Tree Love, Adventures in CMYK, and the End of a Year at Center for Book Arts

For a long time I’ve been noticing trees, thinking about trees, taking pictures of trees. Especially in the winter, trees amaze me. They are gigantic plants, growing from the ground for decades and centuries. Like many kids, I always loved climbing trees and always wanted to build a tree house but we never really had any good tree house trees in our yard. I was fascinated by the forest and loved wandering through the very small wooded area near our house. There was a mostly dead apple orchard and horse farm on the other side that was both magical and creepy as hell and we loved going over there to see the horses and scare each other shitless about imagined beasts and beings that lurked in the orchard. 

I never fully appreciated trees and the forests until I moved to the city. I loved the city and still do, its probably where I feel most at home, but living there really made me long to be in the woods surrounded by trees and their magical air. I began to notice individual trees more and more and for the past few years I’ve been taking photos of trees in winter, their naked branches so stark and poetic against the bright grey winter skies, sometimes, less and less each year, covered in a perfect blanket of white snow. Most of the time these weren’t trees found deep in the woods, but individuals, maybe in a park, on the side of the road, in the middle of town, in a back yard, trees that lived where people lived and stood out for their personalities.

This was the mood with which I came into my year long residency at the Center for Book Arts in New York City in September 2017. A few years prior in grad school, I was working with printing CMYK images in silkscreen and photo litho, and had tried one image with photopolymer a year earlier. Wanting to revisit that, I proposed using photopolymer and CMYK process to create an artist’s book based on the photos I had been taking. This was such a huge departure from the work I had been making for the past several years, not completely unrelated, but definitely an aside.

I spent that first fall figuring out how to juggle a full time job with my desire to completely immerse myself in taking classes and making work at the center, the latter eventually won out after a few fairly sleepless months. I took all the classes I could, for the entire year really, but especially in those first four months or so.

In early 2018, when I began work on the first of two artist’s books I created during my residency I still had trees on my mind. I had recently finished reading the book “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben and was really moved by his description of the ways trees communicate and live in an almost society like way. He discusses the lives of trees almost as if they are human. Over the course of the next three months I had completed my book Love Grows in the Forest, the making of which has been detailed in a past blog post.

Over that winter I took even more tree photos, trying to do so with a little more intention, knowing I was planning to use the photos for a book. I spent much of the summer of 2018 experimenting with making homemade photopolymer. At the Center for Book Arts we don’t have a fancy plate making machine, so there was quite a bit of trial and error. A big thanks to the staff at Boxcar Press for being so generous with information and advice. It was a frustrating process at times, but finally I was able to make consistently good plates and create fairly successful prints. I think there are definitely some things I would change or adjust now, but all in all I am pretty happy with the results of this first photopolymer project.

I was fortunate enough to get to take a class in Suminagashi Marbling with Yukari Hayashida this past summer to learn about the Japanese paper marbling technique that yields beautiful one of a kind marbles that can be layered on top of one another for a more complex look. The ringed patterns that are created reminded me of the rings of a tree, the evidence of a tree’s long and storied life. The resulting book has CMYK printed images of trees punctuated with handmade Suminagashi marbles. There is no text in the book because I felt that the poetry of the tree branches against the sky said everything.

At a time when the earth is suffering as the result of the disconnected relationship most of us have with nature, the rare moments we get to experience the magic of being in nature are vital. In a way these two books are love letters to trees. On another level they are an effort at preserving the memory of a feeling that I fear will be lost someday due to deforestation and environmental destruction. I often wonder if my grandchildren will get to know the feeling of being immersed in the Forest, allowing oneself to be temporarily disconnected from society and to feel connected with nature. Will they feel that magic spark?

I feel extremely honored to have had the opportunity to spend a year and then some making work, taking classes, and being a part of the community at the Center for Book Arts. It has become a very special place to me and I hope my relationship with the center and the other artists and staff that work there will continue. Both Love Grows in the Forest and Trees in Winter will be on view as part of the exhibition New Book Art: Scholar Residents of 2018, which will also feature the work of my fabulous fellow Scholars in Residence Laura Byrne and Ben Denzer. It will be on view from January 18 – March 30, 2019 with an opening reception on January 18th at 6:30.  To find out more about this and the other exhibitions on view visit here.

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