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.

Nicosui and Harunobu Aihara: The Couple that Felts Together

aihara-yuko-nicosui-needlefelting-fiber-artist-lorionophotographyYuko and Harunobu Aihara felt together. The pair recently had a fiber sculpture exhibition called Ikimono Expo 2 at Gallery Choukou (ギャラリー澄光) near Okusawa station (on the Meguro line) that shows how creative and detailed needle felting can be. The couple started 7 years ago with a small needle felting kit but immediately saw potential for their own designs and started with their own creations almost immediately. One thing that I noticed was the variety of color in the work and I know that they base structure takes a lot of wool. They admit to having a lot of wool roving–two large plastic boxes in fact. For two artists working together and using the same medium, their aesthetic is completely different. And all of the incredible detail (except for Harunobu Aihara’s yarn wrapping), is done with felting needles, not embroidery.

Aihara Yuko uses the artist name Nicosui. Real animals and the animal characters of Grimm’s fairytales inspire her work. She chooses her subjects by how much they intrigue her. Sometimes it is the story, as with the fairytale creatures, but often it is the animal’s face and her desire to try and create a particular shape or feature. She chose the koala because she was interested in recreating the fluffy ears and the shape of the muzzle. She told the most difficult was the giraffe because of the structure. It was surprisingly longer and thinner in the nose than compared to skull.

aihara-yuko-nicosui-needlefelting-fiber-artist-lorionophotography-2While Nicosui’s creations look realistic, she seldom chooses the animal’s natural color. Instead she chooses a color palette that represents what she sees the spirit of the animal: red for the lion, and pink and purple for the feminine nature of the giraffe, green for the koala. She also makes more realistically colored animals in small scale for broaches.

What Nicosui wants people to know about her work:

ぜつめつ動物をなくす (prevent extinction of animals)

Many of the characters she creates are endangered animals. She hopes to inspire the viewer to live in peace with animals and take care of the earth so that people and animals have a healthy place to live.

Aihara-san holds “Gokiburi”


Harunobu Aihara is an illustrator and graphic designer. He is also a bassist in a 70’s music hard rock band. Nicosui’s work has more realism while Aihara’s work is about unique, fantastical characters. His style is whimsical and humorous. He says his style has almost always been like this. This year was the first he tried making insect-inspired creature. He really enjoyed them so he made a lot.

It’s not just Aihara’s aesthetic that is different from Nicosui’s. His work process is also completely different. He says that Nicosui takes a lot of time with each project working slowly to perfect her details while he prefers いきよいでつくる, making with momentum.

While he often starts with a sketch, which he may or may not adhere to. Sometimes he freestyles with wool. The base of his sculptures are wire armatures. He builds dimension over the armature by wrapping wool roving around it, and using felting needles to refine the shape. The color detail is a layer of needle felting, sometimes wrapping with yarn or fabrics depending on the effect he wants

He also made many angels, which also have insect or avian features. He said that they are slightly disguised to look like a bird if a person looked up to see one flying in the sky.

His goal: たのしと平和.  He wants to bring viewers moments of enjoyment where they can feel peace through happiness.





Tokyo Art Book Fair 2015: Q & A with Arthur Huang

Name:  Arthur Huang
From:  United States
Time in Japan:  A little over six years
Occupation: Molecular and Neuro Biologist and Artist

How long have you been making books?
Going to the Tokyo Art Book Fair over the last several years and
working with other artists in Art Byte Critique inspired me to finally
get off the couch and start making artist books.  I am a relative
newbie to the artist book world – it has been a little more than a
year of making artist books.
21 Days of Memory Walks リーフレット画像What is the biggest challenge for you when you make a book?
The biggest challenge is finding the right balance between the book
structure and the concept.  For me, I want the book structure to
reflect the artistic concepts while maintaining the functionality of a

What kind of books are you making for this fair?
I will be exhibiting my “21 Days of Memory Walks” artist book for this
year’s Tokyo Art Book Fair.  This artist book was produced earlier
this year and I finished the complete edition of 21 for the upcoming
Tokyo Art Book Fair.  The concept behind this book was to translate my
work with the Memory Walks eggshell drawings into book format.  The
book consists of a acrylic embedded crushed Memory Walk eggshell from
one of the 21 days for the cover.  The reader will find a list of all
my walks for each of the 21 days with times and departure points
juxtaposed with a scanned image of the eggshell for that day.

012515 Week Memory Walks ClusterWhat did you learn from last book fair? What are you doing differently for this book fair?
I decided to simplify things for this year’s book fair.  I have spent
the last year making various editions.  It has been a series of trial
and error in terms of production and realization of concepts.  In the
end  “21 Days of Memory Walks” has been the most satisfying of all the
editions in terms of concept and production.  In addition to the
artist books, I will be exhibiting one of my weekly Memory Walk
Cluster works to give the artist book some context.

