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Using a Cat­a­lyst for Artist Book Creation with Johnny Car­rera – Day 1

Johnny Car­rera

The Man

During the 2nd session at PBI, I took a class with Johnny CarreraUsing a Cat­a­lyst for Artist Book Creation.

I decided to take this class because I struggle with content generation. I have a tendency to take highly-structured technique workshops and I wanted to try something a bit looser and more creative.

Johnny seemed to come to class with a plan, but was willing to go with the flow and adapt as the class progressed. He is very expressive and appreciates interaction with students.

His methods took some getting used to, but in a good way. The class pushed me in a way I needed.

Johnny is well-known for his magnificent project, The Pictorial Websters. The book is seriously a product of genius and major patience (ten years!). Long story short (and it’s long), the book features over 1,500 wood engravings originally used by the Merriam-Webster Company.

You can read the full back story on Johnny’s website, but I want to share what started it all:

At my grandmother’s farm in Maryland, under my grandfather’s favorite reading chair, I discovered a tattered 1898 edition of the International Dictionary.

And there you have it – creative inspiration can come from anywhere. It was that spark that inspired me to take Johnny’s class.

We actually had a pre-Day 1. Johnny hosted a paste paper session on the evening of our day off. Everyone attending PBI was invited. The room was full of color-covered fun.

Paste paper

Paste paper using bookcloth instead

Paste paper method, used on bookcloth. Not as cool when it dried.

I didn’t know this before – if you burnish a piece of paste paper with agate after rubbing a small amount of wax on it, it will smooth out the surface. We used loose pieces of agate and this very cool stone on a stick dealie to do the job (a.k.a agate burnisher). I want one.

On our first day, we took 3 large sheets of paper and were asked to make marks on them, creating the same design on all 3 sheets. I used my watercolor crayons.

3 drawings done with watercolor crayons

We then folded the papers up and cut them into 3 different 1-sheet books. Since the books were cut differently, the marks landed differently on the pages. This was to see how the same original content could be developed into different content through the books.

Book made from one sheet of paper

Book 1

Book made from one sheet of paper

Book 2

Book made from one sheet of paper

Book 3

We took the first book and spent time looking at the marks. We wrote down whatever the marks inspired and this worked as prompts for developing a story. I can’t quite remember what we did with the second book (argh), but the story in its final form was added to the third book.

We used our paste papers for the covers of our books.

Three completed one-sheet books

3 finished books

My story was told from a child’s point of view. He described how never-ending days of brutal sun caused the violent ejection of large balls of mint ice cream from the local ice cream parlor. The flying scoops landed on the hot streets and resulted in the narrator’s street becoming flooded with mint ice cream.

Yeah, I had fun in Johnny’s class that day.

So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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