Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Honing My Craft

Some letterpressed plaid, of course.

Step One of my woodcarving project.

Step Two: On the press.


This is just a taste of what I've been working on this week hitherto. I'll be back with more!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Thousand Pictures and Some Words

Greetings from Penland! For the first time since last weekend, I now have unencumbered hours of rest to sit in the shade of a glorious maple with a mountainscape laid out before my eyes. Sundays are my days off from work, and while the studio is open for usage during the weekends, I've come to realize that if I don't sit down to record and reflect on this experience, it will pass me by without seeping in. I desire for it all to be pressed deep into me. I want for my eyes to open wide to my surroundings, ears attuned to the whisperings around me. So, my dear reader, indulge me for a few minutes as I relay the events of this first FULL week.

(If, in fact, you're thrown off by the above image, allow for me to explain... When setting type, it's orientation has to be flipped and turned, so as to print correctly. I know, it's so confusing. A few days worth of practice has not been enough to make it come naturally to me either, but I trust that it will come inherently with time.)

This is the Craft House: my place of residence for the next seven weeks. It's neither heated nor cooled, but the mountain air has substituted the need for either. Isn't it swell?

This here is my little alcove, nestled on the top floor of the Craft House. I share the attic with about ten other young women. My little corner is so cozy. I can pull the shower curtain on my space in the evenings for a little privacy. Though teen-niny, it's really quite nice.

I am a work-study student here, which means that I have to devote about 12 or so hours/week to helping the kitchen operations run smoothly. I have mostly morning shifts, and so, round about 7 am each morning, I make my way down the rocky path from Craft House to these here Pines for breakfast set up. It's easy work, for the most part, as I prepare the dining room for students to come fuel up for the day. Part of my duty includes making coffee. Though it's nowhere close being as delicious as my beloved Urban, it'll do just fine for the time I'm here. On another note, the fare here is quite extraordinary. Fresh fruit and vegetables (some from the garden right here on-property) accompany each healthful meal. I am becoming quite spoiled.

After breakfast, I've found myself coming 'home' to the porch of Craft for some quiet reading before I head off to the studio. The porch is crowded with the most delightful row of rocking chairs, and a view I'll never tire of taking in.

I then head to the studio for the first portion of class! The letterpress building is up behind The Pines. Our building is the newest and most architecturally modern structure on campus. It's pretty jazzy. More on that in a minute.

The walk to the studio is a pretty one, with a view of the fog as it cozies into the creases of this mountainous view.

And here is the studio! Isn't it grand!? Interspersed with our work spaces are four gorgeous Vandercook presses. These hunks of metal have been around for ages-- been cranking out print pieces for countless people and projects. I'm privileged to have access to them under the instruction of Bryan Baker, formerly of Yeehaw Industries in Knoxville (and currently of the Book Arts Program in Brooklyn).

Here is one of the beauties! One day, maybe I'll have one to call my own!

This is a drawer full of wooden type. I think it's just great. In class, we've used both wood and lead type so far. While newer printers use the polymer plate technique to transfer digital designs to paper, the method we've been using here is much more traditional. Setting letters into the press one by one is tedious. It certainly requires much more careful attention. I think it's good for me, honestly. With many things, I tend to opt for quick and easy. This is a process that forces a much slower and fastidious attention.

Our first class project was to print a piece of microfiction. Following Hemingway's model, we were instructed to compose a six word story, set with lead type and then print it. This week, the other seven students and I will print an envelope to house our story-ettes.

This was assignment number two. With a partner, I printed this lovely poem by Mary Oliver about the transformation from summer to fall (sent to me this week by a kind friend). We decided that we should begin at the top with a summery green, transitioning down to a more autumnal colorscape as it drifted downwards, like leaves falling to the dirt. We then chose a few words from the text, printing them bigger and brighter. It was a fun exercise, and proved to be quite educational in the problems it presented along the way. (Here's a fun fact. For the stack of 50 prints we produced, we had to run the press 450 times. So, yes, I'm quite fond of this one.)

At the end of the day, we traded prints with another group, and were instructed to add to the existing composition. My classmate Beth and I got this here print. You can scarcely see it, but beneath our blue wash and oooo's, there lies a faint alphabetic design. We decided to bring it to completion by adding this abstract design and a column of text down the right hand side. Each word in the column contains two o's, and they kind of follow a sound association pattern down the page. It starts and ends with the word kazoo to bring it all full circle. (Get it?)

