amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Year of Whimsy


A book can be almost anything. It can be a piece of paper you pleat like a fan with a single word written on every page. It can be an out-of-date guide book salvaged from the trash, remade by pasting into it images and passages snipped from old magazines. It can be a stack of lottery tickets and theatre tickets and numbered tickets from the meat counter at the store, hole-punched and gathered on a key ring. It can be three autumn leaves tied together with a piece of blue thread.
                                    --Leah Hager Cohen as quoted in the Fairytale Museum by Susannah M. Smith (Invisible Publishing, 2018)






At the end of 2017, I made a new year’s resolution to create individual handmade books in 2018. This plan was in keeping with my general creative and life mission of doing things for the sake of whimsy, exploration and connection. These words are even on my business card.

I thought the project could satisfy all three. For me, whimsy means embracing a spirit of playfulness. I am influenced by Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey and Lewis Carroll and Carl Jung and Leonora Carrington and Djuna Barnes and a host of other great writers and artists, including contemporaries, such as Caroline Bergvall, Gary Barwin and Steve Venright. Play for me is an important part of my artistic practice and just makes life more fun.

Exploration is pretty straight-forward. It’s about keeping one’s mind open and trying different things, even when that little voice inside says you can’t do this because you don’t have the skills, or some version thereof. I don’t usually have an issue with writer’s block. In my opinion, the way through any kind of artistic block, aside from being around as much art as you can be, is to create and to try different media.

Connection is about connecting with kindred misfits. Those who don’t feel they fit in to conventional society.  This is a constant concern of mine because loneliness is my constant companion. I combat it by doing things like this. I know I am not alone, she says with irony, in feeling lonely and estranged from typical societal values.

My plan was to make twenty-six books over the year and give them to kindreds, keeping one for myself. What ended up happening was that it took my only half the year to create the books because I got excited and couldn’t stop playing.
Once I finished the books, I had to get them to the various recipients. Not all of them were local and some of the ways I contained the work made mailing a bit of a challenge.

Below is an inventory of the books of whimsy and some notes on my philosophies throughout the process of creating them.


 1.         Content: collage combined with unpublished poem; newspaper and found pages; Cover: photo from previous year’s calendar; Binding; staples; Size: 5.5 x 8 “;
Process: glue;
Notes: I am terrible with glue. It gets everywhere and makes a huge mess. Later on I figured out how to use a paintbrush to apply the glue and that helped a bit. But I still made a mess. I just stopped worrying about it.

2.         Content: published story, collage
            Cover: male angel art;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 5.5 x 8”    Process: glue.
3.         Content: unpublished fairy story; black pages; gold ink; collage, and paint;      Cover: black with gold ink;   Binding: rings;  Size: 8.5 x 11; Process: frustrated with glue, I used coloured tape and duct tape.      Notes: the tape unstuck itself and the book needed significant repair / glue.
4.         Content: unpublished song parody;
            Cover: black paper, gold ink
            Binding: wire and beads
            Size: 4 x 6 “
            Process: tape and duct tape;
Notes: first book made specifically with someone in mind who had requested a book of whimsy.
5.         Content: found poem from cut out lines from magazines and collage;
            Cover: black paper, silver ink;
            Binding: ring;
            Size: 4 x 6”;
            Process: transparent tape;
6.         Content: collage and erasure poems on file folders;
            Cover: acrylic paint;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 8.5 x 11”;
            Process: glue (trying again with more success).
 7.         Content: pencil crayon drawings and vispo, rubber stamps and quotes;
            Cover: acrylic paint;
            Binding: staples;
            Size 11 x 17 folded into 8.5 x 11;
            Process: direct drawing and printing; Note: while some of the content of the books is previously composed and saved on my computer, some of it is ephemeral, which means only the recipient of the book will have a copy and not me. I like the idea of creating ephemeral work. It goes against the traditional notion of publishing as the value of multiple copies and permanence. It’s possible that an idea that occurred to me during the creation of an ephemeral work will worm its way into another work that I save and attempt to publish, but not essential.

