The MCBA Visual Journal Collective’s Third Annual Portrait Party Wrap Up

January 20, 2011

The full post contains photos and details about our portrait party.

110117AvidorBContrastLeft: One of the additional pages of art created by artist Ken Avidor to fill any blank pages in our editioned book. Image ©2011 Ken Avidor.

The Third Annual Portrait Party is over! It went fantastically well! Twenty eight people created content and layouts, then printed and bound an edition of 35 books to commemorate the event. And it all happened in 2 hours and 40 minutes.

(It would have happened on time in 2 hours and 30 minutes, but we all had some trouble with the available awls! No blood was drawn, I'm happy to report.)

If you're an artist and a book maker it really doesn't get any better than this. An almost immediate gratification—and something every participant can take home.

I can't thank the participants enough—for showing up, for sticking with it, for taking orders, for jumping in for specific tasks. We had a crew of 14 volunteers who shared some pre-assigned tasks: door watching (because it was a holiday and the building doors were locked so we needed to let in people), cutting, trimming, running the photocopier, running the masters upstairs to the copier and the printed pages down to us, collating, cutting thread, passing out supplies…I know none of the volunteers will be slighted when I give special thanks from all of us to Ken Avidor.

If you are going to throw a portrait party be sure to invite Ken Avidor (or his clone). Ken functions as the wild card—if you have odd numbers he can sketch in any pair he wants or simply circulate and sketch everyone. And even when he has a partner (we had 28 participants) he circulates afterwards and captures the essense of the event. He created two additional images—the one shown at the start of this post which became our inside back cover image. See Ken Avidor's last page image for the Portrait Party book at Urban Sketchers—Twin Cities. Thank you Ken, for inspiring us all again this year.

Below are some photos from the party. I didn't get photos of everyone together, and often the rooms look empty because people were in more than one room and because they were in groups doing some set task!

KenSara3038 Right: Ken and Sara look at journals during the end of the production process when we were simply waiting for the copier to spew out pages.

Below: Myra and Thersa also catch their breath by looking at some journals during the down time.


Above: Party goers talk while the final pages are printed upstairs. The supplies for binding the books have been passed out. Left, counterclockwise, Karen (cut out), Rachel, Jean, Barb, Karen, and Susan.

Collating3036 Left: The printed pages are laid out in stacks on two tables (one is visible). We formed a conga-line and each participant collected pages for a book.








TomandSign3045 Left: Tom, who arranged the collating, took a breather next to the whiteboard. (We can see Ken has already been at work improving our whiteboard.) Click on an image to view an enlargement.





BindingSupplies3033 Left: Binding supplies included an awl, bone folder, two clips to hold the papers while punching, light linen thread for the hidden stitches, colored Irish Waxed Linen thread for the decorative cover stitching, a needle, a mat board (for punching), and a paper template for each of the sewing holes (hidden and decorative).



Above: Some of the group prepares to start folding their pages. There are also people behind me as I shoot, and to my right in another room.

PortraitPartyMaterials3054 Left: The completed Japanese stab bound editioned book is shown in the center of this image. Top left, some layout pages ready to be copied. Top right a corner of a stack of copied pages. Bottom right the loose cover and pages folded and ready to be punched and bound. Bottom left, page templates, tops visible. Center left, templates for sewing before they have been trimmed for use. (Portrait visible is ©2011 Karen Engelbretson.)

I elected to use a Japanese stab binding as this year's book structure. I got the idea from my friend Linda Koutsky when I saw a travel journal she made with her niece. She used legal size paper folded in half, loose ends sewn together. This allowed her to take her niece's pages (which were temporarily sewn for working on), unfold them, and copy them flat on a color copier to create an edition of the travel journal that could be given to the grandparents and parents. I loved the simplicity of not having to copy of two sides of a sheet.

In 2009 I designed a pamphlet structure for the party and had to do a quick dummy to work out imposition before creating the masters—the goal is always to have the two portraits of a working pair facing each other across the spread. I couldn't do this ahead of time as we never know how many folks will show up. I thought that using the Japanese stab binding would speed up the layout process, which is my task at the party. It did. The only problem is that since the pages fold at the fore edge it is disconcerting for a book designer to be placing the verso and recto pages on the "wrong" side of the master sheet. I had to keep reminding myself how they would fold up into position.

The positives of taking this approach include no show through of copier toner (because the page is printed only on one side; no difficulty keeping two-sided pages copied correctly (we do a quick layout that isn't completely stuck down so the masters can't be put through the automatic feeder or they will stick); and of course, quick and easy collating. The other advantage to using this style of binding is that bulk is not an issue (except for punching holes) if you have a lot of participants. In 2009 I even had a back-up plan for a double pamphlet in case we had too many participants for a single pamphlet to handle well.

