2013 Sketchbook Project :: Bugs*

Image of my epistolary artist's book.
Oh, you lovely people, thank you so much for all your kind thoughts after my last post. Sadly, it's a week since the wisdom tooth extraction and I'm still suffering. I'm told it's not the dreaded 'dry socket', and the antibiotics should have seen off any infection, so I just have to sit it out and wait for everything to heal. A diet of porridge, soup and ice cream is beginning to pale though, so I'm consoling myself with some scrummy Green and Blacks choccy. But enough of that, I want to tell you about something else.

If you're a regular visitor here, you might have wondered how a lot of the stuff I describe doing and having done connects. Someone actually asked me that question just yesterday. It's a bit complicated, and that's without all the gap year/holiday job stuff from my student days. But it started with insects, with beetles and butterflies and bugs. And with a book, Introducing the Insect, by F.A. Urquhart, with illustrations by E.B.S Logier**.

I remember vividly the first time my father lifted a large stone in the garden so that I could marvel at the unimagined invertebrate life that teemed beneath it. I have no idea how old I was, but I was very small, I'm sure of that, there was a pram nearby and from its depths my sister could be heard, warbling happily. The same sister who the following summer was found sitting cheerily amongst the cabbages, eating worms*.

And I remember lying in the long grass at Grandma Eva's and catching grasshoppers, or trying to; A.A. Milne's poem about Alexander Beetle in Now we are six**, and wanting so much to have a beetle of my own; pond dipping for mayfly larvae and water boatmen; a dusty case of long dead moths, carefully pinned and labelled, on the wall of an elderly neighbour's dark hallway; and taking greaseproof paper from the roll in the kitchen table drawer, sharpening my pencils, and spending many happy hours with Urquhart's book, tracing Logier's amazing drawings.

Fast forward a few years and you'll find me studying fine art - print, photography and textiles - and art history at university. Artist's books were my 'big thing' for a while, and drawing, in the broadest sense (and working with natural dyes, but that's a whole other post). Later I taught for a bit, in a prison once, and kinda' got into art therapy and counselling. And later still I became a doctoral student, researching eighteen-century travel journals as art historical sources. That was when I stumbled across the illustrated diaries of my biographee, the entomologist Mr. M. It was like coming home.

The Beetle Correspondence was completed years ago, a one-of-a-kind for a travelling exhibition of artist's books. I had thought I'd sell it afterwards, but I simply couldn't bear to part with it. The envelopes are cut from the pages of various decrepit books, including a tatty copy of Urquhart's tome that I'd picked up at a rummage sale - the bindings were past repair, she hastily adds, I'd never cut into something salvageable - and the 'letters' from 'C' to 'A', concerning all manner of beetle-y shenanigans, are also printed on old book pages. As with most such epistolary bundles only half of the story is told; for the reader part of the fun is filling in what 'A' might have written to 'C'.

I grew up in a house where old letters positively poured from bureaus and creaky desk drawers. Letters from beaus, from business partners, and from battlefields (notably, one from Isandlwana, written January 21st, 1879) were always part of the furniture, almost literally. And, unsurprisingly, a lot of my book works are letter related. But it's been way too long since I last made anything properly arty and I've been missing all the mark making, and the cutting, folding and sticking. So, I am joining the Art House Co-op's 2013 Sketchbook Project, and I'm going to take The Beetle Correspondence as my starting point, though I'm sure I'll manage to sneak some knitting related stuff in there somewhere.

Art House Co-op and the Sketchbook Project are American in origin, but don't let that put you off if you're outside the US, this is open to anyone, anywhere. And you don't have to be an artist either. If you can fill a 32 page, 5" by 7" blank book, and are prepared to pay for digitisation, archiving and admin, then you're in. The rules are few, and the fun's only limited by your imagination. So, what are you waiting for!

Goodness, the block, I nearly forgot. It's my latest from the super-talented Fee of Chipper Nelly. It has a mini block sitting atop it, complete with silver heart, but that didn't make it into the photo. I asked Fee for something that would match the blog, and this beauty was her response. As you can see, one face is adorned with a vintage butterfly illustration, totally serendipitously as Fee didn't have a clue about what I've written here. It's perfect.

* With apologies to entomologists everywhere. I know that bugs are actually a specific order of insects, Hemiptera. And worms of course aren't insects at all.

** Doesn't almost everything start with a book? Or is that just me? Milne's book, Now we are six, is I'm sure responsible for my love of poetry, and quite possibly books.
  1. Ooh! Oh my I haven't the time to say all I'd like about your post...oh goodness me! The bugs, the books, the letters, the whole gorgeous lot of it speaks to me! I am wildly excited to see how you go with this sketchbook business. I'm cheering you on and wishing we could have a cup of tea and talk about your letter encrusted furniture!

