though my eyes are a bit strained.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Scraps of scraps

This week has been hard, getting the making part of work done while the admin sucks me into a black hole. But I made a stab at it last night and made this itty bitty vessel that is exactly the size of a thimble (maybe a tad shorter, but it fits on my finger). I used hanji scraps from endsheets I prepared for a binding (paper made in Cleveland) and the spokes are the bits of bark leftover from the last vessel.
The base is smaller than a penny! Meanwhile, in business-land, books have been selling particularly well this week and I get dribbles of happy news every day (today, a heads up that a museum may start to carry it and another major university library has already ordered it). And the first book-in-sheets is bound!

Monday, December 10, 2012


[I pulled out an older cord from darker hanji and twined two rows with it for my shoe sole but didn't feel like removing them.] I'm reaching that point where I need to finish what I've started, or go back and fix earlier mistakes. Like the dresses I made this summer, I have to go back a step and get a pattern, or at least get a better understanding of shoe engineering. Or else the end product is going to look awful. This is also why I decided to stay put for the rest of the month and just hold ground. In the meantime, I'm making progress on fleshing out my 2013 book tour, and wanted to note a few highlights:

* Today, I have a guest blog post on a lovely site, Lauren Olivia & Co. They've been wonderful to work with and I enjoyed the challenge of doing an intro to hanji in so many words.

* This Saturday, I will do a book signing to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Galapagos Books, a sweet local book store. The event will be at 22 Main Street in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, from 11am - 5pm. Each copy of my book sold comes with a complimentary hanji bracelet.

* This lecture isn't until April in Boston, but I think the page is pretty (and will be followed up with the first ever joint workshop on art and conservation uses of hanji, taught by Minah Song and myself).

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

More compelling ways to stay busy

[B. papyrifera bark + persimmon-coated Cleveland hanji.] Whenever it's time to update my artist statement, I struggle. This has always been a horribly difficult task for me, even though I enjoy writing and am accustomed to writing about myself. This morning while preparing tea, I realized that what I do comes directly from what I learned from childhood.
Before I knew that other people judged the behavior, I thought it was normal, and frankly, smart, to scavenge. If there was a perfectly functional teapot sitting outside next to the trash, it was fine to pick it up, take it home, scrub it with steel wool, and return it to its former self, a pretty silver kettle. Scraps of everything were saved, food never went to waste, no one consumed more than they needed, lights were turned off when not used, holes were patched, and there were more books than you could ever read in a lifetime in one library. This is probably why I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder's books and later was entranced by the possibilities at thrift stores and never understood why I had to go to the store to buy a bunch of stuff to make art.
Because wasn't everything I needed already with me or easily found and transformed? I remember marveling in middle school when we learned about bartering societies, and wondered why progress meant leaving those practices behind. Currency seemed so unnecessary; why did we invent money when we functioned for so very long without it? Of course, I didn't fully understand human greed and power intoxication then (nor do I now). But I finally understand why I enjoyed conceptual art at first (all you have to do is read and write! No materials if you wanted to be a purist), and then made books out of found objects, and later was more attracted to papermaking from raw materials rather than half-stuff.
Part of the reason that writing the artist statements makes me want to jump out of my skin is that the way that I think and feel about my work is so fully embedded in me that I often can't access it (the whole thing about not being able to see under your own nose). When I am able to grasp the words to articulate what the rest of me has known all along, they seem so obvious as to not be interesting enough to write in a statement. I still wish that my friends could do it for me because they understand what I do—I am further away from the space right under their noses. These days, I also feel like a relic, having been raised by a family that survived a horrible, horrible war that happened in their own country. Being frugal was cultural because it necessitated survival, not because it was trendy. Transforming scraps of paper and twists of bark gives me great pleasure but also provide my hands a life's work, without which my mind becomes dull and dark. It's not the only work I need to do, but it's solid ground.

Update: I thought I could get by for a day w/o book promo, but a new interview is online, via Italy.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Keeping up

[Local paper article, just a snippet of it. Front page here.] For some reason, I keep forgetting that things never just fall into place, schedule-wise. This morning, I was all ready to do some hand work, but only managed to sketch two drafts of a folding technique before life demanded that I stay on hold for hours with health insurance and billing agencies, along with other Monday-ly duties. But at least I got the good news that I'll get to return to the D.C. area to teach at Pyramid in April, which is wonderful! There are a lot of new friends I made on my last visit and I look forward to seeing them again. Also, Helen Hiebert was kind enough to share info on my book and trailer on her blog today. Check her video links there, too, because her new DVD footage is stellar.

Now, with the sun on the other side of the sky as when I had hoped to start, I will get back to work.

Sunday, December 02, 2012


December! That was a sneak attack, but I had a lovely end to November. I caught up with Terttu, who did my book's cover photography. Then I went to Harlem for a studio visit with an artist I randomly found online because she shows at the same gallery as Melissa. Fumiko was fantastic, so full of energy and questions, and her studio was crawling with bugs and creatures on paper that she adds to her paintings. I absolutely love her color sense and we had a long talk about the "art world" and its addiction to trends and credentials. She you have to continually practice, and through the practice, you develop your philosophy. She and I know about practicing, too! She used to play the flute and I saw sheet music under her paintings. She teaches printmaking classes in her studio and lives in a building dedicated to artists. Afterwards, I saw an old friend who is still on the music/violin track, over a huge and delicious Korean dinner.

