Cooking the Book

I’m having fun shipping out stacks of books with my one-for-me-one-for-? special, and I’m getting a lot of questions about the nuts and bolts of my self-publishing experience.  So here is a look behind the scenes of Overlooked Undertakings.  Warning: contains geeky details.

I love books.  I have always loved books.  I love the way a good book feels, and smells, and opens, and how it beckons from a coffee table.  I embrace the digital age, but I still expect someone’s bookshelf to reflect their character. So when I set out to make a book, I was very particular about it.

I pitched the idea to publishers starting in 2001, but despite a lot of enthusiasm about the work, no one was ready to make the book I wanted.  One publisher wanted to make a teeny-tiny gift book.  Another wanted soft cover.  Another thought it should be cuter, and clearly targeted at kids.  I learned the pitfalls of having a title that is hard to categorize.  Is it Art, or Humor?  Gift, or Children’s?  I had always thought of the wide appeal of my work as a strength, but it was a hurdle to securing retail shelf space.

Field testing

Field testing

I wanted something adults and kids could enjoy equally. I wanted the pages big enough that the objects in the images would be bigger than life.  I wanted full frame images, with nice borders.  I wanted good paper, good color, and a hard cover.  And I wanted it to be affordable.  A $75 museum book did not make sense.

It became clear that if I wanted to do it MY way, I was going to do it MYSELF.  After all, reinventing wheels is one of my favorite hobbies!

The digital vs. traditional press question has changed a lot in the years since I published- but with the options I had, I decided that the best way to meet all of my criteria was traditional printing in as large a quantity as I could stomach.  The bulk of expenses in traditional (4 color) printing come before the first copy is printed: designing the book, creating the separations and plates and going through the press checks.  After all that, the individual books are quite reasonable.  So the more books you print, the bigger your upfront investment, but the less the per-copy cost. This was the Spreadsheet-and-Tums phase of production.

Selecting a printer turned out to be hugely time consuming, and hugely educational.  Different presses had different equipment- some didn’t do hardcover binding, some couldn’t do landscape format, some couldn’t do the dimensions I wanted, and of course the quality and prices ranged all over.  The cheapest printing was in Asia, but that carried other costs.  I wanted to be present for the press-check, I didn’t want the possibility of shipping and customs taking months, and most importantly I wanted to support a domestic printing business if possible.  So I focused on finding a quality printer in the U.S..  It was like tracking an endangered species.  I would hear rumors of a promising company, only to find it had vanished.  Somewhere in the hunt, I got a tip about a place in Canada, and ended up finding my match with Friesens.

Cozy in Canada

Cozy in Canada

I had been drafting the selection and order of images; deciding how much text to include and other design basics, but once I had the printer, then the details had to get set.  Everything involved trade-offs. The sexy matte finish on the cover meant that the books had to be shrink wrapped to avoid scuffs. The varnish on the pages gives them more endurance, but meant that there were longer drying times, and the printing took longer.  One choice I tripped on was the final size. I maximized the size that I could get from the paper sheets, not realizing that I made the book a quarter inch too big for standard envelopes and boxes. What seemed like a fine idea at the time keeps coming back to bite me!

With help from some great designer friends, I wrestled through the fine points of choosing fonts, and font sizes, and weights, and spacing and how big a stroke to put around the images, and what EXACT color should the colored pages and the end pages be.  I started to see details in books that I had never noticed before. It was great to get into involved discussions about the relative merits of placing the titles in line with the bottom of the images, or just a little higher, but definitely NOT at the center of the page.

Up a little. .. Down a smidge...  Over a hair...

Up a little. .. Down a smidge… Over a hair…

With my nose down, and Lynda.com never far away, I managed to prepare the layout in time to be ready for the Winter discount at the printer.  They would put me up, and provide sled dogs, if I would go to Manitoba in March.

The purpose of the trip was to do the “press check”.  That means looking at a sample of each spread (collection of pages) as it comes off the press, making final color adjustments and giving approval before the whole run is printed.  Adjusting one image affects whatever is aligned with it on the sheet, so it’s another tangle of trade-offs!

The press runs 24 hours a day, so I was on-call to come to the plant whenever a new spread was ready.  A couple of times that meant pulling on my snow boots at one in the morning and working until three.

