1. THE WHINGE
I was so excited when I was accepted to teach visual art workshops at the Woodford Folk Festival. I worked out some fun ideas for some book-based classes, I'd given them a clear outline of what I wanted to do, and a pretty straightforward materials list, full of things that I figured they'd have left over from past years, but with a few special requirements, like the need for each participant to have a few good sheets of paper each (not just bond paper). I mean, if you're paying $30 each to make books, they might as well be nice books, non?
Anyway, I emailed a few times to add a few things, and check that all was ok, and the replies were always friendly, short, and positive. Excellent, full steam ahead! Imagine my surprise and dismay, then, when I arrived and tried to set up, to find that they had very little of what I needed, and a vague comment that 'things had been ordered, but they seem not to have arrived'! Eek! Of course, being the first day, everyone was rushed off their heads and I wasn't the only workshop to set up, but I didn't get any help. I was shown the materials storeroom, and told to find what I needed. I did, but it wasn't quite what I expected.
Don't get me wrong. It all worked out because the whole point of my classes is making do with what you can find around the house. But in the five months between knowing that I needed certain materials and the start of the festival, you think someone would have at least had a glance through the stores to see if there was stuff I could use? For instance, I asked for water-soluble relief inks in order to do some monoprinting on the tables. There was a box marked printing inks, but it contained three pots of water-soluble inks: a red, and two whites. Totally unusable, unless you like pink. There was, however, a reasonable selection of oil-based inks, probably because no-one in the last 5 years has wanted to subject their class to solvents. I didn't either, but what to do? As far as paper went, there was about ten sheets of Mi Tientes coloured paper, and a pile of cartridge paper. I was told at first not to use up all the coloured because it was expensive, but seeing as I had requested at least 3 times that much, I went ahead and used it up. I was supposed to teach around 40 people how to make books with ten sheets of paper! I had to borrow some good thread from the nice bush-basket weaving woman, and I managed to scrape up enough large needles for half the class to stitch at a time.
There was no point making a fuss on the spot, because that wouldn't have magically brought materials to my feet and it would have generated a lot of bad feelings. I will be sending a letter with feedback, because I do think it was a bit rough. My general impression is that maybe the person in charge hasn't got enough back-up help until the volunteers roll in, which is unfortunate. And she is organising LOTS of workshops. All hail to the volunteers, though. They were great. I'm hoping I get the chance to come back to the next festival, because once the classes got going it was a hoot, and my students and I had a terrific time. I think next time (if there is one) I will organise the materials myself. It will save a lot of hassle, and lift a bit of the burden, and a lot more will be achieved. As it was, I was trying to teach and rustle up materials at the same time, and it was a bit distracting.
2. THE FUN
I taught four workshops through the week, of three hours each. The first two were earlier in the week, and most people aren't thinking about art at that point. They want to immerse themselves in music. So the first two classes had about 6 people in them, which was terrific. You can really spend quality time with a small group. Later in the week I had the full complement of people, which is meant to be 10 per class. I got a few more, so we all moved up a bit and managed, even though the tents are stuffy, the weather is scorching, and you have to try to keep your paper clean whilst dropping huge blobs of sweat everywhere!
There were two different classes – the first was simple printmaking (making monoprints using different techniques) and then constructing a concertina-bound 'star' book from the prints (you sew three differently-sized concertinas together and when you sit them the right way they make a star). Unfortunately the oil-based inks didn't dry as fast as the water-based would have, but in the Qld heat they dried just enough to make some great books, albeit a bit sticky! By the way, we discovered that oil-based printing ink comes off skin easily with those wet wipes designed for removing makeup – imagine what solvent is in the wipes!
we rolled the inks out onto pieces of acetate, then laid the paper down and drew and stamped with various materials to make different effects. If the drawings were good, they worked out a way to feature both sides of the paper, but sometimes you just want to feature the print...
Trying desperately to get the prints dry before making them into a star book...
The second workshop was just simple bookbinding techniques. Because I only had a few large needles, one half of the class would make a concertina-bound book (or two, or three, as some creative types did), and the other half would learn Coptic binding, and then they'd swap. Each class went slightly overtime, because Coptic binding does take a while to learn. Next year I’ll just do one class per book method. Then they can really go hog-wild with the embellishments.
we managed to get a lot done with simple materials, plus some of the tools I'd brought along with me (and I thought I'd overpacked! heh.)
All the participants did so well! I had one fellow who had never done anything crafty before, and he fel behind the rest of the class trying to get his head around the multiple needles and thread, but when he'd finished (with a bit of extra TLC) and produced his own coptic-bound book, I was so proud of him. There were a couple of children in my first printing class, and they had a great time. One girl (no more than 9 y-o) made a terrific book about cows, called Mr Cow's Chaotic Book. She had a thing about drawing cows, and she was good at it. She also wrote a story about someone called Professor Angry Pants. I told her I knew a few of those…
Mr Cow's (Chaotic) Book, a concertina book with removable hard covers
A lot of attendees said that they come to Woodford and just spend the week doing workshops. Some were married to or children of performers (I guess it would get boring being dragged from performance to performance), and one woman said it was the only chance she had to catch up with her family, so she’d make stuff and they'd go to concerts. Others just wanted something concrete to take home with them. Everyone kindly said that they had a great time, and I asked them to tell the organisers so that I could come back! Nothing like a bit of feedback, bad or good.
So check out our little gallery of book making by my students (this is not all the books, apologies to anyone who is missing -- but some of you disappeared before I remembered my camera!):
A good example of how you can feature the drawings on the back of the prints. The front of the books have windows cut into them so that you can peep into all the layers.
Here's the front. It's hard to see the layers here, but she's cut it very creatively. The red bits you can see are actually the back layer, and the brown and blue are the middle layer.
Another 'star' book, using the theme of Woodford itself, with all the circus tents and crowds. This one has little detachable covers on each side so that when the book is folded up, it has a hard cover.
The back view of the circus book. She's used a stamp I'd carved from an old cork and the printing inks.
This woman had done another workshop which produced rusted paper. I was hoping someone would come along to my workshop straight after, because the rusting effect looks so nice. She's made a 'star' book with it, and later you'll see the coptic book she made with rusted covers.
A star! ta daaa...
most people in my book class came away with two books, a concertina-bound book with detachable hard covers, and a coptic-bound notebook. Here's an example of both side by side.
The rusted-paper cover coptic book. She's attached a piece of the thread to wrap around the book as a fastening.
This woman had brought along some nice Japanese papers and used them to great effect, don't you think? This is her coptic stitching...
...And here is her concertina book. when I say concertina, I mean that the concertina fold is the spine of the book, and you sew the page sections to either the mountain or the valley of the fold.
'Upside-down Miss Jane!' A very cute green coptic book. Unfortunately the book and its shadow looks weird when I flip the image around, so I'll keep it upside down.
Isn't it great that a room full of people are given the same instructions and come away with totally individual results? This is a lovely little slip-fastening for this woman's concertina book.
So there you have it. My account of Woodford and what I did with it. I like the thought that there is a whole bunch of people out there who had fun with me and took home a souvenir of our time together. Hooray!