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?
www.joanbirkettart.com

Odding Wang Talks About Sequential Art and Monogatari.

Odding’s adorable avatar

The first time I met Odding was at the Sequential Art Meetup in July, but we never got a chance to talk. During the set-up for the Monogatari exhibition at Tokyo Chapter in October, we discovered we had a lot in common–especially coffee and mushrooms. Odding’s delicate graphite images for her Monogatari contribution, “Here,” add a wonderful facet to the amazing artwork in the issue. Checkout the Q &A with Odding below.

How long have your been making sequential art?
For decades, since I was around 5 or 6.

What do you like about sequential art compared to other forms of expression?
I think sequential art opens up many possibilities, comparing to single frame images, since it brings fragments of time in itself; Comparing to moving images like movies or animation, it gives the reader freedom of setting your own pace; Comparing to literature, like novels or poetry, sometimes it speaks more with less words or even only visual elements. I like all the above forms as well but I think sequential art definitely has its own unique charm and more potential to be explored.

What inspired your story for Monogatari?
“Here” was about a real story, well, it wasn’t even a story, just a little fragment of memories, when I first moved to my current place and found this little old motsuyaki store, run by a small old lady with (probably) her son, the lady was always smiling and I could tell that she was a very honest and sweet person. One day I noticed a bamboo dragonfly on top of the shelf in the store and she realized that I was interested in it, so she took it down and let me play with it. Back then I couldn’t speak any Japanese, so our communication was basically gestures and smiles. I’m always fascinated with old places and old people, and this kind of little stories always brings me lots of warmth at heart.

What are you most proud of in your story?
I’m proud of its honesty, even though it was a mixture of reality and imagination. The point is whenever I read it myself, I can still feel the same kind of warmth as I did in the little store.

What was the biggest challenge in making your story?
Telling the story without words would be one of the biggest challenges, as I did in my other stories too. I was worried that readers won’t be able to fully understand it, but actually they don’t even have to. The story itself is beyond language barrier, and I think I’m quite satisfied with it. Another challenge would be fitting the artwork into A5 size space without losing much details, and I think the editor and printers did a good job on that.

Do you have any favorite stories or sequential artists that you recommend to readers?
My all time favourite would be Chris Ware, then Jon McNaught, whose way of storytelling kind of inspired “Here”. Besides those two, I’d also recommend Lisa Hanawalt and Nick Drnaso. For books I recommend “The Photographer” by Didier Lefèvre and Emmanuel Guibert; and “Here” by Richard McGuire (Haha my story in Monogatari has nothing to do with this book).

Where can people find out more about your work?
You can check out: www.oddingwang.com, or follow me on Instagram: @odding

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)
Website               www.artistcarolmiller.com
Instagram           carol_miller_artist
Facebook            artistcarolmiller
Twitter                @carol_miller1

Photos courtesy of the artist.

Louise Rouse Exhibition: Solo at 30

Today I talked with Louise Rouse who is having an exhibition at Sendagi Kukan. Louise and I collaborated on photos I wrote about in Yukatas in the Park. I was fascinated with her prints. Her prints remind me of modern-day version of one of my favorite printmakers, Aubrey Beardsley, with their hint of art nouveau scrolling, and the black and white styling. And like Beardsley, there is a clear Japanese influence. I had a chance to talk to her about her background, her work and her show, Solo at 30.

yukatainpark-louise-rouse-lori-ono-5Nationality: British (from Plumpton Green near Brighton)
Job: illustrator, printmaker, adjunct professor at Temple University
Time in Japan: 8 years

What brought you to Japan?
My mom was a translator so [Japan] was part of my upbringing. I came here as a child and then came back at seventeen as an exchange student for four months. I came back and did a master’s at Tamabidaigaku.

What was your idea behind the show Solo at 30?
The planning started last November but in March and April I really focused on it. The first idea just stuck in my mind but it didn’t make it [into the show]. It was just too raw. I had to leave it behind.

So you made more prints then you’re showing? How many prints did you make and how many are in the show?
I made eleven images and chose eight to exhibit. [plus there are some older digitally made prints in the back as well as an one of her woodblocks in the process of being carved.]

[After reading the notes from her show catalogue] So your work is about the inaccuracy of memory?
I kept having the same idea but doing different compositions, different versions. Each time we think of a memory we change it. You imbue it with what you feel at the time, your current personality in life, the degree of empathy you garner.

