Impressions in Process – a Shift in Focus

I just finished teaching a five day class on Making Pages, Making Books, Making Art. There were only five students in the class and that made it easier to watch, listen and learn where I was of use and where I wasn’t. To me the image above is nothing less than stunning. All it is is the residue of soy milk soaked fabrics on a white coated Masonite board that paper making students use for drying their pulp sheets. If my walls weren’t covered already I would have brought this home and had it framed. This is only one quarter of the sheet.

The students were not as enamored of it as I was. They were focused on accumulating techniques and pieces to use in making pages, making books and making art. It was a bit painful to have to wash it off but I am very happy to have taken several pictures of the impressions of process.

Their pieces of cloth became imprinted with plants gathered from the garden by using as close as I could get to India Flint’s way of teaching. I made sure to bring the three books I have of hers to remind them that there was a more correct and thoughtful way to do this process and encouraged them to see the gorgeous uses of contact printing on cloth and clothing throughout her book. I could entice not one of them to bring in some socks, underwear, shirt, any article of clothing. They wanted the bits and pieces for using in a greater whole….their samples books of what we were making in the class. All of them ended up using the contact printed cloth for their book covers which I thought demonstrated the high regard they felt for keeping the cloth big and making it a feature of their work books.

Here is an example of the covers.

And here is what was arranged between these lovely tactile book covers.


And these:


Of course making watercolors from earth pigments was my favorite part and then seeing them use their colors in the books was delightful.

Only one of the five could I entice into pulling away from their lovely samples long enough for me to show them other bindings for books. What they wanted and what the class before this that I taught last May wanted was to have more time in the arranging and playing with designing the pages. And these are things only they knew about. Each one was totally caught up in their own seduction of materials. My usefulness was in showing my books, showing them processes and ideas and then stop teaching and stop talking about other possibilities than what they were working on.

So while they worked, I asked how I could change the class. What techniques were of little use, what did they think could be left out and what given more time to explore. My workshops like this one, that don’t seem to focus on product, but process, are not as enthusiastically received as those that tell students specifically what the end product will be and here are the steps to all end up with the same thing.  What I am beginning to understand what most want is just give them early on what will play into what they already do in their own art practice. Be ready to quickly jettison the techniques of less importance or at the very least get through them quick enough so as to not take time from the making of something that has already formed in their heads.

I get it. I revamped the class. Even I would like to take it now. And it will be so much easier to teach because I will not be hauling everything but the kitchen sink to class rooms. What we mostly need is already on site.