Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Guest Blogger Alison Kurke on Tim Ely's class at PBI

Alison Kurke is today's guest blogger. She is a maker of gorgeous books and fabulous collages; she lives in Italy and is always on the lookout for good red wine. She has very kindly shared her thoughts here about Tim Ely's PBI class (Tim's website
Alison also has a blog, which you can visit at and you can view some of Alison's work on Flickr. Check out her book making projects and her collages. Thank you, Alison.

I signed up for Tim Ely's class at PBI 2013 (Ideas and Actions in Context and Construction) for all the wrong reasons, believing it to be the course I'd missed last summer, taught by someone else entirely. Enormous brain fart, but also a stroke of luck, since it seems to have been the hot-ticket class that everyone wanted to take. The title and description were enigmatic. So enigmatic that I had no idea what would be covered. I knew only that I was stuck in a rut churning out blank, and "almost-blank" books to delight other people, and spending most of my time fabricating collages or assemblages for their covers. Those were the elements that interested me most, rather than the sea of blank pages.

A selection of books made in this class

The materials list was vague, but curiously extensive, especially for someone not in the habit of drawing ("Bring your existing sketchbook"…"What do you seek to understand more deeply?" Where to begin?). After hearing Tim deliver a lecture the first evening about his work I was actively worried. This was a man, a rather unusual man, it appeared, who invented languages, sciences, and entire solar systems in beautifully made books. Self-contained, obsessed, clearly highly intelligent, productive, ingenious. His natural curiosity and endless capacity to invent and record was manifest in his books. He reassured me that I'd be fine despite my anxieties about being found wanting and incapable. And I was fine, despite enduring the ridicule of fellow PBIers for lugging my too voluminous (and mostly unnecessary) supplies to and from class in a conspicuous, wheelie carry-on bag.

I am so satisfied with what I learned from Tim. Not only a new book form or two, but books that open flat - a revelation for someone like me who is allergic to coptic bindings. Who knew how adaptable drumming on could be? Who even knew what it was before Tim's class? Perhaps everyone present but me.

Tim Ely inspecting hollow-back spine construction

Who knew that perfect mitered corners were possible, reproducible and sort of easy to attain? Who knew that fabric, mine an 1830s cotton print acquired 100 years ago in the UK, could be turned into amazing and versatile book cloth though the application of a wheat paste made from Swan's Down Cake Flour? That this very paste could be mixed with some medium and some acrylic to make actual paste paper? Now I know. A new world has opened up before me.

Perfectly mitered corners, in progress

He unselfishly shared with us his wisdom acquired over decades - tools, tips, tweaks. Although Tim's intention had been to teach us and help us model three variations of this hollow-backed/drum-leaf binding, we managed only two, but almost all of us with variations and quirks of our own. Tim's well-advised system of starting a sketchbook involved adding some decoration or drawing to the folios before binding them delayed us, but everyone in the class enjoyed the time dedicated to making some marks and the results were varied and interesting.

Alison's first hollow-back book made in this class

His books are "sketchbookthinkingvehicles" - diaries, idea books, repositories of concepts both fully-formed and stimulative. His books are precisely measured, expertly trimmed, lovingly planned. Mine, are perhaps none of those things, but I love them all. They can be commemorations, springboards, friends, to be added to and referred to forever. They are the histories of ourselves that we leave as monuments to our creativity. Taking the class has challenged me to try to put my best self there. I am hoping to rise to that challenge.

- Alison Kurke


Anonymous said...

I loved all my lasses at PBI - but was sooooo jealous of everyone who took Tim's class.

MyHandboundBooks said...

I agree, Deb!

Velma Bolyard said...

when i saw tim was teaching at pbi no less i knew mine was a hollow life with no hope. sigh. damn these day jobs! thank you both for sharing some of tim's teaching with us.

t.e+l said...

Thanks for your kind words Alison-- it worked because you made it so. It was also quite inspiring to find you in the studio at 5 AM. But ninja's don't need sleep…….