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October 19, 2010

Get Inspired with... Bookstruction

Starting October 2010, our blog is hosting a "Get Inspired" feature in which we will more often than not be interviewing local artists and showcasing their work. Sometimes the work may not be strictly graphic design, but it will be in some way, shape or form related to it and will serve as wonderful inspiration for graphic designers and graphic design students.

Our first artist is DC-based Robin Delaloye from Bookstruction, who specializes in altered books and exhibited on October 2nd at Crafty Bastards (the DC arts and crafts fair sponsored by City Paper, Hello Craft and Etsy this year in its 7th edition) where she won second place by popular vote.

Why altered books? A book is a real graphic design shrine, the place where illustration (and/or photography), typography, paper and different graphic/printing techniques all converge to offer a visual narrative that supports the written narrative and hopefully makes for a better reading experience. However, most graphic designers tend to see the book as a two-dimensional object. A book cover or jacket is designed as a two-dimensional spread on a computer, and so are all the different pages. Sometimes books have pop-ups or die cuts that require some 3-D thinking and engineering, but the design of the vast majority of them is two-dimensional. In reality, books are 3-D objects that lend themselves to be transformed into wonderful 3-D art, as NOVA communication design and fine art teachers Lisa Hill and Rebecca Kamen proved to students in Alexandria and even Chile and Korea. In 2007, they taught an altered book class that culminated in an exhibition of student work in the library on the Alexandria campus, and they also offered workshops at DuocUC in Santiago, Chile and Yuhan College, South Korea. A website showcasing altered books created by NOVA students can be visited by clicking here and one of the books is on permanent display at the Alexandria campus library.

Lisa Hill and Rebecca Kamen had their students alter their books so that their form reflected their content, but not all altered book artists follow these criteria. Robin Delaloye's book sculptures sometimes relate to the original book's contents, sometimes they don't. In either case, they are very cool to look at—so cool that many Crafty Bastards attendees would stop at her booth and actually buy her books!

We interviewed Robin, so without further ado we'll let her speak for herself and her art.

Tell us a little bit about your background. Do you have any formal training in fine arts or design?
I have no formal training in art or design. I did take a figure drawing class in college, but I was TERRIBLE at it. I actually have a BA in Psychology and an MA in Political Management, but I've always been creative and like to make things with my hands. Before I moved to DC, I co-owned a theater company and did a lot of freelance costume design/construction. The majority of my design experience has been in costume design for theater and now graphic design in my "day job" as Outreach Coordinator for the Eckles Library at GWU. 

How did you get inspired to make altered books/book sculptures?
I work in an academic library and have always had a deep regard for books. The first time my library weeded our collection I was shocked to find out how difficult it is to get rid of books. Most aren't really fit to give to other educational institutions since they are so out of date. Places that do want them require us to spend a lot of money on shipping, so lots of the books go to be re-pulped. I thought there MUST be something better to do with those books and so I started making them into sculptures. 

How do you decide what to do with every single book? Does the form of your book art reflect the book's contents at all?
What I do usually has to do with the size and shape of the book as well as how colorful it is and the quality of the pages. When every element falls into place then I try to reflect the content of the book in what I do. However, I usually have such a strong idea from the physical aspects of the book that it doesn't end up reflecting the content. Also, sometimes it is just hard to find an artistic representation for things like a salsa cookbook...

"Bookstruction": "book destruction", "book construction", or both?
Definitely both!  Destroying the old to make something new.

At Crafty Bastards, your booth seemed to be doing pretty well. Do you sell a lot of books? What do you think prompts people to buy this kind of art?
We did very well at Crafty Bastards and met a lot of people who really seemed to appreciate the work. I sold 90% of my inventory at Crafty Bastards, so it was a good day! I'm not sure what makes people buy my stuff, but I do know that people who love it - love it! And people who don't, find it mildly interesting and walk on. I could tell who was going to buy at Crafty Bastards because they were staring so intently at the pieces. Not to sound pretentious, but there are some people that it REALLY speaks to.

How long does it take you, in average, to complete a book sculpture?
Like everyone's artwork, it is hard to say how long you spend on it. Does that include the hour I sort of stared at that book while making dinner and thinking through its possibilities? What about the week I set it aside and decided it sucked too much to pursue? Or the amount of time I spent testing out one idea only to decide on something totally different? As for actual construction time once I have an idea what to do - it varies anywhere from 2 hours to 8. 

On your website, you state you only use books that libraries would otherwise destroy. Does that mean that you don't get to choose the titles you're going to work with? What's your "dream book" to alter?
Well, I do choose the books. I am limited to the books that are being weeded at the moment, but every supply is limited in some way. I really enjoy atlases, cookbooks and children's books, but I try to remain open to the unique opportunities in all kinds of books. 

Do you teach any workshops or classes? How do you feel about fine art or design programs formally teaching altered book courses like we did at NOVA?
I don't teach anything even vaguely art-related. I don't have any formal fine art education, although I wish I did and I think it is great that NOVA is teaching all kinds of art classes and is innovative enough to explore different techniques and media for student art. 

Any words of wisdom for students or artists who would like to approach this kind of art?
My best advice to the emerging book artist is to make sure your significant other doesn't mind living in a house filled with little pieces of paper... all the time... everywhere.

This beautiful origami work was an old issue of Graphis.

"Graphis Design 90"—frontal view.

"Girl's Guide to Rocking"

"Almanac Flower"

"World Almanac Tower"

"World Almanac Tower"—detail.

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