Do you have any advice for people coming to the book fair?
There will be more booths than ever at this year’s Tokyo Art Book
Fair.  Be patient, take your time wandering through the booths.  You
may not see everything, but it will make it a more enjoyable
experience connecting with what is in front of you.  Also, talk with
the artists!  This is a great opportunity to learn more the bookmaking
process and connect with their works.  Last piece of advice, go the
the Printer’s Section and get lots of free swag!
You can see more of Arthur’s work at his website:

Time and Location Details
The Tokyo Art Book Fair is held from September Saturday 19 – Monday 21 (holiday)
at Kyoto University of Art and Design, Tohoku University of Art and Design GAIEN CAMPUS
1-7-15 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Saturday: 3-9
Sunday: 12-8
Monday: 11-7

You can read about Art Byte Critique artist Lyle Nisenholz here and Karin Gunnarsson here.

Artist Interview with Catriona Robertson

Portrait of Catriona Robertson in front of a white tile wall.Location: currently living in London
Job: Instructor at Central St. Martin’s



Tell me about your medium and your work.
Mostly, recently, 3-D sculpture. I work a lot with lights. My paintings relate to current 3D sculpture. Right now I’m really into the bamboo. I go into the forest to collect bamboo. I had a mini-explosion when I got here gathering material then seeing what forms it would take.

What is your current project?
I saw people using bamboo everywhere for all sorts of things. I’m interested in using bamboo as a structure.

**We talked about Catriona’s current bamboo and cement sculptures and that she’s pushing the limits of how tall she can make it and different processes for creating finishes and colors. She is also doing a series of mixed media collages in green using cut bamboo for printmaking. I forgot to photograph it. 😦 **

Tell me about the metal and light sculpture:

The metal is from a local metal scrap yard dealer. It was really interesting to see what happens to the metal, seeing it all piled up. I’m really attracted to circles and shiny things.

Why did you choose Shiro Oni?
I was looking for a place far from London, a quiet place where I could focus. I wanted a challenge with language and a rural area.

So what do you think of it here?
I liked the festival.* People are really welcoming. I particularly liked the lights [on the yatai or floats for the festival]. The train is easy because the stops are announced in English but the bus is hard. It can be difficult to get materials.

Check out more of Catriona’s work at

catriona-robertson-6-webCatriona’s End of Residency Show is on July 7/25-26 at Shiro Oni Studio
370-1401 Gunma Fujioka Onishi 529 Japan

How to Get to Shiro Oni From Tokyo (train and bus)

  • Tokyo -> Honjo Station 本庄駅 on JR Takasaki Line (I like to take Shonan Shinjuku Liner because it goes straight to Honjo)
    • fare about 1660 depending on originating station
  • Use South Exit.
  • Take the bus which stops in front of the 7-11., bus leaves about once an hour
  • Get off at Onishi Yubinkyoku Mae (鬼石郵便局前)**. Bus fare is 660 yen.
  • Walk about five minutes to Shiro Oni Residency main building, Kinuya.

*The Shiro Oni artists in residence practiced and prepared with their Onishi neighbors pulling the yatai (festival float) and playing taiko for the Onishi Summer Matsuri

**If you use a train navigation app you can enter the kanji and it will give you the departure times for the bus from Honjo.

Artist Interview with Rukhe Neelofer Zaidi

rukhe-Neelofer-Zaidi-2-webFrom: Lahore, Pakistan
Currently: University Lecturer, Art Curriculum Director for large school system.

Tell me about your work and your medium.
I started in gouache/tempura. I changed because it was difficult to preserve the work. I changed to acrylic. I want a 2-D flat effect. I use a gouache approach to acrylic.

I first started by doing figures from above angle but recently interested in flora and fauna. I was inspired to change from figures to plants, when I started my own balcony garden. I most use my houseplants to create jungle scenes.

rukhe-Neelofer-Zaidi-1_webWhat’s your project here?
I’m working on a four-panel painting of a landscape (composite) inspired by the screens (fusuma). I’m really inspired by these leaves. I’ve never seen them before.

Why did you choose Shiro Oni?
I came because I’m interested in Japan and on the map, this looked close to Tokyo.

Local Inspiration/Observations
Japanese people are politest people on Earth, but reserved.
Communal living aspect is tough for me. I’m not sued to it.

After talking about creating art curriculum and teaching we talked about challenges for art in schools in Pakistan. Rukhe said the biggest lack for developing artists in Pakistan is the lack of art curriculum, museums and galleries. Art in school is sometimes considered a “free period.”


Find out more about Rukhe’s work on her her Facebook page.

rukhe-4-webRukhe’s End of Residency Show is on July 7/25-26 at Shiro Oni Studio
• 370-1401 Gunma Fujioka Onishi 529 Japan

How to Get to Shiro Oni From Tokyo (train and bus)
• Tokyo -> Honjo Station (本庄駅) on JR Takasaki Line
• fare about 1660 depending on original station
(I like to take Shonan Shinjuku Liner because it goes straight to Honjo)
• Use South Exit of Honjo
• Take the bus which stops in front of the 7-11., bus leaves about once an hour
• Get off at Onishi Yubinkyoku Mae (鬼石郵便局前). Bus fare is 660 yen.
• Walk about five minutes to Shiro Oni Residency main building, Kinuya.



**photos by Lori Ono at Shiro Oni Art Residency

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