Friday Inspiration: Susan Bein

From ‘Slightly Bonkers’, Susan Bein

Susan Bein is a teacher, graphic designer and photographer based in Portland, Oregon. I first came across her work on Instagram, although how I found her there I’m not sure. I think I was following links from one person to another to another. On Instagram Susan is @Wizmosis – check out her work!

In her bio she says:

I was an art kid who began photographing as a teen because I couldn’t paint or draw what I could see in my mind’s eye. I took classes from many of the photo giants of the time; Ansel Adams, Minor White, Aaron Siskind, and Paul Caponigro. I used black and white film and large format cameras.

What an amazing opportunity to learn from the masters of photography a veritable who’s who.

Susan drifted away from photography and into graphic design and teaching. Falling in love with photography again with the advent of the iPhone.

I love her iPhone work that is on Instagram and featured in her book Slightly Bonkers. The book is more magazine-like which gave Susan an opportunity to include a large number of the images that she made during the craziness that was 2020. I’m glad she did. Take a quick look in the flip through below.

Check out Susan’s presentation in the video below and learn more at her website here.

Dark of the Moon: A PDF, A Zine & A Chapbook

Dark of the Moon

I’ve enjoyed looking at chapbooks and zines over the last couple of weeks, especially as an alternative to ‘prints on the wall’ as a finished product. To begin exploring the practicality of this I thought I would pick a small set of images and make something.

I had been playing with my iPhone at night just to see what it was capable of doing in low light. Over the course of a couple of weeks – usually when I was taking out the trash cans – I made a series of images of the moon. I then wondered whether I could actually get a crisp image of the moon with my Sony A7RIII.

I pulled these together in a Lightroom catalog, picked the ones I liked the most and then started in.

I have also had ‘learn InDesign’ on my list of things to do, so this was an opportunity to do all of this at once.

I started simply by making the chapbook using square museo cards. These are double sided so it was easy enough to set up a print template in light room for the card and run them through for the front and back. It was a bit of a brain twister to make sure the the right image was in the right place, in the right orientation but I figured it out eventually.

Not everything went to plan!

I then moved on to the zine which I had decided I would make on regular photocopy paper using my laser jet printer. I made a project for this using InDesign and was able to relatively quickly assemble the images for printing. My laser jet printer has a duplex option which means it automatically prints on both sides of the paper. It did take me a while to get all the settings figured out and by a while I mean a lot of paper! I finally realized what the issue was and got the zine printed.

Finished zine printed on photocopy paper

For binding, the zine was stapled using a long reach stapler – what a cool toy that is! – and the chapbook was sewn using the three hole pamphlet stitch. I was happy with how they came out.

Take a look in the video below.

Finally using the InDesign file I made a pdf of this project – check it out here.

I was quite happy with how this came together. I still have a lot to learn but have a number of ideas for other mini-projects that I could do in a similar way which will build into something a little more substantial.

Final Chapbooks and Zines

Friday Inspiration: David Carson

I’ve been taking a wander through the world of book making which has led me into book design and graphic design. It’s not a world that I’ve deeply explored previously and I’m learning a lot.

On this journey I came across David Carson on the Masterclass website. Check out the class trailer below.

David was not formally trained as a graphic designer but as a sociologist and taught high school sociology before making the leap into graphic design. This means he doesn’t have formal training but a great instinct for design and a willingness to go with what feels right.

This approach manifests itself in work that is free and unstructured. Work that has really challenged my notion of what is ‘correct’. It clearly has worked out for him. Starting with magazines such as Surfer and RayGun he’s worked with an ‘A’ list of clients as diverse as Microsoft and Nine Inch Nails.

David is an advocate of putting yourself into your work, an ethos that all of us should embrace since this is where the innovation lies.

Check out more of David’s work at his website here and get a sense of his work and the fun he brings to his work in the Ted Talk below.

Chapbooks As A Vehicle for Your Photography

Time to finish the thought about zines and chapbooks this week.

I had never heard about chapbooks until I came across them through Brooks Jensen. Chapbooks have a long history as a way for artists to self publish smaller bodies of work. This seems to mostly have been a way for poets to get their foot in the publishing door and to pave the way for publication of a larger collection.