Here are some of the prints that Bryan brought as examples. They hang on the bulletin board in the studio, taunting me with their precision. I have so very much to learn. As mentioned earlier, I have the lousy tendency of being overwhelmed, rather than excited, at how far I am from my classmates and other professional printers. I am an inch deep in this ocean. I'm inspired by the endless possibilities of this art, and pray for the grace and patience I need for the process of learning it.

On Friday night, my entire class ventured into Asheville for the 5th Annual Bookopolis Show. Book artists from around the country submitted the most delicate creations of handprinted, handmade books. The details, oh the details! I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to be at an art show where it was encouraged to handle the works on display. It's touchable art. It's meant to be thumbed through, held close to the nose. I love running my fingers across the pressed pages on handmade papers. Sheer delight.

This weekend has been sunny and bright - a contrast to the wet wet week we've experienced. Check out this eye-full. I still feel like I'm dreaming. I'm sharing life with real-deal artists in an absolutely pristine environment.

Things like this teach me more and more about GRACE. I did exactly nothing to deserve this, and yet, this path was paved for me. I'm without the words I need to proclaim my gratitude in a way that would do justice to its depth.

This morning, as I took a walk through a winding wooded path, this song streamed into my earbuds. It may capture just what I'm trying to say in that ....what I'm trying to say is non-capturable.

How can I thank you, when I can't wrap my arms around You?

Let this feeble thanks be heard.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Compare

It is said that comparison is the thief of joy. (Or in other parts, according to other liberty-taking folks, it is the "one-eyed bearded thief of joy.") I agree with both varieties, and if left to my own devices in a group of talented do-ers, quickly take to an unhealthy self-deprecation.

The first full day of class and work brought with it a hearty portion of excitement today. After our introduction to the studios last night, I was so intoxicated with ideas and inspiration that I could hardly meet with sleep. After waking this morning, I was quickly faced with my shortcomings, my inexperience and the cold hard fact that I'm years and miles behind my classmates.

According to statistics, when kids in an average American kindergarten class are asked to raise their hands if they are artists, the majority of them do. By the fifth grade, the numbers drop. When middle school hits, even fewer remain.

Isn't it a travesty? So many of us start out with confidence that we are creators, that our efforts are valid and our art, fridge-worthy. Then as the years wear on us, we become less sure of ourselves. Because we don't pursue and art degree, display our works in galleries, have an etsy shop...we cannot possibly call ourselves artists.

I can still hear my little girl answer to the age old question.* "An artist," I'd say boldly.

But, today, I'm a statistic.

It wasn't long before my own career ambitions morphed, and I was after something a little more concrete. Here's to hoping I can channel my little voice of-old, that I can drown out the others and refuse to let anything pirate the joy I have from being in this place.

*"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Art is Life's Blood

(I did not create the above letterpressed loveliness, rather, I extracted the image from google. Fingers crossed, with more time here, I'll be able to produce things just as nice!)

Art is a journey without a destination. We will never 'get there.' There is no one answer. But if you enjoy the journey, if you get lost in the process, if inspiration and beauty and meaning are what you're after, then you are an artist even before you have begun." -Vae Hamilton

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Looking Forward And Looking Back

Life for me, yesterday, was just as much about the journey as it was the destination. On my nearly five hour drive up to Penland, I had an audio tour of some music that whetted my appetite of the thinking and digesting I’ve craved for quite some time. I began my trip with a little Over The Rhine. As rain sputtered lightly onto my windshield, slightly melancholic music was just what the doctor ordered.

When this song found its way to my speakers, I couldn’t help but find company in the words that painted my own picture for very own moment of coming/going. I am looking forward to something quite extravagant, leaving behind something quite nice. Either way I turn my head, I have a great many things to be thankful for.

When OTR expired, I switched gears to a little tour of the history of ska music, a la this guy. As the grey sky was having quite a somnambulatory effect, this compilation + a good strong cup of joe was a needed jolt of energy. Not only that, it reminded me that this period of life is a time in which open-mindedness is not just important, it’s prerequisite. I want to grow in new things, and I cannot do such without a heart and mind wide open to things I know not. (And by jove, turns out, I think this caffeinated music could certainly grow on me.)