  2. Yes, everything starts with a book.

    Coffee Haagen-Dazs and misplaced apostrophes! We are sisters under the skin.

    When you mentioned the invertebrates under the rock, a pedantic little voice in my head said "But those aren't bugs!" Not an entomologist - but perhaps an etymologist manquée. :)

    How beautiful are your block and your little envelopes. (I love making my own envelopes.) I do hope we'll get to see more of the beetles' epistolary efforts.

    1. I'm gonna' be pedantic right back at ya Sue, invertebrates are many things, but all true bugs are invertebrates of the order Hemiptera.

      Kingdom: Animalia
      Phylum: Arthopoda (Invertebrates)
      Class: Insecta (Insects)
      Order: Hemiptera (True bugs)

      Now, if I could just get my own apostrophes under control ... ;D

  3. That is wonderful Annie. I love making books so all this speaks to me as well.
    Hope you are feeling better too! xo

  4. I've got to admit to not being a fan of bugs - I like it if they stay in their territory, rather than mine. Animals fascinate me... Nature- in in awe of - bugs.... They are just part and parcel of it all and I have never considered their particular importance. But your post has made me think differently. You write so wonderfully - I mean you really capture the imagination. Is there anything you can't do? ;-) I love reading your blog- its so inspiring - bugs and all.

    1. Thank you Sophie, what a lovely thing to say :D Things I can't do? Well I'd write you a list but it would take you days to read it!

  5. What a fabulous idea. I have sketchbooks ferreted away in cupboards and boxes and shelves which I can't even find now let alone look at. My little personal 365 project in 2010 made me realise how rusty I had become. Are you incorporating the Beetle Project or just starting there? When is too late for the 2013 project? How very tempting...

    1. Annie there is plenty of time. The sketchbooks don't need to be returned until early January 2013. You just need to order your barcoded blank book from the project's website (paying to have the book digitised is worth the extra cost I think as it means anyone anywhere will be able to see it in the future, but digitisation is not compulsory) and get stuck in.

  6. Oh Annie, your childhood sounds idylic....
    what a wonderful post, I can't wait to see more, those little envelopes are divine.
    love jooles x

  7. It is all about the written word isn't it, books and letters, voices from the present mingling with the past. When my parents died I inherited their paperwork and photographs. Two letters dated 1799 fascinated me, and led to a search for my ancestors lasting nearly nine years. I needed to know how they lived, what shaped their world, it has been a roller coaster ride but SO worth every minute.

    This was a wonderful post, so interesting. In times past they would have called you 'accomplished' I am looking forward to hearing more.

  8. That is so beautiful Annie - 'A' - it was meant to be.

    I could sit and wonder at nature all day long - something I have passed onto my girls, but more so our youngest who spends hours marvelling at ladybirds and suchlike.

    I will go and have a look at the sketchbook project.

    Nina x

  9. The hidden life in books and letters especially illustrated ones... So much waiting silently for its moment of discovery. I loved reading this and the story you tell of your own discoveries through both printed and handwritten words and drawings. The sketchbook project looks wonderful. I am wondering which category you have decided to enter. Those envelopes cut from old books and the "beetle" letters are enchanting. Wish you had included more text in the pic! I wanted to read the rest of the sentence! Go for it Annie! All power to your sketching and writing as well as your knitting! Elizabeth x

  10. How very beautifully you've written this post Annie. It's overwhelmed me with all the content and poignant photography. I love all flora and fauna illustrations and am fascinated at how people are able to chronicle such beauty in their hand. My hand is unable to draw beyond a stick figure!

    I shall love witnessing your journey through your sketchbook Annie and loving reading snippets about your childhood. The letter from the battle at Isandlawana, I visited this very site many years ago. It's hot hot hot and arid, almost beautiful despite the bloodshed. I love paper and the written word and good ld fashioned correspondence, my father in law is in the Royal Philatetic Society and has collected stamps an correspondence since the he was little boy in the 1930's. I love having conversations with him about all the post marks and history behind the beautiful stamps and postmarks.

    Love your blog, so inspiring xox Penelope

  11. Such a lovely post to read! I only wish I could compose a response as beautifully! Can't wait to see your sketchbook grow :) I hope you're feeling better after your tooth extraction now!!!

    Jo x x x

  12. Great post Annie. Both your project and the sketchbook project are amazing! Sadly I doubt I woud have the ability needed to join in! However, I do love 'proper' letters and have a pen pal - such a rare thing these days! - we have corresponded for nearly 10 years and I have every single letter. I keep meaning to blog about this very special friendship.

  13. I'm not surprised that you couldn't part with those envelopes. The Beetle Correspondence sounds fascinating - are you going to show us more? You conjure up a wonderful picture of your childhood; I wonder if children still trace pictures using greaseproof paper.

