April 22, 2015

Three New Book Paintings

Book 3, cover; egg tempera on Sekishu natural paper, 7 x 6 3/8 in.

A month or so ago, I began a new series of works, which I've found tremendously interesting: small books which I think of as paintings. They are a kind of serial painting, where one page engages the next in a pictorial conversation.

Book 3, pp. 2, 3

This particular handmade Japanese paper is quite translucent, so I discovered that I could paint shapes or lines that related to the pages before or after, increasing the complexity of the image.

Book 3, pp. 4, 5

This book consists of mainly curved forms, that cross the page....

Book 3, pp. 6, 7

....or form a vertical line. Page 7 consists of just the yellow circle, but two other shapes from the back cover show below it. 

Book 3, back cover

The orange circle doubles the yellow one on the page before. I am trying with these works to keep the images quite simple, using the paint to animate a lot of blank space. With Book 3 I began using embroidery floss for the binding of the book; it comes in many colors and is more attractive than heavy thread.

Book 4; cover, egg tempera on Sekishu natural paper, 5 5/8 x 6 in.

Except for one circle, Book 4 consists of fluidly drawn lines, which sometimes cross each other through the translucency of the paper. One of the pigments I used for this piece is Iron Glimmer, which has a subtle warmth to it.

Book 4, pp. 2, 3

I tried to keep the marks fresh, which meant working quickly. It also meant that several books got tossed in the trash; they were too strained, or too complex.

Book 4, pp. 4, 5

The first two sets of open pages have one or two marks, which become more as seen through the paper.

Book 4, pp. 6, 7

The final set of pages has two and three lines....

Book 4, back cover

 ....and three lines are repeated on the back cover. Crossing lines are palely seen, looking almost like a pictogram.

After completing my first couple of books, I thought it would be fun to try painting on different colored papers. I put in an order for handmade Japanese paper from the online catalog at New York Central Supply, which has a remarkable selection. I tried to choose papers that were listed at lighter weights, but I discovered that there's nothing like being there to handle the actual paper. I love all the papers I bought, but some will not be suitable for books as they are too heavy, so I'll likely use them for prints.

Book 5, cover; egg tempera on Mitsumata pink paper, 6 1/8 x 5 3/8 in.

Mitsumata is a gorgeous paper with a delicate feel; it has striations on the surface that are marks left from the boards on which the paper is dried. The paper is named after the plant Mitsumata, whose fibers are used in its making; the stories of the papers can be as interesting as handling the papers themselves. For Book 5 I began with rectangular and curved shapes. I was afraid that the cover was too fussy....

Book 5, pp. 2, 3

....so when I painted the second and third pages, I kept them simple.

Book 5, pp. 4, 5

A line from page 3 extends into page 4, and page 5 reprises the theme of the cover.

Book 5, pp. 6, 7

You'll notice that this paper is not translucent, so the book is missing the very interesting interactions of ghost images. This is now a decision I have to make: will I only use paper that allows for seeing through pages, which is kind of magical, or is there enough interest in a paper such as this––as delightful as it is to handle––to continue to work with it? 

Book 5, back cover

But it is also marvelous to work on a colored sheet, which asks for, and allows, a different use of color. Such fun!


  1. I love art I can hold. These are fab. I like the first one best because it is like looking through a dream. You see things unfolding and coming together at the same time.

  2. Why restrict yourself to either translucent or not? They each have their own delight, and different moods call for different delicacies! These are all lovely, the translucent diverting attention, the glimpses, the tantalising quality of the marks - rather like some of Edmund de Waal's collections behind frosted glass (see link below) - and the coloured pages providing so much to contemplate on each double page spread.


    1. Thanks for the feedback, Olga; I appreciate your input, which gives me more courage to continue with the colored papers. I am familiar with de Waal's very beautiful work.

  3. The possibilities are endless, sans rules.
    The papers could be mixed within one book, pages folded, windows cut in some, threads from the binding escaping their assignments and participating in the design-fun. Plot could develop, story told.
    So cool just to think about.

    1. JBS, you're always coming up with interesting ideas that I'm not interested in pursuing. I keep thinking you should be making art.

    2. I like your motivationality.

    3. A friend who'd studied the language of the Anasazi told me that, like the negative-space in the visual-arts, in their language(and probably in all...) what-is-not-spoken carries as much weight as what-is.
      I enjoy picturing the rest of your post:
      JBS, you're always coming up with interesting ideas that I'm not interested in pursuing. I keep thinking you should be making art [during the times when you are posting, especially].
      I laugh when I think about the time I'd played the trumpet publicly, and an old lady made the effort to come to me afterward and say that she "Loved GOOD trumpet-music", in tones which suggested that she hadn't heard any lately.
      It like to add, of course, it is all about me. Anne Lamont, in Bird By Bird, a book about writing, tells how she is sure all her "friends" meet twice-a-week to discuss what-all is wrong with her.
      Concerning negative-space, are you privy to the FedEx arrow? I thought I "discovered" it, and found that its designer had worked for months to perfect it.

    4. Interesting about the Anasazi. I think more of Japanese art, and the empty spaces there.
      I found the FedEx arrow....never saw it before.

  4. Fantastic, Altoon! These are wonderful and so inspiring. Thank you for taking the time to show them here.

    1. Thanks so much, Ravenna. It is great for me to share them and get the wonderful responses. It helps me to keep going.