When I hit the North Carolina state line, I toned it down a bit by amping up a bluegrass/folksy playlist I had stacked up on my iPod. Patty, Avett, Chris, Alison...their sweet twang sang me into the hill country and onto the campus of my new residence.

I hit this crossroads right before driving through the gates. I was reminded once again of where this all began. Even before then, this idea of a creative crossroads had been brewing in the mind of the Author and Perfecter of my faith.

I’ve been here on campus for just a few short hours, and have already been bathed in the uncontainable majesty of it all. My little cubby in the attic of the Craft House will be my new home and the place I lay to rest after full days of work.

I checked out the studio (which is without rival, the coolest I’ve ever beheld) and took a stroll around before sitting on the porch for a while and grabbing a sandwich at The Pines. I’ve already met a few other work study students, and am altogether enamored with how many stories are gathered here in this place. Lives from all over the American map are intersecting here. We all come from something and are coming to something, to learn great things, to study life through each other's eyes.

Along with my towels and linens, I picked up this sheet of paper that says:

The strange power of art is sometimes it can show what people have in common is more urgent that what differentiates them.

- John Berger

Here’s to eight weeks of being enveloped in the reminder of His beauty, to digging deep into an art that I love and to learning the binding qualities of shared creativity.

This is going to be one helluva good time.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Oh Mr. P-oh-oh-oh-ostman

If you care to write me via post in my absence, I'll be residing at:

PO Box 37
Penland, NC 28765

or for FedEx or UPS, use:
67 Doras Trail
Penland, NC 28765

Don't be strangers.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Play Me Some Mountain Music

Time is waning...the day of my departure from Birmingham is indeed coming round the mountain. Next week, I'll be on my merry way to Penland, NC to proceed with my adventures in letterpress. The taste in my mouth is bittersweet, as I'll be leaving a place a I love during my favorite time of the year. Not only will I miss the opportunity to hostess the 3rd Annual Day of Fall Fun,* I'll be picking up in the middle of what has been an action-packed (sleep-deprived) season of new and exciting nouns.**

I'll leave with some trepidation, but walk into a colorful world of learning, breathing and growing. I'm hoping that the seeds of interest planted long ago, will have their chance to push through the soil into the open air, getting the nutrition they require to be green with life. My prayer is that I'll learn the rudimentary printing practices that will build my house of knowledge on solid rock. If you're the praying kind, and you care to do so, join me in asking for that.

As I set off down the road, I'll no doubt need lots of car-time entertainment. In addition to the collection of Ira I've been stockpiling for weeks, I'll need a heavy dose of new music for this fresh page of life. Autumn beckons for some music dripping with oranges and golds. That's why, fall-loving friends, I've compiled the below list of songs to accompany me on my way. In turn, I'd like your recommendations. Comment below with 1+ of your own top picks for the coming season. I'd be much obliged.

1. Everytime You Say Goodbye - Alison Krauss
2. November Blues - Avett Brothers
3. Top of the World - Patty Griffin
4. Green Pastures - Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs
5. Coming Home - Arthur Alligood
6. Wayside (Back in Town) - Chris Thile
7. Make Me A Pallet on Your Floor - Gillian Welch
8. Little Flowers - Denison Witmer
9. Boy With A Coin - Iron and Wine
10. Adieu False Heart - Linda Rondstadt
11. Appalachia Waltz - Edgar Meyer
12. Tiger Mountain Peasant Song - First Aid Kit
13. The Fire Thief - Hem
14. Since You've Been Around - Rosie Thomas
15. Far Far - Yael Naim
16. Rowing Song - Patty Griffin
17. Please Read The Letter - Alison Krauss and Robert Plant
18. Out on the Highway - The Everybodyfields
19. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - Bob Dylan
20. Flesh - David Gray

*Past participants of DOFF, and new friends alike, please wear plaid on October 24th in memory of this great occassion, and save the date for next year's celebration: quadruple the fun.

** people, places and things of course.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

When the Moon Hits Your Eye

Shucks, if I had known that Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park was hosting their 18th Annual Moon Pie Eatin' contest on Monday, I would've been there with bells on. I would've shown up, elastic shorts style to beat this guy to a mallowy pulp.

How's this for serendipitous timing? I just made my first batch of the homemade variety last week. They were quite a hit among friends. If you've got a hankering for a Southern delight done right, go on and give 'em a go. When this moon hits your tongue, it's amore.