With the advent of inkjet printers we photographers can get into the game too! I had said previously that for me the real difference between a pamphlet, zine and chapbook is really the production value. With a chapbook being at the top of the heap, requiring more hand work – i.e. sewing of the signature than a zine which I would typically expect to be stapled.

I have included below a flip through of a Brooks Jensen chapbook ‘Worlds Within Worlds’ which I think illustrates the chapbook concept nicely.

I really do like this idea of small handmade books as a way to get my photography out into the world and will be exploring these more in the coming weeks.

Chapbooks and Zines

Dark of the Moon

I’ve been enjoying an exploration of ideas for handmade artists books. I was started off down this rabbit hole by a ‘how-to’ video that I saw on the Peg and Awl website.

Whether stitched or stapled this kind of single signature book is the foundation of Zines, Pamphlets and Chapbooks. I have yet to find a good explanation or description that really differentiates between the three. My interpretation is that it’s the production value that really sets the three apart but even then that’s not cut and dried.

I had been thinking of zines as being a bit rough and ready, a home made DIY magazine. I had come across zines before in the context of music – fans diy efforts to put together a magazine that supports their local music scene or their favorite band.

A collection of zines from Another Place Press

Photo book publishers such as Another Place Press and Kozu Books are producing zines, using the term zine to separate these smaller books from their other books. For Kozu books this means perfect or pur binding rather than thread sewn. While the zines (Field Notes) from Another Place Press are folded and staple bound. Take a look below:

I definitely think that a short body of work could be printed and finished by hand in a similar way to these more ‘commercial‘ zines are. Looking forward to giving this a go in the next couple of weeks.

More about Chapbooks soon!

Friday Inspiration: David Gentleman

The view from Primrose Hill, by David Gentleman.
The view from Primrose Hill, by David Gentleman

When I took a dive into the world of Urban Sketching over the Christmas break I came across David Gentleman. Actually having grown up in the UK I had seen David Gentleman’s work many times before, on stamps and also on Charing Cross Underground Station in London. David has been incredibly prolific over the course of his career – working in watercolors, wood engravings, illustration and design. He’s created stamps, coins, cards, books of his own work, illustrated books for others, murals it goes on and on. Impressive and something for us all to aspire to.

Primrose Hill   David Gentleman 'My City

David lives in a part of London called Camden Town and his studio is at the top of the house. Check out a tour through his studio here. Most of David’s books are out of print, some of which go for a shocking amount of money used. I’m fortunate enough though to have a couple of his books – the most recent one is ‘My Town: An Artist’s Life in London.’ Check out Danny Gregory talk about David’s Book Britain in the video.

Finally listen to David himself talk about his life and his book ‘London, You’re Beautiful: An Artist’s Year’ in the video below. To find out more about David Visit his website here.

The Gap – Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare

I often fall into the trap, as I suppose many people do, of being generally dissatisfied with the work that I’m producing. I make images that I like just often enough to keep me engaged but it can be tough to keep going especially when we’re surrounded by an onslaught of great work on social media.

The guitar teacher Tomo Fujita tells his students ‘Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare, Don’t Expect Too Fast, and Don’t Worry.’ Good advice for anyone whether they are trying to learn a new skill or to be creative.

The other advice that I turn to when I’m struggling is what Ira Glass said about ‘The Gap’ (see video 3 below). He’s describing the difference between what you know is good and want to be able to do and what you’re currently able to achieve.

Check out the illustrated video below.

The solution of course is to do a lot of work. Bang it out even if you don’t feel like it. Just keep going. You will get better, you will evolve and you will close the gap.

Checkout the full interview ‘Ira Glass on Storytelling’ in the following videos. This should be required viewing for anyone in the creative arts.

Layers of Looking – Ian Fennelly

Ian Fennelly Layers of Looking

During the break between Christmas and New Year I took a deep dive into the world of urban sketching. It’s always fun to look at the world through other view points and how other visual artists approach their work can inform how I make photographs.

