Creating "Fossils & Whispers": An Artist Book Collaboration with Nicole Geary, Part 1

Throughout 2015 you may have seen photos on social media of Nicole Geary and I collaborating on an artist book. We received so much positive support as we worked on the project that we’ve taken time to share more about our collaboration, Fossils & Whispers, and how it was created. Today I’m sharing Part 1 of 2 about my experience creating the book and tomorrow I’ll share Part 2.

The theme song for our residency was "This is how we do it" by Montell Jordan, so if you really want to get a feel for our collaboration, play this song as you read on!

 

HOW WE KNOW EACH OTHER

Nicole and I met in 2012 at a printmaking workshop. I instantly connected with Nicole’s artwork and she immediately understood mine. It was a really important moment I often thought back on in the following months as I transitioned to life out of grad school and needed encouragement with my art.

HOW OUR COLLABORATION STARTED

In 2014, Nicole had just finished her MFA and was living in San Antonio. I visited Austin for a few days and Nicole drove up to spend the afternoon with me. While eating lunch outside, Nicole brought up the idea of collaborating on a project together. I’d been thinking about it too, so we immediately began discussing possibilities. We decided to create an artist book. After I returned home we began exchanging ideas. Having no initial guidelines of where the topic of the book would go, we each jotted down topics of interest. We found common inspiration in the natural world and from there our direction emerged. Nicole suggested the idea of a pocket-sized field book, used for documenting observations in nature, and I was immediately on board with her idea. We decided our field book would be expressive rather than scientific in documenting our experiences in nature.

 Initial sketches I sent to Nicole after our afternoon together in Austin.

Initial sketches I sent to Nicole after our afternoon together in Austin.

A few months later I was in Texas again visiting family for the holidays, so I made a trip to San Antonio to work with Nicole in person for a day. It was such a fun and productive drawing day, we decided we wanted to print and bind the books together in one place, so we applied for and were awarded a residency at the Southwest School of Art in San Antonio in July 2015. As we prepared for the residency, the internet and postal service became our fellow collaborators as we video-chatted online, sent digital files back and forth for approval, and shipped samples to each other.

 Nicole sketching an idea during our drawing day in her home studio, December 2014.

Nicole sketching an idea during our drawing day in her home studio, December 2014.

OUR RESIDENCY: Bringing Fossils & Whispers to life

We didn’t want the residency to be solely about production, so I flew out to San Antonio a couple days before our residency and in Nicole’s home studio we worked on the text and final layout. It was a tactile process. We laid our drawings down on her worktable, cut out snippets of text and held the pairs in place with small turquoise rocks Nicole painted for a previous materials test. I was surprised by how vulnerable I felt during the writing process, and I hoped it meant we were heading in a good direction. The night before we officially started our residency, we decided to scrap a major component of the book. We both looked up at each other from our layout and said, “What are we doing?” but in following what ignited our excitement, we knew it was the right choice.

 Our writing process: Pairing image with text, holding them down with painted rocks. Not very official, but super fun and intuitive.

Our writing process: Pairing image with text, holding them down with painted rocks. Not very official, but super fun and intuitive.

For the 2 ½ weeks of our official residency, Nicole spent about 75% of the time typing the text on her typewriter. Nicole’s hands typed every single letter in every single book. We’d considered typing the text once and turning them into printing plates to speed up production, but we loved the feathering in each letter and the delicate way the typewriter ink sat on the translucent paper. Nicole created a system of measurements so she could repeat the text page after page, without typos, in the same location. When the edition was all said and done, I believe the typewritten text is what makes the edition shine.

 Nicole hard at work, surrounded by stacks of pages from the book.

Nicole hard at work, surrounded by stacks of pages from the book.

 Nicole's handy work. Pages from the edition, typed over and over.

Nicole's handy work. Pages from the edition, typed over and over.

While Nicole worked at the typewriter, I worked on printing the images for the book. I spent 1½ days mixing ink samples and reviewing them with Nicole to achieve our desired palette. Our initial colors tilted toward earthy neutrals, but our tests eventually led me to mix vibrant jewel tones, a reminder that colors in nature can be dazzling. I began printing our images on SSA’s Vandercook letterpress using our final mock-up we called “the bible” as a reference. Fossils & Whispers has alternating translucent and opaque pages, so the images and text on each page interacts with adjacent pages. For this reason, Nicole and I coordinated closely with each other to make sure that when we bound the pages, the text she typed matched up with the images I printed.

 Mixing inks: I spent 1½ days mixing ink colors by hand. We went through multiple tests before we found the perfect colors. Here I'm partway through mixing one of our final jewel tone colors.

Mixing inks: I spent 1½ days mixing ink colors by hand. We went through multiple tests before we found the perfect colors. Here I'm partway through mixing one of our final jewel tone colors.

 A collection of some of our various ink tests.

A collection of some of our various ink tests.

Nicole’s typing and my printing became a dance in the studio. I would print pages so they’d be ready when Nicole got to them and Nicole would do the same for me. The studio was only open from 9am to 5pm with no evening access, so we worked hard during the day and vegged out to episodes of Law & Order and Psych in the evening.

 Printing one of the images for our book!

Printing one of the images for our book!

 In the middle of printing a color run, I'm taking a second to make sure everything looks right.

In the middle of printing a color run, I'm taking a second to make sure everything looks right.

We hand bound the edition in the final days of the residency. We stacked all of the pages in order, punched holes, sewed them together and created the shape of the title inlay for the cover- a rock silhouette to hint at the contents in the book.

We reached our last full studio day at our residency and I was really nervous about gluing the text blocks into the cover. It was the final step and would be hard to fix if there were mistakes. After all the love and energy we’d put into the book, I could feel the weight of this step as we worked. We glued on the covers and let the edition dry overnight. The next day we opened the books up and everything looked great! I might’ve done a dance of joy, but that day is a bit of a blur from exhaustion.

 The last day of our residency: We were so tired we forgot to take a final shot in the studio, so here we are in the parking lot... thrilled, exhausted and proud of our creation!

The last day of our residency: We were so tired we forgot to take a final shot in the studio, so here we are in the parking lot... thrilled, exhausted and proud of our creation!

READY FOR THE WORLD

 A quiet conclusion to finishing Fossils & Whispers: I finished the edition in December 2015 in my home studio.

A quiet conclusion to finishing Fossils & Whispers: I finished the edition in December 2015 in my home studio.

Our residency was over, but there was some work to do before it was ready to share with the world. Nicole was headed off to her own residency in Canada and I was headed back home to begin production on a new series of journals. We both needed time to review Fossils & Whispers with fresh eyes. At the end of 2015, a year and a half after we started our collaboration, I finally wrapped up the edition in my home studio and we are now ready to share it with you.

TOMORROW

Tomorrow I’ll post Part 2 with photos of the final edition, details of its inspiration and where you can find it on exhibition and for sale!

Read Nicole's blog post here: Creating Fossils & Whispers, Part 1 of 2.

 

 

 

 

Cat Snapp