Creating Community and Artist Books. An Interview with Joan Birkett

Joan Birkett, an artist from the UK, has collaborated several times with Art Byte Critique. Currently, she is part of the UK contingent sharing a table with Art Byte Critique at the Tokyo Art Book Fair Ginza Edition at Sony Park in Yurakucho. The TABF Ginza Edition runs from March 8-April 7. The Art Byte Critique tables from March 9-March 10.

In this interview, Joan talks about her work, collaboration and building a community.

You and Arthur Huang were instrumental in creating Reading Between the Lines, and other shows, how did that collaboration come about?
The group of artists connected with the Tokyo St Helens project, came together at my request after I had made contact with Art Byte Critique through Arthur.

What was the purpose of building the artist group in your area?
Some of them belong to Platform Arts studios which was originally formed by Claire and myself linking up with a number of other interested artists, with help from the very active Arts and Library service in the Town. This was about ten years ago now but it has changed over the years to what it is today, most of the artists now involved are new. Other artists involved work individually across the North West but come together for group projects. There has always been a number of individuals and small art groups in St Helens but Platform arts was possibly the first artist network around in St Helens at the time of its conception. Since then there seems to be a number of artists coming together to form collaborative partnerships. The Yellow Door artists are one example.

Not long after Platform started to operate, the Heart of Glass programme began in St Helens with funding from Arts Council England. This was through what is called the People and Places funding which is for artists to work with communities in order to introduce innovative arts and cultural opportunities, hopefully broadening and raising the level of engagement with Art and Culture throughout a particular Town. A number of different organisations in the Town were involved in bringing bidding for the funding and Platform was one of these. It was through this programme that I originally received some funding to look at the possibilities of linking with artists in Japan, it was suggested by one of the Heart of Glass producers because of my family links in Tokyo and my interest in Japanese woodblock print work and how my own work had been influenced by the connection. It was also about providing information to others about how links could be made and the benefits of working in this way on a number of levels, perhaps influencing others to have a go. So I did quite a lot of research about what networks were in Tokyo and I put some information together which I sent off to them. My daughter-in-law helped by translating the letter for me. However, I wasn’t very successful until I discovered an online blog/help site, by an artist working in Tokyo, named Miki Saito, she was very helpful and receptive to what I was trying to do and put me in touch with Arthur Huang and consequently the artist group -Art Byte Critique. Arthur, was from the beginning as I have always found him to be, so positive and resourceful, open to just trying things out, exactly the artist I needed to meet, he has been so such a great person to meet and work with. It is really down to him and all of the other artists involved that we have been able to put on three joint exhibitions as a result of the partnership. I can’t believe how lucky I have been in being able to meet such open and interesting people.

Another artist that I met was Atsu Harada a really talented traditional wild life artist, this was through a friend of my Son, and we keep in touch and have been able to meet up when I have been in Tokyo

How long have you been making art books?
I started to explore making book art objects as part of the Tokyo/St Helens return project, which began in 2014. This was somewhat of a pragmatic decision on my part because of the practical difficulties of sharing larger works between Tokyo and St Helens. Also the fact that a number of the Art Byte Critique artists with whom I had made contact through the artist Arthur Huang, were making books and zines as part of their practice and exhibiting at The Tokyo Art Book Fair.

Why do you like making books?
It has allowed me to explore 3D possibilities on a scale that I am able to cope with easily, experimenting with materials and form, I also like the fact that it can be touched and explored by the viewer. Although not normally working with paper unless I am sketching or drawing from life, I am interested in materials and texture, and book art has inspired me to work with different papers and to explore my interest in print as a process.

What do you like about making books compared to other forms of expression?
My work generally begins from my being inspired by a particular subject or idea, after  which comes the research that informs the work I eventually make, this is often large scale and consists of a visual language type imagery as a depiction of humanity. Book art allows another dimension to this in presenting a number of possibilities, particularly in the size of the work, it makes me think about working on a different scale and with the text in a different way. It does though present certain constraints given I am quite new to the process and book making skills.

Do you have a favourite method or technique to make books?
I am still learning so I haven’t tried many of the techniques yet, my experience to date is limited but I intend to keep exploring the possibilities.

What method of making books do you want to try next?
I have had a long term interest in using text within my work therefore I suppose I would be interested in exploring different types of text and what I can do with it, therefore developing my work in this way.

What was the biggest challenge in making your book?
Definitely for me not getting too expressive in the making, so that the object becomes too fragile for the viewer. Although I have to say this is often really what I am looking for, a depiction of strong and fragile within the same object, so a bit of challenge. I have also attended a number of print making workshops in order to extend my knowledge and skills with printing methods. I don’t deny that this is quite a challenge for me I work expressively, precision and constraint is not something I am necessarily very good at.