For me, the downsides of a Japanese stab binding are the amount of space taken up at the gutter by the binding and the fact that the book doesn't open flat—but that's coming from a journaling perspective. If the book already has content and you aren't going to be drawing in it, then the latter doesn't matter.

To accomodate the margin requirements I did have to create templates that took into account the margin needs depending on whether it was a recto or verso page. (2009 only needed one template as verso and recto page were the same margins.)

All in all I loved this structure for this purpose so much more than the pamphlet that I'm going to be using the same structure for the 2012 Portrait Party. Start practicing now (or don't practice, one participant had never drawn a portrait before and created a lovely Matisse-esqe image that totally worked). I want to see you there!

Again, a special thank you to everyone who attended. It was an honor and a privilege to create a book with you. And thank you to the folding elves who some how found time to fold pages for the "extra" books so that I only have to bind them!

(The "extra" books were generated for MCBA and other specified uses and are not for sale. If you want a copy of one of our Portrait Party books please attend our next party.)

Note: I will try to post a video flip through of the edition on the weekend. I'll update this post with a link when that happens. I'm also thinking of writing up the process used for this party so other people can throw their own portrait party and make an editioned book—but I have to carve out a little time to do that.

Read about The MCBA Visual Journal Collective's 2009 Portrait Party here. For our 2010 Portrait Party we did not make an edition, but simply sketched in our own journals. The idea for the portrait party was inspired by Rama Hughes' blog Portrait Party.

    • Holly Waldrop
    • January 20, 2011

    What a marvelous idea for a winter party! Thanks for sharing all the details – it almost feels like I got to go to the party. I do so envy you this facility and group. Might be worth braving the weather to move to Minneapolis. ; ) Thanks, Roz!

  1. Reply

    fabulous post, fabulous party!

    • Frank Bettendorf
    • January 20, 2011

    Wonderful post! Great thinking behind using the Japanese Stab Binding, one of my all-time favorites. Your post also reminds me that a lot of pre-planning goes with the event. Thanks.

  2. Reply

    Thanks Ricë. I think you would enjoy it (except for the cold weather).

  3. Reply

    Frank, it is a little bit like Hannibal mounting a campaign to cross the Alps, except that I don’t have any elephants to pack food for! I had hoped to use the templates I had designed for the 2009 book, but when I went with the stab binding the recto and verso pages needed different margins. But I really, really like this approach.

    And last night I was binding the file copies and I drilled them with my drill, which was oh, so much faster, and have plans for setting up 4 drilling stations next year to speed up that process as well (and eliminate weak awls). So the planning for 2012 has already begun.

    Alas (or perhaps happily) I am quite the pre-planner, but one thing I have found over the years is that if you are a consistent pre-planner than when an opportunity arises to do something involved but spontaneous you can do it. You’ve already been through the process mentally at least.

    The reality is, if I am anywhere near a photocopier I start thinking of what book project I can do RIGHT NOW.

    It’s a sickness.

    There’s no cure.

    And I’m not looking for one.

    • Jeannie
    • January 20, 2011

    A little birdie told me that it is your birthday. Happy Birthday!!! I hope you spend it doing what your heart desires. Thank you for being such an inspiration. Now, go eat chocolate and celebrate!

  4. Reply

    Jeannie, thanks. I did indeed have a b-day today. Great fun, lots accomplished. No cake however, as that is scheduled for the weekend. I consider the portrait party a huge, huge gift that made my entire week simply marvelous!

  5. Reply

    Great post!
    And HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY! Enjoy your cake this weekend!!!!!

  6. Reply

    Thank you Briana. Cake is only a few hours away (and counting!).

    Also, thank you so much for showing up and helping at the party! I really appreciate it.

    • Colin
    • February 12, 2011

    Just wanted to say thank you for the whole series of Portrait Party posts. They’ve been really instructive.

    Since reading one of your portrait party posts last year I made my birthday party a Portrait Party, and we had one just last week for our local sketching group. Both were a lot of fun.

    Thanks again!

  7. Reply

    Colin, this is great news of your party! I think that’s a great way to celebrate you b-day!

    I’m glad you enjoyed these posts. There will be a couple more as I work out an video bug and have time to write some other things.

  8. Reply

    Wonderful post! Great thinking behind using the Japanese Stab Binding, one of my all-time favorites. Your post also reminds me that a lot of pre-planning goes with the event.

  9. Reply

    Glad you enjoyed it Matt. It is great fun. There is some planning—I have to get the templates ready and the supplies, but since we have been doing this for several years now there is a core group of people who help with all the running of the party (signing people in), running stuff up to the copier and back, copying, organizing the collating, etc. It is amazing how wonderfully well it goes. If I weren’t participating every moment I would make a video of it all. Hope you have fun making some Japanese Stab bindings!

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