I started this 65th year wanting a change in attitude and a change in approach. About two months ago, I realized that things were actually pretty much the same. Part 5 dealt with the attitude issue. Part 6 is about what I am actually doing and how I am spending my time.
There has always been a push and pull for me between being an artist and being an educator. I am really happiest when I do some of both. At the moment, I’m pretty content with the art part. I’ve made five new Spirit Books so far this calendar year which is more than my usual production. I’ve had good fortune in getting the Spirit Books into exhibits and actually winning a prize. I’m spending some time on calligraphy and enjoying it.
It is the educator part that is unresolved. About ten years ago, I retired from teaching bookmaking workshops in schools after 20 years of traveling throughout Massachusetts and beyond. I began teaching workshops for adults called Book Play. I would consider them an emotional success for both me and the participants, but I have to be practical somewhere and teaching is also about income for me. I knew when I left the schools I was leaving what I would call real money (although that was less plentiful than in the early days), but I didn’t realize big a change it would be.
Previously I had done some grant projects but this past year I only did individual workshops. When I put together my tax info, I was shocked at how truly small the amount in the workshop income category was. It didn’t hit me immediately but one day, when I was getting ready for a workshop, I had a revelation. It wasn’t worth it. While I always enjoyed the hours I spent with an assembled group and all the time in the studio coming up with new ideas, I didn’t like everything else involved—getting the materials, storing the materials, packing the materials, driving to a new location, and then coming back and doing it all in reverse especially after 20 years doing the same at a greater volume and intensity.
When I taught in schools, I saw my job as introducing bookmaking to teachers and students. I was willing to do it in whatever way they would accept it which meant doing projects that were curriculum focused, teaching large groups, and making books that were simple enough that they could be repeated by the teachers in the future. My goal was always to encourage a lasting involvement.
When I began to teach adults, I wanted to present bookmaking my way. That meant recycled materials, the simplest of forms, and an emphasis on play and experimentation. My ideal participant was someone who had not made books before, and had not had much experience with art or craft. I believe that everyone is creative and that simple bookmaking is the perfect entry into creative expression. It was not as easy a sell as I would have liked. In general, the workshops were too simple for art organizations. Once I was almost turned down after being invited. I was told that they didn’t think the finished projects would meet the standards of the attendees. They relented and it was a success. I felt the best fit was libraries but had limited success in getting bookings. I could have done more with promotion but it’s not like I sat back and waited for people to contact me. I think there are a number of factors at play. Many public and non-profit institutions have less money, people have less time for extra-curricular activities and if they do, they are more likely to spend the time and money on things they are already have an interest in, and there is more competition than ever. Everyone is getting into the workshop presentation game.
As my teaching changed, I began to feel that my actual presence was not that essential. In the workshops, I would lead participants through some step-by-step bookmaking and then let them play. Since I wanted them to work as freely as possible, I didn’t go around and offer guidance. I made it clear that I was there for them and was ready to answer any questions and help in any way, but much of the time I just sat with them and made a book myself. While it didn’t feel like I did much there, I put a lot of effort into bringing an array of materials for up to 25 participants to work with—collage papers, ribbons, beads, glue sticks, scissors, pages of quotes, and more. I only asked the sponsoring institution to provide recycled paper with writing on one side only.
After I decided to no longer give workshops, I realized I was ready to stop but I was not done. I had all this knowledge, all these ideas, and all this passion to share. I had to find a way to continue to share it. I’ve wanted to do a book for quite a few years and went to class at Grub Street in Boston on how to write a query letter which is the first step in contacting a publisher or an agent. It was full of good information but I couldn’t see how I could get across what I was trying to do in three paragraphs.
And then I had a vision—youtube. I had done a series of how-to videos when I was working with children that were well received. In those, I filmed myself showing the construction just as I would if I were talking to a class. I wanted teachers to be able to model their lessons after mine. This time I knew I would show just my hands in the tutorial part. I took a excellent class on Video Storytelling with a Smartphone with Bob Glover at Cambridge Center for Adult Education which helped me get started. I would love it if the videos could lead to a book or something else and am going to do my best to spread the word and get subscribers and views. But that would be a bonus. My main goal is to share what I know and what I love. And I love making the videos. Once I ironed out the kinks and figured out how to be myself (Video Update), it has been great experience. I hope you’ll take a look at The Joy of Making Books. And make some books.