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Words and Women spoke today with book artist and
publisher Rosie Sherwood, who has an exciting new project up on Kickstarter. Rosie is from
London, takes photographs using toilet-roll tubes, and can fold an origami bird
in less than two minutes – blindfolded. Rosie talked to us about crowd funding
and the future of publishing, and explained her new book, a hybrid of short
story, photography, comics and poetry.Rosie’s work can be found at Tate Library and
Archive, Chelsea College of Art and Design, The Poetry Library, and The
National Gallery of Scotland. Her arts journal Elbow Room is sold in bookshops across the country, including Foyles and the
Rosie. Tell us a little about your work as an artist.
Rosie: My work as an artist is driven by my desire to tell stories.
Storytelling and art have been at the heart of my life for as long as I can
remember, and the two have become intrinsically linked. Valuing that
relationship pushed me beyond my photography degree to a more multi-disciplined
approach, incorporating sculpture, text, the comic book, book art and more.
Immersing myself in book art over the last two years – including studying for
my MA at Camberwell – really unlocked the way I approach my art. Artists’ books
– books which have been wholly or primarily conceived of by the artist and
produced as an original work of art – offer not only a whole new way of
approaching form, sequence and narrative, but also a different way of
disseminating work through book fairs. This hands on, affordable, and
democratic way of making, producing and selling my art is proving to be
something I love.
W&W: You also
head up a publishing company. How did that begin?
Rosie: I founded As
Yet Untitled Publishing during my MA, a micro press
through which to produce my own books and an arts journal, Elbow Room. The idea for Elbow Room was born in
a tiny bookshop in Adelaide, Australia, which was selling handmade zines. The
work on sale was fantastic but also indicative of something that has always
frustrated me as an artist: the idea that different art forms must sit
separately, on different shelves in different sections of the bookshop. This division seems
to run counter to the way the arts truly evolve. I have always been equally
inspired by film or music as I am by photography or literature. I wanted to
create a journal that offers a space for a wide community of artists,
celebrating art in all guises under the one title. We have been running
successfully for two years now, so the idea seems to be working.
'Pinhole' (c) Rosie Sherwood
Ellentree is your latest book. You’ve put it on
Kickstarter and it’s raised almost seven hundred pounds in
less than a week. Can you tell us what it’s about?
Ellentree is a short fantasy story. It follows
Evelyn, a young
man with an eye of red and purple who walks in two worlds. One is our own; the
other a world he has no name or explanation for. He slips between the two
uncontrolled and unwilling. To find his way back to our reality, Evelyn is
pursuing a trail of fallen leaves from a mystical tree. He must find the
rumoured Ellentree, or be lost forever. The narrative is told in alternating
chapters, switching between Evelyn and a young woman who keeps encountering him
in our world, perhaps the only person to see and remember him.
did The Ellentree come from? What gave you the
Rosie: The idea
for The Ellentree could be seen as starting in
two places at two different times. The first, my grandparents’ garden one
summer, many, many years ago. I was bored and for reasons I cannot now
remember, I started making white origami birds that I hung from their apple
tree. Those birds never quite left me, and I continued taking the occasional
photograph that included origami birds.
The second and perhaps more definitive starting point for
the story came in the summer of 2009. I was reading a book about writer Neil
Gaiman. It was here that I first came across the 24-hour comic book challenge.
Started by Scott McCloud and Stephen R Bissette as a creative exercise, the
challenge is to create an entirely new 24-page comic that is written, drawn and
inked in 24 continuous hours. I decided to give the challenge a try and though
I technically failed (I don’t really draw so it was never going to work) the
idea of Evelyn and the Ellentree was born.
After that the story, the photography and the
origami all fell into place, and I started to work on what has eventually
become the book currently on Kickstarter.
W&W: Why choose crowd funding?
Rosie: I am drawn
to crowd funding for the same reason I like artists’ book fairs and comic
conventions. At its heart crowd funding is about a community built around a
common interest, in this case art. It is about people talking to each other,
engaging with and supporting artists. The arts are in huge financial trouble
around the world as governments cut their funding budgets.Governments
seem to think the arts are a luxury we cannot afford and do not need. This
couldn’t be further from the truth. We need art in all forms to help us grow
and change, learn and question. We need it to help us dream. This is something
governments should be helping to build; yet they are not.
So into the breach steps crowd funding, allowing
artists to break from traditional funding bodies, side-step governments all
together and appeal directly to the public, the community, the crowd. At a time
when artists are struggling, people are reaching into their pockets and
spending what little they might have on the development of the arts. This is an
extraordinary thing that should be celebrated. It is everything I love and hope
for in the art world. It is community taking on the old-fashioned role of arts
patron and it is pure magic.
When I completed The Ellentree it wasn’t so much a choice as an obvious step to take the plunge and
put it up on Kickstarter. I truly want to make this book as a crowd-funded
piece, and I hope people will want to help me do that.
are a lot of different art forms and genres involved in The Ellentree. How do they come together to shape the book?
Ellentree is a lot of things at once. I have
cherry-picked my way through the forms and genres I am working with, taking
elements I am inspired by and feel compliment each other. The layout of a poem
coupled with the narrative of a short story. Photographs because I feel the
history of photography as an art believed to tell the truth (the medium’s
greatest lie) lends something to the story. Photographing the surreal
installations of origami as a way of bringing visual scope to the fantasy genre.
The way we read word and images, the white space and the page as parts of the
sequential narrative structure of the comic book. These things come together,
shaping the book’s content, yet they hang together because it is a book.
W&W: What do
you think will draw people to this book? And what will they take away from it?
