Beyond the basic book


POSTED: Sunday, June 28, 2009

Books bring to life entire worlds and characters, expand our knowledge and deepen our humanity. And that's just when we read the words. What more is there? Award-winning master book artist Julie Chen has multiple answers to that question, and her work takes our engagement with books to another level.





        With Julie Chen, Honolulu Printmakers visiting artist

» Place: Academy Art Center, 1111 Victoria St.


» Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through July 5


» Cost: $300, plus supply fee


» Call: 536-5507





        Master book artist Julie Chen discusses her current work and ideas about the creative process

» Place: Academy Art Center community room


» Time: 7 p.m. Tuesday


» Call: 536-5507





        Book arts exhibit

» On exhibit: Aug. 12 to 28


» Place: Academy Art Center, Second Floor Gallery


» Call: 536-5507




“;The work of a book artist consists of works of art that are in the form of books, instead of the form of, say, painting or sculpture,”; she explains. The books are “;a creative exploration of a topic ... a path of discovery.”;

Chen is in town as a visiting artist with the Honolulu Printmakers to teach her craft—intricate, labor-intensive books that are often 3-D and sculptural—in a five-day workshop.

Why books in particular?

“;I love the intimacy of the book form,”; says Chen, who teaches book art at Mills College and around the country during the summer. “;The viewer gets to hold the book in their hands and feel the paper and other materials included in the piece. The other thing I love ... is that it's a time-based media, very much like film. The full narrative is not revealed all at once, but only over time as the viewer reads each page one after the other.”;

CHEN, WHO GREW UP in Southern California and New Jersey, says her mother always encouraged crafting, and “;this interest in making things stayed with me.”;

After learning about book arts, Chen opened Flying Fish Press in 1987. This is where she produces her work, which is avidly amassed by private collectors, museums and university special-collections libraries.

“;I publish one edition of books a year, usually in an edition of 100 copies. I spend between three to six months working on the design of the piece doing things like writing text, developing images and developing the physical structure of the book,”; she says.

“;All my books are printed letterpress using a Vandercook proof press. This involves printing one color at a time. I am able to design my work on a computer and then have photopolymer plastic plates made that can be printed on my press. After designing the book, I print all the text and images, usually on large sheets of paper that will eventually be cut to size and folded in various ways.

“;My books tend to be very labor-intensive to assemble, and (my assistant and I) can usually only complete three to four copies a month.”;

Chen has extended her imaginative and elaborate work one step further by producing board games as well. This form allows further interaction between her audience and her art.

“;I came up with the idea ... in order to allow the reader/viewer to become part of the creating process instead of just being a passive viewer of art, as is usually the case,”; she says.