by Special Interview with the Artist: Abbey Hendrickson

The Birdfeeder

When this book The Bird Feeder came in the mail from artist Abbey Hendrickson (you may know her from her blog Aesthetic Outburst) I had to learn more about it. It is so beautiful, interesting and very well constructed. She wrote me a note telling me the story behind it and a little about the unique sections in it. I was really excited to share the book but realized I wanted to know a little more first. I also thought since this book is so personal it would be nice to hear the artist’s voice (which is something I’d like to do more often here.) So instead I asked her if she’s be willing to to do a little Q and A for us. I sent her a list of questions about the book and the process of making it. Her answers are below:

What is your background in art?

I graduated from SUNY College at Brockport (which is near Rochester, NY) with a BFA in printmaking/drawing. I spent the time in between undergraduate and graduate school working as the Public Arts Program Educator at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts and now I’m working on my MFA in Visual Studies at the University at Buffalo.

How did this book come about?

During our last year of undergrad my husband and I were house-sitting for two professors who had a farm. They had 17 animals, it was very isolated, and I was taking an advanced drawing course, so I spent a lot of time taking care of animals and drawing. I’d start one drawing per day and then spread all of them out on the kitchen floor, walk around them, and just pick one up and start drawing.

The summer after undergrad I took a bookmaking class at Visual Studies Workshop (in Rochester, NY) and was in the class with two of our friends, Kris and Tate from Preacher’s Biscuit Books. I was still finishing the drawings, showed Kris and Tate, and they asked if I’d be interested in collaborating on a book.

What made you decide to include the calendar pages at the beginning of the book?

This was a product of the collaborative process. The drawings acted as a visual diary of our time on the farm. I’m also an obsessive calendar/list-maker, so it made sense to us to include both types of “diaries”. We also wanted to indicate the amount of time my husband and I spent on the farm and make the book more interactive for the reader.

I love all the layers of different mediums and texture in these drawings. What are some of the materials you worked with and what was the process like of making these drawings?

I think that the layering had a lot to do with the fact that I’m a printmaker at heart. At the time I was really in love with embroidery and the idea of using domestic materials, so I practiced embroidery, painted with tea and coffee, and then started drying the teabags and using them as well. I also used regular art materials like gesso, gouache, and collage materials. I’d carry the whole stack of drawings around with me and write reminders to myself on one or write a telephone message on another. I didn’t want them to be as precious as work I’d done before.

Where did this imagery come from? Were your surroundings a big inspiration?

The surroundings were a huge inspiration. Being on a farm as an adult was so foreign to me, I felt like Zsa Zsa on Green Acres. Every day something totally crazy seemed to happen and I’d have something to draw about. For example, one day the horses got out right before I had to leave and I had to run around in the muck in fabulous shoes trying to get these big old animals back into their stalls. I made a drawing called ‘too bad horses suck’ that day.

What are some of your favorite pages and why?

While we were living on the farm I found a yearbook from the 30′s and I went through it and chose people who I thought looked like human versions of the animals. I drew all of them and wrote the animals’ names underneath. I think that’s probably my favorite page because I associate it with a good thrift store day and it reminds me of the individual personalities of each of the animals.

In the back of your book there is a Seed Index- an alphabetical list of all the names and places and emotions with page numbers that reference back to the work. What was the idea behind it?

The index was basically in response to the way I made the drawings; I had described my process of spreading them out on the floor to Tate and Kris and Tate came up with the idea for it. He thought my drawings became something to feed every day in addition to the animals. I’m also totally obsessive and we hoped that including the index would compel the reader to manipulate the book in a similarly obsessive manner.

How did the publishing of this book come about? How did you come in contact with Preacher’s Biscuit Books? And what was the process of working with them like? Did you choose the dimensions, paper type, cover design etc. or was that their department?

We’ve been friends with Kris and Tate for a while and I was really excited when they decided to start their own artists’ book press. Working with them was fantastic because it was truly a collaborative process. By the time we started the book, however, my husband and I had moved to Massachusetts, so we spent a lot of time sending emails, making long-distance phone calls, and making trips back and forth.

For me one of the most interesting parts was choosing the images for the book. There are 149 original drawings and we only wanted 60 images for the book. Kris scanned all of the drawings (front and back), numbered them, printed out three lists, and then we each voted on what drawings we thought should be in the book. Then she went through and made a second list that included all of the drawings that two or more of us had voted for. We continued this process until all three of us agreed on 60 images. We choose the dimensions together, printed the covers…even decided on the page numbers being in circles in the corners rather than in squares (well, maybe that part was me being a freak). Believe it or not, we’re even better friends now than we were before we made The Bird Feeder.

Thanks so much for sharing Abbey. It’s really nice to hear the story behind the book. You can order a copy of this book here, check out Abbey’s blog here and get prints of her work at her etsy store here.

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