Rosie: I hope
people will connect with the book in multiple ways, even in the same reading. For some people, it
might be theoretical. You might be drawn to questions of photography in comics,
photography as narrative, seeing is believing. You might be drawn to the visual
But there’s also an emotional content for me. I read a brilliant analogy by
musician and writer Amanda Palmer recently. She said all artists use themselves
in their work, throwing their lives and emotions into the blender of their
creative process. How recognisable they are in the completed work depends on
how high they turn the blender on. By the end any semblance to self in your
work might be undetectable to even your closest friends.
The Ellentree, I had the blender set on high for a very long time, but the story
still has seeds of my experience. Evelyn’s search for The Ellentree, the world
he slips into, even the young woman who sees and recognises him – these were
all ways I found to talk about depression, and to celebrate the freedom
I hope above all that the idea of the Ellentree
as a wish granting, mystical entity, and Evelyn’s search for hope, will grab
W&W: So with
seven years in the making, this project must have travelled a lot. Whereabouts
did you take the photographs?
'You' (c) Rosie Sherwood
Rosie: Many of
the photographs are taken on Hampstead Heath in the heart of London. That was
ground and studio for many years. Some are taken in Devon, on the beaches and
even on Dartmoor while trying to avoid the wild ponies. One of them was taken
in the West Yard of Camden Market on New Year's morning.
W&W: Tell us
about your writing process.
Rosie: I always
knew this would be a visual book and so the writing and photography happened
alongside each other. It became a symbiotic process, whereby each sentence I
wrote or photo I took inspired or demanded the next stage of the story. I didn’t want the text to simply explain the
photographs or the images to solely work as illustrations. The aim with The Ellentree is to tell the story of
Evelyn’s search in two mediums, written and visual, and so it was important to
work through creating the story in both forms.
birds make up the leaves of the Ellentree. How many origami birds do you think
Rosie: I have
probably folded nearly two
thousand birds. The first lot got wet and mangled in
the snow. The second I gave away, imagining the book was complete, only to
realise it wasn’t and having to start making them all over again.
W&W: Do you
have a record speed?
Rosie: A family
friend got me to make one blindfolded one Christmas. I could do it in less than two minutes.
W&W: Tell us
how Kickstarter works.
Kickstarter works on an all or nothing funding model. Artists pitch a project
on the site, complete with description, video and budget, and then they have a
set period of time, in most cases a month, to try and raise the funds. During
this time interest and support of the project will hopefully grow, developing a
passion and community around a project.
What I like about Kickstarter is that its all or
nothing method protects both the artist and those supporting. You pledge money
to the project, and it will only be taken if the artist raises enough to
actually complete the work. This keeps people spending their money safe, be it
£5 or £500. As an artist you are also safe in the knowledge that you won’t have
to struggle to complete a project with a fraction of the funds you needed.
The more people pledge, the more excited people
are about the project, the better the artist’s chances are of actually being
able to complete it. Artists on Kickstarter need people to pledge and then help
spread the word in the hopes that everyone, artists and supporters, can see the
kinds of rewards do you have for people who donate?
Rosie: I think
people imagine they need to have lots of money to support a Kickstarter but
that’s not true. I have rewards from £5 that include a specially designed
hand-written thank you card, a download of an original song written for the
book and a hand-folded origami bird.
I also have the book itself, limited edition
posters, canvas totebags, and limited edition signed photographs. Hopefully
there is something for everyone.
I am hoping to find myself making another few
hundred origami birds in December to send out to all the wonderful people who
have supported The Ellentree.
W&W: How much
money do you hope to make, and what will it be used for?
Rosie: The target
for The Ellentree on Kickstarer is £10,000, which seems like a
lot of money until you imagine that it could come from pledges of £10 or £20
from hundreds of people. Most of the money will go to printing and binding it
as professionally and beautifully as possible through Ditto Press. The small
amount left will be used for distribution, from artists’ book fairs to
bookshops and collections around the globe.
books pay attention to the book as a physical object, as well as the story
contained inside. Do you see the recent rise of artists’ books as a counter to
Rosie: I have
attended a number of conferences over the last few years that have dedicated a lot of time to questioning
the rise of the artists’ book. Why now? What’s happening? What is the future of
the book going? Is the artists’ book an answer to the death knell sounded by the
I think there is probably some truth to artists’
being a counter to ebooks. We enjoy the handmade, unique quality of artists’ books
just as we enjoy craft fairs and independent shops. However I also believe that something
more complicated is going on. There are book artists’ working with the ebook as
an extension to the book form. There are also publishers, mainstream and
independent, producing beautiful paper books, such as Visual Editions' The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,and Jonathan Safran Foers' Tree of Codes.I believe the ebook has the potential to
become simply a different way of making a book, with its own intrinsic
narrative qualities, rather than a replacement for the book as we know it
today. In doing so it might also free (or force) the paper book to try
something new. If as a result of this process people gain a rekindled love
affair for beautifully produced books then I, as a book artist and indie
publisher, will obviously be thrilled.
W&W: What can
people expect from The Ellentree once it’s published? Tell us about your dream
Rosie: My dream
object. That’s an excellent question. My dream object is a book that feels nice
to hold. A book where the images and colours stop you in your tracks. A book
that people enjoy reading, and want to keep on their shelves when they are
I also really want to make the edges of the
Rosie Sherwood is a multidisciplinary artist, independent
publisher and scholar with an MA in Book Arts from Camberwell College of Art.
She is a visiting lecturer, has been published in the Arts Library Journal, and
recently had her first solo exhibition at the bookartbookshop. Her work is
collected by Tate Library and Archive, Chelsea College of Art and Design, The
Poetry Library and The National Gallery of Scotland.