Sunday, September 13, 2015

Books as Art: with Susan Steinhaus Kimmel

Susan Steinhaus Kimmel at the Sept. 12 CQA meeting
CQA members were treated to a wonderful display of artistry and workmanship at their September 12 meeting as Susan Steinhaus Kimmel demonstrated--yes, demonstrated!--a number of her beautiful and intriguing handcrafted books.

The Wenatchee, WA area artist has a strong background in the arts, as she's both studied and taught calligraphy, design, drawing, painting and mixed-media collage. She's been painting for 25 years, and taught art at the college level for 19 years. Then, in 2001, she left academia to focus full time on  her own art projects, many of which are handmade books-- all one of a kind.

"I'm stubbornly committed to one-of-a-kind pieces of art," said Kimmel, adding "To be creative is to never repeat. And many artists produce 'editions' of their pieces, but even when I did paintings, I did only one--the original. No subsequent prints."

[Shows two separate books] (1) "Chaos and  Creation" (back) based on Genesis, features a neutral background (chaos) and vibrant, colorful foreground (creation). (2) The little house (front), created after the artist's visit to the American South, was inspired by a friend's photo of a house on the "Underground Railroad," which aided so many escaped slaves on their way to the North. It unlocks from the rear and includes a little box in which an accordion-folded text presents writings and photos about slavery and the Underground Railroad.
Calligraphy and "making marks" were elements of Kimmel's art works even during her time in graduate school. There, one of her major student projects involved making some 500 random ink "marks," one per sheet of paper, in a "visual language" all her own. She then enlarged each sheet sequentially on a copy machine, watching the marks get rougher and rougher as they grew in size.  Finally she had a series of six-foot panels, each with a single unique mark, to create a lengthy wall display. To present the work to her instructors in a manageable format, she bound a pictorial representation between sheets of handmade paper--her first "book."
The tall book, left, was Kimmel's first, and provided a visual record of her grad school project comprising pages of enlarged ink "marks," her own "visual language." At right is "The Good Earth," containing alternating pages of poetry and drawings on natural subjects.
Kimmel opens her large "first book."

When Kimmel had completed this project she realized it was the "feeling" of a handmade book that she wanted, not just to work with traditional bindings. Her ideas and the contents always come first; the format is secondary. To aid in recreating that feeling, the idea, in the pages, she initially called on her calligraphy experience to design her own alphabet that only she can read or write. "Calligraphy in a language you don't understand is something you can appreciate simply for its beauty," she said. Sometimes she wrote texts backwards to emphasize visual strength over readability and to alter impressions: "When you write left to right, your hand is 'pulling,' and when you write right to left, your hand is 'pushing.' It's an entirely different feeling," she added.

Kimmel, who plays flute and piano, created a book presenting musical terms rather than quotations. The paintings represent whole, half and quarter notes and the treble clef. A hole cut in the front reveals part of the first page, and the text is an accordion-fold pullout that's attached in an unusual way. The inks are French.
As her thought processes and projects evolved, she asked herself, "Why can't the cover be as interesting as what's inside?" Thus she began to playing with the shapes and designs of the covers, and  frequently echoes the cover shapes in the inside pages. She uses Davy or binder's board for most of her covers, as it resists warping, stands erect, and accepts glue. (She uses Yes brand glue.) Her primary tool is an Xacto knife, but in at least one instance she resorted to a saw: One spectacular book has front and back covers comprising two pieces of wood cut from a single board that had two similar dramatically "carved" ends--and that she picked up from a store's scrap bin!
"Woodcutter's Song," left, was bound in a board Kimmel found with the sculptured ends. The book at right has pages shaped to mimic the shape of the cover.

The "wooden" book also caused her to consider how she was binding her books,  usually done with a straight strip of binding cloth. She engineered a method of internal "hinges," with tabs hidden under front and rear pasted-down endsheets, for a clean finish that allowed the resulting book to open nearly flat. This project led to further consideration--Why should the binding strips be just straight?--and soon she was shaping binding strips to correlate with the rest of the books' designs.
"Daring Harmonies," above, has a shaped binding strip, and a hole in the cover to reveal part of the interior. Below, Kimmel with the cover open. Text consists of poems on individual pieces of paper hidden behind some of the structural elements.

