31 December 2012

From a to z

Just in time to post my second alphabet for A Letter a Week! (Some background on the project can be found in this post & my first alphabet can be seen on the ALaW blog here.) This alphabet is inspired by the theme 'Going Dotty', meaning it somehow incorporates dots/circles/pixels. It ended up very different from my original concept, which was to have assumed the form of a large 'cube' composed of twenty-seven 7-cm cubes—one for each letter of the alphabet + a 'title' cube. Each cube would have explored a way in which dots/circles are used to communicate/represent/express things in our world...the 'C' cube was to have featured columns as represented in architectural drawings; 'N' focused on musical notes; braille for 'B'; places on maps, i.e. towns & cities, for 'P'; knots for 'K', Venn diagrams for 'V', star maps for 'S' and so on. But as the weeks of the second part of the year flew past, I realized I needed to simplify the project in order to finish in time.

I thought about simply devoting a single cube face to each letter and its subject (instead of an entire cube), but then, as I was making polenta one day, the formation of circles when oil was added to the water caught my attention. I quickly photographed the pan of spotted water with the idea of indulging in some play time with Photoshop later. By using the 'Selective Color' sliders (found under 'Image': 'Adjustments'), going through 'red', 'yellow' & so on (then sometimes returning to a color again after going through the whole menu of colors), I was able to give the incredibly boring photograph some very interesting colors. I then applied the 'Palette Knife' filter to soften the circles a bit. By repeating the 'Selective Color' process on the newly saved image, I was able to further vary the colors, and ended up with a whole rainbow of 'marbled' patterns.

I chose six of my favorite versionsone for each of the six cube faces. Next I spent some time considering words of nine letters or less, with the idea that the letters of each color would form a word. I wanted to include each letter of the alphabet at least once, for a complete 'alphabet'. Despite the flexibility gained from the availability of 54 faces, finding words that used all of the letters was much more difficult than I expected (perhaps because I limited myself to words that I associated with living a creative life).

Many words had to be eliminated because their letters were too 'common'. After filling several journal pages with various letter/word combos, I got out the Scrabble tiles (which were immensely helpful).

These are the words I chose:
be amazed
create joy

And here are the 'words' (click to see a larger view)...

I was disappointed to see that I'd forgotten to mask each 'marbled' designmy original intention was that the letters would each feature a different ninth of the design (somehow I realized this only after printing, assembling & photographing the cubes). It would also have been interesting to devote some time photographing the formations that occur when oil joins water—to see the variety that could come from the process. Overall, though, I am happy with this collection of lettered cubes; they are feel good in the hand & are fun to play with.

By the way, this is the original, very humble, image...

And here is a jumble of letters...


And a few shots of the cubes taking shape...


I hope the year is ending on a good note for everyone. 2012 has brought many wonderful things for me, but these last days have been tinged with sadness...my grandmotherthe one I wrote about in this postpassed away on Christmas night. Her ninety-one years were good ones, and she has been ready to join my grandfather for some time now. It is hard to accept that she is no longer here, but I am glad that she is finally at peace...

May you find peace, and much joy, in 2013...

21 December 2012

Out of the darkness

I have consciously tried not to anxiously await the date when the days begin to grow longer. This goes for any other definable moments in the future...wishing time away seems like a terrible waste when it is so precious. That said, I can't help but feel elated that those of us in the northern hemisphere have made the shift toward longer daysimperceptible though it is. (Imagine how people living in the Arctic Circle must feel!)

In the past I've noticed that sunrise & sunset continue to remain pretty much the same for a while after the solstice, but I only just realized that this is alluded to by the word's etymology:

solstice |ˈsōlstis|
ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French, from Latin solstitium, from sol ‘sun’ + stit- ‘stopped, stationary’ (from the verb sistere).

With the sun hovering at more or less the same light/darkness ratio during this period—for example, between 30 November & 18 December, the variation of the time of sunset was a mere +1/-1 minutethe sun's rising & setting time has indeed stopped its usual faster rate of change. In fact, we will have only two seconds more of light tomorrow than today (and it may well be a couple of extra moments of gray)...but by the second of January we will have worked ourselves up to a nine-hour day!


And now, back to this month's ROY G BIV challenge (see my last entry if you missed it)... My original plan was to use photos of last year's winter solstice. We had gathered ceramic & glass containers from all over the house & put tea light candles in them, filling the living room with light. I suppose because I remembered the candles/some of the candle 'holders' and the tablecloth being white, I thought the photos would be suitable for the 'white' theme, but in fact the best shots showed the glowing light against a black backgroundfitting in spirit, perhaps, but not in color.

So, today seemed like the better day to post a couple of those images of last year's winter solstice ritual. Last Christmas's gingerbread cookies, my favorite 'star' lights, and one morning's cappuccino also feature in this quartet.