I had been cautioned that pressmen were a gruff and grumbling crowd, and I would have a hard time, as a novice publisher, getting their respect.  My experience couldn’t have been farther from that.  Because of a few scheduling and technical issues, I did not have one pressman shepherding my book through, but instead I worked with six.  They were all extraordinarily skilled, with a deep love of their craft and intimate knowledge of their equipment.  Some were chattier than others, but they all listened, answered questions, and helped me find solutions.

One of the very last choices I had to make was the ribbon color for the top of the binding.  I felt like my ability to make decisions was depleted, but I took a deep breath and remembered that my “thing” is details.  I picked a red ribbon, and I have to say, that of all of the little decisions that I made, that red ribbon makes me happy every time I see the book.  It makes me think of all of the steps, all of they eyes, all of the care, all of the help, and all of the hands that helped me realize this book the way I wanted it to be.

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Of course, the story didn’t end there.  Making the book was just a long first chapter.  The next chapter involved trucks and boxes and more help and more boxes.  The remaining chapters are where it gets really fun, and the story expands to bookshelves and coffee tables and school rooms and  many, many lovely people who have enjoyed and shared the fruit of this effort.

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Getting Schooled

Kids teach me all the time.little kids pointing at art on the wall

A few weeks ago, I was in Ann Arbor for a long and challenging outdoor show. Business wasn’t going particularly well, and I started thinking about the indignities of “selling my work on the street”; a phrase I use when I’m feeling run down, sometimes with colorful variations on the vocabulary.

Why wasn’t I exhibiting in a more refined space? A gallery, where (in my fantasy) I stay home and make work, and someone else sells it and sends me a check? No fussing with the weather! No crowds! Wouldn’t that be great?!

Then I noticed a little boy, asking his mom to help him look at my book, Overlooked Undertakings. She started paging through it with him, first on the display table, then holding it lower so he could look closer, and finally sitting in the middle of my booth, like it was a living room. The middle of my booth, meaning “on the street”.

Why I'm on the street.

The boy and his sister (whose name was Audrey!) were blissfully absorbed. The rest of the world had disappeared, and they were deep into the fantasy worlds that the images evoked. They bubbled with chatter as they made up stories and explanations and what-ifs. They giggled and squirmed and crawled all over mom.

Ann Arbor fans!

“Ah!”, I thought, “This is why I’m here.”

 

If you want the fun of sharing my book with someone special, this is a great time to do it!  I’m offering a big discount on multiple copies, from now until sometime after school starts.

 

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Filed under On the move, Overlooked Undertakings, You Are Here

Exhibitionism

My first photo exhibit was in 1996, at a dessert shop on Fillmore.  I recently came across my preparation notes for it, which included the exact mat dimensions for each, almost identically sized, print: an extra 8th inch here, a 16th less there…. I took no shortcuts!  I had two very handy people help me hang that show, and it took FOREVER.  I bought them lunch and dinner while we set up.  It was complicated because we couldn’t put any nails in the wall, so we tied fishline to eyescrews in the frames, and hooked it over the molding.  (If you’ve ever tried to level something attached to two pieces of fishline, you might understand where the 19+ man-hours of installation time came from.)  Sadly, the pieces flopped around, because they were now hanging away from the wall, so we drilled tiny holes in the bottom corners, and stuck carefully trimmed toothpicks in as braces.  The result was quite magical, with the pieces floating about 2 inches off the wall (except for that one that crashed to the ground the first night).  It remains one of my favorite shows.

Sweet Inspirations, 1996

Sweet Inspirations, 1996

It was the first time that my work had been in front of strangers, and I sometimes sat at a table watching people enter the shop.  I would track their eyes to see if they were looking at the pictures.  Would they smile?  Would they look closer?  Or would they head straight for the cake selections?  At the time, of course, every interaction was hugely significant.  My feelings were hanging on the wall, and whether someone laughed or gave a bland look could make my day or break my heart.

Art or Cake?

Art or Cake?

This week I hung a show at Dolores Park Cafe, which includes a few images that were in that very first show.  I first exhibited here in 2000, when the cafe was a newish, risky addition to the quiet, old school neighborhood, and I was just transitioning to making my artwork my full-time business.  Now almost 15 years later, I have exhibited all over the country, and Dolores Park Cafe is a long-established center of a bustling corridor.

