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Making Books for our children

Dear Friends,
        Karen=92s question about making books for our own children got me
thinking. As you may realize by my past postings, this means a long one
is coming. If you want to hear about the books I made for my kids, skip
down toward the end. I=92m starting with my first pregnancy thirteen year=
ago because that=92s where my life in bookmaking and teaching really
started and I=92m interested in exploring the relationship.
        When I became pregnant, I was in a time of creative flux. After six
years of constant work, even obsession, with calligraphy, I was losing
interest. I was tired of doing commercial work, although I continued to
do it on some scale for another six years. I also felt I was reaching a
dead end in the calligraphy I did as exhibition pieces. If perfection of
form, lightness of touch, and grace of movement had remained my goals, I
would have had a lifetime of work ahead. Although my original impulse
toward calligraphy was the chance to express my feelings towards the
words I had studied as an English Literature major, I was now looking
for something more. I wanted to do work that was original rather than
interpretive. I was fascinated by the calligraphic gesture and explored
abstract painting and surface design. Neither seemed to be the answer. I
wasn=92t ready to leave the words behind. After having such a commitment
to calligraphy, I was adrift. The uncertainty was troubling. When I
figured out what I wanted to do next, I wanted it be a form flexible
enough to last a lifetime.
        On the emotional front, it was a difficult time. I found the whole idea
of pregnancy overwhelming. I was afraid of the responsibility. I think I
also reacted negatively to the gushing enthusiasm I received everywhere
I went. I had been struggling to find my way in the world and had worked
so hard with such small amounts of positive feedback. Now I had done
nothing and was a heroine. Then, during my pregnancy, my mother died.=20
        After my son was born by Cesarean section, I began a series called
Childbirth Journey to come to terms with the pregnancy, the loss of my
mother, the disappointment of a Cesarean, and the wonder of new life.
There were fifteen pastel gesture drawings with an accompanying text
drawn from my journal in calligraphy. I stayed with words and
calligraphy, only this time I made them my own. I exhibited the series
when he was almost a year old and had mixed feelings about whether it
belonged on the wall. In the context of an exhibit within a finite time
period and in a specific space, it worked. You entered the gallery to
see Childbirth Journey (although those who wandered in off the street of
our coastal city expecting to see seascapes were surprised). After the
exhibit, I couldn=92t picture them hanging on the wall of my or anyone
else=92s home. The content was too specific and personal to be viewed on =
daily basis. It was seeking a form for the content that led me to the
book. I liked the idea that it could be viewed on a more intimate scale
and at one=92s own choice. I had some familiarity from an Adult Ed class =
had taken and began to pursue it on my own.
        As I got involved in the book form, I started to make books for my son
and about my son. I made him a sewn cloth book about the first letter of
his name and began to make books for holiday gifts featuring him. When
he was two, I made a book with four lines from the Carl Sandburg poem,
=93Sky Pieces=94, which had been in my file of quotes to do for a long
time.  =93Hats are sky pieces; Hats have a destiny; Wish your hat slowly;
Your hat is you.=94 Using a cloud shaped stencil, I made stippled
backgrounds around the shape with blue paint and a toothbrush and glued
cut- out photos I=92d taken of my son in a variety of hats. For his third
birthday, I made a book on the copier called Admiral Brendan and the
Cupcake Clown. I copied photos, cut up and collaged the copies, and then
copied and bound the pages with a Japanese binding. I used a photo of my
son in a paper hat. The Cupcake Clown was from a photo of a cupcakes I
had made for his birthday with chocolate chip eyes and pointed foil
hats. I based the plot on the book by Mercer Mayer, =93Frog, where are
you?=94 In mine, Admiral Brendan visits his favorite places looking for
the Cupcake Clown.=20
        It was the working with my own experience and making books for my son
that led me to teaching bookmaking. I called my first classes =93Artmakin=
for Everyone: Simple Handmade Books.=94 This is something I wrote for an
exhibit of personal books at the Newburyport Public Library: =93Susan
feels strongly that the books she makes as gifts and remembrances are as
important as those she makes as a professional artist. She believes in
