Monday, 23 April 2012

World Book Day - a pas de deux

I don't dance though today it felt as though I was.  Dance isn't really the right word for what happened today and I think pas de deux (steps of two) may come close to the mark.  It is World Book Day today and Fiona Dempster had suggested the two of us spend the day working collaboratively on books.

This was not to be a collaboration in the normal sense of designing and creating a book together but something a little different.  We each began a book making choices about papers and sizes, the content we wished to incorporate and so on and so forth without any consultation with each other - the idea being that the other would then work into that book for the day before handing it back to its 'creator' to complete. 

The delightful relationship and likemindedness we have between us was evident before we even began.  I asked Fiona if I could call by on Friday morning and show her what I was planning in order that she might have some ideas about introducing her steps into my book.  I presented her with some etching work on absolutely gorgeous white linen Johannot paper, a couple of sheets of soft grey paper and transparent paper. With a knowing smile and the hint of a nod, Fiona placed her book papers on the table ......... gorgeous white paper, worked with grey tones, and transparent paper!  With all the choice each of us has in our paper drawers, we both had resolved on almost similar combinations. A perfect start.  Great excitement and anticipation of our day together.  Until last night. Panic. How on earth was I going to be able to bring my work into Fiona's book.  What could I contribute, where would I start, would this be the end of a beautiful friendship ......... yes, almost a Casablanca moment.

Of course Fiona has been feeling the same way but we both realised that the whole purpose of this collaboration was to bring our own voice to the others' book - not just an echo.  The first challenge was finding my own rhythm in Fiona's pages and ensuring those steps felt like mine.  I was presented with eight pages - all of them already covered with crisp, very graphic grey/brown rectangles dancing across the page. No blank pages (I had only worked on two of my pages - fairly dominantly I admit).  Each page had a corresponding transparent page upon which no decisions had yet been made.

I had seen a couple of these pages last Friday and my thinking was along the lines of incorporating embossing and paper piercing and cut outs so I brought along some fairly graphic embossing plates I had at home and which I thought may complement the work.  Fiona had some of her beautiful thread from New York which I picked up and played with momentarily before discarding.

It is a wondrous thing to have the honour of working into someone else's artwork and I think both of us were mindful of the book as a whole, and not just trying to overpower it with our own workings.  In all of our thoughts and those that we ended up incorporating in the books, consideration was given to the balance  of the book as a final piece.

I juggled around many ideas trying to bring a cohesion to the floating fragments and realised that I had to ask Fiona for some rusted or aged paper.  My comfort zone I think ..... and once I had some of that to hand my ideas began to form.  I had decided to work only four pages of the book leaving the others completely open for Fiona to work back into. One of the many delicious things that happened repeatedly throughout the day, was coming to a decision point in the creative process and being able to say - ah, I will just leave that for Fiona to resolve. Quite honestly, I think I could become very partial to collaborative work!

The morning was ticking along quite quickly and though I had introduced some dark papers into play, I still had not really resolved anything satisfactorily.  Way too many things were happening on the page and so I let go of the embossing and the piercing I was planning across the page. I had thought it would complement the braille rusted Paper Fiona had given me. At this stage every idea or concept I had had prior to working today, had been set aside.

We stopped briefly for lunch, with Barry and the view. And what a view. For me it was a timely break as I felt I had sorted out the white pages and now had the fun of working into the tracing paper (note my blog name tracemarks).  I confess to having had a love affair with transparent paper, who am I kidding, with ALL paper for years, and years, and years.  I can hear all you paper addicts smiling and nodding ........ you know.

I am chuckling now as I look at some of the notes I made about the work I would do after lunch.  Work into the transparent paper - probably marks in white ink and lead pencil, piercing, track marks, writing marks, cutting out and revealing .......  Hopefully I did not mean I would actually do all of this! As it was I decided to use sections of the transparent paper instead of the whole page.  It has the effect of dulling down some of the heavier tones I introduced and I worked very minimally into it using pricking, not really even piercing through the paper, and also scratching lines into the paper instead of using white ink.

The resulting pages are still very busy - but a different kind of busy from those dancing fragments that were handed my way.  The lovely happenstance now is that these pages return to Fiona who will bend them back and shape them to her purpose.  My way of seeing and marking will remain and be very much part of the book, but I do love the fact that it is returned now to Fiona who will know how to finish it beautifully.  My hope is that she will enjoy and embrace some of the input I have made in this collaborative book.

I have spoken largely about the process of working with someone else's concept partly in place but really the joy I had in today was not only about making these books together.  There is a harmony between us and  a consideration which I think is quite rare.  I have often thought it would be a fine thing to work collaboratively with a fellow artist now and then, and I cannot imagine that being anyone other than Fiona. Today was my first experience of dedicating a day to work jointly, not just alongside but in a pas de deux.  I am still smiling .....

Next week we will be able to show you our finished books. In the meantime you can see what Fiona has said about today here.


  1. An absorbing and delightful post Susan. You two are definitely on the 'same page'. The finished books will be very precious.

  2. What a lovely way to spend a day - inspiration from all directions xoxxo

  3. Thanks Jo, love that you pop in and see what I am doing. Always so encouraging. I can't wait to see the finished books either. Fiona's work into mine is so gentle and calm, pretty even in parts and so it will be interesting to see how to make it feel like 'us' and not 'her'.
    Noela - your are right - inspiration from all directions. Almost an overstimulation and yet the day was calm and steady. Both of us aware we only had the day to consider, decide and do the work.

  4. What a magical day! I've often wondered how artists who collaborate can actually do on another's art and transform it into something that is a bit of both. I've tried it...and found it extremely difficult. You and Fiona make it look so, so easy. Can't wait for the next post about the books!

    1. Hello Jennifer, I am gladyou think we made it look easy. Truth is that it was incredibly enjoyable and fairly difficult in the short space of time to get a handle on eachother's work. Bring something of our own to it. I have had a gorgeous afternoon, and a difficult one, trying now to fill the pages utilizing the work Fiona put in and the etching work I began the book with. I have spent most of the day coming upwithideasto blend and merge the two and am very excited about where it is going. x

  5. what a lovely project! i can almost hear the melody to this beautiful dance. the translucent papers are a dream. looking forward to seeing the books.

  6. Better late than never! I have visited this post and these photos over and over; just to soak up the feel of it all again! How weird am I? I love how you coined a 'pas de deux' for the process so far; it captures the feel of it beautifully.


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