When I agreed to show and speak about our project at my local library, all my fellow flyers contributed letters describing thier experiences. I drew on these letters to make my talk and quoted freely from them. As in the project itself, this presentation was a collaborative effore. Here is a transcript of my talk:
Flying Pictures Project Lecture
November 12, 2009
Oak Park Public Library
If you want to know the honest truth about my motivation for setting up the Flying Pictures Project, I have to admit it was jealously. Early in 2008, lots of traveling art journal projects popped up in the art blogsphere. Everyone was buzzing about these tiny little Italian Moleskin journals that were passed from artist to artist. They were having so much fun and I felt left out. No one had asked me to join an of these groups. After feeling sorry for myself for awhile, I decided to start my own project.
(Eventually I was invited to join several of these groups and had I been a bit more patient, perhaps the FPP would never have happened.)
The Flying Pictures Project was a special time in our lives. All us had numerous responsibilities, life changes and periods of artistic blockage. Some of us had health issues to deal with, busy jobs, summer travel plans, family obligations … But through it all, we became friends laughed a great deal and grew creatively from each other as we worked on this project.
Nina in Sweden wrote “At first I had my doubts- I have heard about collaborative projects ending up in nothing, because people forget, a sketchbook is lost, someone doesn’t have time to finish their part of the project and it all halts. But in this case we were not too many participants and everybody was so into it, so eager to start that I wanted to jump in and give it a try.”
I initially asked 3 women to join and they in tern asked others and when the dust settled we were 7 enthusiastic women on 2 continents dedicated to making the project work group. These were women whose art I had admired for years as a blogger. And now I was going to get to know them better and have a book filled with their art.
Although the initial project idea was mine, I did not have any specific plan on how to make the project work…the nuts and bolts. (This is my preferred way to work creatively too…jump head first with lots of enthusiasm and then figure out later how to swim!) I felt my job was to initiate the project then serve as a sort of project manager…I would regularly write up notes to everyone clarifying and reiterating the details and commitments everyone had discussed. It took about a month for us to work out all the details.
At the start, we used regular emailing to communicate and quickly discovered that having an email box stuffed with correspondence, no matter how funny, was overwhelming! Being the only North American well outside the time zone of the continent, I’ often wake up in the morning with 20 emails stuffed in my box. My friends on the continent had been debating issues while I slept the night away.
We needed an easier way to communicate so I set up a yahoo group. Yahoo groups are user friendly and allowed us to organize our communications in threads related to specific topics. (By the way, you can set one of these groups up for free and make them for members only or open to the public.)
The first and most important issue at hand was choosing a journal format. We knew we wanted them all to be roughly the same size but for artists, the issue of materials is huge one. There is a dizzying array of sketchbooks to choose from and artist’s fall in love with particular ones. Artist’s can rhapsodize endlessly (boring our loved ones to tears) about favorite papers, pen, pigments and other materials. We all had strong opinions about materials…. You get the picture here….collective mind smacks into personal desires.
When the group started in the spring of 2008, I was enrolled in an Artist’s book making class at Columbia Colleges’ Book and Paper Arts Center. My teacher Jen Thomas taught us not only the basic book forms but encouraged us make conceptual art books. With this in mind, I suggested to the group that we build our own journals and I’d promised to post a tutorial for the concertina format (a fairly simple form) on my blog.
Casey writes” Our first decision was to make our own sketchbooks, which I’ll admit terrified me (and only me, everyone else seemed to know exactly what they were doing.) Luckily, I was able to enlist the help of a bookbinder and friend who lived down the street. She quickly became as excited as I was about the project and looked forward eagerly to the arrival of each sketchbook.”
Although we had agreed to make the journals, some of us were a bit uncomfortable about working on unfamiliar paper. It was already a stretch for some that the pages felt very large…but the surface preferences were an issue. To an outsider paper is paper but artist’s fall in love with certain surfaces…how the media is absorbed or repelled, even the sound of the drawing tool across the surface…
Anybody golf? Cook? Fish? Anyone in law enforcement? Then you know how attached people are to their tools.
Vivien stepped in with a brilliant solution. She suggested that we each construct the cover and first few pages of the books but the rest of the pages could be attached as the books were passed around That way, each artist could use her favorite paper and materials, make the pages and attach them in someone’s book only if they pleased her. Big sighs, huge collective relief… Everyone loved this idea. Making our own journals and building them as they went around made our project unique among all the other traveling journals going around.
