the birds of south louisiana (as drawn by a UK native)--an interview with steve larder by Hope A

Keep Writing number 101, illustrated by Steve Larder, designed and printed by gutwrench press September 2017

Keep Writing number 101, illustrated by Steve Larder, designed and printed by gutwrench press September 2017

Months ago, I was writing with a friend and asked him if he might want to illustrated some postcards for me. I had been doing a bit of bird-watching in Louisiana and I wanted to be able to share what I was seeing. I'm not much of an illustrator but I like Steve Larder's style. He was willing way before I came up with the scheme to collaborate every month for a year. That is how Steve Larder became the first collaborator in the current Keep Writing series.  Keep Writing number 101 was sent mid-September 2017 and included one of 4 illustrations he sent me. All four are available as postcards in my shop.  This month's card also included a letterpress printed box to hold your collection of cards. 

After all that Steve also consented to answer a few questions.  Read on!

 

Introduce yourself!  Who are you, where are you and what do you do?

My name is Steve, I live in Nottingham, UK and i'm an illustrator/comic and zine-drawerererer.

Describe your workspace--do you have a studio, or space in your home dedicated to drawing?

My workspace is generally the spare room of wherever i'm currently living - I would love to have a studio that requires me to actually leave the house but financial constraints and general lack of motivation to actually get that ball rolling keep me inside all day, ha!  At the very least I have to keep the 'drawing' room separate and distraction free from the goings on around a house, I can't focus, otherwise.

the four cards together, printed on french modtone patterned paper.

the four cards together, printed on french modtone patterned paper.

What is your experience drawing for letterpress ? Are you familiar with the process or blindly trusting me to print your illustrations?

I guess I did blindly trust you, ha!  I'm familiar with your letterpress work and it always looks great so was definitely happy for you to take the reigns on this.  It's my first letterpress print but I definitely want to do more - I suppose the challenge was adapting my work to fit the scale and line production of the letterpress process.

In your zines I see 2 general types of drawing--quick loose sketches and detailed drawings. What is your process for deciding what subjects require more time and detail? Are your more detailed drawings done live or with reference materials?

I love drawing really detailed scenes (usually from reference), but I'm also just into being a complete goof - for ages I couldn't decide on which to focus on with my auto-biographical comic-zine, 'Rum lad' - so in the end I just decided to find a balance between the two styles.  I usually choose the 'illustrative' style to set a particular mood or scene, while the 'comic' style is used to display dialogue between people or to keep a narrative flow.  Ha, I've ended up describing that in a really over-the top clinical way - the reality is usually me thinking of something daft and drawing it loosely on the spot 

cover of rum lad #9

cover of rum lad #9

Is your day-job art related? I've noticed more friends being able to find a way to integrate their skills from creative work (music, art, zines) into the work they do to earn money. Have you noticed this? Is this something you can relate to? I am curious how people who have spent years living on the fringes of an economic system by choice change as we get older. 

My day-job is working in a university art-shop, so 'art' related in a literal way but not in practice.  It can be a really exciting place to work - seeing new generations of students come up with some interesting work, and I have some ace work-mates.  I've also hosted occasional workshops using skills i've learned through zine-culture, such as the general production, through to distribution and introduction to things like zine-fests, collaborations, all the self-publishing challenges a seasoned zine-maker is likely to encounter.  I would definitely like to do more of this!  I know quite a few people who have honed their skills in DIY culture through the years and channeled it into day-jobs - I find it quite empowering and reassuring that these things I essentially do for my personal pleasure can be extended to pay the bills sometimes, ha!

Have you taught drawing before? What is the first lesson like? 

I haven't taught drawing, specifically - I think you can introduce people to some basic principles of drawing (ie - things to do with perspective, scale, etc), but even that seems arbitrary when a desired path and signature style of drawing is pursued.  At the most I'd argue the best way to teach is just introduce ideas and methods, and just general encouragement that there's no 'wrong' way to draw.  I have taught zine and comic workshops where I helped students think about how to represent a piece of text into a drawing, or scene - it was very challenging but I loved seeing how they interpreted ideas.

How are you at Pictionary? 

I really dislike having an audience when i'm drawing so I think i'd be terrible at it - However it's been a while since i've played so who knows?

Is there any other line of work you have considered?

