DIY: Simple Chapbooks

Here at Lamp in Hand, we’re still slightly obsessed with chapbooks and zines. In my last post, I talked about why chapbooks are a great form of art that anyone can make. 

This week, I’m breaking down my favourite way of making chapbooks that requires almost nothing except some paper and patience. This will leave you with an eight-page chapbook, ready for you to fill with content. 

You will need:

  • a piece of paper - the bigger the sheet, the bigger the book
  • scissors
  • paper-folding skills (not really though)

Let’s get started!  

Step-by-Step: 8-Panel Chapbooks

Now that you have your first book, it’s time for you to fill it with stories, images, commentaries, or anything else. If you want to make a huge batch of chapbooks for sharing, this style is perfect for photocopying. Just follow the same steps to put each of the copied books together. 

We would love to see some of your works - please share your results with us! 

 

The Art of Chapbooks: Art for All

In the last year, I have noticed more handmade artist books, zines, and chapbooks appear in the creative world. Attend a poetry reading, a craft fair, or browse Etsy and you’ll come across plethora of chapbooks that have been lovingly created to share with a wider audience; sometimes as a single book or sometimes in batches of hundreds. With beginnings in the 16th century, chapbooks are now seemingly undergoing a renaissance and return to popularity among makers. 

 

A Brief History

Chapbooks were produced for the general public, becoming widespread in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were inexpensive, portable, and largely featured popular and folk writings alongside simple images. The portable nature of the chapbook meant they could be carried and sold to the public at events and in rural areas, especially in areas where people did not have access to a library or store. Purveyors of these books were called “chapmen,” hence chapbook. Typically, chapbooks were produced on a single sheet of paper (which was then folded into a multiple of four paged booklet). 

This simplicity is still captured in chapbooks today: an affordable, portable, shareable art form.  

 

Why I Love Chapbooks

Accessible Art

This is one of the more accessible forms of art and/or text, for both makers and buyers. Simple materials (paper, ink) allow for inexpensive DIY production of chapbooks. Low material costs often translates into affordable pieces. Of course there are chapbook publishing houses and printers, but they tend to be relatively inexpensive. 

Artistic Freedom

Chapbooks can contain anything. There are no set rules, no taboo topics, or formatting guidelines. Do you want to express an opinion, comment on a political issue, or dismantle a social construct? Make a chapbook. Do you want to tell a personal story? Make a chapbook. Do you want to write poetry and illustrate it yourself? Make a chapbook. 

I have read chapbooks that touch on real experiences, personal growth, thrift shops, feminism, unicorns, and Canadian politics. Write about what you want; I assure you, someone wants to read your words. 

Unique Expression

What is considered a chapbooks is rather undefined and fluid, allowing an artist to decide how to design and produce a chapbook. My favourite part about chapbooks is that they are so individual. Since they can be self-produced, individual creativity comes through and adds a rawness to the art. Think about what goes into publishing a book, then strip that back to the bare bones of the artists’ words and images. What I have experienced with most self-produced chapbooks is a very organic, personal art form.   

a Lino stamp and chapbook ready for a tutorial

a Lino stamp and chapbook ready for a tutorial

 

Do you have a favourite chapbook? Have you made your own? Please share with us!

Next time, I’ll share a tutorial for making your own chapbooks.  

 

Overcoming Creative Blocks

Any artist/creative/maker knows too well the feeling of sitting in front of a blank page, just waiting for something, anything, to appear. But how can you get back on track when it feels like you've lost all your creative thoughts?

Journal or write. Let your thoughts or ramblings out on a page a see where it takes you. Many artists turn to writing poetry as a way to get their creative thoughts flowing again until they are ready to return to the canvas.

Change up your scenery. Try getting some fresh air, or maybe look for some inspiration in your surroundings. Taking a walk, working in a different location (a new cafe or spot in the library), or even sitting in a different place in your house can help re-focus your attention (and even change your mood). 