Now that the Book and Paper issues and communication issues were settled, we still needed a blog for the project. Casey sprang into action setting us up on a Word Press blog platform. She and her son collaborated on the creation of our blog banner. One person threw out journals from the second story of their home while the other photographed the “flying books” from below. Great banner, no? We were all impressed and delighted with our project blog.
We were all set to launch our project. We all agreed to send the books out by the end of May. Robyn pleaded with me to make sure the outside wrapper was nice and boring. She was very concerned about the Italian customs process and wanted the package to look as innocent as possible. In fact, we all worried about the international post…but that worked out very well…knock wood, we haven’t lost a book yet.
Sprinkled throughout all the participants’ descriptions of the project are words that express both excitement and trepidation as we opened the long awaited packages sitting on our door steps. The books were like jewels; each page a delight, each cover to be savored and yet, also cause for knocking back couple of aspirins or quantities of chocolate to quell the sudden and overwhelming headache.
Ronell says “With a little help from the theme of the book and by now knowing a bit about the person whose book you were writing in, you would move to the world around you, your home and garden, your street and town, your loves and likes and by combining it all, painted your expression on the page… Tried to add something equally beautiful…something that would live up to the previous artist’s skillful and beautiful addition”
Surprisingly this fear is common even among hot shot artists who are paid thousands of dollars for a painting. Kurt Jackson, a famous landscape artist in the UK has expressed similar doubts about his painting skills on a You tube video as he starts a plein air painting. Establishing trust among the participants early in the process allowed us to talk frankly about this issue and use it as a way to strengthen our friendships and laugh our way through these silly fears. We cheered each other on, told jokes, sent chocolate and more chocolate, small gifts and shared one of life’s most valuable gifts: friendship.
The project also helped us grow as artists’ Nina’s says “ Every time a book landed in my mail box, my heart raced a bit – it was so much fun to unpack and look through the books. And each book that arrived was longer than the last one because it had passed one more participant. It was such a great feeling to see everyone’s work in real life, to be able to share our art even though we live in different parts of the world. I looked very closely at everyone’s contributions, and couldn’t get enough of seeing how everyone worked, what paper they choose, what techniques and tools they preferred.
I want to share with you some thought others had:
“I absolutely loved taking part in the FPP exchange. No only were the people talented and interesting but fun, really lovely people who made the whole project buzz. We shared fears, exchanged knowledge and ideas, discussed the work, laughed a lot and had interesting private conversations as well as the public ones from our joint blog.”
I would urge anyone who enjoys our books to start one of there own. It’s not about being a great artist it is about opening ones eyes and taking the time to meditate about the wonder of our world. What you make not of will provide a record not only for when your own memories dim, but for future members of your family to see life through your eyes.
Nina’ did not send her book along because it is very close to her heart.She writes: “My book now lives on a little shelf above the sofa in our living room. Our guests flip though it and then sign, something about wishing they got a chance to participate in something like this. The conversation then often moves on to things like art making, sharing, unselfishness, imagination, peace….this book has an important place in our home.”
“At a time when my life was quite difficult, the Flying Pictures Project flew in like a breath of fresh air literally forcing me to think and play with art. It was a privilege and a humbling experience to be a part of such a wonderful project with so many talented artists. The work has brought a great sense of joy and freedom to us all!”
The Project gave me so much more than I ever expected. and I now feel a world-shrinking sensation when I think of how many friends I have all over Europe. We all hope to one day meet each other in person.
If there are some of you who are wishing that you were part of a group like this, it’s been my sly intention to cultivate this all along. Those of you, who know me, know I’m a passionate advocate of art for everybody….not just those of us who were lucky enough to have received art training. Here are a few examples of things you could use to create a visual journal:
Collect favorite words, poems, quotations, lyrics, signs, slogans, music, composers, films, books, images drawn or collected from magazines, photographs, descriptions of things or experiences, tastes and smells, encyclopedia entries, and newspaper headlines, ticket stubs, cards, favorite emails, We are steeped in a visual culture that streams by us every day. Whatever snags your attention can be the raw material for creating a journal.
I encourage you to invite your family, your friends or your colleagues to play along and have some fun of your own creating a visual journal.
At this point in the talk, I invited the participants to come take a look at our books up close and this was the best part of the evening.
End of Talk
Thank you all my fellow Flyers! May we inspire many more groups to try what we did?