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Dolores Park, 2000

When Rachel, the owner, asked if I was still interested in showing in a cafe, now that I was more “established”, I was surprised.  Of course! Exhibiting in a great cafe is an honor and a big responsibility!  I get to be part of people’s lives in a special way.  In a gallery or a museum people enter the space with the specific intention of spending time looking at what’s on the wall.  In a place where the art is not the primary draw, there is a different challenge.  People are going about their day – getting their coffee, meeting their friends – and if I want my work to get their attention, I have to earn it.  If they look up from their latte or their laptop or their OKCupid date, I don’t want them to be radically distracted, but I want to invite them to let their mind and conversation wander a bit in a new direction.  If they’ve had a crappy day, I want to offer a mood shift, or engage their imagination and break up nasty ruminations.  Dolores Park Cafe has regulars, and I love that.  It means there are people who will see my work dozens of times during the show.  Will there be one day when they stop and look closely?  Will it be the first time they see it? The fifth? The fifteenth?  Will they like it more as the weeks go by, or will they get numb to it?  Will they miss it when it’s gone?

Dolores Park, 2014

Dolores Park, 2014

Showing in cafes and other semi-public spaces is rarely a big money making proposition, but it’s part of building community and connections in a way that is important to me.  I have shown in shop windows and furniture stores, in spas, salons, hospitals and office lobbies.  Almost every one of those shows has resulted in unique connections, either with business owners, fellow artists, or patrons.  Sometimes those connections don’t appear for years, and when I discover them, it is a delight.  It is fitting that “What You Sow” sits in the middle of my current show.  I love planting seeds, even when I don’t know when they will sprout , or what they will grow into.

Dolores Park, 2014

Dolores Park, 2014

Have you ever had a special experience with art in a semi-public place?  Do tell!

My Retro-Perspecitve is at Dolores Park Cafe through April 2.  Join me at a mixer there on Thursday, Feb 13, 6-8 pm

I will be hanging new work from my Linger Series at InVision Optometry in March. (Back on Fillmore St.!)

Do you remember any of these spots?

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Angle of Incidence

I’ve been asked about the genesis of the images that I exhibited at Burning Man.  It is a series that I first exhibited in 2003, on the big, big wall at Dolores Park Cafe.  They don’t usually travel with me to art fairs, but I am always happy to have a chance to show them.

I use a slide projector as the sole light source for these photos. Slides are projected onto bald heads, and then re-photographed. What starts as a three dimensional scene is captured on two dimensional film, projected onto a three dimensional head, and captured on two dimensional film.  Here is a sampling from the collection.

The images come from my travels. I am drawn to unique textures and patterns, both man made and natural. I am moved by evidence of human ambition and innovation, and by evidence of time and evolution. I especially love when all of that converges!

One influence for this series is the book “Eye and Brain”, by R.L. Gregory, a small but meaty text that I picked up in college while filling out my “breadth requirements”. I designed lighting for theatre and dance since high-school, so I had experimented a lot with how to use light to define space and sculpt forms. Learning about how we receive and decipher light added a new dimension to my work. Our eyes and brain collaborate and collude to compile the evidence drawn from nerve impulses, past experiences, and intuition, to arrive at a plausible explanation for what we “see”.  The desire to make sense and find a comfortable logic makes us vulnerable to deception.

Images from this series are available by special order, and at my studio events.

I’d love to hear your impressions.

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Not my normal art show…

For twelve years I have traveled to art shows around the country, setting up and exhibiting my work. I’m well adapted to the unpredictable routine, but I still have occasional  anxiety dreams.  In my dreams, I forget something, or my car won’t start, or no one comes to my opening.  Showing my art at Burning Man made those dreams look astoundingly pedestrian.

I hope most of you have enjoyed amazing photos of the event.  If not, start here or here and then Google away.  It is so huge and so varied, that I find myself looking at whole albums full of things I never saw.  Big things.  With flames.  It’s the kind of place where you CAN miss a giant boulder suspended in air, or a Billion Bunny March.

This is a look at exhibiting my little art piece on the big desert.  (This story started with my previous post.)

You can click on an image to see it bigger, with comments, and scroll through the albums.  Hit “escape” to get back to the main post.

Placement (AKA Booth Assignment)

I brought what’s called “walk-in art”, which means I had not registered ahead of time, or been assigned a location.  So I had to work that out at The Artery, on site.  They were great.  Welcoming, fun, and pro.  Always a winning hand.

Load In

I had my placement, and was ready to set up!  But you can’t just drive a car out into the middle of the Playa, because that would break the visual mood.  Luckily, my camp had a resident art-car, approved by the DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles).  She had to be coaxed into waking up, but it was worth it to be able to say “I was going to leave at 11, but my dragon wouldn’t start…”

Set Up

Time to see if this actually works!