Conversation diverged into a discussion about how our memories of childhood events and parental actions change as we get older and understand the world better led to an interesting observation from Louise which relates back to her work:
Being so far away we mess with those memories [of family] because we don’t have daily contact.

How long does it take to make the prints? I know artists hate this question, sorry, but super curious.
I did black and white because I wanted to do a series. If they were colorful I could spend a whole year just doing one.

It took a months to do the line work for everything. Then a month doing the kogatana (fine edges around lines). Then it took another six weeks with a big chisel and small chisel to bash it out. Then you use a flat chisel to finish. Then about ten days to print for all of them.

Do you use Japanese paper?
The paper is western print-making paper (cotton rag) because I used a press.

You have a recurring female figure in many of the prints. Is there a story behind that? Is she like an avatar?
She said that there was no particular reason behind the recurring figure, it’s not an avatar, she just kept popping up in ideas. She likes that the woman’s nationality is ambiguous but adds that it wasn’t consciously designed that way.

It took me ages to remember the name Aubrey Beardsley, so I had to email Louise to ask if he was an inspiration for her. This is her reply:
For this series in particular I was looking at a lot of English Victorian illustrations and wood engravings for a sense of balance between black and white and of course Beardsley is the most famous. The village where I went to primary school was host to an artist’s commune around the turn of the century. Eric Gill is most known for his lettering but he was another among a number of artists who made somewhat art nouveau styled black and white work.

The borders on my prints are actually a traditional Japanese ukiyoe border but interesting that it looks seemless with the Western influence.

More than anything it was the black and white balance achieved by those artists that I liked

IMG_2362Sendagi Ku-kan is a 7 minute walk from Sendagi station on the Chiyoda Line. The gallery has chairs and a great atmosphere for hanging out. There are lots of cute small shops tucked away on the back streets on the way to the gallery. Note: navi will lead you to Kingyo Gallery. Sendagi KuKan is on the street on the behind Kingyo Gallery. The two buildings face back to back.

Hours are 10:00-7:00. Sunday August 16th is the last day of the show and the gallery closes at 6:00 on Sunday.

Yukata in the Park

I recently shot a great collaboration project with Louise Rouse and Michelle Zacharias. We worked on direct mail images for Louise’s print show, Solo at 30, at Sendagi Kukan and for invites for her birthday party.

Louise did the concept and styling of the shoot and Michelle was an amazing assistant director. The idea was yukata in Yoyogi Koen with (hopefully) a few of the rockabilly guys and gals that perform near the entrance, or beating the heat with a nice kakigori (shaved ice with sweet syrup). We got a couple of shots with a great rockabilly couple.

It was super hot but it was worth the effort. Lots of compliments on the amazing yukata Louise bought that’s made by Hiroko Takahashi and many people admired the hair by Hikaru Terada.

If you have time, check out the print show Solo at 30.  Discover more of Louise’s work at her web page..

Shoot Accreditation
Styling: Louise Rouse
Assistant Director: Michelle Zacharias
Photography: Lori Ono
Makeup: uncredited
Hair: Hikaru Terada at Warren Tricomi
Yukata by Hiroko Takahashi

Tokyo Art Book Fair 2014: Interview with Book Artist Young-ju Choi

Make a Guess
Make a Guess

I have another Tokyo Art Book Fair interview from Korean book artist Young-ju Choi. I purchased one of her books, Make a Guiess. It is a lovely type or riddle book using different textures and cut-outs which interact with the pages underneath. Young-ju kindly took the time to correspond with me via e-mail.

Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where are you from? Did you study art at school or are you self-taught?
I am from Korea. My major was Graphic design in Korea and I received my MA in Book Arts in London.

How long have you been making books?
I have been making books for over ten years since I graduated my MA .

What kind of books do you make?
I prefer making structured books suiting my idea rather than zine type.

What are two things you want people to know about your work?
What I want is only one thing. I hope that people read my books closely, turning page by page.

Is this your first time at TABF (Tokyo Art Book Fair)?
Yes, it is my first time.

Why did you come to the TABF?
I have never taken part in the TABF before.

One of my friends, who I had met in London, mentioned about this Book fair. I wondered about the TABF. 

How was this book fair for you?
Actually I was in a rush to come Tokyo because I didn’t have a plan to take a part the TABF. I regret that I didn’t prepare enough.

I didn’t have time to look around at other tables because I was taking care of my table by myself. But it was wonderful experience. I hope to come again.

Personal Note: I’ve really enjoyed looking at Take a Guess. It’s a beautifully constructed book.

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