The Making of “Love Grows in the Forest”

When I first began this project I really had no idea how it would turn out. After spending about 5 months taking classes at the Center for Books Arts as part of the scholar program, I felt like I should finally make something finished. I had recently finished reading the book “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben and was really moved and kind of in awe by his description of the ways trees communicate and live in an almost society like way. I wanted to start with something easy and quick so I could get moving on something fast that wouldn’t feel like such a huge commitment.

With trees on my mind I began making a pressure printing substrate, very simply, with just cut paper.Pressure printing is a super quick and basic method of printing where your printing matrix is placed behind your printing paper, and both are pressed into a heavily rolled up slab of ink, so the texture transfers through the printing paper with pressure and causes the ink to be printed onto the front of the paper. This method works great on Vandercook presses. I wanted to focus on just making something beautiful and trying to avoid getting hung up on a heavy concept. I started sketching trees and cutting them out of lightweight paper, and adhered them to another sheet of the same paper. I built up a second layer with a bark texture. I had about a hundred remnant pieces of Zerkall Book paper leftover from a book project from a few years ago and I printed this tree matrix onto about half of those.

At this point I thought I would end up making a really simple book that used the repeating tree motif, maybe in multiple layers using cutouts to create depth. I took a few of these prints and folded them into an accordion structure. Staring at them I wasn’t really sure where to go with it at first. The trees were printed in a super light blue. It just didn’t seem finished, it was really more like a background. I was thinking about Wohlleben’s book and how he described trees “talking” to each other and caring for one another. I wanted to convey this and in some way relate it to the experience of  people and other animals. Its really apparent to us that other animals care for one another and communicate, but we see trees and plants as being completely singular from one another, but why shouldn’t they have the ability to communicate as well? Its no surprise that they, as living things, would be able to communicate and even love one another. Stumped with the imagery I just started writing. I wrote about the magical feeling of being in the forest. the way trees “talked” and how they were assisted by the mycelium of mushrooms under the ground. I wrote about tree parents and tree children and elderly trees and what happens when trees die, trying to convey my takeaways from the book I had read. I wrote from a stream of consciousness, not worrying about writing something finished. Then I began to draw. I had folded five panels of the light blue pressure prints so I made a five panel long drawing of trees pulling from the narrative of what I had written. Nice tall trees in the forest, a glimpse of what happens under ground, saplings growing, being shaded by their parents, and then taking their chances at growing bigger and taller once an elderly tree had fallen. The dead tree, fallen, inviting other life to grow on and around it.

I then made more pressure printing plates that corresponded to these drawings. Thinking the light blue trees could be a background layer and the new plates would be a foreground image. I printed these in a light peach color on the rest of my Zerkall Book paper. I then went back and made more detailed drawings that I used to make photopolymer plates and printed the detail over the pink pressure prints in light gray. At this point I knew I would be making an accordion book with two layers and most of the megative space would be cut away from the front to show through to the background. So I started in on making a mock up of that. I assembled two accordions, background and foreground, in a french fold accordion style, using light blue and green Canson papers for the backing, which made the pages sturdy enough to stand up for display. I printed the backing sheets through an inkjet printer with a collage I made of cut up book text, leftover from another book project. I like to use text as pattern in my work and felt that it was an especially apt addition to this book  since it’s about trees communicating, something we cannot hear but maybe can feel in the air.

With this first mock up, the beautiful part of my initial idea was achieved, if a bit more complicated than I had originally thought.  I decided to add some of the text I wrote to provide a narrative. Here’s where the problem of not perfectly planning came in…. where would the text go? Maybe I made the mistake of not making space for it from the beginning. I didn’t want to print over the pressure prints with text. I wanted to text to be secondary to the imagery, almost blend in. I liked the idea of adding mini booklets to a larger book, like a little aside or soliloquy. I cleaned up my writing. I Started playing with several ways of adding booklets. It was cute, but I felt like no matter where I put them, they would partially obscure part of the tree prints, and they just stuck out like a sore thumb. Now comes the part where it’s good to have a second pair of eyes. My husband suggested giving the lines of text a more organic shape like the organic flow of the imagery. I started playing with shaped booklets and then finally liking the look of the hot pink paper I was using (as scrap, I had no intention of really using this paper for the final piece) I made wavy strips of paper for the text and integrated them into the cut out space. The only problem was I could not fit as much as I could with the little booklets. After some deliberation (I really wanted people to know about how secretly amazing trees were!) I figured this was probably for the best. Like when you’re getting dressed up for a party and once you’re all ready you’re supposed to take off one accessory to avoid it being “too much”. So I distilled the text down to what basically amounted to a poem that I felt conveyed  the essence of what I was trying to get across in the text. If anyone wanted more information they could read Wohlleben’s book (and you should!) he says much more and much better, after all he’s the expert. I ended up using a handmade Lokta paper that was similar in color to the hot pink copy paper I had found by the paper cutter but much more elegant, and letter pressed the type onto it. For the covers I chose to go with the same Lokta paper and made a recessed surface that echoed the leaf shapes within the book.

I ended up with 50+ inches of hand cut, multilayered, with multiple print processes artist’s book nestled within an ornate but elegant case binding.  I never knew this is where my simple, beautiful, quick and easy tree book idea would end up! I have really enjoyed the process of starting with a basic idea and allowing it to develop through a series of reactions to what I had done before and actually seeing it through in a reasonable amount of time. I used to work this way more but haven’t allowed myself the freedom for this type of process for a while, mostly because of a lack of time, I would have never finished anything. You can see more photos of the book and process in the Gallery.

I am currently making final editions of “Love Grows in the Forest” and one will be on display and for sale at the annual Center for Book Arts Benefit and Art Auction on April 6th along with more work by other amazing artists. To find out more about that head over to the Benefit Website. All proceeds benefit the Center for Book Arts. More info to come about other ways to get an in person look at this new artist’s book.