 8.         Content: unpublished haiku written with red marker;
            Cover: fancy paper scrap;
Binding: envelope style with silver ring and yellow silk wool wound around the book.
Size: 8.5 x 11 landscape
Process: individual sheets and some glue;
Note: I had the concept for this book in mind for a month or so and even wrote a little bit of its opening in the previous book.
9.         Content: wrote out quotes and long poem written in pencil on torn paper;
            Cover: torn paper;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 4 x 8 “;
            Process: stapled pages together first, then filled them.
10.       Content: handwritten guide, no other copies;
            Cover: acrylic paint;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 4 x 5 “;
11.       Content: postcards and watercolour paint – imaginary correspondence; ephemeral;
            Cover: red box with blue box inside; gold ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 6.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 “
            Note: I loved using these boxes and will probably do more projects with them. I also began to use watercolour paints and fell in love with them.
12.       Content: watercolour cards and abecedarian;
            Cover: yellow box with green box inside; black ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 6.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 in.
13.       Content: watercolour, quotes and music;
            Cover: pink box and yellow box inside; silver ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 6.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 in.
14.       Content: tiny chapbook with unpublished but recorded poems;
            Cover: small red box, gold ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size:  4 x 2.
15.       Content: Dark Pines under Water by Gwendolyn MacEwen; watercolour postcards;
            Cover: magic marker painted on envelope;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 4 x 8;
Note: I sealed the envelope after I made the book and had no recollection of what it contains. Mysteriously, the envelope became unstuck, probably owing to the humidity.
16.       Content: individual watercolour prints and handwriting of The Red Bird You Wait For by Gwendolyn MacEwen;
            Cover: doodled envelope;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 8.5 x 11;
Note: see 15. Lesson learned. Although also quite whimsical; the recipient made a lovely video of the work, which was seen by another friend on FB. I made a similar work for him.
17.       Content: the summer of blue, a story written in blue fountain pen on blue paper;
            Cover: old incense tube;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 8.5 x 14;
            Note: it’s fun to look at potential unorthodox containers for the books of whimsy.
 18.       Content: essential reads and matching teas; list typed up;
            Cover: old incense tube;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 8.5 x 14.
19.       outtake
            Content: cut up paper dolls with words
            Cover: envelope and gold ink;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 4 x 4;
            Process: learned how to make a paper doll chain and did it badly;
Note: I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this one; while I’m ok with failure as part of my process, this seemed too messed up to me. I gave it to the final recipient because I figured it would be fun for the final person to receive the outtakes.
19.       Content: previous project long poem with art;
            Cover: nice paper with gold ink;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 8.5 x 11;
            Note: an old project resurrected with someone in mind.
20.       outttake
Content: another freaky cut up with the dolls and paper flowers plus a poem for added value;
Cover: envelope; silver ink;
Binding: no additional binding;
Size: 4 x 6;
Note: same as 19 outtake.
20.       Content: long collaborative poem and photos; not published but stored on my computer;
            Cover: photo;
            Binding: staples
            Size 5.5 x 8;
            Note: made specifically with someone in mind, the collaborator.
 21.       Content: abstract photoshop art and scraps of lines from random poems recorded;   Cover: abstract photo shop art; silver ink;  Binding: staple;
            Size: 7 x 7.   22:       Content: pencil crayoned characters – no copies;
            Cover: nice paper, black ink;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 5.5 x 8
            Note: I’m a terrible drawer; all of these characters have no hands, but somehow they have character and are interesting when combined with my imagination. I hope.  23:       Content: watercolour and drawn characters; black ink; no copies;
            Cover: nice paper; black ink;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 5.5 x 8;
            Note: I wanted to explore more characters and try watercolours; this one isn’t a particularly happy one. I might have to add a letter of warning.
24.       Content: photos taken over a year or so and new prose poems (recorded on my computer);
            Cover: photo; gold ink;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 11 x 17, folded in half.
 25.       Content: art and previously written poems, excerpt;
            Cover: photoshop art;
            Binding: staples;
            Size: 5.5 x 8.
            Note: I made this with someone in mind.
26.       Content: this essay and inventory;
            Cover: old incense tube;
            Binding: no additional binding;
            Size: 8.5 x 11;
            Note: it seemed important to wrap up the project with thoughts on the process and some record of what the books were. I took a few photos on Instagram but that’s all I plan. What the recipients do with these boxes of whimsy when they receive them is up to them. I will either mail them or give them to them in person. It is my hope that some people will end up creating more whimsy and sharing it with fellow kindreds. To quote Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are: “let the wild rumpus start!”
 Post-script

For local recipients, I handed out the books of whimsy at my home, in food courts, cafes and restaurants over cocktails, dhal, dumplings, in their homes, and at readings. It took until December, 2018 for me to distribute the books. The books found homes in Ottawa in Hintonburg, Alta Vista, Lower Town, Orleans, West Ottawa, Mountain, Montreal, Gatineau, Alberta, British Columbia, Hamilton, Toronto, Welland, and Paris, France.

I didn’t make the books with any kind of response in mind, nor did I have expectations of any kind. I just wanted to share the books and celebrate whimsy with kindreds. I had some lovely surprises, including a request for a book, a video made of one book and one of the recipient’s children making me my own book of whimsy, which was such a touching response.

 Both the process and the content have inspired new ideas, including the novel I began
in August.

At times of anxiety and trouble, I found it helpful to work on the books. The process
and colour soothed and distracted me.

I’ve begun volume 2, which is mostly maniacal doodling in pre-made sketch
books. I’m not putting any deadline or expectations on the project this time, other than
I’ll make 26 of them and give them out as they’re finished.
 I encourage you to make your own whimsy (MYOW) and give it away to others, so that
they can make their own and share it. A kind of whimsical domino effect of art and
whimsy and exploration and connection. We’re all kindreds in one way or another. 
 Thanks to all of the recipients for accepting these books of whimsy. 

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