2- and 3-D technology in service of an organic artist book – persistence required

Some people may already know that I have a not-so-secret life as a book artist, as well as a painter. One body of my work as a painter is large portraits of individual burned trees. (See the Burnscape section of my website.) Spending recreational time in the wilderness all over the American West has brought me in close contact with large burned-over areas. I also began to notice the number of dead trees in forests that otherwise seemed fine. I saw what seemed like writing or hieroglyphics on the inner bark of dying trees.

It turns out there are thousands of species of bark beetles, most of which are happily decomposing already-dead wood. But a few species that attack living trees en masse have become epidemic thanks to climate change: warmer winters don’t kill off the larvae and warmer, longer summers allow them more reproduction cycles. And drought- or heat-stressed trees are more vulnerable. Working with two entomologists and a forester, I’ve created a series of artist books on the topic.

Vol XIV composite (1024x514)

Bark Beetle Book Vol. XIV Ars datum est
16.5”H x 4.5” diam.
Log with fir-engraver galleries*, laser-cut and engraved mat board pages,
laser-transfers, paint, linen thread

For example, Volume XIV, Ars datum est above, is made from an actual Eastern Washington log, with laser-cut pages bound into its center. Each page is essentially a bar from a bar chart representing areas of British Columbia and Alberta affected by mountain pine beetle from 1999-2007 – so the book is art and data, too.

My most recent  bark beetle book was definitely the most technically ambitious one I’ve tried yet, and I learned quite a bit in the process.

Bark Beetle Book Vol. XVIII
27” x 3.5” diam.
Maple branch covers, laser-cut and engraved bamboo pages, tea-dyed wool felt, linen thread

I collected a branch with many beetle galleries on it, interesting to me because, with rot, the larval galleries were dark-on-light instead of the more typical light-on-dark. It suggests intra-tree spread: the number of engraved galleries* on the pages increases from bottom to top as you page through the book.

The branch was somewhat curved and also twisted along the axis of its split. I thought the best way to create pages for such a irregular, non-rectangular shape might be to obtain a 3D model of each half, create the solid between them and then slice it in software. Unable to find a local service bureau for 3D scanning, a mechanical engineering friend created a seat-of-the-pants XYZ data capture system composed of 2 rulers, a radial arm saw and digital calipers.

DSC07922 (2)

It took me an entire day to take (4) XYZ measurements at 1-centimeter intervals along one half of the branch. And I now realize this is just too coarse, I missed some key features in the shape.

After a lot of work trying to understand how to import an XYZ data cloud Fusion360, we eventually succeeded in making the data points operable, creating the solid volume between to the 2 branch half models, adding binding holes and slicing it. I also traced the actual ragged fore-edge, imported that line and created a second solid to chomp into fore-edge of the book page solid, so that it would have some of the nicks and craters of the beetle galleries where they cross the edges from front edge to back edge. Slicer, a Fusion360 app, at least made the slicing easy and generated flat cutting patterns. Then I traced some of the beetle galleries onto the cutting patterns for engraving.

wireframe editedSlicer Screen Shot5 thumbnail

Binding the book was equally challenging because:

  • not all the page pieces met along the spine edge,
  • some were too small to put binding holes in,
  • and despite choosing the straightest edge as the binding side, there was enough of a curve that even with elastic thread I couldn’t bind across that big a gap.

So it’s “differentially” bound; that is, sewn where spine-side page edges met best.  Some of the tiny and/or non-spine side slices were glued to the branch wood before binding. I used pieces of tea-dyed felt as end-papers to soften the stair-stepped edges of the glued-in pieces and to hide the ends of the binding threads.

About 9 weeks…. Phew!


Many, many thanks to Jon Cluts and Rafael Machado de Lima Silva at UW Bothell’s Maker Space; Tom Stone, who made the data capture system and helped me work out how to get the data usable in Fusion360; also to Per Steenstrup and his brother on the latter task; to the support folks at ponoko who helped troubleshoot my cutting/engraving files. And Steve, who likes to be away from home so he can’t hear the cursing when I can’t get something to work : – )


*Galleries is the term most often used to describe the complex patterns that the larvae chew between the bark and the sap wood. I’ve also seen them called larval mines.