the importance of celebrating our own lives and finds that books provide
an excellent vehicle. Making a book is a way of preserving a piece of
life, but it more than just preservation. It is creating something new
and unique. It gives life a chance to live again.=94 I taught the class
about four times on my own. I became friends with some of the people and
they have continued making books. One woman has two very lucky
grandchildren. They each get a book for their birthday, a Christmas
story, and a Halloween book. She writes, illustrates, color copies, and
binds each one. She made each of them a collection of poetry illustrated
with photos of the children.=20
        I made the shift to teaching in the schools for a practical reason. I
had a hard time finding students. Besides the small classes I organized
on my own, I offered sessions in a variety of Adult Ed settings. The
people who booked the courses were always very excited by my books, but
most of the time I never got a chance to teach a class. I think a lot of
people were intimidated by the idea of creating their own content. One
of the same places has no trouble filling classes that make blank books
and albums. When the class did go, I think I assumed too much. Although
I called it artmaking for everyone, I wasn=92t prepared for how much
guidance the students wanted in developing the content. I would
definitely go about it differently today.
         Several teachers came to my classes and they got me thinking about
working with the schools. I began with what I knew best and offered
workshops for parents, but again, the interest wasn=92t there. We are all
so busy and people understandably find it hard to set aside time for
personal pursuits. I have since found that workshops for parents and
children together are much better received. It was the teachers who
could see the use in their professional lives. My first efforts in the
schools were more about art than they are now. I did go with the demand
and shift my focus to curriculum. The art is still there, but implied,
and the schools are much more comfortable spending their money on things
that relate directly to the curriculum. The workshops took off when I
expanded my personal interest and research in Asian books to all
cultures and put together workshops in =93Multicultural Books=94 at the t=
when =93multiculturalism=94 was the educational buzzword.=20
        I have continued to make books for my kids. =93Brendan and The New Baby=94
is the story of my son=92s reaction to my pregnancy with his sister (six
years apart) and her birth. Childbirth Journey from a kid=92s point of
view. Now they fight over who=92s book it is. She says it=92s hers becaus=
she was the one who was born. He says it=92s his because I made it for
him. When Kendra was two, Brendan supervised the construction of a board
book for her birthday. He insisted it had to be very thick so I made
each page from 2 layers of mat board. Called Kendra=92s Day, it had photo=
of her through the day with simple borders and text. I drilled holes and
tied it together with curling ribbon. I made her a book of the lullaby,
=93Hush Little Baby Don=92t Say a Word.=94 I used an album binding. The p=
were a dark blue kozo paper. The lettering and borders were done in gold
marker and colored pencil. The illustrations took the place of words and
were cut from magazines and catalogs. =93Hush little (color copy of a
photo of Kendra), don=92t say a word, Momma=92s gonna buy you a (bird tre=
ornament with a long tail from a catalog).=94 I also made a books for us
and my father and aunt and uncle about the family business called =93The
Store.=94 For Kendra=92s fifth birthday, I made an accordion book with
flaps. It was my first effort on my Mac. Each flap has a candle in the
shape of a number. Under the flap is a photo of her at that age. The
text is in verse. =93When Kendra was born, She started at 0. Her life had
begun; She was our hero.=94=20
        The biggest thing I stressed in my classes was the importance of doing
and sharing. I try not to let myself get hung up on perfection. The most
important thing is to get the book into their hands. If I don=92t have th=
time to make as elaborate work as I might envision, I simplify my idea
to something manageable. The kids really do love being in their own
books. They=92re a great audience to work for. If you haven=92t tried it,=
urge you to.=09
        In closing, I=92d like to thank the list. Having a forum to communicate
my thoughts has given me the impetus to put my thoughts down. It=92s been
helpful for me to sort out where I=92m coming from and going, and
hopefully is of some interest to some of you.=20

In good spirit,=20

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
Newburyport, MA

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