Try a different craft. It forces you to think in a different way, approaching a new creative problem. Is there something you've always wanted to try? Needlepoint? Screenprinting? Beading? Collage? Dance? Guitar? Focusing your attention on something outside of your day-to-day gives your brain a break and allows for it to problem-solve in the background. Plus, trying out new skills is a great way to further explore your creativity. 

A few other tips that have helped me get on track when I feel stuck:

  • Set a deadline. Procrastination and creative blocks often go hand in hand. A deadline will help keep you focused, especially if the project just needs to be done. 
  • Try resources from other artists. Image prompts or small projects like The Jealous Curator's Creative Unblock or The Art Assignment can simply get you creating again when you're not sure where to start. 
  • Abandon the project (and come back to it later). Maybe something else is calling for your creative attention, and the project will be better served when you return to it after taking a step away. 
  • Give yourself permission to make a mess. Paint/draw/write whatever you feel. It doesn't have to be polished, or finished, or even something that you will share with others. But something feels really great about allowing yourself to play with your medium. 

Do you have any tips for overcoming creative blocks? Share them in the comments. 

Why I Love Watercolours

What is still often considered a sketching medium by many traditional artists (acrylic and oil painting taking the top spots for fine art media), I am continually drawn to watercolours. I like how watercolour can be used for quick sketches while travelling, for landscapes and portraiture, and experimental abstracts. Their transparency and ability to layer allow for many different techniques to be used, and are easily combined with inks or gouache paint to create different effects and feelings. Experimenting is an enjoyable part of the process, and I've used everything from tape to plastic wrap to salt to create textures. 

I often end up explaining why I have chosen to be a watercolourist. More than anything, I think that it reflects me as a person. I like how much of the painting process depends on going with the flow. Being able to control the medium is important, but even skilled watercolourists know that sometimes you just have to let the water do what it whats. I’ve learned this lesson many (many) times while painting the Northern Lights. 

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I first got into watercolours in high school, mostly because as a water-based art, they’re not too difficult to clean up and rarely leave any lasting damage on fabrics (i.e., my carpet). I’m quite messy when I paint, so this suits me well. Out of the different types of paints, watercolour also tends to be the most inexpensive and accessible. Paints last a very long time, and paper is easy to find. It’s also portable, so I tend to carry around a couple of brushes, a small notebook, and a tiny palette. Perfect for sketching on the go, or setting up at a class. 

Years later, my medium of choice is still watercolour. Over time, I’ve learned so much about the medium and skills that come in handy when you are working with watercolour. I have also noticed that there are some important painting and life skills that most watercolorists possess. 

  1. Patience. Waiting for paint to dry can test your patience; waiting for the water to dry to a slight gloss on the paper (not too dry, but also not sopping wet) is an even bigger test. Allowing yourself to give in to the medium and let it take the time it needs is essential.
  2. Understanding. Knowing how the pigments interact with water and their interactions with the paper takes lots of practice. Sounds simple, but getting things just right is a learning process. Even when I try out a new brand of paint or a different type of paper, it takes some testing until I feel comfortable with the materials. 
  3. Fearlessness. Unlike some other mediums, you often only have one chance at a layer of paint. If you start too light or too saturated, there is no going back. Luckily paper is relatively inexpensive, so over time you start to learn to just go for it and accept that every painting can’t be perfect. 
  4. Planning. Though as an artist I mostly make decisions based on whims and feelings, some initial planning is required. I've found it helpful to at least have a general sketch where highlights and white space will be left, making time spent painting less stressful. 
  5. Structure. There are some basic principles or rules that help make the painting process more enjoyable. Watercolour purists will tell you never to use black or white paints, rather let the paper shine through for highlights or mix colours for depth. Sometimes I like to follow the rules of watercolour, and other times (much to the distress of many art instructors) I prefer to make up my own style and break all the rules. You have the freedom to do what works for you. You are the artist, after all. It’s your vision, creativity, and emotions that will shine through.   
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So is watercolour the medium for you? Use your skills and choose a painting style that works for you.

