One Small Drop


In the prologue to Stephen Nachmanovitch's book Free Play he opens by describing the Sanskrit word lila, which means play: "Richer than our word, it means divine play, the play of creation, destruction and re-creation, the folding and unfolding of the cosmos. Lila, free and deep, is both the delight and enjoyment of this moment, and the play of God. It also means love." It could also describe the practise of Titirangi based book-artist Liz Constable.
 When I meet Liz at her Book Art Studios her sense of play abounds in every parchment. Her work benches are full of materials from comic books to recycled pop art t-shirts, no surface is safe from her collages and positive messaging and when she speaks of her work, she speaks only of "playing with ideas."
According to Nachmanovitch, "Lila may be the simplest thing there is - spontaneous, childish, disarming. But as we grow and experience the complexities of life, it may also be the most difficult and hard won achievement imaginable, and its coming to fruition is a kind of homecoming to our true selves." 
 Liz's hand made books and journals may seem simple on first reading but within each are stitched subtle humour and hidden clues, all glued or cut into the gutsy textures and apparently random overlays. They are as much an exploration of Liz's life to date as they are the influences of those who commission her. One patron described her work as "full of surprises."
In her former lives Liz owned an operated an Early Childhood Education centre before becoming a Change Counselor and then Business Coach. She admits that while she was earning good money, "I was tired of coaching, I felt like I was going through the motions and I needed a change myself.' 
Her true calling came when she met Allie Snow a textile artist and book artist. "I loved her work, it took my  breath away.  I thought this is what I want to do so I did classes with her and started out from there."
Everywhere I look there is paper stacked, boxed and unbound, in various states of treatment, cut, uncut, inked, stitched, pasted and folded. "Out of frustration from not being able to find the right paper,  I started treating my own paper. I use old shipping charts, (I have a secret source of maps,) but I also love graph paper and calico too. I dye and gesso all my paper and work within the brown and green palettes. I love Grunty! I don’t think Grunty is a colour but I love it."
In lieu of a 50th birthday bash, Liz instead celebrated her day by launching her first published story book, One Small Drop. The first edition sold out. The second is now being printed to take to the Frankfurt Book Fair later this year, which will also be accompanied by a limited edition art series of the same title. Liz does not ordinarily like to reveal her processes but I push her. "I’m almost embarrassed to show you all this," she says rifling through her shelves, "It is so raw. It is big and clunky. I now have a laser cutter but this was all hand cut."
 
  Liz's forays into the written word can be traced back to a school essay she wrote about a lonely snowman that was published in the Manchester Evening News when Liz was 12 years old. Her most recent efforts started five years ago, with the dying words of her Aunt. “Oh I see a door.” I wondered about that. What was behind that door? Where did she go when she went through it? I needed to make a book to explore it. I started playing with a book idea that I thought it would be one book and that’s it.
"I started playing with my thoughts, there were all sorts of things in the book, like fingers on a page spinning around that said 'today I feel dead, today I feel alive,' then the story started telling itself backwards. 'If you’re alive you go this way, dead that way.' But this is as far as I got before the words started coming and I got completely taken with the words, I thought, I’ll just see where this goes, see where the words leads me.
I saw that that there were nine characters each with their own story, with a central character called Martha.

So I have called it the Martha series. It was a lot of fun, sinking into the zone where it is just doing it by itself. 
 
But as I was playing with that idea, One Small Drop came through. Bang! I wrote it, as is, straight away. I thought this is really strange because it doesn’t fit in with the nine stories. And then I realized it needs to standalone to introduce the Martha series and that is why it finishes at the beginning. Because it is opening the door to Martha.
One Small Drop is a free flowing story examining timeless themes around love, loss and redemption. While it is aimed at younger readers it could easily fill the self-help shelves too. "I approached my sister Jo, a designer and said I think I’ve got something really good here. I wanted it to feel hand made, every page different. When Jo came on board, the layout really took shape.” Jo simplified the design but kept the page elements like a cut out teardrop and heart shapes that ascend and descend throughout the book. 

Liz unpacks a box full of One Small Drop drafts and concepts, some hand cut, all hand dyed and spines hand-stitched and Coptic bound. She says she knew nothing about publishing before One Small Drop but like all her writing to date, "the information just keeps popping up as I need it. I have an ISBN now, I didn't even know what that was a year ago. It is like this morning when I was up at the Hardware Cafe writing. I was stuck on a character's action, wondering why this person would do such a thing. I looked up just as a boat called Vendetta went past. I thought of course, that is why. I wrote it into the story and it brought it alive. Things like that happen all the time. Quite honestly that is what all these stories have been like."
As well as One Small Drop The Frankfurt Bookfair 2015 will likely be seeing, The Essence of Play " a non fiction, nontraditional how-to book that teaches studio techniques in a fun way, that Jo and I have produced. We will also have the Martha Series plus Jo’s one-off hand printed books. And finally, I will have the manuscript ready for the Nancy series, which is the sequel to Martha." 
On top of that Liz is hoping, with the help of schools and airlines that Martha and her Travel Journal will soon be making her own global sojourn.  Liz is currently seeking a select group of Angel Investors to come on board for one small drop of $500 a piece. It is a small price to pay for a creative journey that is about to go stellar. Bon Voyage Liz, oh, and Martha too! 

©burgseye2015

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