Preliminary Syllabus: How to Do Things with Words and Other Materials

How to Do Things with Words and Other Materials is an experimental seminar/studio workshop in which participants will think about and practice a variety of ways of combining written text with other visual media. Roughly speaking, the ’artist’s book’ will be our subject, but we will also consider comics and graphic novels, mail art, graffiti, broadsides, playing cards, and other genres that make unconventional use of the materiality of both the written word and its support. In parallel with historical and theoretical discussions, participants will work on creating a portfolio of works in various formats and materials, each exploring different aspects of the complex relations among language, materiality, and visuality.

Some notes: (1) This is not a class in fine printing or bookbinding. (2) While students are free to use digital techniques, the class will not broach the area of electronic media. (3) Participants must be interested in doing art as well as looking at and thinking about it, but need not be experienced in the use of materials. This is a good class for novices.

The required text is Keith Smith’s Structure of the Visual Book, Expanded 4th Edition (2003). Some selections from Johanna Drucker’s The Century of Artists’ Books (1994, 2004) will be distributed.

Field Trips:
I’m currently working to set up three field trips for us: 1) to the incredibly full artists books collection at the New York Public Library; 2) to the Fales Library Downtown Collection at NYU, which documents the downtown arts scene of the 1970s-1990s, birthplace of artist books as they’re currently thought of; 3) to Printed Matter, a bookstore in Chelsea, founded in 1976 with a mission to foster the appreciation, dissemination, and understanding of artists’ publications.

Schedule of Classes:

Jan. 29, 30: Bring calendar if you’ve made one. Introduction to course and studio. Discuss insides/outsides. Assign hexaflexagons.
February 5, 6: Bring hexaflexagons. Assign card project.
February 12, 13: Bring cards. Assign altered books.
February 19, 20: More work on altered books.
Feb. 26, 27: Bring altered books. Start discussing individual portfolio ideas. Assign map project.
March 4, 5: Bring maps. Discuss scale; modularity. Assign collaborative comics/graphic novels; meet in sub-groups.
March 11, 12: Assign articulation and dolls.
March 25: No new assignment; work on portfolios.
March 26: No class (Monday schedule).
April 1, 2: Bring dolls. Work in sub-groups or individually.
April 15, 16: Bring comic books/graphic novels.
April 22, 23: No class (spring break).
April 29: No class (to keep things even).
April 30: No new assignment; work on portfolios.
May 6,7: Work on portfolios.
Friday, May 9, 4:00, English Dept. Lounge, Grad. Center: Show-and-tell.
May 13, 14: Bring portfolios. Present and discuss portfolios.

Available Studio Materials
Students should feel free to use any of these materials in projects for the class. If you have materials you’re willing to add to the hoard, please do.

Acrylic medium, matte and gloss
Acrylic paints
Adding machine tape
Adhesives, various
Alphabets (rubber stamp), various sizes from 1/4" to 2"
Beads, various
Bone folders
Bookbinding supplies, various
Brushes, various
Cardstock, various
Colored markers
Colored pencils
Cover board
Drawing pencils
Embossing materials (for rubber stamps)
Eyelets (metal) and eyelet-setters
Fibers: yarn (various), unspun silk fiber (various)
Heat gun
Hole punches
Inkpads (dye and pigment, suitable for stamping on paper, plastic, glass, textiles, etc.), various
Iron and ironing board
Leather scraps
Linoleum block (limited amount) and carving tools
Mica (various sized bits)
Paper drill
Papers, various
Pasta roller (for polymer clay)
Paper ephemera, various
‘Pen-score’ foam (for making textured rubber stamps)
Polymer clay and supplies
Ribbon, various
Rubber stamps, various
Scissors, rotary cutters, patterned cutters, etc.
Software: Adobe Photoshop 6.0, Adobe Illustrator 9.0 (BYO know-how)
Textiles: sizeable scraps of cotton, rayon, and linen, and of silk from vintage kimonos
Watercolor (tablets and tubes), watercolor paper