Happy painting!

On Finding Inspiration

Where do you look most often for creative inspiration?

Use your curiosity to guide your search for inspiration. Take a look around you. What do you see that interests you? It may be something beautiful, funny, or unique. Or maybe you use another sense instead, like the way a plant smells, or the sound of the wind through leafless treetops. Think about why this inspires you. Is it the colour, the textures, the way it interacts with its surroundings? Take note. This is a good starting point for creating works that you are connected with. 

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“It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing.” - Mark Rothko

Inspiration is a critical part of the creative process. It adds meaning and emotion. It helps create depth. Without it, a work could be technically beautiful but still lack a feeling of connection. It is the artist's job to use their works to convey ideas or instigate reactions beyond a simple comment on how well painted or written it is.

If this sounds daunting, realize that you probably already do this without thinking about it. Most creatives find inspiration intuitively. This week, try this exercise. Flip through a magazine and cut out any images that you are immediately drawn to. You could also create a Pinterest board or go out and take photos. Now look at these images critically, and see if there are any themes or commonalities. Taking some time to think about these themes might be useful for honing in on your creative energy and guiding your artistic practice.

This week, I went out to take pictures of my surroundings to try out this exercise. 

One thing that I'm continually drawn to for inspiration is patterns in nature, especially in flowers. I like watching them unfold, completely in tune with the changing seasons. I appreciate the impermanence of their life cycle; even one day can change if a flower is still around or not. There is such a limited time to be able to enjoy their blooms, that as humans we seem so drawn to capturing their essence. I like finding the places where humans have used this inspiration to inform design.

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Inspired by the impermanence of the nature that surrounds me. 

Inspired by the impermanence of the nature that surrounds me. 

How each artist uses a similar inspiration is fascinating; each individual adds their own style, whether intentional or not. Painting classes I've been a part of illustrate this beautifully. Using the exact same palette of colours and the same photo as a starting point, each artist in a class of ten will create completely unique pieces. I really enjoy taking new art classes and workshops to see how different artists work around the same guidelines.

The important thing is for you, as an artist of any medium, to put your spin on your work. Make it yours and own it. Let your awesome individuality shine through and you will be golden.

The Art of Sumi-e

While I’ve often admired the simplicity and zen-like qualities of ink paintings, I was too daunted by the plethora of beautiful ink sticks and natural brushes hidden behind a glass case at my local art store to delve into this style. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, so I often find that a workshop is great way to make the leap into the new. Last summer, I participated in a Sumi-e workshop with the talented Roslyn Levin and learned about this ancient art form. 

Rolls and rolls of rice paper. 

Rolls and rolls of rice paper. 

WHAT IS SUMI-E? 

Ink painting originated in China and then was later adapted by the Japanese. The word sumi-e translates from Japanese to mean “ink painting." Using the same materials today as were used hundreds of years ago, sumi-e artists use contrast and harmony to create paintings that embody the spirit of the natural world. This contemplative art form is based on the idea that less is more. It’s about taking a deep look at an object or scene, and leaving only what is absolutely necessary to invoke the essence of the object. Traditional sumi-e features inspiration from nature; flowers, trees, mountains, and animals are common subjects.  

Set up

From the set up of the workstation, to the preparation of ink, to laying down brushstrokes, everything is based on intentioned placement. The workstation is set up to follow a Zen philosophy, to calm the mind and create a clean space for focus and contemplation. 

Tools of the trade: beautifully embossed ink sticks, a simple ink stone, and bamboo brushes. 

Tools of the trade: beautifully embossed ink sticks, a simple ink stone, and bamboo brushes. 

Materials

Sumi-e supplies are fairly basic, requiring only an ink stick, an ink stone, rice paper, and a brush. The ink stick is ground into the ink stone with some water to make a fluid ink; depending on the amount of water used, the pigment will be lighter or darker on the gradient scale. The brush is held perpendicular to the paper, which differs from other forms of painting (and feels a bit strange at first). The amount of water and ink loaded onto the brush will dictate the texture or contrast of the brushstroke. Learning to hold the brush and add the right amount of ink takes practice. 

