The first “Altered Book” art project I remember seeing was at the Outsider Art Fair around 20 years ago, when it was in the magnificent Puck Building on Houston Street. Back then, the artist was present and you could actually talk to them about their art and being an outsider artist. I remember asking the artist about her books, which had a lot of glue in them and all over them. I don’t remember much else about them.  I guess I first saw an altered book not at a museum but as an art work that got made organically, that had a life of its own the way altered book projects can have.

The Altered Book is not just a piece of art. It’s a living, breathing creature. You start out with a basic body, the book as it was published, that looks just like all the other ones of the same title and author, and the artist puts it through a “Kali” like birthing process that involves a lot of destruction in the service of creating this new living being. Kali is a Hindu Goddess, from the Sanskrit word “Kali”, translated as “time”. She is described as a destroyer of “unreality”, a liberator. I’m no expert on Hindu gods, but I do associate Kali with the process of altering books and how one has to destroy and use up in order to create anything. A pencil that never gets sharpened is not involved in any kind of creation. The book even has a skin, whether it’s the book jacket that covers a hard cover book, or just the outside of the covers and the actual covers, with the pages within as the innards. The process of altering books brings up all kinds of weird processes like alchemy, dissection, and autopsy, but that may just be the beginning stage, cutting open the body. With an altered book, you kidnd of do the opposite of an autopsy; you cut open and expose internal organs for the purpose of repurposing them and making something new, more like the way an organ gets donated and incorporated into the new person’s body. Now that kidney no longer belongs to the donor and the donor is erased, though an integral part of the process, just as the creator of the original book must be killed off for a new peice of art to emerge.

I love paper, making works on paper, drawing, and then even becoming very physically involved in the process with the materials. even just using pens and pencils on paper, I like to see the grooves a pen or pencil can make, how it changes the paper.

Unlike the experience of looking at a published book or even writing/making one, making an altered book happens in a chaotic disordered way. You don’t have to start with the cover and go in time order page by page. You can start anywhere and the pages in the middle of the book might get cut up and put in the front of the book or anywhere else. Each time you come back to work on the book, you are in a different state of mind, and, unlike with writing a book, you don’t have to get back into whatever you’re doing. It doesn’t have to make sense. It changes each time you interact with it. At the same time, it evokes soemthing different from making a painting with many layers. Books are loaded with meaning and the concept of time passing. You may go anywhere in the book to work, but you still end up with a product that looks like a book, unless you are altering the book to the point of making sculpture out of it, but to me, that gets out of the realm of the Altered Book. The Altered Book I think of and make and witness the makign of, is still a book at the end, finished or not. There are traces of what it was, like the original book is the parent and the art piece is the child. There may be resemblances and reminders of the parent, but the altered book has become a totally new being, one that has never existed before.

The idea of the altered book as being a reallly physical process is what I am interested in.  And the process. The process can feel like a fight; very violent and visceral; you get in there at the beginning and attack the book, to subjugate it and get it to really become yours to do what you want with. There has to be that initial struggle, very physical, involving cutting, ripping, tearing, sanding, poking, doing very active things to the very body of the book. Most of the time the spine is very affected by the making of an altered book. You have a choice of letting the book spill open, or cutting open the spine and adding more cardboard to extend it so it can be closed. To do that, you have to cut the book into at least two pieces and add to it. A lot of altered book making in terms of the body of the book and undoing it feels like surgery.

I am reminded of reading about Leonardo Da Vinci and his dream of doing a book of all of human anatomy. He made friends with doctors/medical professors and “borrowed” corpses from them . He would go at night and dissect this human body and scribble in his notebook as fast as he could, drawing what he saw and sometimes more what he felt because there was no formaldehyde to preserve the body, so it was a race against time and probably really smelly too. It was really messy, and not like messing around with paints. I was fascinated with his process, and his hyperfocus and obsession. He didn’t finish his book of anatomy, but you can see his drawings and writings about the internal organs.

I can’t imagine what it would be like sneaking into a place to cut open a dead body and draw the organs late at ngiht or at any time of day, but making an altered book has that kind of feel to it. Once you get into it, this “thing” you are interacting with can take over and there can be a really exciting obsessive quality to it.