Not really, I think I've always known that one way or another that I'd always be drawing or doing something vaguely creative.  

What is your go-to karaoke song?

I am definitely not a karaoke singer, haha.

Any closing thoughts?

I literally just received the finished product of our collaboration through the post and I am SO happy to be a part of this - they look amazing.  Thank you, Hope! 

a portrait of my cat by steve, a birthday gift for andy g.

a portrait of my cat by steve, a birthday gift for andy g.

Thank you, Steve.

To see more of Steve's work, including issues of Rum Lad, check out his website--www.stevelarder.co.uk  

He also takes commissions for custom portraits of pets, if you are looking for great gift idea--you can see his portrait of my cat above.

To receive monthly letterpress printed postcards, designed in collaboration with avariety of artists over the next year, sign up for a subscription to Keep Writing.  New subscribers will also receive a letterpress printed box to hold their collection, as supplies last.

Steve selling prints at Nottingham Writers Studio. Photo by Tara Hill

Steve selling prints at Nottingham Writers Studio. Photo by Tara Hill

collaboration station (what the heck is the keep writing project?) by Hope A

I have had penpals since I was 10. By the time I was 18, I thought it was normal to have friends I knew only through the mail and would travel great distances to meet them.  (This is so far before social media normalized treating strangers as confidants...)  When I was 31 and starting college, I wanted to stay in touch with my friends while at school. So I started a project, asking $1 for a subscription for the first 2 months, and wrote a mailing list. I sent  postcards I designed in computer classes and soon began typesetting and letterpress printing them.  In the second year, I asked friends to collaborate with me. (you can see the results in the archive here ) By the 3rd year, I redesigned the postcards to be a two-part folded card--one side was a postcard designed for the recipient to keep, and one side was to be mailed back to me, with question or prompt for response.  In December 2011, I had a showing of the cards and responses. I worried people would feel to shy or self-conscious in an art show setting to read through a basket of my mail. But within the first hour, people were sitting on the floor, reading and sharing the variety of responses I receive for each question. 

Since then, the format has remained mostly the same with the occasional exception--some months I send just a single postcard, no question, just a moment to enjoy.   

This past July I sent my 100th postcard. Some months have been more experimental in form and some months were experimental in numbering (see if you can find the 2 with the same number). It seemed like a good time for a shift in perspective. I asked 13 people--artists, writers, printers, penpals--if they would collaborate with me on a postcard one month each. Some have ideas for themes or questions, some are sending drawings for me to print and a few extra brave letterpress printers are willing to interpret my mountain of notes, emails and templates to print the whole thing themselves.

At the end of the 13 months, we will be nearing our 10 year anniversary.  Which seems like a good time to have a party. November 2018, plan on coming to New Orleans to read postcard responses, eat cake and have a drink with us. The location is tbd. This is the 3rd time we have shared the postcards and responses--once in Baton Rouge and once in Oakland--but the 1st time for New Orleans. Please join us.

So, if you have been putting off subscribing, now is the time. The first of the collaboration cards will go out in mid-September, with a small gift to help keep your cards safe so you can show them off to your friends. Or better yet, you can gift them a subscription.

It had meant a lot to me to be able to keep in touch with so many pen pals this way, to reconnect with old friends, to meet others and to hear a little from their lives. This kind of correspondence has allowed me to ask questions, request advice and build bonds.  It seems like just a letter writing project, but it has meant so much more to me.

If you still have questions, you can check out this FAQ page, or contact me gutwrenchpress@gmail.com.

 

Thanks. And keep writing.

happy birthday to me! by Hope A

Did I think I would be celebrating 100 postcards that day I was biking home in the Baton Rouge humidity? I knew I had thought of something that made sense of all the parts of me, something I was excited about. Now here I am with multiple birthday cakes (and I turned 40!) and a pile of mail to answer.

This month's postcard was based on designs by Blackbird Letterpress, who kindly let me borrow the template and their die, to finish these lovelies one late night in the shop. Though the type is all computer based, those sloppy drawings are all mine.It was a fun experiment that went reasonably well, even after 600 passes on the giant Vandercook at Baskerville. 

Now what? you might ask.

Now I ask my friends for help. I've asked 13 people to design a postcard in the coming year. Some are letterpress printers, some are ceramics artists, some are writers. All seemed excited to collaboratively design a postcard with me. I am lucky lucky lucky. Actually YOU are lucky, as they will be delivered to your mailbox in the coming year. Expect your first one in September.