Make-you-slap-your-mama Moonpies

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup marshmallow creme
    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a cookie sheet.
    2. To Make Cookie Crusts: In a large mixing bowl, cream together 1/2 cup butter or margarine and white sugar. Add egg, evaporated milk, and vanilla. Mix well. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder. Add flour mixture slowly to sugar mixture while stirring. Mix just until all ingredients are combined.
    3. Drop the dough onto greased cookie sheet by rounded tablespoonfuls. Leave at least 3 inches in between each one; dough will spread as it bakes.
    4. Bake in preheated oven for 6 to 8 minutes, until firm when pressed with finger. Allow to cool at least one hour before filling.
    5. To Make Marshmallow Filling: In a medium mixing bowl, blend together 1/2 cup butter or margarine, confectioners' sugar, flavored extract, and marshmallow creme. Mix until smooth. Assemble pies by spreading 1 to 2 tablespoonfuls of filling on flat side of a cookie crust, then covering filling with flat side of another cookie crust.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Song of Sorrow

I know I blogged about this song and video just one week ago, but I believe it deserves another mention today. I borrowed from its title, and, now, my friends, I would like to pontificate on its subject matter. If you didn't before, WATCH it now. See the pain in Sara's eyes as she sings this well-wishing song over a suffering friend.

Sometimes, I imagine she sings for Chris Thile, former Nickel Creek band mate, who married, divorced and now seems to be experiencing a bit of crisis of faith as a result. I imagine that as his heart has been ravaged by life's knocks, Sara's own heart has broken to watch it happen.

Do you see the genuine concern deep set in her gaze as she sings? Do you hear the compassion in her sweet sound? She loves her friend and is burdened by what weighs him down. I think each time she utters the words to this song, she prays for his safe return to peace.

My own angelic-voiced roommate often writes songs over other people. Months ago, she labored over a song for her sister, who was at the time, experiencing a spell of loneliness. In her wisdom, Abby said something about the comfort we're able to bring to people when we don't try and bring them into the light, but rather, just offer to sit with them in the dark.


We can hope and wish and pray for our friends. We can sing beautiful hymns of healing over their lives, but we cannot change them. We can care and love them well, but we cannot fix, we cannot decide, we cannot live for them.

But, we can sit with them in the dark, walk away and sing for hope to their hearts, relief to their minds.

I Get A Sense

I was in Florence, Italy on the inaugural day of creative writing class, the summer after my sophomoric year of college. Together with eleven classmates gathered from every corner of the North American map, I sat wide-eyed in our mall marble-laid room overlooking the San Lorenzo square. I was nineteen years old and, alone in a foreign land, and overwhelmed.

"Let's take a walk," Lily, our instructor suggested. "Grab your notebooks and pens. Follow me."

And so we descended into the streets to snake through the outdoor/indoor market below, taking down notes of the sights, the smells, the tastes, the sounds as we walked.

From the left and right, I heard: "Hey there, American girl. You are beautiful," amidst the murmur of negotiation and friendly banter.
Before my eyes were strewn leathers of every color, soft and buttery to my touch.
I took in the aroma of fresh produce, of cold slabs of meat, so fresh that they still stared at passerbys.

Talk about sensory overload.

I was enveloped in the vibrancy of life happening around me. I was not a part of it, just a spectator to it. It buzzed and hummed around me as I stood still to look and listen, smell and touch. At one point, I was lost from the rest of my class, so distracted by the activity around me that I lost track of everything else. Remember that feeling of being separated by your mom in a grocery store when you were younger? It was akin to that, but better, because I reveled in where I was. I was swimming in a sea of colors and sounds.

I want to go back there.

Not to Florence, necessarily (though if someone were to fund my trip, I'd be happy to oblige). I'd much like, however, to return to the feeling of FEELING. Recent weeks, months, years have left me feeling cold to my surroundings and circumstances. I've plowed through, not allowing for the time or space to experience life the way I did that day.

I love the idea of Jesus, in Mark 7, restoring one man's senses. Placing his fingers in his ears, touching his tongue, Jesus spoke over him: "Ephphatha," or "Be opened."

That is my prayer today, as I rest unhurriedly for the first morning in weeks. Life is colorful, noisy, messy. I want to be opened to experience, to bathe myself in the sensation of living it.