I'm a visual artist and writer in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

For more frequent updates, follow me on Instagram or Medium.

Posts tagged “Bookwork”

      Bookwork (or artist’s books) refers to works of art that take the form of a book.

Barbershop Quartet

Finishing up Barbershop Quartet, a new mini-book for a zine exchange at Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John’s. Four short stories about conversations that happened while getting haircuts in Montreal, Arcata and St. John’s. I printed 30 of these.

Field Notes

I finished my Field Notes project! The final book contains thirty-six pages of photos and poems. I’ve printed a small edition of 18, and it’s also available through Blurb. This project was graciously supported by a Professional Project Grant from the Newfoundland & Labrador Arts Council. As part of my grant I wrote a final report for the NLAC, and thought I’d post it here.

A Book About Writing Outdoors

Field Notes is a series of poems and photographs about writing outdoors, and explores symmetries between human relationships and our attachments to landscape and place.

The work consists of fifteen photographs, each paired with a poem. Each photograph is of a brief phrase composed outdoors with found materials, such as spruce needles or reeds. These photographed passages are reminiscent of fragments from letters, suggesting distance and longing. They allude to relationships (a distant friend, a long-lost lover, a cherished place), and share an anonymity with messages left on highwayside stones, declarations of love carved in treebark, or postcards found in a curiosity shop.

I made the photographs first, mostly in fields, forests, beaches and backyards near Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador. Each involved finding a place to work outdoors (preferably where I would not be interrupted), spending some time in the location, identifying a material to work with, assembling the text, and finally photographing it. Some materials were easier to work with than others; the spruce needles were particularly finicky, especially if it was at all windy.

When I would go out to work on the project I’d bring a list of possible passages to write, but I found that the best images ended up being the ones where I thought up a new text on the spot, in response to the location. I made about twenty-five of these works in total between fall 2013 and summer 2014, and chose the best fifteen for the final series. I printed eight of these as a series of postcards.

Fifteen poems comprise the other half of Field Notes. As I worked on the photographs I kept a small notebook, noting details about my working process or the environment around me (the softness of rotting wood, a crow overhead, finding a toad). In the summer and fall of 2014, I polished each page of notes into a poem. Some required much more reworking than others, and in general I found this the most difficult part of this project. Most of my notes started as descriptive passages about working with natural materials, but the poetry expanded to describe the wider range of reactions and emotions that welled up during the making of the work, from disappointment and bitterness to a sense of wonder and renewal.

Generally, the poems are intended to give context and description to the photographs. While the photos can work on their own, the poems only really make sense when displayed alongside the photographs. A book seemed like a natural medium for this work.

After completing the photos and poems, I began to put them together into a book. I am a graphic designer, so I was able to do this myself using various software. I made a final photograph for the cover, and wrote end notes and a “thank you” page. Once everything was ready, I ordered a test print of the book. It arrived after a few weeks and I made a few small changes, then ordered a small edition of books. The printing is done through Blurb.com, a high-quality print-on-demand service. The books are hardcover, 36 pages, full colour, and I’m really pleased with how they turned out.

With Any Luck

Like any creative project, Field Notes evolved as I worked on it. I had originally planned to make all the photographs in the fall of 2013, but the snow settled in sooner than expected, and the snow-covered landscape didn’t lend itself well to the kind of images I wanted to make. So the work ended up taking much longer than I’d anticipated, but I think it is all the better for it. The photographs benefit from being spread out over the course of a year, and are littered with little indications of season, such as orange autumn needles or new spring shoots. The poems, too, have a much richer sense of observing changes in a landscape over time.

I found myself much more nervous than I’d expected about working anywhere where I might be asked what I was doing. As a result, I sought out places where I could work without being disturbed, which were sometimes the backyards of close friends. So the landscapes I worked with ended up being less “wild” than I had imagined. Some of the poems explore this tension between domesticity and wilderness, the rhythm of the human world versus the vagaries of wind and weather. Made soon after I returned from a year living in California, the work is also a little bit about rediscovering a sense of home.

For a project that involves a lot of solitary work, this also ended up being a more social endeavor than I’d imagined. During the making of the photos there were many opportunities to connect with friends and fellow artists: walking with a friend up the pipeline trail in Margaret Bowater Park to scout out locations, catching a ride around the bay, or borrowing the backyards of colleagues in Corner Brook. I also posted work on Facebook as I progressed, and a few people made suggestions which ended up being incorporated into the final work.

