In our class, Assemblooks, we learned all about Michael's way of altering books. Now I've done some altered book work before the class following the general ideas presented in Altered Books Workshop by Bev Brazelton (which is a good primer on the subject if you want to know more about altered books in general), but nothing like this!
Basically we took the pages right out of our books, so just had the spine, and then worked with foam core board to sculpt "pages" which we then adhesed together to form essentially a shadow box effect. You could build as much or as little "found objects" as you wanted to into the construction. In this form, the altered book is more like a very elaborate box or even possibly a frame. The great thing about altered books, and altered art in general, is that there isn't any one way of doing anything, it's whatever you want it to be.
Michael is an Assemblage artist (which is pronounced to rhyme with "collage" not "fridge") He started the class by talking about his ideas about art, and encouraged us to rummage through a box of "rusty things" that he'd brought with him for our inspiration!
He then gave us a primer on using power tools (scary but intriguing; he was happy to use them for the people that weren't comfortable about this part of the class), alternative adhesives and texturing materials (Dap Tub and Tile Caulk, Liquid Nails, and a few others), and later on, paint. Oh my! Michael is the king of basically what amounts to faux finish paint effects. Now, I don't want to give away any of his trade secrets, so I'll just say he taught us how to create "uszhh" (that olivey color that appears on almost all of his work), and it's near cousins "warm uszhh", "not so uszhh", and various washes that simulate the look of slate, water, verdigris, antiquing new metal, and faux burned paper (according to Michael, faux burned paper takes three times as long as just burning the paper, but is much less likely to go awry, so it has its positives!)
In between giving us information, he walked around and helped people with whatever they personally needed (technique, information, suggestions). I was so impressed with how generous and individualized the attention was. He also has a great sense of humor and is VERY approachable. He sat with the students at lunch and talked about travel, art, and mowing hay (one of the women in class has a cattle farm). At the end of class, he played, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" and that was our signal to place our artwork on a table for a little exhibit.
After everyone had their pieces up, we gathered around in a circle and Michael critiqued everyone's work (not scary at all, very supportive and encouraging!) He really spent a good amount of time with each piece and went over them carefully making observations, asking the artists about their ideas on the work, and pointing out features of each piece. It was really great to see everyone's interpretations of the "altered book" theme. Some pieces were actually finished, some were in development, the great part was that everyone's work was totally different. We all started in the same place, but each piece truly took on the personality and outlook of its creator. It was such a difference from taking scrapbooking classes, where everyone comes out with something that looks EXACTLY alike (that's the point). He basically provided technique and advice if asked, but where you wanted to go in your piece was entirely up to you.
I actually found symbolism in my work that I hadn't even realized at the start. He asked what my thoughts were on the piece, and I suddenly realized that there actually WERE thoughts on the piece. I guess I had better show you what mine looked like, right?
Jane's Assemblook (interior)
The picture in the "cage" is of the Priestess of Delphi (by John Collier).
The picture below one I took in Venice, Italy of the colonnade of the Doge's palace near the Bridge of Sighs.
I realized that the symbolism was about caging and subjugating your (mine, many people's) intuition and your authentic self. The Oracle represents the interior world, and the intuitive feminine gifts that are often discounted or disregarded. The Bridge of Sighs was called this because prisoners were led across it from the Doge's palace to jail, and it was often their last sight of freedom. So, in this meaning, we imprison our creative spirit often in a cage of our own minds, and our own fears about breaking free. You'll notice, however that in the photo, there is almost a fiery quality to it, and a look of broken glass (actually, mica) indicating that the fire of the creative spirit in the end will break free of its "prison."
The exterior of the book, by contrast, is very slate-like and (hard to see in this picture) watery looking, and is free of ornamentaion, indicating the cool exterior that we/I present to the world. (As a note, if you believe in this sort of thing, I'm a Capricorn sun sign, with a Scorpio moon - work that one out!)
So, outside is all smooth and stony, inside, there's a creative firestorm when we allow it to happen! This was the first piece that I've made in the direction of symbolic art - something that fascinates me, and is totally the direction I want to go in, of using art as a tool of self-discovery. So, having a class with Michael is obviously transformative on many levels! As a bonus, I used lots of the paint washes and techniques that he taught us in the book's production.
So, to conclude this very long post, I thought I'd show you Random Arts in Saluda, NC. Random Arts sponsored the class. It's probably the only altered art store in the Southeastern US, and is a little nook of creativity, with so much stuff to look at and putter through. Jane Powell, the owner as well as Jen (I didn't get to meet the other Random Arts Lady, Julia) has fostered such a creative community of altered artists in this area (western North Carolina is already very supportive of art and general and artists to begin with). If you are in this area, make sure you go!