Saturday, December 29, 2007

Brainstorming -- input wanted!

I had a great first meeting with my new prof-to-be, and I'm beginning to brainstorm what shape the further explorations of the Book of Hours will take.

Here are four different nuggets for a possible paper, each of which might lead my creative work and process down a very different path than the one I started on.

Do you have any preferences? Leave a comment and let me know...


Nugget #1. Monkey-business and the Jews: A reflection on the marginalia in the Book of Hours and other medieval illuminated manuscripts.

In Michael Camille's Gothic Art: Glorious Visions and Image on the Edge, we find discussions of the hybrid monsters, scatalogical goings-on, and other babuini (follies) that play in the margins of medieval illuminated manuscripts. Given the prevalent anti-semitic tenor of medieval Christian society and the status of Jews as outsider, one might think there would be more mockery made of Jews in the margins of these manuscripts. However, there seems to be proportionately far less "Jew as Other" than there are creatures from the edge of the world, naked maids, and hairy apes in clerical garb.

In this paper, I will explore whether there have been surveys of the various kinds of Other, to determine whether the seeming lack of "Jew as Other" is an accurate observation. If I can determine the observation is correct, I will share hypotheses as to why this might be. I will also reflect on Eamon Duffy's study of Book of Hours marginalia and on Camille's notions of what The Other meant to those who created, saw and used these medieval manuscripts.


Nugget #2. Inside-Out: A look at time in the medieval book of hours and in Sol LeWitt’s work.

For a medieval Christian, time, according to Michael Camille, "...had a beginning and an ending, a purpose and a plan, which were organized by God from outside time." (Gothic Art: Glorious Visions, 71.) He posits that, for these people, " and time were inextricably linked." (Camille 71) In this paper, I will explore connections between the process-focused implicit mysticism of conceptual art by Sol LeWitt and the process-focused exoteric religious imagery of the medieval Book of Hours.


I also like these, but suspect they're not going to offer up as much room for surprises:

Nugget #3. Beating the Bounds: The liminal margin and the relationship between sacred and secular in the English Book of Hours.

Nugget #4. Edgy humor: Reflections on the marginalia in medieval books of hours and the marginal cartoons drawn for Mad Magazine by Sergio Aragones.


I did get a grade higher than normal body temperature (in Fahrenheit, that is) as my final grade for the first MLA course (yippee!!!) -- but haven't gotten the final paper or artwork back yet, and I want to make hi-res images then send the art on a "Tour de Interviewees."

If I could only tie up the loose ends before starting to tangle myself in new projects and processes...


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The last class is wrapped...

...but the project will continue, in some form, next semester. There's too much to explore to leave it alone, so I'll be doing a Directed Study in Art on The Book of Hours...including further development of the creative portion (the pages.)


12/17/2007: A special shout-out to all those folks who've come here courtesy of Rachel Barenblat! Thanks so much for your visit, and for honoring my efforts (most recently the effort of trying to get gold leaf out of my eyebrows) with your kind attention.


If you're visiting from my Liberal Arts Perspectives class, I sure hope you'll leave a comment! Even if you're not a "member" of Blogger, you can leave an anonymous comment and share your contact info, so I can ping back.

My to-do's:
* Finish my transcription of Francis Raffalovich's interview so I can develop his prototype pages.
* Get high-quality image files made of the Shelly Lowenkopf and Rachel Barenblat prototype pages (I'm tired of these dim yellow snapshots.)
* Explore some of the questions that arose while working through the project (you can find the Whole Big Paper, with questions aplenty, here.)
* Determine what to do with the physical prototype pages created to date.
* Post the reference pics and interviews (assuming I have permission.)

Saturday, December 8, 2007


While waiting for the gilding adhesive to dry, thought I'd share some more details.

The book text behind and to the left of Shelly's portrait sketch is a page from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I heard tell was one of Shelly's favorites. The dark material behind and to the right of his head is some cunning calligraphic mass-printed paper I found in the scrap-booking aisle of a chain art supply store.

I drew his sketch on tracing paper with an ink bottle stopper-dropper, and the ink has a shine where it pooled.

On the page where I've written out parts of his interview, the white glue-looking substance on the red square (watercolor) is gilding glue.

As I type these words, I'm waiting for it to dry enough so I can apply more gold leaf. The white streaky line on the black paper to the right is also gilding glue, drying so it can receive more silver leaf.

I'm sketching in Rachel's face with a pale watercolor wash. The collage portion is mostly Japanese paper with various fibers, dyes and metallic threads/powders spangled in. I've also used ribbon, metallic thread, and a variety of metallic and non-metallic pens on both page spreads.

You can see the white leaf adhesive on some of the Rachel layout text page watercolored insets...waiting for them to dry so I can apply more metallic leaf.