How do you "demonstrate" a book? Kimmel likes to have her books interactive, and showed how a hole in the cover of one book gives a peek at what's inside and invites the viewer to delve into the interior. In another, the reader is invited to search for the contents, as the text consists of several poems on small pieces of paper that are hidden behind some of the structural elements of the pages.

One of Kimmel's first "box" books was based on Frank Lloyd Wright's famous "Falling Water" house.
A number of Kimmel's "books" are actually boxes, each containing texts in some form of visual delight, sometimes as accordion-folded, illustrated pages. ("Boxes are difficult!" she laughed.) One such box encapsulates her favorite parts of "Alice in Wonderland," starting with a "rabbit hole" in the cover, revealing a "lock" to be opened with an antique key Kimmel bought in Paris. The accordion-fold pullouts open in two directions, and are illustrated with watercolor drawings and calligraphy.
Above, interior of "Snippets of a  Dream" that represents Kimmel's favorite parts of Alice in Wonderland. The antique key, bought in Paris, "unlocks" the accordion-folded text, below, that pulls out in two directions,.

Kimmel does all her text work by hand--lettering, alphabets--nothing is done by computer or by other "commercial" printing methods. Although she has made paper herself, she prefers to buy interesting papers instead "wherever and whenever I can!" as creating her own would take too much time. Before doing her illustrations she'll "stretch" her watercolor paper by pinning it to boards, wetting it to allow it to "ripple," as it then flattens as it dries. If she's trying out a new paper or ink she may practice her calligraphy before embarking on a final page in case the ink were to bleed. And (unlike many of the members of her CQA audience!), she works on only one project at a time, thoroughly cleaning up her workspace before starting the next project.
Kimmel shows the interior of "The Good Earth"

For Kimmel, the main difference between the collages in which she used to specialize (and still makes) and the books she now creates is in planning: she needs to see the end before she even starts. First comes the idea of the content; then she sketches the format, and finally she thinks through every step in sequence--and writes it down. She tries never to get to the end of the project and find something was wrong earlier in the process.

Even with meticulous planning, sometimes she will get a surprise. One experimental shape resulted in a foldout that resembles an alien UFO where every fold was a new challenge. Unfortunately the design proved to have a weak joint that tended to tear when the folded text was opened. "Definitely a design flaw," she said. Asked if she ever builds a "model" before committing to a final design, Kimmel laughed and said, "Generally, no... I hate practicing!" Only once did she construct something of a practice piece, and that was for one where the calligraphy had to fit within extremely tight parameters.

CQA's program chair, Nicole McHale, left, helps Kimmel show the interior of "In the Beginning," based on the creation story. Here the artist's calligraphy required some practice as it had to fit in very tight parameters.
Close up of illustrations (acrylic on watercolor paper) in "In the Beginning," where each segment is revealed sequentially with the turning of each of the book's seven pages.
One of Kimmel's books, "Passing of Time," was selected for 500 Handmade Books, Vol. 2 (Lark Publishing, Julie Chen, Ed., Page 62). This piece was an engineering challenge, as the "pages" fold out in four different directions. Considering that she was able to submit only two photos--one of the book open and a detail shot of the title page--that hardly represented this complex piece, Kimmel was thrilled to have the work chosen!
Above, Kimmel prepares to open "Passing of  Time."Below, the book fully opened, in four different directions. This book required some clever engineering!

Considering the scope and variety of these works, one might ask, as Kimmel does, "What is a book? What are the limits? To me, a book is a container of text and/or images...a container of information. When I show my collages, people don't get close to them...they seem to feel that they can 'get' them from a distance. My books? People want to engage with them...and that's what I like!" And at the end of Kimmel's presentation, that's exactly what her audience members did, exclaiming as they opened the pages and boxes and discovered interesting bits every time!

Above, CQA members gather around to investigate Kimmel's books more closely. Below, Kimmel talks about the alphabet she created for one of her early works with CQA's Roberta Andresen, right, and Christina Fairley-Erickson, left.

