Tag Archives: tools

e-book meets artist’s book


Test booklet produced with Bookleteer software.

One of my purposes with this blog is to promote DIY-oriented websites that enable people to create and acquire art at less-than-astronomical prices and without the intimidation factor or the need for advanced skill sets. I recently learned about a nifty website that solves several of the main obstacles to creating small artist’s books. Bookleteer.com technically belongs to the larger world of print-on-demand publishing populated by the likes of SharedInk, Shutterfly, Blurb, and Lulu, but it takes a quite different tack from those sites. The general approach of POD sites is to offer book templates into which users plug their own text and JPEG images, after which they can order commercially printed, perfect-bound books on nice paper stock for a (comparatively) reasonable price.


Bookleteer booklet in process of construction.

Bookleteer also offers templates, but their goal is to make it easy for someone with just an ordinary inkjet printer and a bunch of digital images to print out and assemble a booklet at home. Essentially, they are simplifying the production of hand-made books rather than helping people gain access to commercial printing.1 Anyone who has ever tried to create a hand-made book knows that it can be surprisingly tricky to get the pages organized in the right way, especially with double-sided printing. For example, in a 4-page booklet bound with a staple down the middle, it is not immediately obvious that pages 1 and 4 would actually be on the same piece of paper. Bookleteer has come up with a way of streamlining this production process for small books. Their templates are set up to create finished books of about 4.25 x 5.5 inches, or one-quarter of a standard 8.5×11-inch piece of paper.2 Each printed sheet has 4 pages on it—half of which are upside down with respect to the other half—and the sheets are folded over to create double-sided pages in the finished book. Particularly clever is their method for assembling the finished book: instead of the traditional staples or sewing, pages are held firmly together with a self-locking variation on tabs-and-slits (as shown in the image at right).

To create a book using the Bookleteer method, you upload your images and text to their website, just as with other POD sites.3 When you are done, they create a print-ready PDF for you to download to your home computer. You then print it out and follow their very straightforward folding, cutting, and insertion instructions to create the final booklet. You can make a complete, finished, self-covered book this way—like my 8-page test booklet shown at the top of this post—or you can print only the inside of the book and add your own cover afterwards. The adventurous can print a book with some blank or half-finished pages and add hand-drawn or collaged elements to make each book unique. The maximum size of a book you can create using the Bookleteer software is 40 pages, including the covers, and you have a choice of either portrait or landscape orientation. Theoretically, you could make even bigger books using their downloaded templates once you figured out the page-order logic necessary to create your own printable PDFs, but my guess is that 40 pages is probably the practical limit for books held together by this slit-binding method.

Bookleteer is a project of a pair of designers based in the United Kingdom, Alice Angus and Giles Lane, who work under the name Proboscis. They have an interesting practice that extends well beyond book design and publishing, reaching out to socially engaged practitioners in a lot of different fields, including the sciences. But they have been working with DIY publishing and the idea of shareable media for quite a long time, expressing a commitment to “playful hybrid digital/material publications combining the tactile pleasures of tangible objects with the ease of sharing via digital media.” Indeed, once you have created a booklet on Bookleteer, you have the option of sharing it with others by way of the Bookleteer ‘library’. One of their latest projects is a publishing wing called the Periodical, in which they attempt to “re-imagine publishing as public authoring.”

I’ve been designing and producting both hand-made and commercially printed books for a couple of decades now, and I’ve never come across a simpler method for creating and sharing small books than what the Bookleteer folks have come up with. Check it out: hand-made books make excellent holiday presents.



1. Bookleteer does also offer professional printing of books created with its software, but the minimum order is 25 books.

2. Bookleteer also has templates for standard European paper sizes.

3. You can also download their templates to create your book in InDesign, after which you upload individual pages back to the Bookleteer website to produce the final printable PDF.


Posted in 2013, latest | Also tagged , , , , , |

hammer and anvil, miniaturized

grommeter_1484-900One of our early discussions on “Far-Flung follows function” has been how to make and hang a 9×12-foot projection screen that will be visible from both sides. Most of the discussion has been around different possibilities for attaching the PVC screen material to its frame: staples, tape, clips, grommets, combination, other? So I was prompted to dig out my old grommeting set, something I haven’t used in a long time.

As I took the photo at left to share with my collaborators,  I was reminded of just how primitive the technology feels to use, even though industrial precision methods are employed to create the tools, and sometimes even more modern materials  like plastic are used for the grommets themselves. It’s basically a miniaturization of the hammer and anvil concept: a striker and a strike plate, with a third item—called a punch—to transfer the force of the blow more precisely and evenly. (This photo shows just the punch and the anvil; BYO hammer and grommets).