Do you have any favorite book artists?
There are so many artist’s work that I find inspiring generally, I haven’t really just looked at artists who concentrate on this medium. I’m interested in how the making of book art can influence the expression and physicality of my ideas.

Where can people find out more about your work?

Interview with Carol Miller about Artist Books

I haven’t met Carol Miller in person… yet. But through another artist, Joan Birkett, we’ve collaborated on a couple of art book exhibitions. Carol is also a very talented illustrator. Her graphite drawings for Drawlloween 2018 are amazing. I was really impressed with her pieces for Reading Between the Lines and Turning the Page, doubly so since they were her first foray into artist books. She answered a few questions about her work. Check out her interview below.

How long have you been making art books?
Before being invited to participate in this project, I had not made any artists books since my Art Foundation Course.

Why do you like making books? / What do you like about making books compared to other forms of expression?
I enjoyed the tactile nature and sculptural quality of the final works.

Producing work which people are actively encouraged to handle and interact with and which would be enhanced by the potential ‘destructive nature’ of that handling added an additional element not possible in my other work.

Do you have a favourite method or technique to make books?
Whenever I start a piece of work the process is always fluid and I never have an end ‘work’ or image in mind, rather letting the work and lead me.

I approached making books in the same way.   I did rediscover the joy of Ink and bleach and produced 3 of the books using this technique.  I’m not sure I would say it was my favourite technique, more that I got slightly obsessed with it for a while.

“Dirty Washing” Photo courtesy of the artist

The books I made using this technique are still amongst some of my favourite work.

What method of making books do you want to try next?
The books I made for the project were originals and I would like to explore the possibility of producing affordable editions.

What was the biggest challenge in making your book?
Honestly, stopping.  My one book contribution to the project turned fairly rapidly into five.

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Do you have any favourite book artists?
As a ‘newbie’ to the world of artists books, not yet but I enjoy the journey of discovery.

Where can people find out more about your work? (Social Media etc)
Instagram           carol_miller_artist
Facebook            artistcarolmiller
Twitter                @carol_miller1

Photos courtesy of the artist.

Write Cycle August. The Results and the Review

For August I decided to try an Instagram writer’s challenge where you do a writing-related photo every day. I thought it would be a good way to focus on the writing habit.
Here’s the gallery of the photos with a review of the process following:

In all, I missed 9 days (as I doubled up one “today’s office). I did great until it came to showing work at home. I feel like my home is just too chaotic to share. And while I get the basics done, I’m really not Martha Stewart in home decor. Ah guilt. You bother me.

The other big stumbling block was talking about favorite characters. I either had brain block and could barely recall a characters from a book or suddenly I had too many. And it was tough to figure out how to show that visually. I want my Instagram to be my pictures not stock photos or using work by other people. Book towers are cool but hard when 90% of your books are e-books.

The goal reviews were great. Though day 14 was a huge shock when I realized I was behind schedule. Reviewing again on the 31st is also informative. I had a lot of stuff that wasn’t on that list. So while the 31 Days of Writing looks kind of like a flop, I feel like I did a lot of work.

Overall, I think I plan to do more than I have time for. When mapping out goals I often think of Browning and how “Man’s reach should extend his grasp.” But when it comes to getting things done, maybe SMART goals are more logical. And if I worked in a more linear fashion, I think that would be great.

SMART goals work better for me for planning and looking for pitfalls rather than a schedule. So far, working from a massive list of tasks and due dates posted in multiple places seems to be the most effective. So I’m going to give this another go in September and also mix in this 15 minute time chunking thing. I’m not as in love with my instagram images from August so I also want to take more images I that I like.

Wish me luck! And good luck to you in your creative endeavors.


In allInSave



Eminently Re-watchable

Sometimes you like a movie but you only need to watch it once. And then there are the movies that you watch over and over again. I have two categories of re-watchable movies: laundry movies, things I play while I fold laundry; the stickers, movies where you drop everything to watch and don’t move from your seat. They aren’t always the BEST movies but there’s something that keeps me coming back to these flicks.

Here is my list of re-watchable movies in alphabetical order because I’m feeling OCD today and it saves me from deciding on favorites.

All You Need is Kill (Edge of Tomorrow or Live Die Repeat or whatever title)
I am not a Tom Cruise fan and this movie revived his career I think because he kept dying over and over. I think it was really cathartic for the public after his spate of oddness. Plus Emily Blunt! I love her character. And her arms are my workout goals. This is one of the better treatments of the time-loop trope.

