Post-Residency Roundup : Part 1 of 2

May 2, 2016

It's taken me about a month to process the experiences I had during my residency in March. Writing about them has been an important part of digesting the journey. I spent about three weeks in Scotland, which was the kind of trip I spent so much time preparing for that once I arrived, it felt like I was walking in a dream. I knew I would be going to places that were important to my work, but to actually be there felt surreal. I think that this post is as much for me as it is for anyone interested in my process or what I did while I was away. It's not only a documentation of my residency and rock adventure, but a look back on the wonderful privelage of travel that I've enjoyed.

city wall at Dunbar, composed of Old Red sandstone

After arriving in Edinburgh, I rested up for a night and then immediately departed via train for Dunbar, the town closest to Siccar Point, one of the most important destinations of my trip, and the reason I was arriving a week before my residency. This is a kind of mecca for students of geology, and although Scotland is filled with geological wonders and sites that could keep you busy for an entire lifetime, nothing compares to this one place for me. After settling into my room at Dunbar, I walked around the High Street for awhile. I still felt as if I was half awake, not really grasping that I was in Scotland yet. I visited the birthplace of John Muir, a gorgeous white building at the north end of the street, with extremely helpful folks inside. I met a local artist named Gordon who helped me plan my journey to Siccar Point, giving me advice on the best way to get there. I think at this point I started to feel like my feet were on the ground.

from John Muir's Birthplace

After a lunch of chips and haggis (which I promised myself I had to try this time), I set off down to the bay for an afternoon walk full of exploration. I wandered around the remains of Dunbar Castle, then scrambled onto the rocks of Lamer Island, tracing the lines of the dikes in the sandstones. I found and collected amazing samples, inculding some slate with pyrite inclusions that I held up like a treasure. I wanted someone else to witness my find! But I was alone and digging around where no one cared what I did. My pockets started to get heavy with how many rocks I was sticking in them, when I realized that this was only my first day in Scotland. I tried to be more selective with what I was picking up, but it was difficult. I went north along the John Muir Way, walking the coast and stopping every 100 yards or so to bask in the richness of the view. I was absolutely astounded at what I was taking in, but moreso, I was getting my bearings. This was the place I had read about, dreamt about, and wished to see -- and here it was in front of me.

walking the John Muir Way with Dunbar Castle in the distance

I ended the evening with a delicious whisky in the bar of the hotel I was staying at, listening the sound of the locals' voices telling stories about their jobs, their babies, and their boyfriends. I knew the next day would take me to Siccar Point, and as I tried to fall asleep back in my room, I could only imagine what the rocks would look like in real life. On Saturday morning, after a full Scottish breakfast, I began my hike out to that fabled point at the entrance of the James Hutton Trail.

entering at Hutton Trail

After 20 to 30 minutes of hiking, my face burned by the cold winds, I finally reached the entrace to Siccar Point. It can be best described as a rocky promontory that juts out into the North Sea like a picture of the broken past. I was standing on the grassy hill above it, looking down.

I'll save the romanticized tales of its visage for another time, however this was truly a moving moment for me. One I won't soon forget.

looking down onto the rocks at Siccar Point

I recall the difficulty at making it down the hill, slipping with each step I took, my shoes caked in mud, and the eventual decision to slide down on my butt toward the bottom. How would I get back up? I'd figure that out later. When I finally reached the end of the steep trail, I was relieved as you can probably imagine. Now warm, I shed layers and left them on the first boulder I found, and set my sights toward the contact point that I'd so longed to touch. Careful not to slip (for one wrong move left me stranded), I reached the boundary of Silurian and Devonian, a ground up conglomerate settled somewhere between the two. I ran my fingers along the tilted greywackes. I found myself giddy, quite like John Playfair when he arrived with Hutton in 1788, but at the notion that these rocks seemed to tell me a story.

looking out onto the North Sea between the boundaries

After all my hours of exploration at Siccar Point, I knew I'd need to begin the journey out, and I'd have to give myself at least an hour to catch my ride back to Dunbar. I started climbing the hill back out, which was not a walk or even a steep hike but a literal free climb along the side of the hill. The hill was stepped in such a way that it was "easy," however I am not accostomed to any sort of wall or rock climbing. I really talked myself through that one like a champ. Once I reached the crest of the hill (cliff), I celebrated by collapsing. Then I took a picture of my tired-ass self.

I went to Siccar Point and all I got was this photo

The following day I returned to Edinburgh with the express purpose of visiting Arthur's Seat. I had one day left until I departed for my residency and I was, in effect, following in Hutton's footsteps. There are some amazing geological features to see at this site, the remains of an ancient volcanic plug. I am not as well-versed in igneous rocks as I am sedimentary ones, but so much of Scotland's geological history includes volcanic activity as an agent of change. I was mainly interested in seeing the Salisbury Crags and then leaving, as I was exhaused from my previous day's trip and still wished to rest up. After four hours of hiking, and one accidental tumble down some rock steps when I lost my balance, I finally came to the crags. I'll again summarize that this is actually another outcrop in which Hutton recognized that previous beliefs about how the earth worked, its cycles and its age, had to be incorrect because of what was factually present just by "reading the rocks." I find his tenacity and ability to understand rocks something of a fascination, to say the least.

