Suzanne Hughes and Her Accordion Books at the MCBA Visual Journal Collective; And A Peek in Some of the Member’s Journals in April 2012

April 30, 2012


Above: Artist Suzanne Hughes at the April meeting showing her Moly_Xchange journal. The first spread is her artwork setting up her night time theme. Then every two pages following is by an artist in her exchange group. 

April16 Suzanne Hughes spoke about her experiences in the Moly_Xchange Project as well as her own experiments as an art teacher creating an exchange with her students.

Suzanne had on hand two other journals from her Moly_Xchange. You can read more about the exchange and see other examples by looking at Suzanne's post. (You will also find details about her upcoming class at that post.)

The basic idea of the Moly_Xchange is that you build a group of artists. Suzanne explained this can be a time consuming process of reading the related blogs and asking to join in groups. Only then do you start exchanging a Moleskine accordion book. Each artist sets a theme for his or her book and as it travels via post from artist to artist each works on an addition to that theme. Suzanne explained that it took over a year to get a group together—but she persisted and has been enjoying the experience—with one exception…


Above: Suzanne holds open the music-themed journal of one of the member's in her exchange.

…Suzanne explained that she does not like the paper in the Moleskine accordion books at all. She isn't alone in this as you can find complaints about this paper on blogs across the internet. But it is a vital complaint for Suzanne because she enjoys making her own books and using paper that "works." Also her perferred method of working is with pen and watercolor. She brought along samples showing how watercolor beaded up inconsistently on the pages of an accordion Moleskine (the paper isn't even uniform across its surface).

Many artists in the Moly_Xchange use acrylic paints and fair better. Markers seem to be the medium best suited to these commercially made books.

Suzanne has now settled into the exchange and found work arounds with the paper (and sometimes just greater acceptance). She loves the group that she's in and they have started a second rotation to fill the rest of the pages in their respective books. She recommends that people interested in participating in the Moly_Xchange be persistent.

When working on her art for the Moly_Xchange Suzanne roughs out an idea on bond paper, refines her composition and design, and tests her painting technique in a small accordion she uses just for testing (she transfers a small portion of her sketch to that accordion). When she is satisfied that her plan will work she transfers her refined sketch onto the Moleskine page and then paints. 

Because of her enjoyable experience with the artists in her group Suzanne sought ways to bring some of this experience into her art classes (she teaches high school art). She made journals for her students based on the Moleskine "model" but covered with brightly painted paper. For her students she created books that were approximately 4 x 6 inches. 

The students exchanged their journals on a Monday which meant they always had the week and one weekend to complete a page spread in another student's book. While not all of the students were consistent in their effort (and peer critique sessions which focused on the positive helped students improve) all the books survived the exchange and several of the students are continuing the exchange as they take off for college!


Above: Suzanne shows one of her spring sketchbooks that is in the accordion style. This one focuses on flowers and has a page structure made of Rives BFK which allows her to work in pen and ink. This book is approximately 7 inches square.

Suzanne has enjoyed the accordion form so much that she has started making slightly more square-ish books on this model for herself.

For her own journal work Suzanne works directly, sketching mostly in pen and then applying watercolor (she doesn't use the preplanning method she uses in her exchange).

For the March Metro Sketchers outing Suzanne brought one of her accordion sketchbooks made with Canson Edition paper (she was testing it for her students) and worked in it throughout the afternoon—completing the book. She loves working on the continuous strip of paper, letting spreads meld into each other.

Starting on May 6 Suzanne will teach a multipart bookbinding and journaling class. You'll build the structure on the first Sunday and then meet for 5 additional Thursday evenings to explore journaling techniques and participate in an exchange. Check out the course listing on MCBA's class page. Scroll down to May and look for "Hardcover Accordion Visual Journal: Collaborative Chain Journaling."

After Suzanne's presentation and a question and answer period other members of the Collective shared current journal pages with the group. (I shared the fantasy people I'm doing in my current journal which I made with Nideggen, a tan toned paper. You can view these in other blog posts here on my blog.) Here are a few examples of other members' work of which I was able to snap photos:


Left: Jean Shannon shared her sketches from a recent trip to Japan. She worked in an Hand•book journal with a Pentel Pocket Brush pen and various other media. She told us how her friends are rebuilding after the horrible tsunami disaster.

JimJournals4410Right: Jim Blaha shared his sketchbooks. In this one he makes art on tape using Sharpies and other markers and then keeps them in his journal. He uses breaks at work and materials at hand to create an amazing visual record. In his other sketchbooks made when he is at home, he uses color. Both approaches are used to work out subjects and themes for his large scale paintings.


ClareTunnelJournal4403Left: Clare Farrell gathered her drawings over a period of time and created this tunnel book to house them.


Not only did we have an inspiring speaker, we were able to see what other members are busy working on. Karen Engelbretson shared some of her sketches of trees made with a Pentel Pocket Brush pen and white gouache on Nideggen paper (a light tan toned paper). 

If you keep a journal and would like to meet other artists who keep a visual journal I suggest you check out the information page on this group for upcoming meeting topics. This adult group meets the Third Monday of the Month. It's free (though for some meetings we have a nominal supply fee if we are making something). All skill levels are welcome.

For our May 21, 2012 meeting I'll be showing you how to make a Japanese Double Pamphlet using the wonderful Stratmore 500 Seires Mixed Media Paper. There is a sign up for that class as paper is limited, and you do have to bring a couple items so be sure to read the meeting blurb at the info page link in the previous paragraph. Come and make a tester book and then participate in our paper testing adventure. (We're going to write an article for Strathmore's online newsletter.)

    • April 30, 2012

    Very fun! I’m sorry I missed yet another meeting. I’m glad you’re so welcoming, because one of these days I’ll surprise you and show up…again!
    Suzanne does such lovely work, I hope she’ll make it to more MetroSketchers outings. She was great!

  1. Reply

    Neat posting. I wish there was a group where I live. To see other artist’s work in person and be able to ask questions would be great!

  2. Reply

    Molly, It is great that we live in a large enough city that we can get people together for something like this, but I believe groups like this can work anywhere if people want to get together.

    I recommend that you talk with a couple of journaling and art friends and gauge their interest.

    I think for groups like this to work there needs to be a set of boundaries about what you’ll cover, how discussions will go, and what you’ll attempt to do as a group (any collaborative projects).

    There also needs to be a moderator and that person needs to make it clear it isn’t “coffee” time—it seems to me when groups start treating meetings as coffee time for general discussion the groups fall apart—but maybe that’s just because I’m bored by that and don’t drink coffee?

    Liz Lerman has a booklet on Critical Inquiry that you can find through her site which I think is excellent for formulating a way to talk about people’s work in non-threatening and helpful ways.

    Also if you have a group of 15 to 20 or so between them they will know people they can ask to come and talk with the group.

    I hope you’ll give it a try!

    And of course you’re welcome at the Collective any third Monday of the month!

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