 

 

 

 

New Post: Feature, Altered Books

Today is my first day back from vacation. I kept up a lot of daily habits while on break, but did not keep up my writing daily at least 15 minutes habit, so I’m starting up again.

The last assignment in the WordPress Blogging Fundamentals class was about having a Feature topic.

 

  • First, think of the type of regular feature you can commit to — something you’ll publish weekly, biweekly, or monthly.
  • Next, start your new post by clicking the button below. This can be the first installment, or an announcement of what’s coming.
  • Finally, give your post a few tags, including bloggingfundamentals, and publish it.

 

My Feature for this assigment is going to be Altered Books, no surprise, which I hope to post at least weekly about in order to have it be helfpful for preparing for my looming upcoming workshop on Altered Books and Gender Identity.

Last time my Feature was Gender Identity, which should continue to be a Feature and at some point  the two, Altered Books and Gender Identity, will of course come together in some way.

Anyway, I haven’t really approached altered books in terms of writing about what makes me interested in them and topics connected to that. Things have to have a starting point.

Some ideas for separate topics for this Altered Books Feature include:

How did I get interested in Altered Books as an art form.

What was my first altered book that I made.

What led to my using altered books in sessions with clients and supervisees and even for peer supervision.

Some nuts and bolts about altered books, how to make them, the important stages of making them, the materials used.

How altered books involve a great way to use almost anything as an material from paper clips to coffee filters to coins as some odd examples.

What it means to finish an altered book vs. abandon one in some stage of the process, especially with clients in art therapy.

More specifics about the workshop and using altered books to explore gender identity.

I had started writing about the first topic, but I think introducing the Feature is best for this post and I will focus on beginnings in my next Feature post.

 

Learning the Fundamentals, Day 3: Visit the Neighbors

I’m going back to Day 3 to fully complete the assignment for the WordPress Blogging Class, Learning the Fundamentals. As I edit this post, I can sthat this Fundamentals Day 3 did not disappoint in terms of learning and discovery and going deeper into blogging through going back to Fundamentals. And discovering other random surprises.

Assignment: “Visit the Neighbors”, and find five blogs to follow. I follow 540 blogs and can sort them in different ways. Given that I’m trying to redo this blog, I was hoping to start over with following blogs, but I can’t really do that. I can go through the blogs I follow and reacquaint myself with them, but 540 blogs is too much to try to go through and check out.

I’m following the tips in the assignment and trying out specific tags in the Reader as a way to get to see unfamiliar blogs. I am starting with the tag, “Altered Books”, since that is my focus for now in order to get ready for my workshop and not suck the fun out of it stressing out about it in October.

The first one I visit is https://catseatdogs.com, by Clare. It’s a great title. The tagline is: Fabulous. Friendly. Homemade. Then I found all their social media and follow/liked it; this is a way to be more aware of when they post on her blog, and a way to get to know them more and what it’s about, which seems to be making art and journaling. There is also reference to the “Get Messy” community, intriguing and could lead me down a whole other distracting path. This blogger is using altered books in a specific way, as “found books” to transform into art journals; the post I looked at involved choosing what book/format to alter.

Second blog I’ve chosen: https://ravendustblog.wordpress.com The blog has 10 followers but has posts since 2014, and the fact that the About Page has nothing on it and the widgets and social media links are not filled, tells me this person, Dusty Corvid, is very specifically using the blog as a kind of “Log”, for classes in Foundation Textiles, “OCA”, Open College of the Arts, which sounds like a cool place for learning all kinds of arts.So it’s not a blog intended to have a large audience…the posts on altered books involve the blogger making an altered book as a work of art and not a journal, which is refreshing. Also the technique of putting a white wash over pages of writing is an interesting way to “undo” the original book in preparation for painting.The blogger had reservations about drawing in a book, another really great topic to discuss when talking about altered books. In addition, it turns out this blogger is a fan of Cy Twombly whose work I love. I had no idea Twombly was a cryptographer. Then I stumbled on a post where the blogger went to an exhibit of drawings of Alice in Wonderland, my favorite book ever, so I am excited to explore more posts.