 For more about Kimmel and her other artworks, go to

Added attraction!

Our August speaker, Nancy Stephens (see post below), did an excellent job of making the subject of copyright approachable. As she is an attorney rather than a practicing artist, it was decided that we would thank her with some artwork of our own--potholders and fabric postcards! Here's a small sample of the pieces created by some of our members for Nancy!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Art quilts and the law…piecing it together

(Note: The following consists of the writer's notes during the speaker's presentation, and should not be construed as legal advice….each case is different. For specific questions and/or guidance, check with a legal professional.)

Seattle attorney Nancy Stephens emphatically makes a point at her August 8 presentation to CQA members about copyright issues related to art quilts.
At CQA's August 8 meeting, Seattle attorney Nancy Stephens, who leads the trademark and copyright practice at Foster Pepper LLC, provided a fascinating overview of how these areas of the law may be applied to the realm of art quilting.

"Intellectual property comprises four areas—patents, trademarks, trade secrets and copyright," said Stephens, adding that while there's a body of law for most of these fields, the area of art quilts is different. "The law is firmly set on patents and trademarks," she said, adding "there's not much on trade secrets, and when it comes to copyright in relation to art quilts, it gets vague and muddy."  Copyright covers the rights in the expression of an idea. Searching for cases involving any type of quilting that have been adjudicated, Stephens found only four or five that touched on our concerns.

Stephens pointed out that the basis of copyright is that "it protects original works of authorship that are fixed in tangible form of expression." This includes works that are literary, musical, dramatic, pantomime, motion picture, sound recordings, architectural, and—where we artists come in—pictorial, graphic and sculptural. "Works of a utilitarian function (clothing, blankets) are excluded from copyright—but if you can extract some artistic design element, you can copyright it," said Stephens.

So who determines what is "original work"? "Ultimately, a court of law," said Stephens. "You would need to prove how you came up with the design. When it comes to art quilts, you can't copyright the idea or concept, the method or technique, or a pattern, but you can copyright the design-- your particular arrangement and placement."
A drawing made for Stephens by a friend, representing copyright as "a sword and a shield."
Copyright gives the owner the right to copy a work, distribute copies, and creative derivative works. Stephens pointed out that "If you make a derivative work of someone else's copyright work, and want to apply for copyright for it, you need permission from the original copyright holder and also need to show what you added to the original." She noted that anything created before 1923 is considered in the "public domain" and may be used freely.

Asked how the "fair use" rules might apply in this case, Stephens said "There's no 10% or 20% rule!" She advises clients not to rely on Fair Use, although there are some exceptions to copyright rules in that regard:  the court would consider the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyright work, the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and effect of the use on the potential market of the original.

So how should we go about getting copyright protection for our original work—and why should we? "You own the copyright for your work simply by creating it," said Stephens," but to protect it, you need to file Form VA, which can be found online at, to register the copyright." Because copyright is a federal program, any infringement suit would be fought in federal court.  As to why file for copyright, Stephens pointed out that filing creates a public record, and you can't claim damages for anything that occurred before you filed the copyright certificate. With the advent of the internet, infringement is becoming an everyday occurrence, and "willful infringement" of properly registered copyright material can be quite costly to the infringer.
The photo at the left was made into a sculpture, right. The sculptor claimed it was a parody (an exception to copyright), but the court held it was an infringement.