Showtime!

It worked!  I set up on Wednesday morning, and the piece held up until I took it down on Sunday.  It was a fantastic experience.  Every time I went out to check on it, or clean it, I had wonderful conversations with gracious, creative, appreciative, generous and quirky people.  I had a couple of teary moments and a lot of great laughs.  It was illuminating and fulfilling to step away from any connection to commerce, and just focus on what I really love, which is making a connection to people.

Tear Down

And then it was done, and time to dismantle and leave no trace.  Some of my wonderful campmates came out to help me break down.  In a final strange twist, the one thing I was unable to do was to burn the work!  I dismantled all of the plastics and metals, but the Community Burn Garden wouldn’t take the cardboard in the mats!  So the prints are back home after all.  Trying to find a date to burn them at Baker Beach, where this all began!

Thanks to everyone who pitched in!  It was so much fun to work with so many people and create something together.  It helped my hands and filled my heart!  Big dusty hugs all around!

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I thought this was a metaphor…

I started this blog thinking about travel as a metaphor, but suddenly my world is full of guidebooks and packing lists.

I am making final preparations for a week at Burning Man.  My packing list is nuts, and I say that as someone whose “normal” packing looks nuts to most people.  Do I have enough water for all of my needs for 7 days?  Enough food?  Enough sexy outfits that are suitable for climbing giant jungle gyms? Enough moisturizer? The list of dance parties  and utopian lectures that I don’t want to miss? Protection from extreme heat and dust storms?  Enough batteries to run my light up suit?  Does my bike have enough personality?  Did I bring presents?  And earplugs?

And then I decided to make an art installation…

These beloved prints were headed to the trash, after a mounting mishap left them all just damaged enough to make me crazy every time I looked at them on the wall.  This project will give them a last moment to shine, and then to glow.

Thanks to Joen Madonna for the spark, Kate Boyd for the brainstorming and scene shop, David James for the wonderful help and laughter and Ahmed, Hugo, Paul and Raymond at the Home Depot Pro shop for getting in the spirit of play and rule bending!

This may last a minute in the heat and wind, or it may last the week.  In any case, they will end in a blaze!  Look for the follow up post after Labor Day.

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You are here!

I am tickled by the “You are Here” images that folks have been sending, in response to “Where?“!  Please keep them coming, and I’ll keep expanding this gallery. Here are a few from you, and a few from me!

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Keeping Score

Immediately after launching this blog, I set out on an actual, geographic journey with my 11 year old godson. We drove from Berkeley to Ashland, Oregon.  As we entered the third hour of the drive I started to regret that I hadn’t brought my Auto-Bingo.  My godson didn’t know what that was, so I explained that it is a game where you get points for noticing certain things along the road.  I’ve always liked that it turns common sights into precious treasures.

keepscore-9698-2

So we invented our own game, and I highly recommend that you give it a try.  It is based on a board game called Tokaido, where players travel a path modeled on the East Sea Road of Japan, collecting points for experiences, encounters, purchases, offerings and visiting hot springs (yes!).

My godson and I decided to play collaboratively, rather than against each other (his great suggestion!) with the goal of collecting more than 50 points on the trip.  We started with the categories from the board game, then modified them and added our own.

Sundial Bridge, Redding CA

Inspired by a stop at the Calatrava Sundial Bridge in Redding, we decided to collect “Vista” points for every bridge that we crossed by foot.  That turned out to be a great choice, since Ashland’s Lithia Park is full of footbridges.  Crossing tiny rivulets became tremendously points-lucrative!

We got “Experience” points for trying new things.  He got one point for tasting Lithia water.  I got two for actually swallowing a mouthful.  We got points for a minor trespassing exploration of an old rail car in Yreka.

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We toyed with “Generosity” points for tipping buskers, holding doors, turning a purse in to the lost-and- found, and little acts of kindness.

We claimed “Oddity” points for inexplicable weird stuff we saw. Like a  6′ 4″ guy dressed as Frozen Yogurt.  And some freaky smiling mannequins.laughingManequin

But by far my favorite way to earn points was  “Encounters”.  We earned points for talking to people beyond immediate needs. We wouldn’t get points just for ordering at a coffee stand, but we did get points when we found out that the guy working at the stand was studying to be a nurse.  Our first great encounter was a man on the Sundial Bridge who knew a LOT about salmon, and told us what to look for and when.  There were vendors at a farmer’s market who told us all about their carnivorous plants, their mushroom vitality powders and their bees.   And a favorite encounter was a painter in the park who was painting an impressionistic view of a very, very green scene, using only blue paint.  When we asked him if he always painted in blue, he replied, “I sometimes paint in dragons” and then showed us his remarkable and elaborate gigantic canvases of colorful fantasy scenes, hanging in galleries.