The ongoing big project has been getting the book into the world. Last week, I walked into a local bookstore, plenty nervous, but was invited to a book signing event in two weeks! It will be nice to do something very local (I can walk my books over). On Friday, the local paper ran a story about the book and what I've been up, so I went to the store to pick up a couple of copies. The store owner grinned when I entered, which I didn't understand until I went to pay. He pointed at my headshot on the front page, then pointed at me, and then shook my hand. He's Korean, so he was very happy to read about hanji in the paper. Later that day, I dropped off a print for a show in NYC, where I hope to schedule a book talk next year, and then went to a specialty bookstore. The book buyer was out, so I was told to call the next day. Partly because I know it's easier to say no to people on the phone, and partly because my knee went into excruciating pain several hours later, I stayed in town and returned the next day. I went to the info desk where I was refused, pretended to leave, and then came back and found the book buyer, who clarified their stance on carrying books. Hopefully a consignment deal will be in the works soon.

And now that December is here, it's time to get my hands onto something. Today, some bark!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

The book trailer

Thanks to all of the people I met and learned from in Korea, who made the book possible! And to my sister, for editing the trailer (to view it at YouTube, here's the link).

The daze begins

Clyde sent me a CD full of images, wonderful pictures he had taken at Pyramid during my demo. I went through them and laughed, because I feel like I was using my hands more than the people who were interpreting my talk (one is beside me). I tried to take this weekend off, but wonder how much headway I'll make between now and next year. I feel so bombarded by the money- and guilt-driven "holiday spirit" that my eyes glaze over and I feel numb from the sheer loudness of all the artifice. Plus, food coma.
This made me realize that I have to schedule my next month very carefully if I want to get any work done. Book promo can easily take over my time, without any appreciable results, so I think mornings should be reserved for studio work. Even though I don't have one. I thought a lot this weekend about Julie Wagner, who is a remarkable artist that I met in El Rito while on my residency in Santa Fe in the summer. Her studio and artwork are beautiful and very real. She works in a way that I wish I could, that is rooted in place and discovery. She takes walks and notices things out in the world and then draws and writes and makes books about all of it. I hope I can visit her again someday, as hot and dusty as it is out there. The drive is stunning, kind of like this.
[I must have been telling the chamber pot story.] For today, I'll continue with book promo, and am grateful for those who support my book, like this blog post at Procured Design (the FB page is here). But first, I will cook up a batch of paste to coat four baskets. And if I'm very ambitious, a walk out into the world that is crunchy with leaves.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Remembering what I forgot

In the harried mess of "WHAT?! I have to cook how much how quickly?? Who is coming over?!!" I cleaved clean away from the spirit of this holiday. Luckily, I have wonderful friends who remind me almost daily to practice gratitude. So, to state the obvious: great gobstopper thanks to this book for somehow wriggling all around and finally out of my body. And everyone who helped lure it into this world.
To my teachers, my family, my friends, the zillions of adventures this life has afforded me (and a lot of those categories overlap). To you (again, categories may overlap)! To my work, which alternately sustains me and drains me but as long as the balance stays heavy on the former, I'll stay in the game.
To my health, as frail and tough as it always has been, and the accompanying (often whinging but trying not to) body that comes with the package. I keep hoping that I will learn better to care for both, and think I can. Even during my book tour, I heard whispers and heeded their warnings, like, "Don't try to carry both a heavy box of books and a heavy suitcase of props down the stairs by yourself. It's okay to put one down and come back for it later. Falling down the stairs really sucks."
To transitions. I know entirely too many people who recently have lost the most precious partners in life, whether human or canine or otherwise. They are mostly inconsolable now, and it is hard to know they are in so much pain and there is nothing to be done but to live it and begin to start a life where some lives are in one world and our lives are in this one.
Nine years ago, I sat on the floor of an ER while a dear friend died in a hospital bed after a two-year battle with leukemia. Next to me was a mutual friend, and flanking her were her father and boyfriend. I had turned 26 the prior month and she was supposed to do the same in the following month. From third grade to our final year of college we went to school together, and then she went all the way west and I ended up back east and then midwest. She taught me about exuberance, joy, risk, seeing the best in people, and living with a wide open heart. She was so energetic that I seemed like a corpse next to her. I hated that she was taken away from us, and remember running outside afterwards to scream into the darkness, the keening reserved for death, especially the kind that is unfair and incomprehensible (which would be about 99% of it if you ask most humans). I wish I could say that my heart opened more as a result, but instead I met more open-hearted folks, and for that I am utterly grateful. No one quite matches her antics, like ordering 100 frozen steaks and then realizing there isn't enough freezer space for them all, but she didn't make it past 25, so who knows how she would have grown. And now as I write that, I realize that my antics start to rival hers.

I am lucky to have been taught unconditional love at such a young age from a peer, and humbled to still be here to give thanks and to remember her smile. She still has a lot left to teach me, and I look forward to those lessons.