Meanwhile, if your subscription has lapsed, you can re-subscribe here. If you are receiving cards but you are not sure for how much longer, I will send you a notice in a few weeks letting you know how much longer you have a subscription.

If you thinking I am suffering from heat stroke and talking nonsense, rest assured I have air conditioning, plenty of cold drinks and a plan--I will send you letterpress postcards every month if you subscribe to the Keep Writing Project. It is available as a gift, and about to get more fun. You can also have many of your questions answered here. 

Well, I may claim to not be affected by the heat but I am ready for a drive out of town, some lake swimming, some visits with friends. i will be back in September with the first collaborative postcard!

slow down by Hope A

20170620_104223.jpg

This month's postcard was designed before I accepted a part-time position at an arts summer camp and a position that was originally  3 hours a day but ended up being 6. One week I was redesigning my website, planning for summer projects and the next I was wrangling 5 year olds who are very sweet but may need a mid-afternoon nap. I do.

It is easy to think of this Annie Dillard quote how we spend our days is how we spend our lives  and frame it the developing definition of self-care and go to the pool with our friends every day. That is what I want some days. But I also find that when I have a little unexpected free time, I catch up on work, writing newsletters and blogposts (ie TODAY). 

A friend once talked to me about the idea of "internalized capitalism"--the push to be productive, to always be doing something. But I find that the constant need to think, plan, do, sometimes leaves me so tired I watch dumb tv and hours later I am still home and I haven't seen my friends in days. I try to keep a more even keeled approach--breakfast with a friend, a walk in the park, and then printing at home. Taking a break to rest, explore, do something that isn't on a list, to reenforce the connections around us. Even as I work to create new postcards, new drawings, a new zine, it is also helpful to have some unproductive time laying on the couch with the cat. Balance. For me that means finding ways to slow down. 

How do I do that? One, is that I have been mentally reframing my work, refusing the constant talk of hustle.  The letterpress printers I know love the idea of the hustle but I was never sold on it. Which might be why I have a smaller business, focusing on postcards instead of wholesale greeting cards, and balancing a few part-time jobs.  The balance of time and money and creative endeavors is real and for now I still choose the flexibility and inconsistencies of part time work over a full time job.  

On the smaller scale, once in a while I stay in bed and read even though my instinct is to jump out of bed and start making lists and putting away dishes (after tea and yoga, though). Some days it is good to sit and read as I don't sit still during the day.

I also just switched to a flip phone (thought the slow, code like texts are not helping). I also use a timer especially when I have computer work to do, giving my self a break to stretch every 30 minutes. Around the house that may mean I clean up for an hour, then read or draw.

In a larger context, as confederate monuments are removed from the city of New Orleans, large protests and marches occurred on both sides of the argument. If we are talking about balance and how we spend our days, we don't have the energy or time to constantly hold large marches, which are important for visibility. How do we incorporate these ideals into our daily practices? How do we approach the racism rooted in history that still sprouts today? 

Here in New Orleans, the weather gives us some encouragement with heavy humidity weighing down your best intentions and sporadic storms that never behave as you expect, leaving you drenched or with a suddenly sunny and clear day off from work.  That's my summer!

 

where you read by Hope A

 

I have a friend who used to only open his mail when he was ready to respond. I tried that for a while but lately, I want to read it as soon as I have it. I stand outside the post office, facing the bayou and read everything. The other day that included 2 poems from a book a friend sent to me. I cried a little, looked up to see the post office around me, the bayou across from and rode home.

Despite my reputation and vocation, I sometimes don't write back. I have found that making time, if not every morning, then at least once a week, to answer my mail has helped. I still read everything standing at the post office but then I reread, find an appropriate note card and write back.

This month, there was a lot of experimentation in the process. And nothing worked out like I thought (which is the important part of experimenting! discovering new things!)  I took a photo of the spot at the bayou, but my phone had recently fallen into some water and the photo was hazy because the lens hadn't quite dried out . I used the blurry photo as a reference for a line drawing. I was going to use 2 layers--a detailed top layer and a soft under color. But one of them didn't work. The I decided to experiment with a split fountain on a platen press. And I chose the colors of the rainbow. The result: a card that is not what I thought it would be. But when is it ever, really?

