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.

Advertisements

Colorado-Utah-Colorado

I was fortunate to be invited back to Willowtail Springs to collaborate with Lorena Williams, a wildland firefighter and author, thanks to the Winifred Johnson Clive Foundation.  Scheduling was complicated, with Lorena only available after the fire season ended, and my commitment to the annual Zion Plein Air Invitational at almost the same time. So I split my time at Willowtail before and after Zion.  I won’t go in to any details of what we’ve cooked up until I’ve got something to show for it, but suffice it to day that we’re both excited.

During my 26 days away from home, I:

-drove 2 days down, 2 back and 2 back-and-forth between Mancos, Colorado, to Zion, Utah
-did 11 hikes, 6 of them new to me
-painted 12 small landscapes and 2 new burned trees
-sold 8 pictures, including one of the big burned trees

Here are some of my favorites from this time at Willowtail and Zion:

Left: Blazed, 52″H x 20″W varnished watercolor on torn paper (sold)
Top right: Country Rock 11″ x 15″ watercolor on paper
Bottom right: Above the Checkerboard Mesa Viewpoint 11″x 15″ watercolor on paper (sold)

At Peggy Cloy’s request, I started taking photos of each day’s progress. This sequence shows Jolie laide evolving – not as beautiful as Blazed, above, but perhaps the more powerful piece.

Jolie laide sequence (1024x318)

Jolie laide, not-yet-varnished watercolor on torn paper, 52″H x 24″W

The detail in the lower right quadrant took the longest, but it’s also where I began to feel as if juggling so many colors and values might just work out after all. It’s one of the more complex and anthropomorphic of the series, like Knotted.

I’m a reasonably disciplined person wherever I am, but there is something about leaving home that allows you to be productive and focus that much more intently. And new places always give me new ideas.

 

A Thrilling Installation: Twelve Burned Tree Portraits Suspended in the Air

This fall I had the opportunity to participate in the Museum of Northwest Art’s annual Surge event in La Conner, Washington State. It’s a brief exhibit intended to inform and provoke, especially residents of the low-lying Skagit River delta area. They’ve expanded their purview to include less proximal causes of coastal flooding to the broader impacts of climate change, such as melting glaciers and forest fires.

I turned in a number of proposals, some of which I will likely pursue in the future, but the one the curators most wanted to see was an installation of multiple burned tree paintings.

I thought this would be easy since all but one of the pieces already existed. (I promised to try to complete a burned tree from the Skagit watershed in time for the exhibit. The painting below came from a tree I saw near Newhalem. Last year’s Goodell Creek fire touched down right next to this small town on the west side of the North Cascades.)

Suze Woolf watercolor painting of burned tree

Goodell Fire Instance, varnished watercolor on torn paper, 52″H x 16″W

Easy, hah! Some of the works were in frames. Some were already mounted on shaped black foam core, but the backs had been used for wall hanging and had bumpers, hanging wires, and tags that needed to be removed. I chose to re-cover the backs of these with black paper. And of course the ones that were in frames needed to be taken out and new shaped foam core backings jigsaw-cut for them. And I needed to come up with a way to suspend them from the ceiling that would last throughout the exhibit.

I made a number of tests of different coatings, papers, hanging hardware and lay outs before settling on my final method. I had been reading the David McCulloch biography of the Wright Brothers, and while I cannot claim that level of invention, I was amused by how similar our processes are: theorize, plan, observe, model, build, crash, tweak again and repeat, repeat, repeat…

Photo of mockup for Suze Woolf Surge installation

Backs of 7.5″ high prints of burned tree paintings, pasted onto 1/8th inch foam core. Wires into the bases allowed me to stick them into a foam base and move them around until I was satisfied with the layout.

Every remounting and each piece of foam core required two coats of adhesive. I had to give up varnishing the foam core because it too often warped it. I tried a variety of hanging hardware. Once I began the process I realized there was no way I could complete this in time on my own.

Thanks to friends, neighbors, fellow artists and Kelly’s Lyles’ artist list, they were finished in time. It was stressful having other people working in my small space. But I met some wonderful folks – thanks especially to Arisa Brown and Rosie Peterson who spent more time than anyone besides me. Working with other artists gives you confidence in your vision!

I could calculate the footprint from my model — which was trebly useful when we arrived to find we’d been assigned a triangular space instead of a rectangular one. But I could work out the new arrangement on the model before we started measuring and hanging.

Photo of Suze Woolf installation model

Front of installation mockup, reworked for triangular footprint

After that, leaning the paintings (still in their protective surrounds) up against office chairs allowed us to fine tune the spacing before committing to ceiling hooks.

Photo of beginning of Suze Woolf Surge installation

The twelve trees still wrapped in their protective foam core surrounds, which allows them to be transported and rearranged without damaging fragile edges.

That the trees came from all over the American West and one of them local makes them even more thought-provoking. One of the effects I was after was indeed realized: when you walk through a burned forest it seems as if the trunks closest to you are stationary, but those seen through the gaps between them seem to move as you do.

