From Amsterdam to Arrowmont

Kellee Morgado
day 34:: reflection // 6.17.17

My return from Amsterdam was jarring. Beyond the difficult journey to the terminal to catch our flight (all of our tickets said we did not have checked bags which resulted in a long wait at the help desk) and the delays getting up in the air in Atlanta, GA, we arrived in Charlotte later than expected. Good news, everyone’s bags made it and with weary expressions we all parted with family members and carpool groups.

When I found myself at home in bed at 11pm, I was shortly waking up at 6am to get to work by 7am. The following week proceeded in a similar fashion with work everyday mixed with exhaustion, jet lag, and reflecting on moments and memories of the nearly three weeks prior. So much had happened. I was eager to see all the photographs people had taken on their DSLR cameras and relive the moments captured in the frame. I had felt so spoiled in Amsterdam. As intense as it was, it is also such a gift to have a set period of time to focus and make work in a well equipped and professional studio. We are so distracted by day to day activities: driving to the studios, preparing meals, tending to bills, phone calls, emails, cleaning the house, etc. Although it was challenging to have such spotty internet at the hostel, it was also nice not answering emails, text messages, social media. Being so far removed from the world you know really allows you to separate from it and sink waist deep in the present, place, culture, and language. I felt like an absorbent sponge trying to soak up every bit of inspiration and detail in my experience. America was so different, and as happy as I was to be back on home ground, I was already missing the exquisite surroundings of beautifully designed buildings, fantastic art and design throughout public spaces, and the community that quickly became family.

After a demanding work week and reality check, I had a moment to sift through memories as I drove for nearly four hours to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to attend a one week workshop I received on scholarship with Aaron Cohick that focused on artists books and editions using hand mechanical processes and techniques. I hadn’t much time to consider what my approach would be or what I would make during the class. Although I enjoy having time to brainstorm before these kinds of workshops, I have also learned through past experiences and through the time in Amsterdam that directions usually change and are often found through allowing both what I hear, see, and the people I am surrounded by during the workshop to inform what is made.

Arrowmont, like Penland and my experience in Amsterdam, is again one of these times that is such an artist’s gift and dream to have uninterrupted (by life responsibilities) time to just create. Meals are prepared, workshops are equipped, studio hours are long, and you make as much use of the time you have while you have it. Also, I think the greatest and most valuable thing about workshops like these and especially the experience I had in Amsterdam is the relationships you build and the network both nationally and internationally you create. Through these relationships you gain valuable insight, wisdom, advice, friendship, suggestions, and hopefully someone you can connect with even when you are no longer in a shared location. That is why I think it is always important to stay alert, keep your ears open, and meet new people. You may never know when you meet that one person that helps you find the next point or future point along your path/career.

A week workshop here flies by. You really only have about 4 full days to make. Aaron shared many demos. Some included bookbinding techniques that I had not been familiar with and also a multitude of hand printing techniques. I am already thinking of where this new information is going to fall into place among the work I make post Amsterdam for our show in September. After a few days, people have settled in and I can see personalities and quickly get confirmation on how insane Aaron is (in a good way of course). His work is so stunning with meticulous processes behind it that only make my respect for him as a printer and book artist that much more elevated. When I thought developing and hand cutting my alphabet so that I could do pochoir was time consuming, then Aaron showed me how to delaminate paper so that you could essentially make a relief print out of paper as your matrix. I will definitely be exploring this further for future prints.

The alphabet that Aaron had encouraged us to explore early on in the class was meant to be a modular or experimental typeface. I played in Fontstruct for a while to see if anything would set a spark as to what kind of typeface I could possibly construct in less than four days and then create an artist book. I also found myself scanning through Amsterdam pictures and looking at the various typefaces throughout the city. That was something that is dramatically different from here. Nearly every sign whether for a business or wayfinding or poster has good to great typography. In America, in Boone, this is not the case. Anyways, I tried to find a way to respond to the great uses of typography I had seen and already regret not taking more photos of type. One bit of type I remember being particularly excited about was actually on the side of a train car as a bit of street art. It said TRAILER TRASH. I was also inspired by these giant bulbous letters that spelled BOTEL on top of a giant boat/ship. It was a floating hotel and you could actually stay in the letterforms themselves. Letters becoming sculptural while also a living space. I also reflected on Lara’s Arabic typeface “Kanat” and how it functioned as a heavy display type and was very experimental with narrow organic negative spaces for the kerning and counters of the characters.  

I think it was these three typefaces, as well as the beautiful collection in the University of Amsterdam special collections, that I found were being tossed around like a salad in my brain. When it finally settled and the letterform salad was complete, it was time to stick a fork in it. I grabbed my exacto knife and cut the letterforms to be used as stencils and therefore could be repeated in any sequence to form words.

As I was translating letters into words, I thought about other memories from Amsterdam. Words that were spoken, advice given, images from pictures in my head. Images and words from The Painted Bird exhibition came up, along with Kip the Rooster, the many fleets of bicycles that spun through the city, and the boat in Amersfoort. When coming across a picture from boating that day, I remember how this pattern that was found on all the boats stood out to me as both visually appealing, yet perplexing as to why they all had the same pattern. Thinking it might be nice to pochoir a pattern in my book, I decided on this one.

Although I did not come home with a complete and cohesive artist book edition, I did come home with a visually interesting alphabet, some alphabet stencils for pochoir, delaminated paper plates with texts from NL memories, some line drawing monotypes of scenes in my mind: the rooster, the boat, the bikes, the canals, and buildings. I had some interesting textured prints from collaging paper and tape to use as a matrix. I also had a little foldable perforated strip of paper with all the letters of the alphabet so that the user could form works or break the squares apart to make and arrange words. In this way you can see what possible words will look like. I ended up, for time’s sake, making a few one-sheet folded books with monoprints of scenes of NL overlaid with my pochoired letterforms. The placement of the letterforms disrupts their recognition in a similar way that the crude line drawing monotypes are not always distinguishable. This play between form and content related a lot to memories for me. Moments happen, pass, and details will eventually fade, but the memory is not always lost.

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