Drawing, and particularly the ink and watercolor approach is something that I’ve been interested in for years. Not being able to draw always held me back from pursuing this kind of work but it is often on my radar. I particularly appreciate the looseness that is found in the work of many ‘urban sketchers’. As I have thought about this I recognize that for me the starting photograph is just that, a start, a point of departure, and how I interpret the scene could then go in many ways.

One of the artists I’ve been learning from has been Ian Fennelly. Ian is an exceptionally talented and patient teacher. You can get a sense of his approach in the video below.

His new book ‘Layers of Looking’ provides the thinking behind the work rather that being a step by step how to. I enjoyed each of the chapters, taking away something that is relevant to my work from most of them. I liked the section below from the section on the factors important to choosing a subject:

…finding something visually interesting, something that grabs me and makes me feel I can tell the story of that place.

… it needs to have a rich variety of content; interesting perspective and shapes, patterns and storytelling potential.

Have a quick look at more of the book in the video below.

Friday Inspiration: Arnold Newman

Stravinsky

I was prompted to look at Arnold Newman’s photographs this week. Arnold Newman is widely thought of as the ‘Father of Environmental Potraiture’, contributing photographs to all major publications from Life to Scientific American and everything in between. He got his start in portraiture by taking photographs of artists. At the time the artists he photographed were neither rich nor famous and Newman himself was an unknown, honing his craft. His approach of using the camera to explore the world of the person he’s photographing, to show something of their character by placing them in their surroundings began with his work with the artists.

He has said that a good portrait must first be a good photograph. For me the most iconic of his photographs is that of Stravinsky shown above. Stravinsky propping his head on his arm neatly echoes the way that the lid of the piano is propped open. It is a strongly graphic, minimal image that appeals to me greatly. Looking at many of his other portraits you start to see how he has stripped away all but the essentials that he needs to tell the story of the artist, celebrity or statesman.

An exhibition of his work ‘Arnold Newman – Masterclass’ is now showing at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Fransisco. If you’re not able to Make it to the show you can watch a gallery tour given by the shows curator William Ewing here. There’s also a catalog to accompany the exhibition that can be had here.

Finally check out the interview with Newman below for insights into how he worked and a behind the scenes look at how some of his most famous images were made.

Salons, Writer’s Workshops and More

After thinking a little bit more about mastermind groups it dawned on me that artists have been meeting in groups to discuss their work for centuries. Perhaps the most famous, and most written about of these artists groups, or friendship groups as I’ve seen them called, is the Impressionists.

The Impressionists found each other as kindred spirits who were working outside of the traditional French Academy system.  As they worked closely with one another they developed a group sensibility of what they thought art should be.  They experimented with techniques that would allow them to realize their ideas that were then shared with one another, providing support and validation for paths that might have otherwise been abandoned had they been working in isolation.  In regular weekly meetings the artists would discuss successes and failures in the context of the group’s values, work through conflicts and anxieties and share contacts with dealers or masters.  I can only imagine such a regular meeting would have been profoundly energizing.

Of course visual artists are not the only ones that go through a period of intense involvement with this kind of group.  In a recent webinar that Dane Sanders hosted to support his Weavewriter product there was talk of ‘writers workshops’ that sound just like the kind of meeting that the Impressionists were having.  My research into writers workshops lead me first to Pat Schnieder‘s book ‘Writing Alone and with others‘ and then to Peter Elbow’s book ‘Writing Without Teachers‘.  

‘Writing Alone’ appears to build on the work by Peter Elbow which provides a framework for group interactions where there isn’t a ‘master teacher’ in the room. In this model the writer is hearing real world feedback from other members in the group about what’s working and what needs additional clarity.  It is an interesting process for me because I had it in my mind that without a master in the room mediocrity would reign.  Perhaps not.  

Both examples above provide me with support for my ideas about the importance of a small group for artistic development, not necessarily to instruct in a formal way but to provide ‘real world’ feedback, encourage and to share resources that could be of help.  They also make me realize that this is in essence a ‘solved problem’.  There are existing groups that fit this model that you may be able to work with if you look hard enough, the Artist’s Round Table that Ray Ketcham and Sabrina Henry have organized looks like it fits this model almost perfectly.  The resources are also there that could help you to develop one organically yourself if that is a better option for you.  The only question is what’s stopping you?