  14. I loved this post Annie, reading it was like floating downstream on a beautiful day. Those envelopes are just beautiful and I am intregued. Wiull check out the project, it sounds like a lovely idea.

  15. Hello Annie:
    We have been totally captivated by this post and in learning of your development as an artist. The 'Beetle Correspondence' is such an imaginative and creative idea and will, we are sure provide much more than a starting point for the 'Sketchbook Project'. From the images you show, your work is immaculately executed and even if one has but a passing interest in these tiny creatures, one will surely be beguiled by the way in which the collection is made and put together.

    One cannot help but be mindful of the way in which the experiences of early childhood have a profound influence on one's adult life. And, most certainly, your time in teaching will have influenced others to be passionate about all things creative. After all, you have almost persuaded us to pick up the knitting needles!!

  16. Such beautiful envelopes. But a confession, I keep my distance from bugs in real life. So wonderful that your father introduced you to bugs in such a positive way. Now come to think of it, the illustrated bugs on your envelopes look pretty good :)
    When I was little, I visited my grandmother every school holiday and sooner or later, I would rummage for reading material. I found Madame Bovary and coffee table books about all sorts of things and places in Asia. Loved the photography and especially the thick paper from which old books are made. The oldest book I currently have is an antiquated insurance law textbook a prof gave me when he retired. I'm sure it's responsible for the invasion of silverfish in my office but I cannot bear to throw it out.
    By the way, I HAD to google stargazey pie since I had never heard of it before. It's a sight to behold, but I'm sure it's just as tasty as grilled salmon fish head! :) And after reading up about it, I had to go and look at my copy of the Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and true enough, there's an illustration of the stargazy pie on the page next to the last page. How could I have not noticed it before? Time to go and read the book again. There's so much one can learn from children's books :)
    Have fun with your Beetle Correspondence, look forward to seeing your journal as it unfolds.

  17. This is all so fascinating, Annie! I am entranced. I look forward to seeing your Sketchbook develop!


  18. Gorgeous post, Annie! I love your little bug book and delightful envelope! And how clever is Fee creating a block to echo your lovely blog??
    Your work here is lovely, and I look forward to seeing your sketchbook progress.
    Hope you feel better very soon.
    Helen x

  19. That was the most fantastic post. My mind just went buzzing in all directions. Pen and Ink is my all time favourite media, I take it thats what the bugs are done in?
    You just inspire. Plus, I cant remember whether you joined in the kindle v books debate, but for me its books rule ok.

  20. what a wonderful post Annie! Really enjoyed it.
    And how funny that I put an illustration on one of your blocks...must have known! I adore those kind of scientific drawings.
    Good work - can't wait to
    fee x

  21. What a wonderful post. Letter writing is such a lost art with texting, emails skype etc taking over. At school the children in my class have penpals in Trinidad. We are very excited. Their class teacher is coming to visit us in a couple of weeks time. We have created a butterfly garden which is the main focus of her visit. Sadly a number of butterfly species are in decline and we are trying to encourage the children to think about conservation etc etc. Xxx

  22. I read this post with so much excitement!!! What an amazing, amazing project!!!

  23. Good luck with your project it sounds such a wonderful thing to do! I loved A Milne poems as a child Alexander Beetle was also one of my favourites!
    Sarah x

  24. Gosh, you are soooo inspiring! I agree with Elizabeth, your work is enchanting.

    I wish there was more time in my day, as I don't get done all the things I would like to....I haven't painted in a year despite having a need to create....I will look forward to seeing more of your sketchbook project.

  25. You do sound like one interesting lady. What a wonderfully inspiring post. The envelopes are beautiful. I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

  26. Oh, Annie, I can't wait to follow your journal journey! An Artist book! How tempting!

  27. Lovely post, Annie. I was only really familar with artist's sketchbooks before - and how lovely are those of Turner and Constable with all that weather? - but not the idea of artist's books as a separate work. Thank you for the links and education.

  28. Your post is so inspiring as usual and the envelopes are so beautiful! I am looking forward to seeing your sketchbook develop; you truly couldn't have chosen a more facinating subject.

    And dear Annie I do hope you recover from your tooth extraction soon!


  29. Such an interesting journey Annie...Your photographs are beautiful and Fee's block is wonderful as always.
    I'll look forward to following your project and hope you are feeling better soon,
    Keep treating yourself to the G & B!
    Susan x

  30. Glad the jaw is on the mend, it's no fun (BTDT) a letter from islandwana? What a treasure. The art book project is one I'll follow with pleasure.

  31. Annie, this is a post to savour, to read and reread and enjoy. You are so talented and among your many talents is an ability to write so evocatively that we share your experience, past and present. These are wonderful photos of beautiful creations and I am in awe.


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