Designing My 2009 Minnesota State Fair Portfolio

September 10, 2009


Above: journal cards from my 2009 Minnesota State Fair Journal sprawled out on a collapsible work table. Read below for details.

The only downside to keeping an unbound journal is that at some point you have to make a container for it. When the event is over you can't simply close the book. Making a container doesn't have to be an intense project—you can simply repurpose a cigar box or folder. For State Fair journals that I do on journal cards I like to make custom portfolios.

Typically when the Fair ends I have everything wrapped up by Labor Day (I don’t go to the Fair on Labor Day). This year an end-of-summer cold not only influenced and curtailed my scheduled Fair trips, it stopped me making the portfolio on Labor Day (I just can’t measure and mark and cut well when my brain is clouded by a cold). Instead of a completed packet of journal cards I have things spread out on the table shown in the above photo. And as I looked at it today I thought it might be interesting to write about it and let you in on the process of design and organization.

A journal, bound or not, to my mind and taste needs to have a title page, and, if it is a special occasion journal or bound in a unique way I like to also have a colophon which explains the binding process and materials. Because the State Fair experience for me is typically multiple visits throughout the duration, I also like to have opening cards for each day. I think of these as the chapter openers. That’s what you see most clearly in the photo above—all these cards ready for the final text.

The text on the day cards is an overview of what happened to me that day during the Fair. I keep notes on a scrap of ever handy paper I can use if I'm in the middle of eating a corn dog and there are no cards out; I write on the front or backs of journal cards; or I jot down final notes each day when I return from the Fair, so it’s real time journaling about the day. However, I don’t write it on the day divider journal cards until I decide how the design will look.

I see my State Fair Journal (and any special trip or other special occasion journals made with loose cards) as both a journal and an artist's book, so I apply a little bit more structure to the organization and presentation than I would with a bound journal I simply open and keep on filling (after leaving a title page of course). For me, for it to be a journal it has to be made on site and in the moment, but because these are unbound I allow myself the latitude of additional design and organization, after the event, since I have to create a container for it anyway.

I make spin art each year for fun. This is something my friend Linda reintroduced me to in 2000. Spin art is great on so many levels. You can scan it and print it on shrink plastic and make jewelry; use the scanned image as a texture in other computer art; have it printed on a t-shirt; or, my favorite use for it—scan it, print it on high-quality paper, laminate it, and use it for the decorative insert on the final journal portfolio.

The style of portfolio I'm going to make for this year's unbound journal is the same as the one for 2008—inner sleeve which holds all the cards and slides into a cloth-covered case with a window which reveals the spin art insert on the inner sleeve. To see a photo of last year's journal go to this post and scan to the photo at the end of the post. The 2005 Fair journal which is displayed at the top of that post is a typical book-type portfolio. You untie the ribbon closure and open to find a "folder" holding the cards or materials. In the 2005 case it is 3 flaps of dyed Tyvek-covered board, with Velcro closures, which hold the cards in place when they and the cover are closed.

This year I also thought it would be fun to run the spin art motif throughout the journal so I cut up one print into small rectangles and used them as a decorative “icon” on each day or section opening page. I scribbled some thumbnail sketches for how I thought line, art, and text would layout. I ran out of small segments to use on the openers and rather than make another print for the “Extras” section (which contains a DVD of photos I took and scans of my sketches, as well as pre-Fair paper tests) I used a waste strip cut off of one of the prints, in a slight variation on the theme.

I wasn’t happy with the spin art segment alone on the page with the ruled line I envisioned, so I thought about putting a piece of colored paper behind it to “frame” it. Instead, since the journal is all about using watercolor pencils (mostly dry) I decided to create a frame of colored pencil strokes behind each icon. These decisions happened very quickly simply because I didn't have a suitable sheet of colored paper, didn't want to use paper, and saw the colored pencils sitting by my space. It's a matter of taking what's at hand and letting it work—because of course using the colored pencil here is a much better solution than a piece of colored paper. The colored pencil ties in with the whole feel of the design and brings pencil to what otherwise would be an ink page only.

I positioned the icon where I wanted it, unstuck, and then with artist’s masking tape I made a rectangle around the icon leaving about 1/8 inch all around. (I eye-balled all this because it’s just faster and I’m usually pretty close.) Then I removed the icon from the masked off rectangle and scribbled yellow colored pencil everywhere in the rectangle. I wanted the strokes to show. I then removed the masking tape, and glued the icon in place, inside the colored pencil “mat.”

Using Post-it notes to mask the icon and its frame I postponed a transparent quilting ruler a uniform distance from the top of the card and ruled a loose brush line with the Pentel Pocket Brush pen (which I had used at least once on each trip, and which I thought would bring a nice boldness to the hand lettering of the title page and section cards). I’ll transcribe my notes onto the cards with a Staedtler Pigment Liner when my head isn’t fuzzy from the cold.

In the meantime I’ve been scanning the cards. Some of them have already appeared in recent Fair posts, others have shown up on Urban Sketchers–Twin Cities.

I used a yellow colored pencil to pick up the yellow in my spin art. I happened to have a piece of blue bookcloth with a black thread running through the weave. It will be perfect for the covering of this portfolio, as it goes with the blue and black in the spin art. I’m hoping to find an archival sheet of green paper of sufficient strength and weight that will also work with the spin art colors. Out of that I’ll make the internal sleeve of my portfolio. I’ll shop for that sheet after the cold runs its course.

And the day I bind I’ll also decide whether or not I’m going to use glassine interleaving sheets between each of the journal cards. When I work with ink and gouache like I typically do, I don’t have to worry about cards smudging against others. Since I used most of the colored pencils dry and not as watercolors for this project I do have to think about whether it matters to me or not that the sketches might be smudged. This all has to be decided before I bind because the glassine, which I would add as an attached sheet that flips over the front of the card for protection, will add thickness to the card stack. Any hinging tape I use to attach the glassine will also add thickness. I can’t make the portfolio until I have a final card stack thickness.

Of course, since it is all simply lying out on the table, unfinished at this time, a lot could happen to intervene, just as a cold changes our plans sometimes the sight of another material can cause us to take a design in an interesting direction. You go with it and see where it takes you.

Oh, and about that last piece of taffy…I saved it on Friday because I knew I would be too sick to return to the Fair as scheduled on Sunday and pick up more. I wanted to sketch a piece of salt water taffy for my journal—something I do almost every year. Friday I was too sick to sketch even one more thing. One good thing about the cold, at this point there’s no point in eating the taffy because I wouldn’t taste it. It might just survive until I get to sketch it after all. Maybe I will do that the day I bind the portfolio.

That would be a nice way to close the Fair experience for 2009. It’s not quite over. (Remember, when I started all this I told you I always had a lot of fun because of the Fair. That fun continues a long time afterwards.)

    • karen
    • September 10, 2009

    Looks fabulous, Roz. Thanks for sharing your process. Hope you feel better very soon and are able to enjoy that last piece of taffy.

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