My apologies for the totally abysmal lighting on all these snapshots -- I haven't learned yet how to diffuse my camera's flash indoors, so I get harsh shadows when shooting with flash. Most of the photos have a very warm yellow cast. If you can imagine the base paper as being bright white, you can understand how dark the snapshots are.

Making these pages is a very "touch and go" process. I touch the materials, do a few things, then must go away until things have dried or set.

And I must go in search of fresh photos today...I am running low on new things to share on Chatoyance, and it's supposed to rain tomorrow.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Snapshots in time

The things we do for love. And that’s what this project keeps feeling like—a labor of love…or is it love’s labor lost? All I need, to quote the marvelous Marvell, is world enough and time.

But I am running out of both, at least for this specific class project. I’ll post the final draft of my project paper December 11 on Chatoyance, since I figured out how to use Blogger’s “read more” code there but not yet here.

I’m feeling looser and the work is flowing faster on the prototype for Rachel Barenblat’s book spreads, so there is some kinesthetic learning and muscle memory from my arts and crafts past waking up.

The project is a shared, community effort in many ways. Not just because of your support and interest, and those other friends known and unknown who have stopped by this blog.

I also had help from those folks who live close by. My friend Beth came over today (I took a vacation day from work) and spent the day cutting mattes while I worked on pages and the paper. Our working side by metaphoric side was very reflective of the guild craftsmen who worked to fill the demand for books of hours back in the Middle Ages. Many hands, joined to one process.

Speaking of process…the deeper I dug into this project, what had been peripheral (process) became central. I found the unexpected tie between the project’s process and Sol LeWitt’s “Sentences on Conceptual Art” one of the most interesting things to have surfaced during this work.

To quote Sol: “The artist’s will is secondary to the process he initiates from idea to completion.” Is that true? I don’t know…but there were times when my will was weak, and the barrel of process I put myself in provided enough momentum to keep going.

Ananda Coomaraswamy
defined art as “imitation, expression and participation.” It’s been (and will continue to be) a delight to participate in this with you, and this is not the last post.

There will be more after my last class, after I see what my professor thought of the work.

And I’m doing a directed study in art next semester focused on the medieval Book of Hours, so I will be able to riff on the theme even further.

(What’s the HTML for “a nicely theatrical bow as the author exits for the moment”?)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pilgrim’s progress

Hip-deep in making prototype layouts, and I’m surprised by the amount of intense adrenaline coursing through me as I work these through.

It feels like a combination of “readiness rush”—that feeling I used to get before a track meet, the feeling of no turning back as I pelt head-first into the moment—and performance anxiety, something exacerbated by doing this project right out here in public.

But where else would I do this? As I’ve been learning more about the historic Book of Hours, how much it connected to one’s secular community as much as one’s private devotional space, I’m struck by how inadvertently appropriate it is to blog the process with you, my virtual community, close at hand.

Anyway, here’s a series of snapshots of the page layout process so far for the Shelly Lowenkopf spread. Do I know what I’m doing? Nope, at least not in the sense of planned, deliberate effort.

For example, I initially thought I’d do these spreads in a horizontal format. But my study of the historic Book of Hours led me back to a vertical format. Interestingly, my quaternary grid becomes lots more cruciform…and also much more like an iconic window…in a vertical format.

I also thought I’d be doing more drawing, but I find myself drawn to collage, at least for now.

Many folks I know could do this sort of page design through digital collage, but for some inchoate reason it’s important to me that I make things tactilely, fingers on the material.

I made a choice to use relatively commonplace material, at least for now. I find most of what makes for an interesting textural surface can be had a mass chain arts-and-crafts stores, and there’s something nicely subversive about browsing the scrap-booking aisles with Shelly’s pages in mind.

I’ll start on Rachel Barenbaum’s spreads this week, and should finish out Shelly’s spreads enough for my course in the next week or so as well.

The process is slow and very intense…not knowing where this is going, being surprised and at times frustrated by what’s happening, feels like a good thing.

To quote from Shelly’s interview, “You don’t have to know why…you have to trust you can.” In the doing, the action, there’s the trust.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Interviewing Francis Raffalovich

Had a lovely, hour-long chat with Francis Raffalovich October 13. The S*bucks where we met was unbelievably noisy, so I have my recording transcription work cut out for me.

A couple of reference photos I'll use as a basis for sketching:

Highlights for me?

His story about how he came late to a faith and practice, and kept working as a geophysicist to support his wife and three daughters while attending seminary at night.

His pragmatic, self-deprecating wit.

His gratitude for his fortunate life, and his amazement about the love and acceptance he feels from God.

