Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My Creative Life: Books

This is the third, but maybe not the last, of the posts about my creative life and figuring out how to be an artist. I said in the last post that I've had the wonderful feeling of finding my calling three times in my life. No beam of light came down from the heavens, but it's true that when I discovered printmaking it felt fantastic. The second time it happened for me it was when I discovered that I could make books. And the really great thing is that you can combine printmaking and books! Woohoo!!

These are some of the handmade artist books I've made. Most of them have content of various types  and a few are blank sketchbooks. I've always been a book lover. Mostly I read novels, but I love any kind of well written or illustrated or art book. When I was a kid one of the things I wanted to be was a writer. After moving from being a musician to a self taught artist and having no connections at all and no idea of how to get published, making books seemed impossible. 

But it turned out that there was a book I REALLY wanted to make. And it was way too offbeat to be a published book anyway, so I started to find out how to make a book by hand. That book became The Girl with the Pretty Red Hair in the lower right of the photo above. Oh my gosh! What incredible fun to make a book! Because the images in this first book were linocuts, it was easy to make multiple copies and sign them as an edition. Here are some of the linocuts printed on white BFK with the red flowers painted with watercolor. I mounted each of these little prints onto a red page in the book.

I had a wonderful time exploring handmade artist books for many years. I worked as a studio assistant for Laura Wait, an accomplished book artist in addition to many other things. I loved making artwork and designing a new book. And I loved making the first book of a series. But I didn't love production of the edition- making multiple copies of the same book.

So many people have their own creative interpretations what a book can be. And books certainly don't have to  have multiple copies- they can be unique pieces of art. The recent explosion of artist books has opened up endless possibilities. Books don't have to be on paper, and they don't even have to have pages. In fact the definition of a book is evolving and you can pretty much make up your own definition right now. If you'd like to see a zillion neat handmade books- check out these two publications by Lark Crafts.

500 Handmade Books: Inspiring Interpretations of a Timeless Form (That's one of Laura Wait's books on the cover!)

Masters: Book Arts: Major Works by Leading Artists (Another of Laura's books is on the back cover.)

As time passed, all of this creative innovation around handmade books made me realize that I was ordinary and boring and I mostly wanted to make traditional books. You know, the kind with covers, paper pages, stories and art inside, multiple copies, etc etc. And in fact I wanted to make children's books.

That was the third "finding my calling" moment. OMG! How did it take that long to figure it out??? Look- I made this print below, and others in the same style 15 years ago. You would think I might have started down the children's book path much earlier.

It wasn't until I joined a creative writing group 7 years ago that I discovered picture books for myself. I wrote a story about a dump truck that rescued a family of rabbits from a construction site. And I dove into the children's book world head first. 

I joined The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and went to my first conference. I learned that my 3000 word picture book rough draft was a joke. I eventually got it below 500 words with a dummy and two finished illustrations. The whole thing was exhilarating! It was going to be a hit! I was going to be making picture books forever and quit my day job!

But nooooooo. Children's publishing is competitive and there are so many talented authors and illustrators. And there's the whole shifting publishing world. I had so much to learn and practice. Now 7 years later I'm still unpublished. I'm working hard and I know so much more than I did. I've been in many many critique groups. I've been to 8 SCBWI Conferences (I think.) I've submitted 5 different dummies to about 70 different agents and publishers, and I've sent out lots of postcards. It does get frustrating. But I love picture books so much. My little girl was lucky enough to be born into a household that was already chock full of good books.

Now again I'm in a position where there's a book I REALLY want to make- even more than any of those other books that I really wanted to make. This is that one book that you absolutely have to make. The most important message that you have to share with everyone. The book that you are so completely invested in that it's your destiny to make it. Blah blah blah. Listen I HAVE to make this one.

But it doesn't have to look just like this. In fact this is the second complete dummy that I've done for this book. And it's about the 6th or 8th incarnation of the book idea. I tried thinking of it as a letterpress broadside, a collaboration coffee table book, and several different artist books including this one that I actually did complete:

You can see more photos of this handmade book, Earth on my website.

About my children's book, Our Home. It's about the beauty of our planet and how we all call this same place home. In July I worked like a maniac to get the drawings done so I could take the book dummy to the LA SCBWI Conference. And for the last month I've been working like a maniac again to clean the drawings up and make them better based on the feedback I got. Now in about a week I should have them all done and the dummy reconstructed to take to our regional SCBWI Conference in Denver. Wish me luck! Because like I said, I HAVE to make this book. So if I can't get it published traditionally you may have to listen to me repeatedly asking for money through Kickstarter to help me self publish my book. And you don't really want that, right? So cross your fingers that this book can find a publisher! And Thanks!


  1. Fingers crossed for you, Jill!! Yes - agreed - you MUST make this beautiful book!! :) See you soon.

    1. Yes! See you soon. I'm glad you will be at the conference too. I love seeing your happy face!