Welcome to “Who’s There?” FangirlNation’s series featuring some of the wonderful and creative people out there in the great world of the Web. Here, Kerry Miller shares here delight in creating beautiful new sculptures from old books.
My artwork takes a slightly unusual form, in that it involves deconstructing and rebuilding old books, turning their two dimensional surfaces into three dimensional book sculptures.
I inherited my passion for books from both parents and have been an avid collector since I was quite a small child. Endless hours were spent with them, rooting around second-hand bookshops all over the British Isles and much of my pocket money was spent in that happy pursuit. More recently, I became increasingly aware that huge numbers of discarded books are being destroyed or just stored and forgotten, simply because they are surplus to the world’s requirements. Having a background in collage and mixed media, some years ago I began experimenting with using such books as a medium in different forms.
My whole inspiration for a sculpture begins when I find a book that I know I can use in my work. These can be quite hard to find as there are various criteria that need to be met in terms of the number, style and quality of the illustrations, the size and thickness of the volume, subject matter etc etc. And, most important, does it inspire me?
Condition is less of an issue – I get quite a buzz out of finding a book that has definitely seen better days and then revealing all the beauty that’s hidden away in there. My work enables me to free the illustrations, let them break their boundaries and spring out from their covers. To me, the idea of an old volume being repurposed and given a new lease of life in this way is quite irresistible.
When a book inspires me, I get the bit between my teeth and am eager to start work each day. My studio is in my home, which makes it all too easy to tumble out of bed, often as early as 5 AM and start work, still in my pyjamas!
I begin by removing the illustrations I want to use then, for most of my sculptures, I carve out the centre of the book to create a void – at this point it becomes a little like an empty theatre stage awaiting the cast. Each image needs to be strengthened, using the numerous techniques I have devised over the years, these help to give the finished work a smooth and even appearance. Refining the detail of the illustrations is a very slow, painstaking process but worth every minute of the time it takes.
Years ago, colour illustrations were prohibitively expensive, so some of the books I work on are in black and white. For these, I add colour using inks, watercolours and acrylics. Books that were already in colour also benefit from a certain amount of “freshening up.”
When the illustrations have been processed the fun part begins, introducing them back into their re-modelled home. I get completely caught up in the miniature world of whatever book I’m working on–the characters or creatures begin to take on a life of their own as I work with their tiny detail. My aim is for the finished work to capture the vintage realism, the richness and the depth of the subject matter. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I am slightly obsessive about getting the detail just right.
I want my work to be more than just a reincarnation of the book’s former life. It’s an opportunity for me to create a new narrative, building a bridge through time and bringing the book’s past into our present. The whole process is intricate, lengthy and painstaking and cannot be rushed. Bearing in mind that my book sculptures are delicate and made from very old paper, an important part of my work is ensuring that each one will be robust enough for its new life. These books have survived the last hundred years, my aim is for their sculptured form to now survive the next hundred!