Hutton's Section at Salisbury Crags

Tomorrow, I will publish a post that delves into what I worked on at my residency at Hospitalfield, who I met there, and my trip to Paris afterwards.

Journey to Siccar Point

March 12, 2016

selfie with signage, March 12, 2016

I made it to Siccar Point today. I have talked about James Hutton and this site in presentations about my thesis work since first being introduced to the ideas of uniformitarianism in my studies in geology during grad school. In one of science’s landmark events, Hutton interpreted the rocky formation at Siccar Point comprised of Old Red Sandstone accreted laterally atop vertical beds of Silurian greywacke to be an unconformity, revealing to humankind the idea of “deep time.” My thesis work as a graduate student and since has been shaped by a combination of interests, including geological formations, stratigraphy and memory. The process of how humans form memories and create lasting impressions of events correlates interestingly to the processes of earth’s rates of sedimentation and compaction; perhaps where we see unconformities there is no “memory” of that event or time period in the history of the earth.

where eras touch

I explore analogues to our experiences from within the body to what we see in the earth’s strata, comparing our physical and emotional responses to the processes that have shaped the earth now and in the past. Going to a place like Siccar Point and actually seeing the rocks, touching the unconformity, and witnessing what James Hutton must have seen so long ago is an experiene that I really treasure. I am suddenly filled with ideas about the work I can make - ideas that, for whatever reason, didn't come to me until I stood on the contact point of the two time periods of the rocks and had a look for myself. I looked out across the shores at the North Sea and saw the upturned layers stretching out for hundreds of yards and I couldn't help but exclaim, "It's like a book!"

I'll be making books at my residency which begins next week. I hope you can follow my journey to see how going to this site has impacted my practice and what it means to me. I am sure that this will be an influence on what I create at Hospitalfield over the next few weeks.

departing today for Scotland...

March 9, 2016

This morning, my home studio is full. I have recently uninstalled a show, brought in a new work table for making sculptural work, and tried to start reorganizing my supplies to conform to my working life. I could spend hours adjusting and readjusting, but there is no substitute for working. I depart my studio this morning with mixed emotions; I am thrilled to be returning to Scotland, with so many adventures sketched out and new work to be made just on the horizon, but I feel a longing to nest in my home space.

I think the greatest treasure that I have is this home studio. I had the amazing chance to meet bell hooks when I was a youngin', but still old enough to know how important her writing and work was to me. After her talk, I asked if she would sign my sketchbook. She looked thoughtfully at the pages and then chose my drawing of the skyline of New York City to write over. She quipped about having lived in a house full of roommates there, trying like hell to write. She told me how important it is to artists to have their own space, and quoted Virginia Woolf in my sketchbook. She never actually signed her name.

To have finally carved out "a room of my own" to work on thoughts and feelings, to craft my voice, and to make mistakes -- all of this is my treasure. I think of the room my grandmother had where she kept her writing desk facing the front window, and a special drawer just for me, full of colored pencils and paper. She had a room of her own, but made room at the table for me. I carry these thoughts with me today as I head out to go see some amazing rocks and make some new work.

Creating Fossils & Whispers : Part 2 of 2

February 2, 2016

Today is relase day for the book Fossils & Whispers, the artist book that Cat Snapp and I created during our book arts residency last summer. We are so excited to finally present it to the public, with so much thanks for your support and interest while we worked, tweeted, instagrammed our process!

completed edition of Fossils & Whispers

I thought for a long time about how my relationship with rocks and land is connected to being able to "read" them and to pick them up, and I believe Fossils & Whispers really resonates with that feeling. The small and intimate structure works well for me. The size is exactly right for a pocket, to take with you or to share, and makes me think of the kind of field books I like to reference in my life.

It surrounds me with big spirits - stoic, whispering, stern.

This is another field book for your collection, perhaps one for a different kind of journey that joins you to the experience you have with nature.

The earth is alive here.

In reference to a field book, Cat and I made a pocket-sized book that is expressive rather than scientific in our observations in nature. Passages in the book are written by both authors to create a unified voice, and drawings were made together to create the same feeling.

The mountain sits. Still. The mountain stares.

Fossils & Whispers is a book that illustrates our love of nature and the emotional impact it has on us. The feeling of being in the wild invigorates both of us spiritually, emotionally, and creatively. By looking at the spaces around us, we inevitably look back at our own bodies and question our place within the larger cosmos.

close up of end pages

In the weeks before our public release, two books have already been purchased. One is going to the permanent collection of the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art in Washington! In addition, the book is currently on display and available for purchase at Art.Science.Gallery in Austin and will be in the exhibition The Printed Page II at Abecedarian Gallery in Denver this month. If you have an interest in showing the book or obtaining it for your permanent collection, please contact us! For purchases, Fossils & Whispers is also available online from either artist at these links:

Cat Snapp's Shop

Nicole Geary's Shop

Finally, you can read Cat's post on the process and release on her blog! If you have any questions about the books or the process, please let us know.