If you’ve never done this before, the basic idea is to seat one half of the grommet in the circular depression in the anvil, lay over it the layer of fabric being grommeted, lay on top of that the other half of the grommet, seat the anvil in the hole, and give a mighty whack. The two halves of the grommet are designed to lock permanently together under the force of the blow. Refinements include prepunching a hole in the fabric to avoid rips, but the process hardly ever gets more complicated than this. You can get mechanized grommet presses, but even these look like early Victorian technology and mostly run on arm power rather an electricity, so they aren’t much of an improvement on the hammer-punch-anvil setup.

Grommets are a fairly ubiquitous kind of eyelet: think shower curtains, boat sails, the lace holes on your shoes. But they weren’t widely used until the 20th century; before that, the reinforcement that grommets offer tended to be hand-sewn into fabric (like that other most familiar eyelet, the buttonhole). Sometimes they were reinforced with a hidden, oversewn metal or wooden ring, but that was comparatively rare. The word itself came into the English language in the 1720s as a term for a ring or circlet of rope; it didn’t come to signify a metal eyelet for another century and a half. So in the modern meaning of the term, we’re looking at an 18th century technology that hasn’t been substantially improved despite remaining widespread. Grommeting is one of those technologies that have been stable for so long we no longer think of them as technologies, until a random photo lets us see both the ancientness of form and the refinement of modern manufacture.


Posted in 2013, latest | Also tagged |

when crude tools are just what you need

As I wrote about a week ago, I’m in the midst of working on a new performance project, Galileo in America. We’re now at what may be the most awkward stage of all, long past the early, exciting phase of throwing ideas around to see what bounces highest, and not yet at the last, scary phase where it’s all about the tasks that must be completed in order to have a show at all. This is the shop floor phase, when ideas begin to take physical form and in the process reveal every possible bug, error, mismeasurement, flaw, wrong assumption, poor judgment, and half-baked aesthetic. You spend a lot of time repeating variations of “Yeah, ok, so that won’t work either. What about…”

scale model of set

scale model of set

Right now I’m working on the scheme for our projection scrims. In order to play with various possible combinations, I built a 1:40 scale model of the Experimental Media Performance Lab (xMPL),  where our performances will take place. Calling it a scale model makes it sound a good deal classier than it really is, evoking as it does miniature-gauge train sets and model car kits. My scale model is built from gatorboard (left over from another project), heavy wire (rusted from sitting around my studio so long), thin wood dowels (formerly skewers), paper, and tape.

scale model with projections

scale model with projections

These days, this kind of modeling is typically done on the computer in a CAD program. I decided not to take that route, and not just because CAD isn’t one of my areas of expertise. I wanted that immediate, physical, visceral sense of objects in space, a sense that is most directly conveyed by, well, actual objects. The crudity of my toy theater was deliberate also, a way to not get too hung up on possible solutions too early in the process. I find that this is a trap always waiting for me—maybe other artists are luckier in this regard—the temptation to start polishing up a preliminary idea before it’s ready. The lure of the finished. Computer programs are particularly deadly for me in this regard, since algorithmically generated objects turn out so neat and precise. They have a perfection that entices you to accept them even if they are in fact the wrong perfection.

So here I am surrounded by scraps of paper of all different sizes that I believe will lead me somewhere useful. The next step will be to replace the scraps of paper with fabric and look at the effects of actual light projected in various ways. What I really need is a 1:40 scale miniature data projector, but I’m guessing that doesn’t exist. Yet.

Posted in 2011, latest | Also tagged , , , |

a salute to the anti-wizards

Steve JobsSteve Jobs died yesterday. Many people owe him a lot, but I probably owe him more than most. I belong to the transitional generation that didn’t grow up with desktop computers; my first experience with computers came just out of college, with a large typesetting system (I wrote a bit about it here). This kind of system was based around a mainframe computer with a bunch of satellite terminals where the writers input their copy and the editors messed it about and the typesetters formatted it and sent it to be output on a special kind of photographic paper stock. No one but elite technicians ever got to meddle with the ‘master’ computer itself, and the terminals where people like me worked were referred to variously as ‘dumb’ or ‘slave’ terminals, a nice example of the way jargons embed the world view of their creators.

In other words, this system was merely the latest in a long line of calculating and computing machines that had been designed primarily from what one might call the wizard’s viewpoint. By this I mean any system that is intended to remain opaque to—and therefore inaccessible to—all but a small cadre of super-skilled workers. The underlying mindset is one that values knowledge as a form of power and thus hoards rather than shares it to the extent possible. This attitude extends far beyond the technological fields—it was as characteristic of the medieval Catholic church’s efforts to block the literacy of the populace as it was of the medieval guilds’ corralling of trade skills such as metalworking or dyemaking.