A more rare hue of ink stick (violet), brought back from Japan. 

A more rare hue of ink stick (violet), brought back from Japan. 

Basics

There are 4 main brushstrokes, also know as the Four Gentlemen. From these basic strokes, it is possible to make all of the common subjects found in Japanese brush paintings. 

  1. Orchid
  2. Bamboo
  3. Chrysanthemum
  4. Plum blossom

Breathing

With each brush stroke, your whole body (not just the arm or wrist) moves as you breathe out, following the stroke across the paper. For a long smooth stroke, like the ones used for orchids, the breath is long and smooth. For the tiny petals of the chrysanthemum, each petal would be marked by a small escape of breath. Think of it as yoga or tai-chi, but with a brush. 

The Results

These are my favourite pieces from the workshop, though some others did not turn out as well. Every piece might not work out as envisioned, especially when learning. It took me rolls of practice on the rice paper to improve my brushstrokes (and now I have rolls beautiful hand-painted wrapping paper). Many pieces had ink that bled too far, or imperfect lines; the lesson of sumi-e is to accept the imperfections and to move on. Sometimes when a stroke or painting doesn’t go as planned, the results can still be wonderful. That’s the beauty of art. 

Reflections

Sumi-e painting is more meditative than I expected. The simplicity of working only in greyscale allows you to focus on the brush strokes. As a watercolour artist, I found the techniques similar, though more precision was needed. In watercolours,  you have the opportunity to move the paint around, add another layer of colour, or even lift off excess paint. In Sumi-e, because the ink is permanent and the paper is so absorbent, you have one chance to get the brush stroke right. Each stroke must be made with intention and thought. 

Returning to watercolour painting after this workshop, I’ve found that knowing the Four Gentlemen brush strokes has helped improve my painting techniques. The cross-connections and sharing of skills is where I find so much value in learning and trying new things. 

Sumi-e in Summary:

  1. Less is more.
  2. Breathe with the brush stroke. 
  3. Learn the basics, then imbue your personal style. 
  4. Detachment is necessary. 
  5. Appreciate the beauty of “mistakes.”

The most important thing to remember is to make it your own. Do you like looser brushstrokes? More detail? Ink washes? Lots of colour? Art is all about adding your personality, your creativity, your passion. 

Resources

Interested in learning more about Sumi-e? There are some great videos online and most public libraries have books on Chinese or Japanese brush painting. A great place to start is the Sumi-e Artists of Canada site, featuring Canadian artists.  

About Zoë: An Artist Statement

Fall in Nunavut (Photo: Sylvia Hoang)

Fall in Nunavut (Photo: Sylvia Hoang)

I’m Zoë, an artist with a serious case of wanderlust. 

As a naturally curious person, my work draws upon a variety of influences and experiences; the places I’ve travelled, growing up surrounded by nature, and my background in health and science. I’ve worked public health, climate change, graphic design, and research, yet the common denominator is always creativity. Art is my passion. Being able to connect art to science, social justice, and critical thinking helps me being meaning to my work. So much can be said with art that cannot be captured by words alone. 

I’m currently based in Ontario, in between bouts of travel across the globe. Though I adore trees, I spent the last few years in the tundra of Nunavut, where I found immense personal growth, and also finally started to consider myself an artist. I will try anything creative, and I’m often introduced to new creative art forms during my travels. 

Watercolour is my favourite. I love precision and fine detail, I welcome the loose and carefree qualities of watercolour, the immense patience required, and the faith you have to hand over to the paint. The natural world is my biggest inspiration, and I’m often painting flowers, trees, icebergs, and Arctic animals. Music always accompanies the artistic process and helps me translate my ideas into the physical.  

I’m constantly exploring, learning, and refining my artistic style. If I accomplish anything with my work, I hope that I can inspire creativity in someone else. 


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