 

lists by Hope A

Keep Writing number 97 April 2017

Keep Writing number 97 April 2017

I like lists. I multiple to-do lists, short term and long term, shopping and big plans and day trips and people to write to.  I write lists to help organize my thoughts and sometimes to help me organize my memories. When the multiple plans and to-do lists become more stressful than helpful, I toss them all and simplify.

This is not new. In 8th grade I kept a tiny notebook for a week with everything I ate, not just calories and fat or things you might connect to body image issues emerging at puberty. I don't think I was trying to get skinny* but I wanted to know how I ate. I kept track of vitamins and minerals.

My friend Bear** also keeps lists. I remember a gold star chart they had in their apartment in New Orleans, giving themselves stars for cooking and spending time with friends. I like these simplified lists of what we need to do to take care of ourselves. What things in a day are important and what can be overlooked. I constantly need this reminder so this month's postcard is a list of what I think I need to do everyday to be healthy and happy and grow.  And today's tip--I alternate water and iced mint tea as it gets warmer, because I can rarely drink enough water but the cooling mint is sometimes better than coffee in the afternoon. Really. Try it. 

here come the footnotes:

*an interesting thing I just realized in the past 5 years--I thought I was skinny all those years. I am not sure any more. I am not sure when I thought I wasn't any more but I used to buy strightlegged pants though I have curvy hips strong thighs. Body image is a weird warped thing. I was lucky not to struggle with it, in the way that I felt ok about my body but what I thought I saw and what is there were generally not the same thing.

**I talk about Bear a lot. Partly because they are a great human being. But they also happen to be a great yoga instructor and life coach. They once helped me write a post-it sized plan (literally on a post-it note) about how I was going to make the most of college and graduate. If you want once a  week sweet notes from Bear, talking about taking care of yourself and social justice and being a part of a community---I strongly suggest you subscribe to their weekly love notes.  And if you are looking for some good advice and guidance on how to make your own gold star chart and more, talk with Bear about coaching. Seriously. They are the best.

different ways to resist by Hope A

image from the Social Justice Kitten collection by Sean Teharatchi

image from the Social Justice Kitten collection by Sean Teharatchi

Since the presidential votes were counted, I, along with many others, have been plotting different ways to resist, to stand strong and feel connected against what has felt like a tidal wave of difficulties.  Outright racist and fear-mongering speeches, unleashing the worst in some people, the deliberate and blatant refusal of an idea of a fact. It can feel overwhelming. But there are many groups already working against the affects of racism, fear, poverty, to help with access and empowerment. I decided to use the thing I already do, sending postcards every month, to raise money for local groups doing tangible work. I started by offering pay-by-donation subscriptions to the Keep Writing Project on Inauguration Day. The response was so great I extended it another 24 hours. I then decided it would continue for the first 100 days of the new presidency.   After a few weeks, and $800 for the New Orleans Abortion Fund, I started raising money for BreakOUT, a group that works to end the criminalization of LGBT youth. For the last 30 days I will raise money for the Cornerstone Builders, a group that support newly released in their first 72 hours out of prison. Part of this project also pays for monthly busses to take family to visit their loved ones.   Every year a group of cyclists ride from New Orleans to Angola to raise money for this project, to keep families in touch, to offer connection to those who are imprisoned. For the whole month of April, I will send any money I receive for Keep Writing subscriptions to this group. There are many ways to resist. Donating money is a small part, but also learning about these groups, belong to support them in anyway. Stay close y'all.

research in south louisiana by Hope A

The weather is perfect right now. Spring. Not the spring that comes after a long winter but the one that comes before a long summer. In a month or two it will be too humid to wear jeans. After a few weeks  I will dress only to anticipate stickiness and overly air conditioned spaces.  But now, the sun is warm, the shade is cool, the breeze still offers relief and the nights are magic.  This is the time of year in South Louisiana that I get most excited, most restless.  The things I thought I should do no longer were working, the endless work was making me tired and irritable so I took to the road, with snacks and water, a camera and binoculars. I have a few projects coming up that I not realize I was working on as I drove slowly with the windows down, turning down side roads and stopping to take notes. Halfway through the day I realized that is exactly what I am doing. Here is a piece of what will come later.