As long as there are human beings of differing interests and abilities and the will to use that difference to hold power, the knowledge gap will never entirely disappear. It merely moves around within the culture, and with it the wizards who feel themselves called to maintain and even widen it. One could argue, for example, that one of its prime locales for the last decade as been in the arena of investment banking, where all those collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps were so clearly devised in large part to shut out most of the world from an understanding of what was really going on, and thus from any power to intervene. And Apple itself is by no means entirely free of this tendency, as its many outside software developers will be the first to tell you. But my perspective is that of the person who, right up to the advent of the personal computer, had been imagined (if thought of at all) as the operator of a dumb terminal. As long as I could do what the wizards imagined I would want to do at that dumb terminal, why would I want anything else? And how could I even imagine that anything else?

The earliest PCs pointed the way towards a new form of mass literacy, programming, which had been a sanctuary of computer wizards up to that point. What Steve Jobs did with Apple was to go the next step and focus all design efforts around making the personal computer (and its later offspring like tablets and cellphones) easily usable by people with a very wide range of skills, needs, and wants—including nonprogrammers. There remain arguments about whether Apple went too far in dumbing down the computer in a different way from its mainframe predecessors, in the years before it added UNIX-style command-line access to the system; and about whether the concomitant rise of ‘creativity’ software has actually tended to limit creativity by too narrowly focusing what most people are able to do with their PCs. But you only have to look around at the range of innovative and powerful work that’s being produced in part through computers—from music to interactive installations, from social media to game hacks—to see the enormity of the difference that the Apple approach has made.

Or to think about it another way: imagine that we were still in a phase where the only people who could create interesting work with computers were skilled programmers (or those with the money to hire programmers). Immediately, perhaps 90% of what has been produced in the last two decades simply vanishes into thin air. Including much of my own work. I’m not a natural programmer—though I’ve had to become a programmer along the way—and my acquaintance with mainframes and then early PCs was anything but inspiring. It wasn’t until a friend showed me a Macintosh SE running MacPaint that I saw the possibilities for my own work. I had been looking for a medium without realizing that what I actually needed was the right tool.

I’ve ended up becoming one of those people who works with different kinds of computers as needed, whether running UNIX or LINUX or OSX or even plain old unglamorous Windows (I’m writing this on a dual-boot Mac/Windows machine). But it’s also true that with my first computer, I became one of those diehard Apple loyalists with “I won’t give up my Mac until you pry it from my cold dead fingers” tattoo’d on my heart. I stayed with Macs when people laughed at me for buying one, I stayed when I had to take out a loan just to afford one, I even stayed when Apple’s market share fell below 5% and I was all but certain the company was going to go out of business within a year. I stayed for the simplest reason of all: Apple’s computers suited me. An artist reaches for her favorite paintbrush because it’s the one that gets her fastest into the flow, the place where you’re struggling towards the idea and not against the tool. For some of us, it’s the same with our computers.

So thank you, Steve Jobs. And thank you, anti-wizards everywhere: you know who you are.


Posted in 2011, latest | Also tagged , , , , |

the worker’s fondness for her tools

I’ve worked with many artist’s tools over the years: cameras and paintbrushes, pencils, stencils, and matte knives, gouges and stapleguns and pretty much everything in the standard woodshop. But when I think about my tools, I realize that the only ones for which I’ve had a passionate fondness—and the only ones I’ve taken  good care of—have been high-tech tools: first my cameras and later my computers. I trace my history as an artist in these tools even though I started out a classic technophobe, uninterested in machines and appalled by the notion of depending on anything that had to be plugged in. It’s not so much that I’ve become a technophile as that I’ve come to see both paintbrushes and computers as technology, while my field training as an artist has led me to prefer the latter most of the time for making my own work.

Argus C3

Argus C3 with leather case

My first camera was a Kodak Brownie, and I still have half a dozen of the pictures I took with it at the age of 9 or so. My next camera was a secondhand Argus C3, a 35-mm classic known to photographers as “the brick”, which gave me my basic training in f-stops and shutter speeds. Although a famously rugged camera, it succumbed to the deadly effects of saltwater on camera innards after I dropped it into the ocean—a traumatic loss that did at least teach me to take care of my tools. It had a blue-plush-lined leather carrying case that my 12-year old self adored almost as much as the camera itself.

Rolleicord III

Rolleicord III

But my favorite of all was a Rolleicord twin-lens reflex (model III or IV) that took 120-size roll film, creating 2.25-inch (6-cm) square images that enlarged very well. Best of all, it was small enough for me to comfortably carry around. I’ve always been a fan of highly portable technology—stuff designed for people who aren’t necessarily large or strong or rich enough to have their own entourage. At a financial low point I sold it for a song, a decision I’ve often regretted.