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Tenacity

I was listening to a Digital Fabrication Residency talk by Laura Splan about her biologically-inspired bodies of work incorporating digital technologies such as machine embroidery, laser cutting, 3D-printing etc. She used the word tenacity to describe that state of exciting and anxious exploration of what the tools can do on a deadline. “Failure isn’t an option but it’s also an expectation.” This statement gongs through my head as I tediously adjust my 52 Inkscape vector drawings for probably twentieth time. She also says to pace yourself, know at what point you have to accept what you can accomplish and when you have make compromises with your original vision. Not bad advice in any endeavor ; – )

Here are some interim points along my own project path. The vision is two artist books, Siamese-twinned at the spines, one small (5″ x 12″) and one large (16″ x 12″). The pages and covers will eventually cut from clear acrylic, though right now I am working with a test run on cardboard. LED lights in the conjoined spine will fluoresce light out to the edges of the acrylic sheets. The object(s) will either sit on a table as separate books or be wall-mounted vertically together.

The vision has taken me into some familiar territory: using vector software to interpolate one shape to another over a series of steps so that the “slices” or “pages” describe an overall volume. (I enjoy the multiple meanings of “volume” –dimensional form and particular book.) Those shapes are then laser cut.

Photo of Laser-cut cardboard dummy of the smaller book

Laser-cut cardboard dummy of the smaller book.

Photo of laser-cut cardboard book dummy

Laser-cut cardboard dummy of the larger book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of linen thread and cardboard test pages

Here I’m testing my binding method on a cardboard dummy of the small book’s shaped pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But some of the skills are outside my comfort zone. I’ve learned not only to design and animate, but also program the firmware on my BlinkyTape strip of 60 LEDs. I had some help soldering on an additional 60 LEDs (thanks Mark!). After traveling down many dead-ends it was a moment of great triumph when they all lit up in the pattern I had created. (Thanks, Maarten and Mets!)

Photo of BlinkyTape soldered to NeoPixel LED strip

This image shows two strips of LEDs soldered together and running a subtle animation of blue-to-green-to-lighter blue and back again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have created the design for a cast acrylic part to hold the LEDs in the spine in Fusion360 but don’t dare get it printed or milled until the book is bound and I know its exact measurements. (Thanks, Erik and Kari!)

A recent rendering of the custom part for holding the LEDs butting the pages up them.

A recent rendering of the custom part for holding the LEDs and butting the pages up them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It feels as if the project will never get finished. So many pieces to fit together, so much time spent learning. One step forward for every two steps back… And what if it isn’t cool?!? Not only does it take tenacity and persistence, but faith that the end result will be worth seeing.

Artist Books

I’ve been having fun making some images of my landscapes and burnscapes into book forms. They have always seemed like an inviting genre to me, as a visual person who’d rather play Scrabble™ or do crossword puzzles than concentrate in the studio 😉 I took a short class from Dara Solliday at Pratt Fine Arts Center called “Bookbinding for Printmakers.”

But ever the artist-craftsperson-engineer, of course I had to engage in lengthy trials to reach my vision, and I pass on some of my learning in hopes that it will serve yours:

  • Measure and cut everything with more precision than you think you will need, especially anything with a 90-degree angle. Then stack the pieces that are supposed to match next to each other and correct any egregious smidgeons, it will be well worth the trouble later on. If one piece is too small, it’s better to recut the offending board than try to make it up later in the process
  • Thanks to MalPina Chan, I’ve been finding matte medium to be a more effective adhesive for paper and cloth
  • I had hoped to bind acrylic sheet “pages” to wood “covers” using stiff-leaf technique. Traditional archival book cloth and PVA adhesive won’t stick to acrylic sheeting. I tried acrylic solvent cement, matte medium, 3M 77, carpenter’s glue, and in all cases, if it stuck at all , the coating on the inside of the book cloth just pulled away from the fibers. I finally resorted to packing tape and Gorilla® duct tape. The latter is less fibrous and more matte than the usual duct tape. I don’t know what the longevity of those adhesives is.
  • A whetstone makes a great quick-and-dirty de-burr and polishing tool for glass tiles. I was able to use Weld’s all-purpose solvent cement to attach them to heavy board for one cover.
Artist bookk by Suze Woolf

Burn Book I: pop-up digital prints of 8 burnscape paintings in an accordion-fold book, ribbon, 11” x 40” open, 11” x 5” closed

Artist Book by Suze Woolf

Burn Book II: cut-out digital prints of 8 burnscape paintings on acrylic sheets with smoked wood covers, 12” x 14” open, 12” x 6” closed

Artist Book by Suze Woolf

Peaks & Valleys closed in its clam shell case, ~2.5″ x 2.5″ x 1.5″

Peaks and Valleys4OpenandCase (1024x680)

Peaks & Valleys opened out: digital prints backed on non-woven viscose, acrylic paint, board, recycled glass tile

 

Exploding Views

If I really work at it I can make a scene fit my sheet – really I can. The board in my little plein air kit (gator foam covered with adhesive plastic) fits a quarter-size watercolor sheet (11 x 15). As a consequence that’s the size I generally do outdoors, even when I all I do is a drawing on the sheet, and paint it later. But here in Zion Canyon, the views are so expansive I can rarely contain the scene on a sheet of that proportion – it demands to be wider or taller than “normal”. Over and over I end up continuing the drawing onto a second and even third sheet.

