At the recent College Book Arts Association meeting (Oregon College of Art and Craft, January 8-10th, 2010) one of the more exciting discussions was on digital media in book arts. I wish it could have continued. While I have a dual appointment in the both art and interactive media, I share some of the misgivings over the “digital blessing” that have been bestowed upon us, and I council students on how and when to make use of them as practical tools. I spent a recent sabbatical doing hand bookbinding and letterpress printing.
Slowing down to the pace of handwork gives more time for reflection and observation. I sometimes liken it to the difference between walking and driving a car (and all the extensions of that metaphor). Perhaps the Pacific Crest Trail versus the Pacific Coast Highway.
Do digital and hand work mix? I have to say NO!
From teaching drawing, I found over and over it was not good to teach perspective systems at the same time I taught responsive observation—different parts of the brain, I suppose. Some people can intuitively do both simultaneously, but most, particularly students, trip up in the process. .
A better approach is to keep distinct times and places for each process. Certain environmental cues can facilitate the shift to a slower more reflective kind of work. I would suggest for individuals, set up a special desk or work area specifically for hand media. Different ergonomics, including lighting and chair configuration are required for sustained handwork versus digital work. Don’t try to keep your sketchbook beside your computer. Instead, clean off that old drafting table, pull out the cutting mat, sharpen some pencils and (for God’s sake!) open the blinds and get some daylight in, or get a good lamp.
This approach can apply to classroom settings and offices as well as the individual studio. We have reduced the size of desks and increased the amount of clutter: usually centering on them a keyboard and monitor. This makes it all but impossible to do serious manual work. Drawing, cutting, handwork of any kind, requires a more meditative and fluid workspace. I don’t want to go too far with the notion of “chi” here, but there is a body of thought that holds that to do any craft work (draw, cut, carve) you had to be physically rooted and balanced: feet on the floor and aware of your physical and emotional center.
When to teach digital media? To be a responsible educator, I have to equip my students with what they need; teachers and practicing craftspersons need to know digital media. But I find most undergraduates hungry for digital media; and I have to satisfy that hunger before I can expect some of them to appreciate the alternative. (Note “SOME”—not all will be able to or want to loosen their grip on the mouse.) That said, it is terrific that there are places, the OCAC, perhaps, for people who are ready to make that leap; where they can go and embrace the craft aesthetic and process. One of the great things about the American educational system is that there is room for programs that cover the full spectrum of possibilities.
My most recent bookwork came out of digital media. The little cast of characters in my most recent book projects (http://www.flickr.com/photos/portfoliolab/sets/ ) were created originally for some fun flash animations. (http://designwriting.info/indexl2.html)