(Note: When I write about people, I'll use their own terms for the divine or what sparks them. Hence for Francis, the term "God." For others, there may be other terms.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Yes, we have interviewees

The project starts to coalesce.


People who've expressed interest, and agreed to be interviewed and sketched:

Rachel Barenblat, one of my delightful blog-quaintances
Roberta Rosenberg, a friend I've known for years
Francis Raffalovich, the father of a work colleague
Donald Haughey, a recent acquaintance and art professor at St. Edwards University

More, hopefully, to come. Although not all may be used in the prototype, I want to be able to expand the project if I find it's interesting enough.


Visual organization:

Horizontal layout (I'll work as if pages would be printed 9"w x 6"d, since that's a standard format available on
A grid structure, based on a 4x4 grid (riffing on the quartile "Dawn," "Midday," "Dusk," and "Night" sectioning of Time) to provide continuity. The grid will function like invisible "bones" whose armature visually connects each spread.


The questions:

Background questions: Name, faith and/or practice name, age, their age when they began their current practice, city or region they reside in.
Content questions:
"Dawn" -- Tell me about the beginnings of your practice/faith.
"Midday" -- How do you balance other aspects of your life with your practice/faith, how do other parts of your life interpenetrate your practice?
"Dusk" -- How has your faith/practice changed over time, or how have your experiences with the world changed over time as a result of your faith/practice?
"Night" -- What is the most unexpected, most surprising experience or outcome you've had so far connected to your practice/faith?
Is there an object--personal or otherwise--which is very meaningful to you in the context of your faith/practice? (I want to get a photo-reference for it, either directly or through other means.)
Is there anything else I should know about your practice/faith that I don't, and that you'd be comfortable sharing through this project?


Appointments and email assignations will be set, art supplies will be sourced...and I'll post more as it unfolds.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Brief update -- the quest for interviewees

There are a couple of folks who've said "yes" to my odd invite...waiting to hear from more. And I've been dusting off some old art technique books, looking for "how to" craft info about things like gilding.

I'll post more once I get a few more "yesses."

It shouldn't be long...

Friday, September 21, 2007

And so it begins.

We have class final project lift-off. And this blog will be where I post documentation of the work in progress and related ephemera.

I emailed my prof the following.


Good morning, Susan!

I’m prepping for a week out in California on business, but I wanted to share another final project idea with you for Liberal Arts Perspectives.

Before I do, though, I’d like to suggest a movie that may be a fit for the course content. It’s called La Jetée, and some Wikipedia background is here:

Now, on to the final project.

I’ve solicited others’ input on a variety of final project ideas, and this was the one that grabbed most folks.

And, unlike my “photographic enablement/seeing though others’ eyes” project idea, I believe I can get this done within one semester.

Project title: Creative Work: A prototype for a New Book of Hours

Project summary: The Catholic tradition of a “book of hours,” or a book that helped lay practitioners pray the correct prayer at the correct time of day or night, has connections to earlier Jewish tradition (specifically in the daily use of “siddurim.”) In addition, many other faiths have worship and meditative practice keyed to particular times of the day. The need for a guide to timely practice make these books a cultural commons containing approaches to art reflective of their time. For example, during the middle ages, wealthy worshippers commissioned lavish Book of Hours illuminations, but even the less well-off had Books of Hours featuring hand-made art.

What might a contemporary, non-liturgical reflection on the Book of Hours idea look like?

Using the conceptual platform of a Book of Hours, I’d like to:
* Interview 2-3 practitioners of different faiths about the beginnings of their faith (“Dawn”,) how they balance their practice with daily life (“Noon”,) how their practice has changed over time (“Dusk”,) and what has been most unexpected or most surprised them about their practice (“Night.”)
* Using a camera, document the interviewees enough for illustrative reference.
* Develop a production-friendly book design that connects this project to its illuminated manuscript ancestry.
* Sketch/illustrate in loose style the interviewees, hand-write highlights from the interview, and hand-write/illuminate a list of their daily practice.
* Compose 2-3 sample book spreads using the aforementioned material, one spread for each interviewee.

If this seems like a suitable idea, I’ll start identifying potential interviewees.


She kindly emailed back.


This Book of Hours project has a lot of potential!! I say go for it!
Have been playing catch-up since returning from Seattle, but will take a look at that movie site soon.
See you in class next week.


So, my dear invisible friends and blog-quaintances, I'll be doing outreach to some people in the Austin area who might be interviewees, and I welcome your input for Austin-area people who'd fit the project.

In addition, if you know people outside the Austin area who might be a fit, and I can figure out how to approach this using face-to-virtual-face approaches, send 'em on!

And a special P.S. to Gawain -- there is and will be a place for non-practitioners and those who worship beauty, but for my limited time and scope, I'll have to fold that into a later phase of the project...