Two days ago while hiking up Observation Point I started thinking about shaped sheets. One of the beauties of work on paper is that one is surely not bound to a rectangle.  This is looking down on the canyon floor, Mt. Moroni, one of the Patriarchs, and the top of Angel’s Landing,

Painting of Zion Canyon

Shaped-sheet painting “Observing Zion” ~30″ x 11″, watercolor on paper

Further update:  similar viewpoint to Maynard Dixon’s painting of Angel’s Landing and the Great White Throne (a double-quarter-sheet diptych, 15 x 22).

Painting of Great White Throne, Angels Landing, Zion National Park

My version of the Great White Throne and Angels Landing, similar to Maynard Dixon’s

The newest rock texture, from my day of painted desert hiking on the southwest side of the park.

Painting of gypsum, limestone and shale in Zion National Park

Gypsum and shale in Scroggins Wash, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 11″

And another update: a better tarantula photo (second sighting).

Photo of tarantula in Zion National Park

About two-thirds the size of my hand.

Art Installation or Litter?

Art or Garbarge?

Art or Garbage?

Followers know that earlier this week, and with the help of stalwart friends, I installed Tree Futures in Seattle’s Carkeek Park as part of Heaven and Earth IV: Rootbound. Imagine my distress when I returned with my family the next evening to discover it all cut down, in a pile at the bottom of one of the trees. Certainly in that position, it did look like refuse.

To be sure, during the installation period there was no signage announcing that these objects around the trees were sanctioned Art and not an elaborate form of illicit Tagging. One of the beauties of the exhibit is that both casual and purposeful walkers share a sense of sudden discovery (though there is a map on the Rootbound site).

Once I got over the initial shock, I realized I owed it to all of the friends, colleagues, non-profits and businesses who had donated time, money and encouragement to re-install. Most of the elements had been untied rather than destroyed — though the cords holding the gloves had been slashed into many pieces. It was hard not to read this as rage — the most severe critic I’ve yet encountered!

So 4 days after the original install, I was back — this time with my ever-patient spouse Steve, the exhibit curator David Francis, and fellow artist, sculptor Peppé. The weather was not so cooperative. Seattle’s rainy reputation is indeed based in reality. It was heartwarming and validating that during this rainy task, three neighbors came by and asked what had happened. One had even come back in the interim with his camera. They all expressed dismay at the vandalism, pleasure in the installation and support. So now Tree Futures is back where you will find it on the exhibit map, albeit a little higher up the trees. When the weather improves, I’ll get new photos of the re-installation posted, which includes two new wraps — a veneer collar (for all the trees used in construction and consumables) and blackberry canes (for the threat of invasive species).

***

My friend Pati helped me work through the experience: someone saw only garbage on “their” turf, presumably without contemplating the possibility that it was a sanctioned activity in a community space. This destruction is consistent with our all-too-human trait of acting without consideration of others or a realization of what we don’t understand. One neighbor declared it an act of ignorance. This particular work represented forests; it’s humans who destroy and protect forests.

Weatherproofing the art

Today I’m sealing up the backsides of Burned at the Base and After the First Death. The fronts have been spray-varnished at Plasteel with anti-moisture, anti-UV chemistry. The only place I have that is big enough for these babies is my dining room floor.

Then the next time we have a spell of good weather I’m going to take them out and wrap them around real trees to photograph them. I have no idea how I will safely transport, handle, and hang them out in nature; I’ll have to coax someone into helping me — a small painting? hot chocolate for life?

Sealing the Back

 

Photographing pyrography

I’ve been trying to get good images of my “fire-drawings” but I’m finding it difficult. My digital SLR doesn’t do so well with the subtle differences between the pale color of the wall and the color of the paper; I’m losing detail in the burned sticks and the scorched edges of the lines. My usual settings for photographing paintings didn’t work well (aperture priority, F22, ISO  100, Adobe RGB color space, RAW file format, White Balance custom set to my lighting), and so far, neither does High Dynamic Range. I tried both with 45-degree raking lights and with indirect lights bounced off the ceiling. Suggestions welcome!