|Susan Steinhaus Kimmel at the Sept. 12 CQA meeting|
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.
|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.
|"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.|
|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.|
|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 kimmelfinearts.com/.