June 19, 2014

Human Marks: Part One

Here's the best way to view the physical magic of Nancy Crow's Timber Frame Barn. Although it does not really show you the intentional atmosphere of creative support that is the air you breathe there.

And here is where you can find the facts about our teacher, Dorothy Caldwell.  But this link does nothing to reveal her quiet majesty, teaching mastery, and the sparkle in her eye...just look at her!.
Reading through book we made for her at end of class
Class started Monday morning. A group of strangers, we set up stuff at our own long tables and put our names on our own design walls.
So far, I was keeping up.

Don't laugh. I came to the class with more than the usual amount of performance anxiety. You see, I made the mistake of googling the names on the class list we had received several weeks before. I had to stop halfway through when the level of artistic training and the work I saw left me completely intimidated and one email away from cancelling. And my anxieties only spiraled when we each received a bundle of different papers, several Micron pens, and a chubby graphite pencil. At that point, I had to have a very serious talk with myself about letting go...of fear of Being the Worst in the Class, of expectation and planning, of overthinking...all the things I find cripple my creative spirit.  Fortunately for me, I was a very persuasive arguer and a very good listener at the same time and to my complete surprise, I jumped in without looking back.(Mostly.)

So,without any real context,we spent the first few days just making marks according to her simple directions.

Make a mark with your Micron brush pen, put it with the others on the wall and tell us where you were born.
Use your fingertips dipped in India Ink to make marks on the paper. Then, find one pattern you like and fill the other side of the sheet with it.

Sit on the deck and burn holes in your piece of organdy with the tip of your incense stick. (There were twenty of us, it smelled like my dorm freshman year of college.)
We made marks with smoke,with hammer and nail,with wax resist, with paintbrushes taped to the end of a long stick.
And then it started raining, creating the most exquisite washes you have ever seen.
We stitched with blindfolds on, while she read words to us. And then compared our interpretations.
My design wall was becoming very full. And the strangers were turning into colleagues.

Between our activities, Dorothy shared her stories and her slides.  She is devoted to PLACE...and how to translate her sense of that in marks. She spends weeks at a time with her good friend India Flint in the Australian outback, she meanders barefoot in the Artic Circle,she sits side by side in a women's kantha collective in rural India. In each of these places, she rubs and touches, collects rock and rusty trash. She listens to stories, both from nature and from the people she encounters. And when she returns to her studio in Northern Ontario, she creates a visual memory of that aura. 

And her perspective in turn informs our mark making. We learn that we are now going to assemble all these various marks into several books!

Take the scrap piece of Canson paper that has protected your desk and cut it up like this. Stitch the tiny signatures together with a stab binding, like this. Now, weave them together,like this.
My book tells the story of me: lots of spills. Or should I sell it to the American Dairy Association?
My book making friends with the rest of the class.
Take the giant rain painting and fold it this way and that, cut here and there. A two-sided book.

Our third and final book was the culmination of the week's work. Let's go get more coffee and I'll show you.


  1. Oh my! this is so cool and what a great time you had. Thank you for sharing....waiting for the next installment.

    1. It took me two weeks to be able to write about it so yes, it was powerful.

  2. what a wonderful exploration of mark making!

  3. oh my word Julie! this is absolutely fantastic, what a class, what a teacher, and your reporting of it all filled with your unique sense of humor, I love it all (and how I wish I had been there!!)

  4. Wow this looks like the most fantastic experience, I have been told she is an amazing teacher, lucky you, I love the woven spines on the books, may have to borrow this idea.

    1. Amazingly simple binding that Dorothy figured out in place of the incredibly complex Coptic binding she used to try and teach everyone in the 10 minutes allotted for it...stack up the signatures and come in from one of them to the spine and then just over/under your merry little way through. Come up through the same signature you started on and tie off. Voila.

    2. Thanks for that I will try it out sometime

  5. I love seeing your post about the Human Marks workshop. I remain quite sad that I had to leave early and was unable to stay for this week at the Crow Barn in May 2016, but I hope to have the chance again someday. Thanks for this beautiful post!