Creating Fossils & Whispers : Part 1 of 2

February 1, 2016

During the summer of last year, you probably remember a lot of posts about the book that I was producing with Cat Snapp, a close friend, book artist, and printmaker. We are finally ready to release the book to the public tomorrow (yay!) and with that, all the information about how it came to be made. Today's post will cover starting the project through the residency stage, and give you a little background into how Cat and I worked. We will also be sharing more photos of the process!

I first met Cat while I was in graduate school at the University of South Dakota in a very small town called Vermillion. Every summer, my school hosted the Frogman’s Print and Paper workshops, and Cat was there one year with her beautiful prints and artist books. I immediately loved the intimacy and secrets that they seemed to at once present yet deny. I worked with the same kinds of topics, so when Cat saw my prints, she recognized and understood the work I made. We formed a kinship over our similar ideas, and when Cat said, “Why aren’t you making books?” I simply shrugged. I had no answer for this really wonderful concept.

me and Cat at Frogman's, 2012

Over the next few years, Cat and I would keep in touch as she graduated from the University of North Texas and I eventually finished my MFA and moved back to San Antonio, Texas. She ended up moving to the Pacific Northwest, though she has family and friends here in Texas. In the summer of 2014, I drove up to see Cat and chat with her while she was in Austin for a visit. While we talked and caught up, we discussed the idea of collaboration on a project together. Ever since Cat put the thought in my head back in graduate school, I wanted to see how a book would look if we made it together, especially as we had individual styles yet similar feelings about nature and spirituality.

In our preparations for this collaborative project, we discussed how our overlapping interests brought about the need for a small book, full of meditative drawings and internal thoughts on nature. The ideal way to bring our voices together was the creation of a collaborative book. I remember being at first excited about mimicking the idea of a nature book or field book, yet using this project as something like a guide for the world. The collaboration with Cat allowed me to open up my personal writing to someone else for the first time and to enjoy the challenge of making my intimate thoughts more concrete.

first ideas I sent to Cat in a mockup, 2014

In December of 2014, Cat was in Texas to visit family for the holidays, so we reserved an entire day of her trip just for studio and collaboration time. Drawing, sharing, and working on the same problems in the same place helped us make great strides. Though brief, we accomplished a lot, and decided to apply for a residency to further our time together to finish to project. We were awarded two weeks to create the book at the Southwest School of Art in San Antonio during the summer of 2015. Before the summer arrived, we continued to send each other drawings or mock-ups back and forth, chat online, and use online document sharing programs in order to prepare for the residency.

working with Cat in my studio, December 2014

Cat and I kept a calendar of all the work that needed to be completed by certain dates in order to maximize our production schedule once we began our residency. We needed to have a lot of images created and finished quite quickly in order for Cat to vectorize them and turn them into polymer plates ahead of our residency time. We also knew early on that the look of typewritten text was important to us, so I needed to service my 1959 Smith-Corona Galaxie typewriter and make sure it was in proper working order. Cat sent ahead a lot of supplies that she has from being a book artist, including papers that we ordered and she pre-cut on her large paper cutter.

Our residency began in July of 2015, but Cat arrived a few days early so that we could work in my home studio on preparation for production, including finalizing the text and preparation of the bookboards. I will forever associate the song “This Is How We Do It” by Montel Jordan with our sessions of cuttings text blocks out of our writing and images, making up our mock up for the book. Everything that we had been planning for was starting to come together!

creating the first mock up

In the studio, we began by figuring out colors for the different parts of our book, including some really lovely endpages. Cat mixed colors while I took apart the mock-up and sorted out measurements for each page to type it by hand. Fossils & Whispers has alternating translucent and opaque pages, so the images and text on each page interacts with adjacent pages. It was important that Cat and I worked together on images and text to make sure that each page coordinated exactly as we had planned in our mock up, which we jokingly referred to as “the bible” during this process. As I typed, Cat set up plates on the Vandercook and printed the images, and we worked back and forth over the next week to finish all the printing and typing by our target.

sorting out colors to test for plates

Cat testing a split fountain for an important image

our all important mock up!

Once the pages were finished and stacked, we checked them all for quality and consistency. We then went through and began collating stacks into text blocks. This was one of the most exciting times for me, because we were about to transform flat prints into dimensional objects. Over the next few days, I followed Cat’s lead on a lot of these new experiences, as I had only ever made a few books before, and never editioned anything so brilliant. We sewed book blocks, created covers and insets, and finally glued the book blocks into the covers. This was really an anxious experience after all the work we had done, but after drying overnight, the books turned out great!

final assembly of book blocks into the covers

Tomorrow, both Cat and I will publish posts with more specifics about the book, including what kind of paper it's printed on, what size it is, and our statement for its purpose. Read Cat's posts here!
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