Third blog is: https://orangemarmeladepress.wordpress.com This artist makes all kinds of books which you can see on their blog/website, but the post I really got excited about was the one where the blogger was helping clean up after an altered books class at a local library (I had no idea libraries offer altered book classes!), and finds a book in the trash that got started and was abandoned.

That is a whole other post I will have to use this link for. Lately I have been thinking about the altered book as a project that is just as interesting when it gets neglected, destroyed, abandoned or put in what I call The Art Box, a kind of limbo for art therapy projects.

I next made a new tag in my reader, “Art Materials”, and visited a blog post about getting rid of old art materials and deciding to keep some. This is the blog, entitled “Exploring the Magic that is the Right Brain: Writings, reflections, and a log on art practiceand specific post: https://encodey.wordpress.com/2018/07/12/judgment-befalls-the-art-supplies/ What do you do with art materials you “never” use or have developed resistance to? I love reading what other artists say about their materials and how they use them, and am writing more about it anyway.

Number 5, in the tag, “Gender Identity”, I struck gold again, and found a blog called janitorqueer about a person who is a janitor and genderqueer. I have always been interested in the job of a janitor as I am interested in a lot of unusual jobs people don’t think about or talk about to kids as something to do when they grow up.

 

And that makes five. This assignment was a treasure trove rabbit hall to go down. I think limiting it to five blogs is important, so you can really get to know five blogs and bloggers more than surface level…

 

15 Minutes of Writing

I wrote a post yesterday that I can’t access, so I’m starting over with another 15 minute writing exercise. I have found that using a timer is quite interesting and magical, in that you can see how much longer 15 minutes is than it seems. When you exercise, 5 minutes can seem like an eternity. I think writing and drawing for 15 minutes in the morning is like a kind of mental going to the gym.

I’ve been obsessed with various art materials over the years. I’ll discover or rediscover something and then use it a lot and get into getting more of them. I’ve been obsessed with pens for a long time, first Retro 51 writing pens, and more recently, all kinds of art pens. I usually get random art supplies thinking people who come to my studio for therapy or supervision or hang outs will use them. Sometimes I discover something because a patient picks it out to use. A few years ago I got a few paint pens. One night someone in my supervision group started using them and I was really impressed and thought, “How is it I had little interest in these? Look at the cool stuff this person is making!” So I copied them and started using the paint pens. Of course I needed more than just a few metallic and primary colors so I ordered more. Then I looked into other brands and also got into different size nibs. I mostly liked the medium nibs at the time because they get paint in them quicker and you don’t have to struggle so much with them. Getting into the paint pens got me re acquainted with metallic markers, the cheap ones I found at Walmart years ago that are better than Sharpie metallic markers. One time I was in a session with someone and they opened one of those markers and there was mold growing on the tip. That was the weirdest thing I encountered with a pen. I hadn’t ever seen mold on a marker.

I also bought a lot of gel pens because so many people like to use coloring pages in sessions. The Japanese jelly roll pens have always been my favorite because they really are great quality. Recently when I started drawing 15 minutes a day, I got re acquainted with very fine pens. I had tried them out a few years ago and dismissed them as being too annoying because they are hard to use and take a while to build up any color. Then I got some supplies from the Sketchbook Project. Once in a while they send free supplies with the sketchbook or with some other project. Recently I got some thin nib pens from them and tried them out in my 15 minute drawings and got hooked. The Sketchbook Project over a year ago sent me some pens and pencils and one of them was a Letraset Aqua marker. I used it a little and then left it for a long time. I recently picked it up again and got obsessed so I ordered a set of 12 in off colors, like peach, light lavender, light brown. These are great markers as they are a cross between brush pens and illustration pens. Like those, they have a dual tip, but one tip is fine but not really thin and the other looks tapered like a brush but doesn’t flex the way a brush tip does. Unlike illustration markers, they are watercolor like the brush pens, so they are kind of a paint pen and have a wash quality. They come with a blender pen and you can layer thinner pens on top of the marks you make.

I started writing about art making and art supplies in more detail a few years ago when I started writing personal narrative pieces about art and life. I’ve noticed that it seems like a good subject for my writing because it’s something I’m really into and writing about materials seems to bring up other interesting topics.

I recently got rid of a bunch of old canvases. I had made paintings in oil on them in the early 2000s.