This movie still gives me the heebeejeebees. The tension and suspense in Alien is so well done. And it holds up surprisingly well visually for a movie from 1979. I like the Ripley character but she is not yet the icon she becomes in the second movie.

In this movie, Ripley is just so tough and so focused she really makes me want to up my game. Ripley always makes me want to work harder. This is the movie I watch when I need to refuel on kick-assness. And there were no more movies made in this series after this. 😉

Attack the Block
The idea that a young gang from council flats in London saves the world from aliens is a great concept. Some funny moments and Nick Frost. Try saying “Ron’s weed room” ten times fast. This is the movie I first saw John Boyega. I’m really glad he got such great exposure in the new Star Wars movie. This movie also shows that real tension can be created without major CGI and even using cheesy-looking aliens. It really proves that a movie should be more than the CG.

Cabin in the Woods
It’s gruesome and meta and it totally goes for the over the top ending. But there’s something about taking horror tropes and smartly turning them on their heads that makes this movie rewatchable.

Die Hard
Another movie I like because of Alan Rickman. I almost want Hans to get away with his heist. This is a stick to the seat ignore the laundry movie. I get sucked in every time.

The Easy A
Highschool and teenage life is such a weird time. Someone said it’s a modern reworking of The Scarlet Letter so I avoided it for years. They should have said it’s all about rumors, lies and the hyper-speed of social media. I always want to write a book called “How to Help Others Without Screwing Yourself Over” after I watch this movie. I think this movie should be required viewing for high school students.

Hot Fuzz
It’s a buddy-cop parody movie. I’m not a big fan of buddy-cop movies, but satire of English country life was funny. I enjoyed this movie more with subsequent re watching. Plus Simon Pegg.

Kung Fu Panda
I have probably watched this movie about 200 times. The first time I watched it in the theater and enjoyed it a lot. When it came up on my cable, I DVR’d it and watched it once or twice. Then I had a miscarriage and that movie was on repeated play for about 2 weeks. I’m not sure that I actually watched it each and every time. A lot of it was numbness. But it was the only thing that I could handle. I’m not sure why I’m still able to watch this movie given how I react to other stuff. I suppose “Legend tells of a legendary warriors whose skills were the stuff of legend” is the kind of catchy stuff I like. But I’m also highly amused by this T-shirt I saw 10 years ago that read, “I smell a smelly smell that smells smelly” so take it as you will.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy (extended DVD version)
This is what I watch when I don’t want to talk to humans for days on end. It takes that long to watch it all. My husband who barely tolerates all things geek can actually quote parts of this movie because I’ve played it so many times. It warms my little geek heart when he quotes Theoden’s speech for the ride of the Rohirrim. I nearly fell off my chair the first time he did it. The DVD commentary on this DVDs is also well worth watching. Fascinating!

The Martian
When things are bad, I tell myself I could be stuck on Mars all alone. Actually, I don’t. I will never go into outer space, but I like the visualization and the mantra, solve the problem, then solve the next problem and if you solve enough of them you get to go home. For me, this movie is an ode to creative problem solving.

Monsters Inc.
This was the weekend brunch movie of choice for my husband and I for 4 months. It never got old. Mike Waskowski is funniest when he’s not trying to be funny. Pixar’s attention to detail means their movies never get old. If you get a chance to listen to director’s commentary do it!

The Mummy
I enjoy the balance of humor and horror in this movie. It’s tough to do. I-mo-tep. I-mo-tep (hearing your students chant this 10 years after the movie came out can also be rather alarming but funny) My favorite nugget is how Evelyn always wants to impress the Banbury Scholars. Banbury tales are tall-tales so this is a fun poke at academia. Striving to so hard to be part of the fakery is tragically funny. Oh! and John Hannah! ‘Nuff said there. The sequel is ok but the third installment is a travesty.

Okay, I rather have a secret crush on Simon Pegg. Hmmm… probably not so secret now. I love how this movie celebrates geek culture to the nth degree.

My favorite entry of the James Bond Franchise. I like where the character went in this movie. That feeling of being worn out, chewed up by work and choices really shows in this movie. The cinematography! This movie was such a visual delight for me.

Sense and Sensibility
I love a Regency romance. Emma Thompson manages to make Jane Austen’s novel relevant to modern viewers. The cinematography always makes me want to go to England. Alan Rickman made a great Colonel Christopher Brandon. I think I wouldn’t have given Willoughby a second look with Colonel Brandon around. Then again, I’m not 18 either. I never took to Hugh Grant. His blinkey-face still annoys me.  Eleanor Dashwood always makes me want to be more elegant, gracious and measured in my responses to life’s disappointments.

