From written word to a puddle of bull: NRB Cover Project Recap – Part 1

An overview of designing and printing book cloth for New River Breakdown,  Terry Kennedy‘s poetry collection from Unicorn Press . You can see the finished book covers from this project at Unicorn Press.

New River Breakdown - Uncorrected Page proofs
Plain paper packages tied up with string.

The Invitation: One Book, Five Artists

When Tristin Miller initially described the project to me, I was intrigued. Five artists  interpret the same collection of poems by author Terry Kennedy in book-cover form. Each cover design will be produced as part of a set of hand-bound, limited edition books by a local publishing company. A project full of collaboration, exploring the overlap of art and design, all set in the local creative environment—sign me up!

The group met for a project briefing where Terry and Andrew Saulters of Unicorn Press explained their ideas and the project parameters. There were very few.  Terry described some key ideas and imagery in the book including his interest in the New River, an ancient river that runs North to South through North Carolina unlike others in the area. He enjoyed how nature can be counter intuitive and related this to how we discover many things work in unexpected ways when examined closely.  We artists were given a copy of Terry’s book, bound in plain black paper, and a deadline for final artwork.

The designer side of my brain was spinning at this point. Terry and Andrew didn’t expect to see concepts, vet artist ideas or provide feedback—either very brave or very insane.

My artist-brain was most excited about the fact the hardcover edition was bound in fabric, something that dovetailed perfectly with my current printing experiments on found-fabrics. Time to go read the book and see what this was all really about.

An Idea: A Riverbank Patina

It was mid May, the garden was lush and the weather was perfect for deck-sitting so I spent an afternoon with my toes in the sun and my head in Terry’s  book. There may have been a glass of wine. It’s a lovely book; very visual, very thoughtful. Wistful, hopeful and Southern.

While reading over my notes to write this post I found this thought scribbled after the first read: “Eyes worn down with watching / like river stones / bright when wet / but faded blue with dryness of time passing”

It’s not a line from the book, but inspired by it and my memory of collecting beautiful speckled stones in a mountain stream and finding them later, so pale and different, lovely in a different way. The book sparked new thoughts and distant memories.

A May nasturtium enjoying the sun with me as I read.

I love the passage of time in New River Breakdown and the feelings of seasons (and people) brushing past each other. After a bit more time with the book, I had a concept to share with Terry and Andrew :

“I believe my layered printing process on fabric would fit well with the feelings of memory/passage of time or weathering of time and the organic/natural imagery I’ve taken from the writing so far. Though it may evolve, my current idea is to print a larger block of fabric with layers or textural images that will be partially washed out/ faded as I wash the fabric and layers are added. Once this patina of texture is built up, then I’ll cut the fabric into cover-sized pieces and overprint a final image on each cover. So each cover would be unique, but have the same dominate imagery.”

Terry and Andrew said sure; Andrew ordered fabric and the next thing I know I’m staring at a puddle of soft, creamy-white European linen, thinking about Hemingway’s white bull.

in progress: new river breakdown covers
Thirteen yards of fine linen, freshly rolled off the bolt. Now what?

NEXT:  Building the Patina: New River Breakdown Cover Project Recap – Part 2



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