One of the key considerations in any suit for copyright infringement is if there is a pattern of copying. Referring to a particular case, Stephens showed pictures from two different catalogs of sweaters. The second or "infringing" catalog displayed two sweaters that were substantially the same design as two that were pictured in the first catalog; the court decided that infringement had occurred. In another case a major retailer directly copied, for some T-shirts, some dog illustrations that a small company had online. In a "David vs. Goliath" situation, a crowd-funding effort is underway to help the copyright owner mount a suit against the retailer.
A major retailer created T-shirts (upper right) using artwork of dogs created by a small company. A crowd-funding effort is underway to aid the small company in mounting a suit for infringement.
So what can be used for art quilts? Stephens listed the following:
--Public domain material (pre-1923)
--Commercial printed fabric unless possibly when the fabric is subject to copyright protection
--Stamps, stencils, images from magazines…"So long as you 'make it your own,'" cautioned Stephens. "Transformative is a key word. If you are in doubt, seek permission from an earlier rights holder, and keep a paper trail of your efforts," she added.
--You can be "inspired" by the works of others, but it can't be a copy. Your work must be "transformative."
A lower court held there was no copyright for "letters" (left-hand quilt) when its creator filed a suit for infringement by the makers of the quilt at right, but an appeals court ruled that the copy was too similar as a whole.
CF Enterprises (right photo) was enjoined from using Thimbleberries' registered design/pattern, left.
Audience members asked Stephens about a locally inspired, prize-winning art quilt that has been widely seen at shows and in publications in recent months: "Chihuly's Gondola," which was based on one of the displays in the Chihuly glass garden at Seattle Center. Noting that Chihuly apparently has made no complaint ("and he would have several more years to do so"), Stephens pointed out the possible reasons that there would be no case of infringement here:
--The quilt artist gave Chihuly total credit for the inspiration
--She made only one piece
--She took her own photo of the display, and worked from and modified that photo
--She changed the medium, fabrics
--She changed some of the colors

Wrapping up her presentation, Stephens gave us the following tips on how to deal with our own work in relation to potential copyright issues:
1. Be creative (remember "transformative"!)
2. When borrowing, don't highlight the part that makes it special
3. Create a "story" for your work…How/why you came to create it…or "I'm making a commentary on XYZ"
4. Give credit where it's due
5. Use the term "artwork" instead of "quilt," as the latter is so wrapped in history with utilitarian objects
6. Use the © symbol with your work: © First Name Last Name Date
7. Don't mass-produce!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Art=Toys=Art in Cathy McClure's hands

Cathy McClure at July 11 CQA meeting.

Seattle-area artist Cathy McClure was one of 10 kids in her Arkansas farm-country family when she made a visit to a local carnival, an event that was to provide the key direction for her ensuing artistic journey. McClure led a fascinated CQA audience along this journey--complete with a menagerie!--at the group's July 11 meeting. "I was both attracted to and repulsed by what I saw at that carnival," McClure related, "by the carnies themselves....and especially by the toys offered as prizes on the midway." This was her first real exposure to massive quantities of the stuffed (and overstuffed) toys that would later become the basis of her art pieces.

McClure demonstrates one of her "bots" at the CQA meeting.
McClure earned a BFA in metalsmithing at Texas Tech in 1995, enjoying the creation of 3-D pieces from flat, 2-D materials.  An MFA at the University of Washington followed, in 1997. That was also the year she was selected from among 428 applicants as the winner of the 19th annual Betty Bowen Memorial Award. She had been creating such "functional" pieces as a sterling silver teapot (truly an art piece!) when she felt she could be doing...more.
McClure's silver teapot is actually functional!

The "more" turned out to be kinetic art, with a key initial piece being "Carnival of Life," a zoetrope [Sugg. see Wikipedia] involving placing the work on a rotating table in a dark room illuminated only by a strobe light. The viewer would see what appear to be elements on the rim of the table continually bowing down and standing up in sequence as the table revolved, whereas in reality all of the pieces were fixed in position. [A video of this piece  in action may be seen on McClure's website:]
The toy market is measured in billions of dollars per year...
...and too many end up broken or discarded.

Around 2003, in a further return to thoughts of that carnival of her childhood and the garish midway toys, McClure began to collect broken toys from toy and thrift stores. "This is a gluttonous arena of overstuffed toys," she said. "The toy market in 2012 was over $84 billion, with $20 billion of that in the US. Mostly they were all made in China, so broken or unwanted toys were just thrown out. There was no way stores could return them to the manufacturer," she said, "so I began to experiment with other ways to use them."
McClure begins the process of "de-stuffing" a broken animal toy.

McClure cut away the fuzzy or shaggy outer "skins" of the toys (mostly animals) and removed all the stuffing, leaving only the plastic body skeleton and, most important, the battery-operated mechanisms that caused the toy to move and speak.  In a lost-wax process, she replaced the plastic shape with metal--silver or bronze--with the aid of a small casting operation in Rhode Island. Some of the original plastic parts from the original toy are retained as a reminder of the toy's origin, an example being the flexible, segmented trunk of a toy elephant.