My working process for this project was inspired partly by the work of Andy Goldsworthy. When I teach, I often show students the documentary Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides, so I’ve seen it many times. I am also interested in the work of Marlene Creates, who often bridges photography and language in her interpretations of the Newfoundland landscape. The work of Nina Katchadourian, who photographs small interventions in natural scenes (such as repairing a spider’s web with thread), was also in the back of my mind. As I worked on Field Notes I came across the work of a few new artists whose work resonated, including Song Dong (who writes ephemeral messages with water) and India K (who photographs cut-paper texts hanging in various landscapes).

As part of my research for Field Notes, I wrote an article about Paul-Émile Miot’s remarkable 1857 photograph of Album Rock in Ship Cove (on the Northern Peninsula). Miot’s photograph shows the word Album painted in large white letters on a prominent rock which, over 150 years later, is still known as Album Rock. He intended to use the image as the title page of an album of Newfoundland photos.

Letting the Work Out Into the World

As I worked on my Field Notes photographs on the edges of my home in western Newfoundland, the images also found a home on the web. I posted photographs on Tumblr as I made them, along with a few animations I’d made from some of the photos, and received lots of interest and encouragement. I had first started using Tumblr for a previous project (a book of photos and handwritten notes called Small Landmarks), so I already had a small audience when I began posting work from this project. Tumblr has a strange and capricious community, and its users freely share and remix images with enthusiasm and earnestness. One of my images (i don’t know how to say this) has been “liked” and reblogged more than 70000 times. It continues to bounce around the web, and has undoubtedly been seen by many more people. Another image was posted on the Tumblr page of Hyperallergic. I don’t know that this implies an engagement with the work beyond tapping on an image on a phone screen, but it’s still encouraging. I also received a few touching messages from complete strangers, which was wonderfully heartening.

When photographing do you see what i mean, I also made a short video of the sun passing through the letters as if reading the words. This video was screened at Eastern Edge Gallery as part of Wade In, a travelling series of art videos.

As I worked on the poetry part of the project, I printed postcards of eight different photographs from Field Notes. I really enjoyed sending these postcards to friends, and mailed about thirty of them with handwritten messages. The phrases I spelled out in the photographs are meant to feel like fragments from letters (with any luck; write back soon; these things happen), so in a way postcards are the perfect medium for the photos. I like the idea of postcards spreading handwriting in the world. In a world of screens and printed pages, handwritten postcards feel simultaneously archaic and intensely personal.

I have had artwork from a previous project accepted for publication in issue 20 of Riddle Fence (which should be published in November or December), and they’ve agreed to insert a postcard from Field Notes in each copy of the issue as well. I also have postcards for sale at Monastiraki, a gallery / art shop in Montreal.

What I’ve Learned

This project has been challenging in many ways. It felt good to make art out of my “comfort zone,” which is very much digital media. Working with very tiny materials and tweezers on breezy days taught me a lot about patience. It was also very useful for me to tackle a serious series of poems, as writing is becoming a larger part of my creative practice. I learned a lot about my personal limitations, and got better at balancing the need to plan ahead with the desire to work spontaneously. I also realized that I love postcards as an art medium – they’re an inexpensive and personal way to give my photos and writing to others. This project also helped me improve several practical skills, such as working with found materials, book design, and using Tumblr effectively to promote work.

One conclusion from this project is that I’d like to work outdoors more often, expending less of my creative energy in front of a screen. Printing postcards has allowed me to share my work in a new way that I find intriguing, and will continue to explore. I also moved to St. John’s over the summer, and I find it easier here to focus on both making art and writing, and to connect with a larger art community.

Making Field Notes has been an experience that’s given me many moments of quiet solitude, mindfulness, and taught me a lot about frustration and patience. I’m very grateful to the NLAC for the generous grant that made this possible.

Field Notes is available through Blurb. You can follow me on Tumblr and Twitter.

Overwintered

A few pages from Overwintered, a short bookwork I made about a year I spent living in Northern California. The book contains 32 spreads like these, with photos, writing, and a few drawings. I printed 25 copies of this for a zine exchange.

My handmade electronic book

After much editing and effort, small landmarks is available on the Apple iBookstore. It feels good to finally have it out there! I’m working on a longer post about my experiences with iBooks Author and the iBookstore.