I love that the game gave us an ongoing way to recognize our experience, and challenge ourselves to make it richer.  For instance, we said hello to the painter on our way into the park.  But we agreed that it was only a one-point encounter, and that if we wanted more points, we had to find out something about him, so we stopped and talked on the way back.

Since the trip, our scorecard gives us a way to remember things we did, and a reason to search our memories for anything that we might have left out; some little nugget that might push our score a little higher.

BlogTwoOnOne

What should you give yourself points for?

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I’m lost , can you show me the way to…

No matter where I travel, people ask me for directions.

I have never been sure if it is because I don’t look lost, or because I don’t look scary. Whatever the reason, people ask, and I usually can tell them. Either I know, or somewhere in the oversized bag I’m carrying, is a map, and I love to pull it out and get it oriented and set the stranger on course. Often in the process, I have learned about places that I would like to visit, and even sometimes found a travel companion.

It has occurred to me lately that this is one of the micro-interactions that is going extinct as our hand-held devices and talking cars tell us where to go. I know I can tend towards nostalgia, and I freely confess I love having google maps at my fingertips, but I can’t help feeling sad about losing the connections that are made when you ask someone for directions.  I once used old Berlitz phrase books as part of a theater script, and one of the great finds was that the phrase, “I’m lost, can you show me the way to….” was listed in the “dating” section, right next to “I believe you dropped this.”

Photo of Berlitz Phrasebookss

I love the different ways that people give directions. I spent a rainy night lost in Ireland, and every time I asked someone for the way, I got a story. “Well, follow this road ‘til you’re past McNerney’s farm, then turn right, just before you get to the bridge that washed out last year. Then don’t follow the signs, because some kids turned them around as a joke…” My companion and I stopped many times that night. We were exhausted by laughter by the time we checked in to our inn, and we knew much more about where we were than if we had been sure of our way.

Photo of road sign that reads "paradox".

You wondered where it was…

I think that the first map that I became familiar with was the Hundred Acre Wood. I would pore over it, on the front piece of my volume of Winnie-the-Pooh. It showed me the relation of one story to another, and gave an extra level of credibility and tangibility to Pooh’s stomping grounds. Much like my experience with Irish directions, the Hundred Acre Wood is mapped by experiences. This is where Roo plays. This is where Eyore mopes. This is what lies between.

Hundred Acre Wood

I’m going to use this blog to map my experiences, and try to figure out what connects and separates the different lands where I play and mope and think and create and connect.  I’ll map the terrain, the inhabitants, the climates and the boundaries.  I’m not sure exactly what form it will take, but I expect the expedition to be colorful!

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Where?

A Starting Point

An interviewer for Uncommon Goods asked me, “What quote keeps you motivated?”, and the question caught me off guard. I love words, I love a great turn of phrase, or a pithy bit of wisdom, but I didn’t have anything pinned to my wall or my bathroom mirror that I kept coming back to. I thought about great lines of poetry and philosophy that I could claim as my touchstone, but I couldn’t arrive at ONE that expressed the different forces that propel me.

Then I found it.

Not in a book of motivation, but in a bus shelter.

And then again at a park.

And in an airport.

And in a museum.

YouAreHereIC

If there is one thing I love more than a great phrase, it is a great phrase with a double meaning. “You are Here” is simultaneously a profound, imponderable truth of our metaphysical condition, and the most banal and specific description of our physical placement in space.

Both of these meanings get me oriented to my surroundings, and help move me in the direction of my planned destination.

Ever since I picked it, it appears in my world, unbidden, with stunning regularity. I like it more and more, because every time I see it now, I feel like it was put there just for me, as a reminder to stop and BE where I am. A reminder to orient myself. A reassurance that I am not in a completely void and uncharted land.

This blog, Scenic Turnouts, will map my creative travels for the next few months, while I take a sabbatical from going on the road for art fairs. I hope you will join me along the way, and expand my world. I’ll tell you where my “here” is, and perhaps you can share yours.

 Be Part of it!

The next time you come across “You are Here”, take a picture and send it to me with a little description of where it is, and any other details you’d like to share about what it makes you think, and I’ll post it!

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