In last year's blog entry (from the former 'Arzigogolare'), written on the day of the winter solstice, I recalled our first one in this apartment. I will never forget how my plans went awry:
I bundled together fifty white taper candles with a ribbon to serve as the centerpiece for our evening meal. Unfortunately, I had underestimated the intensity of their combined heat: the fifty flames joined forces, fusing the candles into a single mass almost instantly. In a matter of seconds, the wax began flowing all over the table, then dripping on the rug, before we managed to extinguish the flames!

In contrast, last year's celebration was considerably more sereneand that is what I hope for around the world tonight, whether you are enjoying the shortest day of your year or the longest.

{My source for sunrise/sunset times (and much more) is this site.}


Even though the whole gingerbread cookie dough/baking/decorating process often takes us three days, last year it was accomplished in record time, with great success. This weekend we will be making cookies with my parents in Montepulciano, so it should be even easier!

{The recipe for the cookies can be found here.}


And now a couple of PaperSynthesis-related notes... Saturday, 22 December is the last day to order electronic gift cards to be sent out this year; there are some new choices in the shop, under the listing in the 'Calendars+GiftCards+' category. (Orders are accepted at any time, but will not be sent until 2 January if placed after tomorrow.) Also, items ordered by Monday 7 January 2012 will ship for free during the week of 14 January. A few more of the new items I have been working on this year will be showing up in the shop soon as well... 

20 December 2012

White & shadow

Few words today, but plenty of images. As research for my BookArtObject edition (Mise en place), I have been wanting to photograph little dishes and bowls and other kitchen-y things, and yesterday's gorgeous sun brought all that these pieces needed to entice & enthrall me. I had such fun! Since many of the things I gathered happened to be white, they also seemed perfect for this month's ROY G BIV challenge. In the brief time that the sun was in the studio, the light changed considerably, so there are cool whites/shadows and warm whites/shadows...and many whites in between.

If you look under my suggestions for "Inspiring places to visit' in the sidebar, you'll note several blogs are featuring 'White' today...I'm just off for a look myself.

A few more white-themed images will follow tomorrow, and maybe a few more words as well...

15 December 2012

Beginning to think about the new year

I can't imagine Florence without the Arno. It's like a shimmery version of a piazza, offering a lovely pause amid the otherwise dense urban fabric. I love how it changes with the weather, the time of day and the season. Sometimes glittering silver, other times taking on a shade of olive green—or blue, or brownthere are also those serene autumn afternoons when the palazzi cast copper and gold onto the water, creating reflections that look too dazzling to be true. The water turns bright green in the presence of grass or trees that sprout along the banks, and the sunset can light it on fire. Sometimes, for example early in the day, controluce, the river is so pale that it appears practically colorless.

It's not just the rainbow of colors that appeals to me, but also the sense of structure found in many of the reflections. Orderly rows of windows overlooking the Arno reflect as vertical bands of alternating light and dark, while the narrow streets that end at the river's edge create dark abysses between the reflections of buildings. With one side catching the light and the other in shadow, corner buildings appear as two differently-colored rectangles side by side. The arches of the Uffizi's river-facing façade create their own distinctive pattern, as do the towers and bridges. Depending on the texture of the water (which in turn relies on the whim of the wind), the reflections are either perfectly mirrored, or abstract beyond recognition—fascinatingly so, in either case.

The Arno's ever-changing palette & personality has inspired many photos over the years. I've brought together a dozen (from the last 14 months or so) for Florence Reflected, a calendar I designed for the fast-approaching New Year. Here are a few photos showing how it came out...

And below is the cover, followed by a composite image of all twelve months. {The calendar can now be found in my online shop, PaperSynthesis.}

 Here's hoping that these last weeks of 2012 are merry & bright...

