FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How do you pronounce your name?
Like a singular Lisa. A Lisa. A-lee-sa.
How do you get your ideas?
The ideas are out there in the world, all you have to do is focus on one thing at a time. An overheard conversation may spark an idea. A dream, memory, or an article in the paper. There is a tremendous amount of funny material in the newspaper.
Do you do letterpress printing for other people?
Will you bind a book for me?
Will you tell me who does?
One Heart Press
Painted Tongue Press
John DeMerritt Bookbinding (in Emeryville, CA)
If you run out of a book that I want, will you print another one?
It's not possible. Once the edition has been printed I redistribute the type. That means I put all the e's back in their compartment, all the s's, etc.. The text is broken down and then it vanishes.
Why don't you just type up the text on the computer and print it that way? Seems like it would save you a lot of trouble.
I like the look and feel of letterpress. I like handling each individual letter. It helps me edit my work to focus on one word at a time. The computer is very fast. I already work too quickly. Setting type by hand slows me down. The physical impression in the paper adds to the handmade quality.
Is that why artist's books so expensive?
Actually, many artist's books are cheap! The amount of thought and work that goes into an artist's books exceeds that of a single print or painting. The sequence of the pages, how the story unfolds, how the images are viewed, what I choose to reveal is added to looking at a single image. Artist's books are priced much lower than paintings. The problem occurs when people compare the artist's book to a novel or coffee table book you can buy in a bookstore. I've had people say "gee, it doesn't weigh very much." It's pretty sad if we are attaching worth to weight.
Okay, then, why are artist's books so cheap?
There are two obvious reasons to me: one is that they don't and can't hang on the wall; they are handled. The other is that they do come out of a printing history. I mean books were printed rather than written out by hand so that more people could have access to them. I see a split once offset printing and digital printing were developed. Some people continued letterpress printing because they couldn't afford the new machines and they continued to offer books at the regular price. Some of us are still connected to the idea that books should be accessible, and that means price.
Who buys these artist's books?
The majority of buyers are the special collections departments in universities and public libraries. They are often put in the rare books collections, too. In many schools these collections are active; the professors and librarians bring students in to look at the works and get ideas, and see examples.
Where did you learn how to make books?
I used to put books together on my own, as a child. Then I learned a single signature binding in a calligraphy class in high school. College was the main place where I was exposed to many binding possibilities; I became fascinated with book structures. After I graduated I learned from books, then began designing my own bindings.
Do you make up the bindings?
Sometimes I do. More often, though, I modify an existing binding to meet my needs for a particular book. I like bindings that are not too fussy and don't draw a lot of attention to themselves. My goal isn't for someone to say "That's a cool binding." I'd rather someone said "I can relate to this book" or "it really made me think." Content is much more important to me.
So, do you consider yourself a writer or an artist?
Both. I have gone back and forth my whole life. One didn't emerge as more important than the other. Some people don't trust that you can do two things. But I really do both. When I was asked as a child which I wanted to be I said "a writer and an artist."
Update 08/12/10: Each activity fuels the other. I might make something, then ask myself, "Who would use this?" or "What am I trying to say?" then go back and do some related writing. Or, I might write something that demands an object or image to go with it, or that just says, "Put me in a particular structure."
Do you also teach writing?
I go back and forth on that as well. When I was a student I had a terrible time writing in class. No amount of ideas or cajoling could get me to do it. I think being in the classroom is really stimulating and too distracting for me to write, so I am reluctant to inflict this on others. I've done it, though, with mixed results. It's easier to brainstorm about a subject than to get students to write something really good on the spot. Better, I think, for them to take the ideas home and focus and simmer about them.
Update 08/12/10: Having been in the MFA program in creative writing at San Francisco State for a year already, I'm very excited about teaching writing and have begun incorporating writing exercises and games into both my studio classes and my bookmaking classes in the Printmaking Program at California College of the Arts. My own practice as well as my teaching has been invigorated and stimulated by my going back to school.
Update 06/04/12: I completed my MFA in creative writing at SFSU and found that the playwriting classes gave me the most interesting ideas for assignments and in-class writing explorations. I was able to test them out successfully in a new class called "Writing and the Creative Process" at JFK University through the Arts and Consciousness program. The curriculum for the six-week class is based on linking writing to visual thinking and tangible objects. I hope to teach it again.
Do you have any advice about writing?
My best advice is write every day. Write down what you see and hear, write what you are thinking about. Write down your dreams. Write down quotes from the newspaper. Listen, too. Use all your senses. Focus is the main thing. Just think about one thing only, and focus on whether you are happy, amused, angry, whatever. Anger is a tremendous motivator. Use your emotions to propel the narrative. Or think about an interaction to begin.
Update 08/12/10: After experiencing a partial writer's block after a difficult event several years ago I was able to get back to writing regularly by asking myself "What is the story in today?" I believe that there is a great story in every day if you go back and think about it. Was there a conflict? An odd occurence? A wonderful scene? A hilarious bit of dialogue? A surreal moment? What are the anecdotes you tell your friends at the end of the day? There's a story there. So many go by in a week that it's actually hard to keep up!
Update 06/04/12: See my blog for more thoughts on writing, reading, the creative process, the craft of books, and making art.
Can you make a living as an artist?
Maybe, if you have several related jobs. I make books, teach, and write. Those are related but they are three very separate jobs. Each of them fuels and informs the other. When I teach I discover material for a how-to. When I write a how-to I have to make models of books. When I make books I may discover a new way of working that I can teach. Sometimes I just don't have an emotional spark to work with and it is easier to bind an edition, make diagrams for a how-to, or figure out a new lesson plan. I like having several options, especially when I am feeling restless.
Will you do a workshop for our organization?
I'm not longer giving workshops, but thanks for asking!
Are there any other interviews with you I can read?
Yes. You can find one here.
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