I’m thrilled to introduce you to an amazing book artist and poet, DJ Gaskin. I have admired her work for some time and I’m so happy to share it on the blog today.
DJ escaped the rat-race of Washington DC a couple of years ago and headed for the hills. She now lives blissfully among many other artists in the mountains of Western North Carolina, in a little town of 700 people – Saluda. Her housemates are two gray tabbies, Pablo and Billy, named for favorite poets Pablo Neruda and Billy Collins. They serve as dedicated studio assistants!
How did you learn to make books?
I became curious about bookmaking about 15 years ago when I signed up for a weekend workshop, where we painted big sheets of papers and then used them to make three different books. I was hooked. I took a couple of other workshops but I’m mostly self-taught. I have a ridiculous library of books about books, a collection I began before Pinterest and YouTube videos. I just dove in and tried a little bit of everything, slowly gathering tools, and papers. Oh the papers! It’s an addiction. I also design my own papers – gel-plate prints and paste papers – to use in bookmaking.
Why do you make books?
I think, like any bookmaker, I do this because I love books – the tactile experience of them in my hands, what wonders they can hold inside. To me, the act of making a book by hand – the entire process – feels like an honoring thing and sort of preserving something that seems to be losing favor, replaced by Kindle and audio books.
Have you faced any challenges in your bookmaking journey and how did you solve it?
Although I started out making simple blank journals, I became enamored with artist’s books and have been creating a happy collection of fun and crazy constructions. One of the series I’m working on incorporates vintage hardware and household items, in particular kitchen utensils, like tongs and a rolling pin. I used a vintage French-fry cutter for one of these books. It’s a hand-held cast-aluminum tool that you press a potato through to make perfectly squared sticks to fry. I liked its rectangular shape and the design interest of wire mesh across the space between the frame, that I could see the book’s inner cover through the wires.
I decided I wanted a second cutter as a back cover and lucked out finding the identical version on eBay. That’s when the real challenge began: How to construct within the constraints of these objects. What would I use as the inside covers that would be sturdy enough to be handled inside a cradle of such hard outer covers? How could I design the spine so that the cutters were attached while leaving room for the book inside to open properly? But I love these kinds of design challenges! I really enjoy the creative problem-solving.
How did I solve that one? I found some chain hooks to attach the two cutters loosely enough to house the book. And, I stitched the book directly onto the back cutter-cover, looping around the wire and attaching to the chain with jump rings. By the way, I’ve also built a book inside a vintage horse stirrup.
How do you use the books you make?
I’ve made my own travel journals for years, and personal journals for other purposes. I also give handmade books as gifts, and I occasionally sell them as well. And, I’ve exhibited many of my artist’s books at local and online gallery exhibits. You can find my accordion board-book “Blue Days Blue Nights” at Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, and view my “Librarian’s Diary” at the American Craft Council’s Library Card Project.
What was the inspiration for your house books?
I had come across something about making books with small recycled boxes and was having fun with that when I had a brainstorm while grocery shopping. I had picked up a little box of wild rice with a nice little cut-out in the lower area on the front, so you could see the packaged rice inside. Suddenly I thought, wow, what a cute little window or door that would make for a book cover… ah yes, a house-shaped book! And so it began.
What materials do you use to make your house books?
I start with a food-product box, like from a brownie mix or microwave meal, or a cookie box. I remove the top, bottom, and right side panels, so you’re left with a book-shaped box. Then, I cut large corners into the top to make a roofline. For the pages, I use recycled brown paper bags, the sturdy shopping bags like they use at the grocery store or more decorative ones from other shops. I open the bags at the seams, then make a template on scrap paper that aligns with the shape of the box cover, and use that to cut out the text pages. Then I create a template for the spine and plan the stitching stations. I use a simple long stitch to bind the book. I also decorate the book with a variety of handmade and commercial papers, magazine images, found objects, etc., often on a theme.
How do you use the finished books?
When I first started making these, it was just for fun, and I gave a few as gifts. Then I had requests from people wanting to learn how to make them, so I began conducting workshops and it was such fun I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve also exhibited a few of these books in a gallery, where I’m delighted to share that a couple of them sold.
Do you teach others how to make books?
Yes yes yes! I so love getting other people excited about making books. There’s something special about seeing someone construct their very first handmade book, holding it in their hands, barely believing that they could create such a little wonder. I’ve taught at a variety of venues, in the Washington DC area and now in North Carolina. Presently, I’m teaching a regular series of bookmaking workshops at The Gallery at Flat Rock (workshops for early 2020 to be scheduled soon).
What are your other creative pursuits?
In addition to making and teaching handbound books, I work in acrylic painting, collage, and assemblage, with work exhibited in the Washington DC area and now in Western North Carolina.
I’m also a writer and poet. I spent 20-plus years in corporate communications, so writing and editing are in my blood. I’ve also published a number of freelance articles and fiction through the years. But my real love is poetry. My poems have been published in many literary journals and I’m delighted to share that my first book of poems was published last year (Of Crows & Superstitions, Main Street Rag Publishing).
You can connect with DJ on Facebook @DJGaskin29.