my first artist’s book: KnownUnknown

In my role as the fine arts librarian at Baylor University, I’ve been building a teaching collection of artist’s book over the last eight years that now totals about 700 titles. You can see more about the collection here.

I have just completed my own artist’s book, entitled KnownUnknown, which is on it’s way to a gallery exhibition in Denver (Abecedarian Gallery). The show will include about fifty works from artists around the world, including several other first timer artist’s books exhibitors from Waco.

Working on my own artist’s book is something I’ve been chewing on for several years and I appreciate the encouragement of the many artists, book arts dealers, and colleagues. I also appreciate my wonderful partner, Ann, for her patience during the countless hours away from the family that this project demanded.

KnownUnknown explores the fragmented realities wherein the people around us are both known and unknown. Pairing stories of a grandfather I never knew and glimpses of people known through social media, this work illuminates the dichotomy of knowing intimate details of someone while at the same time knowing little or nothing of substance about them.

The work was created at BlackHare Studio, in Robinson, Texas. Type was handset using Cloister Lightface, Univers, & Franklin Gothic. Letterpress printed on a No. 4 Vandercook press. Pages include image transfers & hand drawn icons. Outer structure incorporates acrylic monoprinting (with color choice referencing the social media spheres contained in the texts).

I chose the blizzard book structure (invented by Hedi Kyle) for this work because it afforded the reader control over the order of the fragmentary texts rather than a linear, fixed order.

While much of the text was self-generated, some came from personal archival documents related to my grandfather and some came from posts on Facebook and Twitter. My image collaboration included photographs taken by various and unknown photographers. I also collaborated with letterpress printer and fellow exhibitor Virginia Green on setting type and printing.

KnownUnknown was designed using the Artist’s Book Ideation Cards by Barbara Tetenbaum and Julie Chen. Randomly selected in various categories, the Ideation Cards provide prompts in various categories. Cards used for this project included: PAPER (pretreated), LAYOUT (minimal or restrained), IMAGE (collaborate with another artist), TEXT (self generated), TECHNIQUE (mixed media), COLOR (single color), and STRUCTURE (accordion… ed. note: hidden at the core of the blizzard book structure!). From deck two of the Ideation Cards (Adjectives), I drew cards containing the following that I incorporated into this project: mysterious, fragmented, pocketed, and self reflexive.

Images of the completed work (photo credits: Bob Smith)





Taking over our kitchen to finish up parts of the project!


Acrylic monoprinted covers drying:



Setting type at BlackHare Studio:





The first proof sheets (where all the errors in the typesetting you thought was perfect show up!):


Text blocks for the project:



Where I spent countless hours setting type!





Examples of early image transfer tests for images used in the book:



manuscripts and melismas

Today I worked with Jann Cosart and her Medieval music history course to facilitate the exploration of Baylor’s Medieval music manuscript collection (the Jennings Collection). It’s always a joy helping introduce students to these amazing artifacts, dating from the 11th to the 16th centuries. It’s hard to get their heads (and mine too!) around the idea that we’re looking at a document that’s nearly 1,000 years old.

For whatever reason, sleep slipped out of my grasp about 4am this morning and no matter how much or how long I tried, I couldn’t go back to sleep. Instead I got up and relished the quiet, dark, drinking an unhurried cup of coffee and re-acquainting myself with a book I rediscovered on our bookshelves just yesterday but fondly remembered from fifteen or so years earlier. The book was Meditations On the Monk Who Dwells in Daily Life by Thomas Moore.

Two meditations caught my eye as I thought about meeting with the class today:

What is the difference between an illuminated manuscript created by a monk and a page freshly spewed out of a modern word processor? The computer page is eminently legible, quickly produced, perhaps beautiful, and created by the collaboration of human and machine. The illuminated page is beautiful, slowly produced, not terribly legible, and printed in solitude. The monk works with his hand, close to his ink, ready for a slip of the pen, meditating as he works. Is there a way to bring the spirit of the monk to the computer, and by extension to all our machine work, without making either an anachronism?

And one that was perfectly fitting for the day and the way it started:

Sometimes in their chanting, monks will land upon a note and sing it in florid fashion, one syllable of text for fifty notes of chant. Melisma, they call it. Living a melismatic life in imitation of plainchant, we may stop on an experience, a place, a person, or a memory and rhapsodize in imagination. Some like to meditate or contemplate melismatically, while others prefer to draw, build, paint, or dance whatever their eye has fallen upon. Living one point after another is one form of experience, and it can be emphatically productive. But stopping for melisma gives the soul its reason for being.

resonating quote

Ran across this quote this weekend that has a universally applicable message:

“Part of her initial task on arrival was to understand the history and community that she was becoming a part of.”

Over and over again in life I see so many people that fail to embrace this listening, observing, learning spirit. They rush in and take charge, looking to make a name for themselves, having no regard for the history and culture of a community. If each of us sought to understand first, to listen first, we would all be wiser and the world would be a better place.

This quote comes from: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by The Countess of Carnarvon – a fabulous must read for any Dowton Abbey fans!

stuff i’m reading at the moment

revisiting Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us

Daniel Pink’s The Flip Manifesto: 16 Counterintuitive Ideas about Motivation, Innovation, and Leadership –which you can get just for signing up for Dan’s newsletter (and you should!)

Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Brian Matthew’s Think Like a Startup: A white paper to inspire library entrepreneurialism


this quote from Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains , is particularly annoying to me:

“for some people, the very idea of reading a book has come to seem old-fashioned, maybe even a little silly – like sewing your own shirts or butchering your own meat. ‘i don’t read books,’ says Joe O’Shea, a former president of the student body at Florida State University and a 2008 recipient of a Rhodes scholarship. ‘I go to google and I can absorb relevant information quickly.'”

what is irks and saddens me about this is the complete shortsightedness, thorough lack of understanding about why we read. we don’t read merely for data gathering. we read for learning, for pleasure, for experiences, for encountering thought and art and beauty.