10 December 2012

Words emerge - Updated

Back in May I wrote a post about my early days with found poems (here). In the months since then, a number of questions have come up: 1) should I use the original pages or create reproductions; 2) what color of threads to use + how to weave them & knot them + whether or not to wax the threads; 3) should the pages be mounted to a background and, if so, what would be a good choice?
  1. When it came to deciding if I should use the original pages from these old books, my answer came the moment I began sewing the first trial page. The over 100-year-old paper simply felt too fragile, and was certainly not archival. This led to the decision to digitally reproduce the pages as closely as possible, using a scan of the original. I then selected papers that shared some of the same characteristics as the book pages in terms of color & texture. Some of the pages from the original books are deckled/torn, thought not consistently so; borrowing their spirit, I deckled the poems on all four sides (which I also think helps them to stand on their own).
  2. The earlier experiments sewing over the words that didn't belong to the poem entailed knotting the ends of each line on the front of the page, but I ended up preferring a less 'distracting' method that emphasizes the shape of the text block, in which the knots end up on the back. Lines of thread on the back also mark out the poem's presence on the front side. At first I wasn't sure if I should wax the threads, but decided to for the sake of strength/durability (as well as for my sanity...waxing the threads before use prevents headache-inducing knotting & tangling). The effect is a bit crisper this way—and not as 'full'—but I do think it suits the direction I ended up taking with these pieces.
  3. My initial thought was to use marbled papers as backgrounds; I have a nice collection made by a local Florentine artist, and they seemed relevant since marbled papers are traditionally used in bookbinding/as end papers. Inspired by the appearance of the word 'silver' in one of the poems, I tried out an iridescent silver paper for its background; I like the simplicity of this look as well. Each 'background' paper is also adhered to 285g Fabriano Rosaspina for a bit of structure before the poem is sewn on.
Answering the questions led to the decision to also offer all poems without the background/border, and sewn with natural-colored thread that blends in with the page. Because each item in my shop is individually made, I have also given the option to create customized versions with other papers found in my shop.
All of those decisions came before the poems had even been 'found'! I'm not sure just how many hours I devoted to allowing the words to emerge—or how many revisions they then underwent over the last six months—but I have to say that it was most enjoyable. I love how certain phrases would capture my fancy, and the many possibilities/directions they offered. Because of the challenge of following a thread (so to speak), or finding some kind of narrativewhich, in keeping with the concept of the found poem, had to flow in a predetermined order, and without traditional punctuationeach piece also comes with a postcard-sized version of the found poem arranged in lines showing the rhythm I had in mind as they came together.

* * *

Photographing the pieces over the last week or two has been a challenge because of the lack of natural light, but I thought I'd share some of the photos I did manage to take. The sun does feature in a few, like those of the threads as I was separating each strand from the skein of six...I love the effect of the remaining strands as they bunch up—looks like a nightmare of a tangle, but isn't!

  • '183/A Place of Wonder & Delight', sewn with green threads to a multicolored marbled paper background. {Note that in the second image the shadows of the sewn threads blend in with the threads themselves, making them appear rather thick & uneven. There is also another view of the finished poem at the end of this post.}



  • '120/A Fascination Lost', sewn with variegated threads to a marbled paper in autumn-tones.



  • 'In the Stillness', sewn with natural threads to a terracotta/chocolate/charcoal/gold marbled paper background.


  • "122/Much Wandering & Whispering", sewn with silver threads to a pearly silver background. {Again, the shadows cast by the threads are a bit distracting, and it's difficult to make out that they are grey/silver against the paper.}

* * *

Below are a few images of the final process: the holes (shown on the back of the page); the basket of threads that I chose from; the backs of the pages, with the knotted threads.

The four finished pieces together...


As a reminder, this project first began here...

...and here's the ending place (at least for now)...

I do hope to revisit the found poems at some point, either to create new ones or explore other ways of presenting them...perhaps when I make my way further through the backlog of projects. In the meanwhile, thanks for following the process with me...

* * *

{PaperSynthesis update: the Rose Garden calendar is now in the shop, and a calendar featuring a palette of Arno reflections will follow shortly. The found poems should be in the shop in the next day or two are now in the shop.}

08 December 2012

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas - Updated

Although the calendar says it's still autumn, there is no doubt that we've already entered winter. Yesterday's steady drizzle brought a brief spell of snow flakes, and this morning we woke to clear skies that revealed snow blanketed hills north of the city. The air is bitingly cold, and smells like Christmas...and the mosquitoes finally seem to be gone. I can't believe it's already time to fare l'albero—decorate the tree—a ritual observed on the eighth of December in Italy. Coinciding with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, this reminds me, once again, of how traditions/schedules are so often organized around the religious calendar.

Before assembling our 'tree' (shown in the image at the top of this postlooking up from underneath...it's very difficult to photographyou can read here about its 'conception' last December), my daughter and I went out to get some apple juice so we could make spiced cider tonight. Walking around Florence may be chilly at this time of year, but the cheerful decorations make even a simple outing feel magical. I brought along my camera, hoping to photograph some of the streets strung with lights, but the 'fresh' battery I thought I'd put in was in fact so low on charge that I only managed to get two pictures before it quit (above is Ponte Vecchio, and below the cathedral). At least they will remind me of our fun walk under the lights, complete with a few dozen random snow flakes (especially surprising since the stars were still visible!).


I have been busy in the studio, tying up loose ends for some of the year's many projects—including a couple of 2013 calendars. Below are a few images of my Rose Garden-inspired calendar, which will be in my online shop in the coming week now! It's been hard to get decent photos of the things I've been working on since there's been little sun lately—even on days when there is sunshine, it reaches into the studio for just a few hours. Thankfully the days will start getting 'longer' in a mere couple of weeks...though I must admit that I'm finally starting to remember just how wonderful December in Florence can be...

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