Photobook so far


These are the draft pages I’ve put together so far for my photobook project. I’ve been working fairly quickly over the past few days, figuring out which ideas are important and which are unnecessary. I start by finding pairs of photos that work together as vertical diptychs, then placing those diptychs in pairs or alongside journal pages, sometimes adding snippets of handwriting, and finally working out the order of the pages. The individual spreads are mostly sets of four photos, but I’m also trying to vary the structure a bit with some larger images. Working with more of a bird’s-eye view of the overall project really helps me feel like I’m making progress on this.

I’m thinking a printed book should be the same size as the notebooks I use, which are mostly about 3½ × 5½″, but I have to see how the photos look at that size. Right now a couple of spreads have handwriting extending across the page gutter, which probably won’t work well in a printed book; I have to test that, too.

I recently finished Lawrence Weschler’s Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences, and it gave me some ideas about different ways of conceptually pairing images. Other books in the back of my head as I work on this project include Anders Nilsen’s Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow (combining visual images and handwriting), Charles Burns’s One Eye (vertically-oriented diptychs), and Dan Eldon’s collage journals (presenting journals non-chronologically).

“None of us are free of references. And when you grow up in the world of art, things stick to you. I’m covered with imagery that has meant something to me, that has caught my attention over time, certainly they’re swirling around me at all times, like the moons of Saturn. I’m not always sure I’m identifying anything, but they make a composite of me, as well as things I have seen in the real world, gestures that I may not have had time to photograph, but even they stick with me as great moments of beauty that I have missed. So when I see them again, I am awakened, because I want to be faster this time, I want to get them this time. But dealing not only with the things one misses, one is always carrying a chapbook of images around.”
— Joel Meyerowitz in conversation with Lawrence Weschler, from Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences

“Book Return” Exhibition

  • "Island of Sheep" (front)
  • "Island of Sheep" (back)
  • "Remote Sensing"
  • "Book Return" at Ferriss Hodgett Library, Grenfell Campus
  • "Island of Sheep" in the exhibition
  • "Remote Sensing" in the exhibition
"Island of Sheep" (front)

"Island of Sheep" (front)

"Island of Sheep" (back)

"Island of Sheep" (back)

"Remote Sensing"

"Remote Sensing"

"Book Return" at Ferriss Hodgett Library, Grenfell Campus

"Book Return" at Ferriss Hodgett Library, Grenfell Campus

"Island of Sheep" in the exhibition

"Island of Sheep" in the exhibition

"Remote Sensing" in the exhibition

"Remote Sensing" in the exhibition

Book Return is an exhibition of bookworks created by participants in Printed Matters: The Disembodied Book Made Whole (again), a workshop by visiting artist Scott McCarney. The exhibition is on display at Ferriss Hodgett Library, Grenfell Campus, Corner Brook, NL.

I really enjoyed Scott’s workshop, it was an intense week of studio time, and the physical act of dissecting and reworking old books was a refreshing change from my mostly digital practice. I tried a few different things during the workshop, and showed two bookworks in the exhibition, Island of Sheep and Remote Sensing. I made Island of Sheep rather spontaneously out of an old novel whose cover caught my eye – turns out John Buchan was not only a novelist but served as Governor General of Canada, and wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps, famously filmed by Hitchcock. The novel Island of Sheep was a sequel to that book, and a bit of an adventure story. Inspired by the paddler on the cover, I cut a series of waves from the pages that extended back into the book, creating a scene with some depth. I liked the effect but it didn’t feel finished, at which point I found a perfect passage in the text: “There was no time to waste, so I plunged at once into my story.” I cut a slot into the bottom of the book to reveal the text, and added another small hole at the top, which helps to activate both the sky area and the back cover. This work was created entirely by cutting into the original book.

For Remote Sensing, I found a fantastic old book about remote sensing (aerial photography and such). I had a few different ideas about how to work with this volume, which was full of beautifully precise maps. The “remote sensing” theme also seemed to suggest a process which would not involve damaging the original book. I eventually decided to scan every page of the book that had a map, digitally combining these images by superimposing all the map sites according to their original positions in the text, creating a sort of geographic cross-section of the book. I composited this map with a scan of the back cover of the book, which had a wonderfully distressed landscape-like texture, and made a large print of the work for the exhibition.

Content ©  2017 Matthew Hollett. RSS