The September Issue
Ok, not geek, but I really admire the work it takes to make a magazine issue. Also the interviews with Grace Coddington and seeing her style a photo-shoot was really inspiring.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
I probably love this movie because Christopher Plummer plays a klingon. It has a self-aware humor that I really enjoyed. This movie drives my husband crazy. It’s rather like how I feel when he has the football on for more than one game. But a lot of the humor is that the writing is really self-aware of the characters and their age.

So what are your rewatchable movies? Let me know in the comments below?

Filmography links and data courtesy of IMDb.


Bromeliad Mini-Location Shoot

One bromeliad terrarium creates photoshoots for four different types of movies.

The shop Bromeliads in Okusawa opened last year. It’s a cute shop selling bromeliads (mainly airplants) and terrarium items such as glass containers, dishes, bits of wood, sand and other emphermera. An airplant doesn’t have a significant root system. It gets moisture and nutrients from it’s leaves.

I’d been popping in since Bromeliads opened and trying to decide what I wanted to get. Today I bought a few things, a glass container, sand, wood and two airplants. I got a butzii, which rather looks like a squid, and a tillandsia which is spiky looking but not really sharp.

It was fun to set up and once I had it all arranged, it really reminded me of a desert for a photo shoot or a movie set. So I went to my little rummage box (or as I will call it from now on my omnium-gatherum) and grabbed some lego minifigures, and other little plastic toys. Finally! My obscure toy-hoarding reaps some rewards. I ended up with the fixings for five different movie genres: Shakespearean drama, zombie-post apocalypse, aliens, creature feature and dragon fantasy.  Check them out below.

I particularly like the salary man alien. I have no idea where I picked it up. If you have other suggestions for mini-photoshoot sets, please comment below. I’d love to hear from you.


My 10 Sites and Stories of the Week~ June 10

Just in time for the weekend, here is a top 10 list of websites or stories I found interesting.

one How to Keep a Travel Journal on The Pen Company website
Post writer, Lucy, writes a great post about making a travel journal fun and relevant. Basically, it’s all about you. It was a great read and less of a how to and more of a questions to guide you to making it work for you list. This pen and notebook addict is happy to find this site. Some women buy shoes to reduce stress. I buy pens and notebooks.

twoSpiro Graphic Art
What a joy this site has been. Something I saw on Facebook made me remember how I always wanted my own Spirograph set as a kid. So I quickly adulted and made that childhood dream a reality (thanks Amazon). But I wanted to see what other people were doing with spirographs, did a google search et voila!   Lots of info about tools, tests, art and the math involved.

threeWild Gears
Spiro Graphic Art introduced me to Wild Gears. Aaron Bleackley designs and produces spirograph gears using laser cut acrylic sheets. So many possibilities! My “To Buy Someday” list increased.


I love riding my bike in Tokyo. You really get to know the city. Plus there’s the exercise bonus. But summer is tough on the urban cyclist. I want to cycle but I also want to arrive without looking like a sweat-draggled rat. So I’m always on the lookout for fun clothes that can deal with sweat. I like the shorts and the leggings though I think the leggings are too hot for summer.

five“Buying Coffee Every Day Isn’t Why You’re in Debt” by Helaine Olen on
This was a great read about how common sense memes about finances get picked up and passed around. It also made me think about how we judge people about money. It’s great to review and  spending habits with the eye towards how your meeting personal financial goals, but this latte rule has bugged me for a long time. Now I know why.

six“Outline Your Novel Faster” by Cathy Yardly on Helping Writers Become Authors
This is a new website for me in terms of writer resources. I will be spending more time there I think. This article was pretty short with just 6 points and in a way, nothing I didn’t really know already. But sometimes you can still know something but seeing it again resonates in a different way and sparks some ideas.

sevenRomance Novel Beat Sheets by Jami Gold

In my quest to be a more organized writer, I came across Jami Gold’s worksheets for writers. I’ve found them helpful for sorting myself out once I get started.


eightMicrophotography by Levon Biss on PopPhoto
Think macrophotography is challenging? Pfft. Try microphotography! This article about insect microphotography was fascinating. Levon Biss microphotography photos of insects is really creating art. But as much as I love the effect, this is one process I’m happy to enjoy and not embark upon.


nineHow to Write Logic Puzzle by Dave’s Logic Puzzles
For my MaiNichi Mushroom Zine project I’m making puzzles. This is a great article about how to write logic puzzles. Many of the sites I checked said to start with the solution and make clues to fit. Thaaaaanks. This article had more step-by-step instructions and tips, visual examples and software suggestions.


ten“Emancipation: how to make a work of glass that isn’t glass”  curated by Yuka Otani starts in Corning, New York on June 9.
Otani is a glass maker who uses sugar to experiment with traditional and non-traditional methods of glass-making. I like that she is experimenting in a genre that seems to have such rigid rules.


