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Paper Alchemy & The Bird Machine

One of the things I love about being a bookbinder is making old books live on. By repairing a book or replacing the cover, I know the book will last another 30, 50, 238 years (The oldest book I've ever repaired was from the 1780's).

In a similar way, I have always enjoyed using materials that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill to create something unique and valuable. I've recently started calling it Paper Alchemy since it's a process of turning garbage into gold.

After the COMIC | BOOK project, I started thinking more about paper alchemy. How else could I take something that is practically waste and make it into something valuable? Re-using old books was something I’d always done. I even just recently built a nice batch of books from a rescued book about birds (buy one), but I wanted to try something different. It was then that I sent my friend Jay Ryan a note and humbly requested he send me some of his garbage.

Jay Ryan from The Bird Machine has been a creative hero of mine for a long time. I remember swiping his posters from record stores over 20 years ago. We first connected when he called my bike shop a number of years ago looking for a very obscure bike accessory called a “Decaleur”. He didn’t introduce himself on the phone, but I took his email address so I could get back to him about the Decaleur. He gave it to me, and I applied my incredible skill of deduction to determine who I was talking to. I immediately responded, “wait… THE Jay Ryan… from The Bird Machine?!”

I never sold him the Decaleur, but I kept his email address. A couple years later, I asked him if he’d design a poster for a cycling event I used to host called The Gravel Metric and, to my great delight, he did.

I was again delighted when he agreed to send me his garbage. Not real garbage, obvs, but his waste paper/test prints... so I could try and make some books. I had a pile of prints in my hands within a week. The test prints, or monoprints, are used to test the screens, dial in registration, and experiment with colors. Some pages were so thick with layers and layers of ink that they cracked when I tried to fold them, but thinner prints worked great.

So, I built a batch of books. The process of cropping the layered, chaotic prints into one-of-a-kind journals was rewarding. It was similar to working with comic books, in that when you remove the context, the image/images can take on a whole different meaning or story.

Once they were done, I sent them down to The Bird Machine for him to sell on his webstore. He posted a picture of them at 8am and said they’d be on sale at noon. They sold out at 12:04pm. At 12:05pm, we had already exchanged emails about the next batch. The garbage had turned to gold.

The second batch came out even better than the first. Both Jay and I were looking at the monoprints with the books in mind. The variety and color of Jay’s work make for an array of really delicious books. And as a fan of The Bird Machine, it’s delightful to see this project come to life. The second batch sold in minutes as well, and we're already planning for round three.

Be sure to follow @thebirdmachine on Instagram to catch future batches for sale. And be sure to watch the store closely. Very closely.

I'll be posting more COMIC | BOOKS soon, as well as some other Paper Alchemy projects. If you’re a printmaker interested in some monoprint journals, please send me an email - I am at your service.

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