The result was stunning and something I hope to do again.

Photo of Suze Woolf 2016 Surge installation

Museum of Northwest Art installation of twelve, varnished, watercolor-on-torn-paper paintings of charred trees, installed September 2016, each 52″ high by various widths

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.

A Stay-at-Home Residency

Usually I blog when I head out on the road, but I wanted to share a stationary experience. I’m in the midst of an online residency — we have fuze lectures and conference calls, do tutorials, work up files for samples and, hopefully, create a finished project in a four-week period. The theme is digital fabrication: software-driven laser-cutting, 3D printing, CNC milling and routing, textile printing, digital embroidery and so forth, offered by Digital Fabrication Residency of Easton, Maryland. (Of course, being online, location is irrelevant.) Kari and Erik are incredibly knowledgeable and generous with their time and learning.

It’s an opportunity for me to unite my dormant inner geek with my artistic practice. While I still think of myself primarily as a painter, artist books have become another important medium. They offer dimension, intimacy, proceed through time, carry a lot of cultural baggage, and can exist somewhere other than on a wall.

I had already been exploring laser cutting as a means to make rigid pages for my rockbound books, such as Snowline and Canyon:

Rockbound Book: Snowline. Sliced snowflake obsidian covers, stiff leaf bound with viscose fabric to laser-cut mat board pages; CNC-routed wooden case.

Rockbound Book: Snowline. Sliced snowflake obsidian covers, stiff leaf bound with viscose fabric to laser-cut mat board pages; CNC-routed wooden case.

Photo of Suze Woolf artist book

Rockbound Book: Canyon. Sliced chert stiff-leaf-bound to laser-cut matboard pages with viscose fabric. CNC-routed wooden case.

Now I am learning to visualize and execute an additional variety of processes.

The books have been evolving. They began with re-use of original paintings through reproductions. Somewhere in the first ten or so, I realized that matching the book’s form and materials to the painted subject matter was at least as exciting as the paintings-as-pages. More recent examples these books not only don’t need text, they don’t even need images. The form and the materials *are* the narrative!

Photo of Suze Woolf artist book

Elephant Canyon Volume. Sandstone covers, laser-cut mat board pages, strung on elastic cords. The book “opens” by pulling up the top cover.

The residency is helping me see that a subtext (so to speak) of my preoccupation with the natural world is melding machine techniques with organic forms and materials. To me, if there’s no sense of nature, the artist’s hand, or an inviting surface in the end result I’ve failed. So I’m thrilled on many levels with this residency, and it follows a common artistic development:

  1. learning new techniques…
  2. doing the old stuff in new ways…
  3. uncovering latent themes…
  4. generating new ideas, seeing new ways to do new things.

I’ll be excited to share images of the results when they’re finished.

A Teachable Moment for the Teacher

October 31- Nov 2

I had a wonderful group of friendly, curious, eager Grand Canyon Trust members who came out to Kane Ranch for a watercolor workshop at the end of my stay there. Many teachers’ valuable voices ring in my head, so I made it my goal to do the same for these folks.

“What is ‘The What?’” (Thanks Cathy Gill). Or as I now put it, “why is should this be a painting and not a photograph? What is it I am bringing to it?”

We did a color intermixing exercise first, and then painted fruits and vegetables. Kate said, “This pepper is voluptuous!” And lo, her painting was rich with passionate color, and bright with reserved whites of the paper.

“Put it down and leave it alone.”

“Nature doesn’t come out of the end of a tube.” That is, most pigments for color in the landscape need to be modified — greyed or softened — for one reason or another.

“Beautiful Paint” (Thanks, Tom Hoffmann and Jonelle Johnson)

“You can lie.” (Thanks, Spike Ress). That is, YOU are the master of the picture, you are not a slave to reality. If the tent looks better closer to Saddle Mountain than it is, make it so.

“Perfection is not my goal. Let it go.” My friend Kate Barber exemplifies this philosophy of painting. Many of us want to learn this in life as well as painting!

“Br-r-rush Str-o-u-kes” (Thanks Alvaro Castagnet. You have to imagine the mix of Uruguayan and Australian accents.)

The real revelation for me was how much my own painting improved while I was giving demos. Repeating these mantras reminded me of everything I know but often lose sight of in the intensity of capturing the scene. I intentionally don’t teach much – life is short and at my age I don’t have a long career ahead of me. I selfishly want to devote as much time as I can to actually painting. But this experience might change my perception!

Suze Woolf watercolor painting of Kane Ranch, Arizona

Kane Ranch from the south, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″ This early-morning plein air piece turned into a spontaneous demo. It was windy enough that I stood in the lee of the platform tents, and alas, the wind built all day — not ideal for a landscape painting workshop!

Echo Cliffs Sunrise

Echo Cliffs Sunrise, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″. We spent a lot of time observing the cloud formations, figuring out how to convey them without rendering them literally. (Always difficult, since they change so fast around House Rock Valley!)

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