Birthday Zine Update: Mai Nichi Mushroom Cover

Mai Nichi Mushroom Cover (in progress)
Mai Nichi Mushroom Cover (in progress)
I’ve almost got the cover completed. I want to add a fox behind the mushrooms or looking up at them as if they are gigantic. I used the illustration I posted about yesterday. I scanned the sketch and then applied the dark strokes filter to a copied layer of the sketch and reduced the opacity to see some of the sketch underneath.

Still having font issues. I gave up on looking for cute fonts in Japanese. I used Hiragino Gothic Standard, rasterized it and played with the edges. I just wanted a softer, more playful look for the kanji. I’m also going to change the font for Fiction Feature–it’s hard to read on the mushroom colored background.

Now that I’m doing content for 10 Types of Mushrooms, I realize I’m going to have to change it to 5 types. It’s getting pretty text heavy, and frankly, I’m getting bored. Plus I still need to write “The Great Mushroom Detective.” Games are done and put into a Photoshop file. Still thinking about how to decorate them.

My first idea is to print the zine on craft paper, but the stuff I have is quite dark. I’ll probably need to do some color adjustments for text. But it’s kind of coming together.

Inspired by Dr. Suess and Drawing Lab- My Interpretation of a Suessian Landscape

Been a weird kinda day. Cold and rainy and projects stopping and starting.

Did some writing and then decided to take a break by doing an exercise with Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists by Carla Sonheim. I used “Lab 23: Your Inner Dr. Suess.” I like this book a lot. It has lots of great exercises that are fun and easy to follow. The book is well laid-out. I picked it up at a museum gift-shop on a whim. Yay for whims that work!

I didn’t have any Dr. Suess books on hand so I went with memory and ended up with this:

Inspired by Dr. Suess. My interpretation of a Suessian landscape.
Inspired by Dr. Suess. My interpretation of a Suessian landscape.
It’s a good beginning for a larger project maybe. I originally drew more mushrooms but they ended up looking a little too… anatomically correct so I erased them.

Media: Pilot Frixion Erasable Pen 0.5 mm (red) on paper
Digitaization: iPhone6plus
Text: Amatic added with Photoshop.

Chopin, Rain and My Neighbourhood

Walking to Jiyugaoka in the rain. It’s cold but I’m dressed warmly and have waterproof foot ware. I’m a bit bored so I play some music, but what to play on a rainy-misty day? It’s cold and gray and then I see these tulips outside a local flower shop in Okusawa.


And the answer hits me, this is Chopin weather, Nocturne No.1 in B Flat Minor Op 1-9.

I recently bought the Chopin: The Complete Nocturnes played by Dang Thai Son. 

Chopin is one of my favorites. Mozart can be exhausting and Beethoven can be too dramatic though I like both composers. I soon realized I didn’t own any recordings by Chopin. When I went to iTunes, there were heaps of choices. But what to buy? For interest sake I researched who was the best Chopin interpreter and enjoyed this link:

It’s really far beyond my scope of true appreciation and discernment but I enjoyed the discussion and is how I decided to buy recordings by Dang Thai Son.

So back to the tulips and the inspiration to play Chopin. The music was complex, soothing and the perfect balance of contemplation and energy.

I recommend this as your soundtrack for rainy day walking in Tokyo.

Wonder Drawer

Wonder Drawer

Hello carefully curated space
My museum of memories.
When everything else is chaos and overflowing.
You have been my constant calm
Though you changed shape as I moved from place to place.

You used to be a jar
My expression of assemblage
From the bits and bobs of daily toil.
But it made me vulnerable
When others saw what I considered worthy of my drawer.

Once you were a box, clever
My trove of small treasure
Like the lonely earring, whose mate got lost in the somewhen.
You still keep it safe
Just in case the lost is not gone forever.

At times you were a leather casing
My mobile raven’s nest of Mnemosyne.
Sorting the memories I wanted to keep
And exactly how
I wanted to remember things.

You were always my haven
My silent partner of reflection
The place I could count on
To have and to hold
When nothing else felt fair or even.

Now you are a drawer at last,
My stash of souvenirs.
From times I went away
And for the times
I need to remind myself I went and came back.

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