The plastic "innards" of a stuffed elephant, above, and McClure's silver version, "Trumpet," below, with original flexible, segmented trunk and battery-operated mechanism retained.
McClure calls the finished animals "bots," and the critters are both amusing and slightly eerie as they honk, bark or squawk while performing their original walking, bobbing, hopping or scurrying moves--but in elegant lines of polished silver or bronze metal instead of colorful fuzz! "Somehow they sound louder, more cranky, kind of upset once they're de-stuffed and cast in metal," she laughed.
Above, a stuffed bunny reduced to its plastic skeleton, and McClure's "Silly Bunny," below, in bronze (left) and silver (right).

In 2006, McClure created a zoetropic piece titled "3-Ring Circus" that combines bots with other constructs, complete with appropriate music "that sets the tone as the piece lures you into a deceptively magical world," said McClure. [A video of this piece may be seen on her website:]
Above, scene from McClure's two-months' residency in New York, with the artist at work (below) getting down to the innards of an Elmo toy.
McClure's "Hokey," based on an Elmo toy.

Not all of the toys she works with are reconstituted in metals. McClure had the pleasure of a two-month residency in New York where she had workspace and the equivalent of a "storefront" in which to create art pieces from both the "skins" and the plastic bodies of toys. The de-stuffed plastic bodies were displayed on shelves, and she made wall pieces out of assemblies of discarded skins sewn on canvas. Making use of the traditional "everything but the squeal," she went on to create rings out of the eyeballs removed from the toys!

McClure sewed an assemblage of discarded toy "skins" on canvas for wall hangings.
A true "hairy eyeball" (above) made into a ring! Other rings, below, created from eyeballs removed from toys.
One of her installations involving just the plastic "innards" from toys is endlessly fascinating--18 plastic "Mickey Mouse" figures, independently hard-wired to an activation button that a viewer can push to start the figures moving. With arms flicking up and down, the "Mickeys" move forward, back and slightly sideways in an ever-changing pattern that's both balletic and slightly militaristic as they bounce off one another. [See video on her website.]

Above, McClure "de-skinning" one of 18 "Mickey Mouse" toys (below).
The finished installation of 18 "Mickeys," each individually hard-wired to a viewer-activated button.
The toys--bots--that McClure renders in metal form are where she creates income, so their parts are created in multiples, e.g. 50 of a particular leg or body, and lined up in her studio ("a 2-car garage!") awaiting assembly. "As I need one of the battery-operated mechanisms for each piece, I sought out and was lucky to find a source for the original mechanisms," she said.

Line-up of cast toy parts in McClure's studio.
She frequently has other artists helping create parts of her installations, e.g a woodworker putting together the "rings" for the revolving parts of her zoetropic carnivals. "I often have to solve problems en route," McClure said. "For example, I was having trouble installing the elephant bots on 'Midway' and finally ended up using small chains--which I realized also symbolized the plight of elephants' lives in carnivals and circuses," she added.
A woodworker friend creates "rings" for McClure's "Midway" installation.
Above and below, stages in the creation of McClure's "Midway" installation for exhibit at Bellevue Arts Museum.

McClure's "Midway" exhibit was featured at the Bellevue Arts Museum in 2011-12. She will have an installation at 1925 3rd Ave. in Seattle later this summer as part of the Seattle Art Fair.
Above and below, McClure's "Midway" installation at BAM, 2011-12. That's her "Chicken" bot in the glass case, above.

She is currently working on paintings for a children's book and--a bit mind-boggling--she is making plans to create a human-scale "Hokey" figure, based on the innards of the Elmo toy! It will resemble her bots of the same name, but at that size definitely will not be made in sterling silver! "I want it to be a balance between the artist and the viewer, between seriousness and play, between childhood and adulthood," she explained.
An obviously hokey photo of McClure's planned human-scale "Hokey"!

For more information about McClure and photos and videos of her works, go to