Wilkin Welsh 4x5 camera, ca. 1900

Wilkin Welsh 4x5 folding camera, ca. 1900

I also briefly owned an old (ca. 1900) wooden folding 4×5 camera a lot like the Wilkin Welsh shown here. I didn’t use it because the bellows were torn and I never got around to repairing them; eventually that one too got sold. My next camera was a Canon SLR, a workhorse that I used for years in combination with a Vivitar macro lens for photographing my artwork. I still have it, but it’s been displaced as my go-to camera by a digital SLR, the Nikon D70. In between was the one camera I’ve had that I didn’t really care for, the Nikon Coolpix 950. As an early digital camera, it didn’t have very high resolution compared to 35 mm, and it went through batteries like lightning. Plus, the battery door latch broke early on so it spent most of its life with a sad side patch of duct tape. Its two good points were that it was very small, and that on road trips I could transfer photos to my computer and work on them as I traveled, rather than waiting weeks to find out if I had the images I needed, as was the case with slides or negatives.

PowerBook 520c

PowerBook 520c

My list of computers is even longer and includes no machines that I think of as duds. I do realize that it’s unlikely to be of much interest to anyone else—perhaps excepting some fellow Mac fanatics—but I feel I owe my computers this acknowledgment. So here they are, from first to current:

  • Alphatype Multiset III: the first computer I ever worked on, the Alphatype Multiset was a 1980s state-of-the-art typesetting system with a mainframe and ‘slave’ terminals for the editors and typesetters. I learned the basics of markup languages on this one at a magazine where I worked.
  • Macintosh SE/30 (1989-1990): the first computer I owned—a pass-along from a friend who was upgrading—was also the one on which I taught myself PageMaker, becoming instantly hooked on desktop publishing software. Ever since, the computer has been my primary artist’s tool.
  • Macintosh IIsi (1990-1995): the first computer I bought for myself, the IIsi was the stripped-down and more affordable version of the IIci, the computer I really wanted at the time. Even as it was, I could only afford the IIsi by taking out two loans—one from Apple, one from my then-boss. As I recall, it cost on the order of $3500, with a modest monitor and a RAM upgrade. With this computer I began a tradition of naming my computers by renaming their main hard drives. I always give them names respectful of their power over my work life. The IIsi was named Pan-O-Rama.
  • Power Macintosh 8500 (1995-ca. 2003): one of the most stable and robust computers I’ve ever owned. I upgraded its operating system several times and its CPU once. It ended its life as a Power Macintosh G3. R.I.P., BloodyZelda.
  • PowerBook 520c (1997- ca. 2000): my first laptop, a ‘Blackbird’ series charcoal-gray subnotebook (small! portable! heavier than it looks!) with a 9.5″ screen. Adorable as it was, and much as I loved the trackpad, it always felt underpowered. This was the first time I ever worked with two computers simultaneously, introducing to my digital life an annoyance I was already familiar with from having an outside studio: whatever tool (file) you want, it’s always in the other place (computer). I still have this one, code named KillerWhale.
  • PowerBook G3, bronze keyboard model (2000-ca. 2006): a decent laptop with crappy battery life, and once again heavier than I liked. The first computer bought for my use by UCI, I still have this one as I’ve been thinking of turning it into a digital picture frame. My least memorable computer, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I can’t remember its name. Sorry, G3.
  • PowerBook G4, 15-inch titanium body (2002-2009): I loved the translucent keyboard, which made working in the dark possible (for performances, in particular). The only computer I’ve ever damaged in any way, it had a bunged-up corner I superglued back together after it slipped out of my hands onto a cement floor. By good luck, it fell on the least critical of the four corners (the front left) and the damage was only cosmetic.  Another UCI computer, I traded it in when I got my newest MacBook Pro. R.I.P., Hyena.
  • MacBook Pro, 15-inch  (2006-current): 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo running OS 10.5 (UCI #3). The only real issue I’ve had with it was heat-related crashes, which I solved by installing the utility smcFanControl. Now my backup and installation-ready computer. Name: Ananke.
  • MacBook Pro, 15-inch  (2009-current): A robust 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 8 GB RAM (UCI #4). Like its predecessor, a workhorse apart from the fact that it runs hot. And it’s still running OS 10.5.8 because I haven’t wanted to deal with all the other software updates that will result from a move to Snow Leopard, plus the possible incompatibility with my invaluable Epson Stylus Photo 2200 printer. But I feel an upgrade looming nonetheless. Name: Tiamat.

I hate to reckon how much time I’ve spent troubleshooting, upgrading, tinkering, experimenting with these machines. But on the other hand, I’ve never had to send a single one to a repair shop. Not one—thanks mainly to the enormous knowledge base of the internet and my own affinity for these machines. (And I’m speaking as someone who tears her hair out at the thought of troubleshooting VCRs and copiers). Since they basically never leave my orbit, it might be truer to think of me as their private mechanic than to call them my tools.

Posted in 2010, latest | Also tagged , , , |