I've always been intrigued by hand crafted books, when and where did you get this love of creating books?
Well, I’ve always loved books. I was always reading as a kid and stapling together my own notebooks and filling them with scribbles and drawings. My first job ever, way back in highschool, was in a library. Then at art college I got side-tracked from my pursuit of drawing and painting by printmaking, papermaking and book arts. I guess I started taking it more seriously after that.
Since repurposing materials is a huge part of Sprouts Press Designs, where are some of your favourite sources to find books to deconstruct?
Ha! Is this question like asking a Mainer to reveal what beach their naturally-tumbled, perfectly-shaped sea glass comes from? Or like asking a European where in the woods is the best place is to find truffles? Well guarded secrets are not so easily revealed! Seriously though, libraries are great sources of used books – just ask for the Discarded books. I’ll always support the library! Otherwise I just keep my eyes peeled when walking, looking for yard sales and book sales, I supposed it’s kind of chance really. I’m also someone who purchases supplies that appeal to me without a specific project in mind, trusting that ‘one day’ it’ll be the exact, most perfect thing I need for a project. I also love to start with things that aren’t books and turn them into books. Like turning cigar boxes into my Cigar Box Books. All my leather journals started as garments that were deconstructed and then crafted into books. I’ve even used old file folders, prints I pulled over a decade ago and even off-cuts of paper from other books. That’s how my book earrings, Paper Moon Earrings, came into existence - a desire for as little waste as possible.
The photography in your shop, and on your profile page, is lovely. What are your photography suggestions for great pictures?
I just recently purchased a DSLR and still have yet to really get familiar with it. So most of the photos in my shop are done just with a little point and shoot. Natural light is the best, I just use a large piece of white paper for the background and I watched/read ALL the Etsy online labs and blogs about photography. After all that though, it really just comes down to taking a day to play around with different windows, backgrounds, angles and macro settings. I do use a tripod, but my best window is actually at the top of stairs so often I end up holding the tripod more like a Canada Arm to get the best angle. It’s a bit fiddly but I like the challenge.
I love the glimpse into your studio space, is it normally all neat and tidy or are you a 'hands on get messy' kind of creator?
When I’ve mulled a project long enough and feel it’s strong enough to move from an idea to a tangible thing, yes, then I’m totally a messy creator. This is especially true when working on a screenprinted project - it’s a full day commitment and at least a quarter of that is cleaning up! I do try to keep my space tidy though, as I tend to get a bit claustrophobic if clutter builds up. If there’s not a clean surface I find it very difficult to start a project.
I see you studied abroad, and I assume you've travelled a lot while in Europe. How do you think that's impacted you and your work?
I sigh and grow nostalgic every time I think back to life in Florence. The binderies in Italy are scrumptious, as are the stationery shops with Florentine papers. My favourites are in Venice and Florence. You can usually see Florentine paper in my Etsy shop in some form at all times, be it a hard cover journal or my Paper Moon Earrings. Before going there, I had never considered crafting leather-bound journals, or softcover books, which I’ve since learned and now love, especially the wrap-around softcover leather journal. I’ve had many versions of this book in my shop and I still have plans for it in the future, so many options!
When I was studying abroad though, it was for drawing and painting. I have sketches and photos of things that I found visually appealing; observations of common/repeated shapes and materials in architecture that blew me away. Antoni Gaudi was mostly responsible for this. I loved his transformation of 90 degree angles in a building to a rounded, swooping, organic space. I also really enjoyed his translation of shapes and objects found in nature into architecture. One of the best ways to achieve great aesthetics is to take inspiration from nature’s designs, so why not incorporate them somehow?
With my hand bound journals, I take a slightly different interpretation of this idea. Mostly it’s by respecting nature: I hand bind my books, with a needle and thread, no machines. I try to use my own handmade paper for covers whenever possible, which is made from such things as Hosta fibers (from the garden) and abaca. I also try to use a ‘head to tail’ philosophy when deconstructing old books or creating with new materials. This means that I try my darndest use everything and end up with as little waste as possible. (This is similar to the culinary ‘head to tail’ philosophy. Even better, books do actually have ‘heads’ and ‘tails’!) Otherwise I find that my many colour observations from Europe lend themselves well to bookbinding when designing the covers and assembling the text block of pages inside. I love colour combinations that bring in texture: such as paper and another element, like beads or buttons so as to give both matte and shiny colours the depth that I found so inspiring.
I've travelled a lot in the past few years, much of it with my children, which makes for some challenging situations but also great stories. What's your best travel story?
I was travelling with another young woman who I’d met only a few weeks earlier, through a friend. We decided to travel to Sicily and southern Italy. We were on a budget so it was all hostels and markets for us, which was amazing. We had just arrived in Amalfi, after a very long day of trains, trains on ferries and then buses with schedules that no one seemed to follow. It was dark by the time we got to where our hostel was supposed to be. We were on the side of a mountain and there were something like 235 steps UP to get to the hostel and boy was I cranky. Our ‘room’ was literally carved out of a cave with only shedding walls to separate us from our neighbours. I thought it was the worst place ever, damp and freezing cold. However, the next morning arrived with sunshine and when we opened the window I couldn’t believe it! The view was amazing, there was mist around some of the other peaks, and a blue ocean at the bottom. Also, our mountain was a lemon farm! There was terrace after terrace of lemons, if we had wanted lemons for breakfast, we could have just reached out the window and picked some. Looking back it was the most unique place I’ve ever stayed!
Is Sprouts Press Designs a full time gig for you? Where do you hope to take your shop in the future?
Right now Sprouts Press Designs is a part time thing for me. I quit my full time day job and have been focusing on the next steps of my career as well as growing Sprouts Press. My ultimate dream is to have a studio space where I can create items for my shop, have shows and teach workshops and classes.
For now though, I’m really enjoying the luxury of brainstorming a project and creating a line of items that might be seem totally different than the project I’ll be working on next week. I love that I can create journals, but that I’m also free to think beyond the book and make things that I love to enjoy while using my journals.
Carolyn's upcoming shows:
Interviewed by Tara of SewTara in November 2012 in Toronto.