New Blog Feature: Gender, starting with Gender Activism Presentation

I’m taking the Blogging Fundamentals Class very slowly and not in lesson order (knowing ones learning style is helpful!)

Assignment: Make a feature for your blog to post more regularly on a particular topic!

Challenge Accepted! My Feature will be posts on Gender, Gender Identity, Gender Activism and Related Issues. I hope to try to post weekly and make it on Thursdays but I’ll aim for two posts per month. I may post more than weekly. For example, this post is a many part post as there are many subtopics to it.

Today I’m did a presentation at nearby school PS 234 to a 5th grade class about my activism as an artist and art therapist, especially around gender identity and trans/alternate gender rights. Also to tell them about mental health stigma and activism, being part of the Open Path Collective and LighthouseLGBT affirming website of therapists. Activism in different fronts and through different means, ie. individual personal, making art, then on community level, sharing it on social media platforms for activism, such as this blog, and especially Instagram. I brought in foam door hangers as an art activity for the kids to do at the end. It was a big hit, so I was very excited when I left. I got the kids thinking about guerrilla art and talking about the bathrooms in their schools. One kid said she was only going to use the gender neutral bathroom on the floor below their classroom…

Here are some photos from my solo art show, #BathroomArtOnly, October 2016. I’m going to start the presentation talking about an old art project from the 90s about gender and this more recent one.

End of month Journal Images!

Today while on a long bus ride, I took photos of recent and older drawings in my current journal which is finished. Time to make a new one!

Most of the images are drawings of things and some are talking. I just visited friend with baby chickens so I tried to draw some of them. 

This is the front cover:


Below is the back:

Some drawings…

From this weekend:

I was visiting friends who just got chickens! Hard to draw!


The one above- there was only one salt shaker, so one must be fake!


I’m rereading a great App about DaVici’s dissecting bodies and figuring out anatomy, so I found a basic drawing of a heart and copied it….

Drawings below: I’ve been inspired by Edward Gorey Fantod cards, and tried ideas for my own..,


This last drawing below is a favorite, not done by me… I love when kids get into my journal and do their thing!

Mission Accomplished: Art Therapists Are the Experts!

An Art Therapist Explains Why Justin Bieber Needs Coloring Books

Yes! Mission accomplished!!!

My biggest complaint about the media and art therapy is that they need to interview art therapists as experts when art making is involved. Too often I see an article where a psychologist is looked upon as the expert to explain people’s pictures. They ain’t the experts. We are, and we need to be the first ones out there. We need to be on more talk shows and all the stuff the psychologists do, and we’re on the way to getting in people’s living rooms and in their Twitter and other feeds.

For me, that’s the goal; get the general population to know about the existence of art therapy, by all means necessary. That means television, magazines, newspapers, articles, Youtube, all social media.

Now that we have the best adult coloring book out there: The Real Art Therapists of NY Coloring Book (https://nycreativetherapists.com/real-art-therapists), we need it to be sold in airports and supermarkets, Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, Duane Reade!

So check out this article in Vice and read Nadia Jenefsky’s take on Justin Bieber coloring as well as what he colored and how.

As art therapists, we are trained to look at images and pictures, and we know how to translate and explain them. We are trained in understanding what makes people drawn to certain materials and images, verbal and non-verbal communication. We make our own images, and we get other people not just to make images but we invite people who haven’t touched paint or other materials since they were 5, to get back the joy of art making and get in touch with their creativity, whether it’s cooking, gardening, sports, writing, coloring, sky diving, etc. Art therapy is not just about making stuff in therapy. Art therapy is about creative environments, connecting with others…

That is what it is really about, connecting on small and large scale, so this article is at the forefront of raising awareness of Art Therapy and who the expert art therapists are!

Tuesday Post: Exciting Art Therapy News!

Almost a year ago, I posted my idea for opening a Coloring Bar in NYC. Now there will be a mini version of this Coloring Bar for adults at the Strand Bookstore in NYC. AND — there will be the coloring book there with the art therapists who made the book and are in the book! The book is called :

The Real Art Therapists of New York Adult Coloring Book

Here are links to both. If you scroll down to How did you come up with this

Link to book:The Coloring Book!

Link to the event:Coloring Bar Event in NYC