Interview with Sibyl Rubottom & Jim Machacek of
Bay Park Press, San Diego, July 2004

     

 

How did you two come together as bookmaking partners?

Jim: I knew Sibyl thru San Diego Book Arts and my class at Mesa College. We both had similar interests and aesthetics, so joined forces to form Bay Park Press.

Sibyl: I met Jim at Mesa College when I took a printmaking class from him so I could use the letterpress. He helped me with my first book project and we so enjoyed working together that we decided to get a space to work out of and thus Bay Park Press came to be.

Is Bay Park Press your primary vocation?

Sibyl: No, I teach at several institutions in San Diego and I’m the artist-in-residence at The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla. I also lead art tours to Mexico once a year.

Jim: I wish! !! Teaching pays the mortgage. I've been teaching at Mesa College and other schools around San Diego for the last 20 years.

Where did you get your training?

Jim: I have a BA in journalism from Creighton University, a BFA in Studio Arts from the Boston Museum School and an MFA in printmaking from CW Post, Long Island University.

Sibyl: I went to the Rhode Island School of Design for my B.F.A. and to Yale for my M.F.A. in Painting.


Who or what were the major influences in your bookmaking?

Sibyl: I started making books because of a class I took from Genie Shenk. She got me started in this fabulous world of book arts. It seemed to be culmination of all the different disciplines I had been using in my career. It combines text, structure and image. Antiquarian books have also been a big influence on me.

Jim: Many things came together in 92 - learned typesetting from the Armory Center in Pasadena, took a book arts course from Genie Shenk at Mesa, helped form San Diego Book Arts later. With my printmaking background, it all worked out.

What kind of work space do you have?

Jim: Besides Bay Park Press which is a wonderful space to work in, I have a studio at home where I draw, design, make collage pieces and sew my print and paper quilts. All the printing gets done at BPP or Mesa. I've always been lucky to have a school situation.

Sibyl: I have a wonderful large studio in my home – I call that my corporate office — and then Bay Park Press is a light-filled, high-ceilinged storefront very near Mission Bay. A wonderful ocean breeze is constantly blowing the fumes away. I call it our factory.

Do you bind & assemble all copies of an edition initially?

Sibyl: We try to. We don’t want to lose the rhythm. If we don’t do it all at once, we might forget how to do it — meaning both of us forget some details very easily.

Jim: We try to get most of the edition bound ASAP. I find it hard to go back to a project once we are consumed by a new one. Remembering everything is sometimes the worst!

How long has printing & book arts been part of your life?

Jim: I have been making prints for 29 years, books for 12 years.

Sibyl: Ten years.

It is obvious that a lot of thought & preparation goes into each of your editions. Could you describe your collaborative process?

Sibyl: Jim and I start brainstorming the topic we want to work on and then we go to various libraries to research it. UCSD has been an amazing resource for us. We often go there together and to other local libraries. Often we start gearing up for “our next project” while we’re printing the current one at the letterpress. We have plenty of time to fantasize and think out loud while turning the crank! We discuss every aspect of the book and make a mock-up or dummy to visualize it, and then we design the pages after the structure is decided. After a while the book starts to take shape as part of our collaborative process, and then it just takes us along with it! Since we are both artists we usually come to the same conclusion about color. Sometimes I scare Jim if I say, for example, we should have hot pink accents. He has a more restrained palette. Lately I’ve noticed he’s leaning towards more color and I am getting quieter. Ah, collaboration!

Jim: People always ask this thinking that we divide up the tasks. But we almost always share everything from creation and research, through design and printing, to binding and assembling. The only thing I really don't like to do is sewing, so Sibyl re-teaches me the knot and procedure and I try to help. I'm a better gluer! One of us will take the lead on a certain design of a page if we feel strongly about it. And, of course, compromise is necessary, but we both always have reasons and explain them. It's easier than many people seem to think. I think we argue about color more than anything. But it always seems to work out. I have thoroughly enjoyed the process the past 5 years. However, I think we need an assistant to remember where we put the tape!

Color seems to be an important element in your work. There's an understated elegance in the paper tones, wrappers and boards. What are your favorite colors?

Jim: I have always had a red wall in all my homes and I seem to wear a lot of green but I don't know if I have a favorite color. It would be like choosing between food, sometimes you want soup, sometimes you want steak. Color is a big element in our work, especially in The ABC of Time and in the book we are currently finishing, Spice Market. We are always trying to figure out how to use more of it. I'm always amazed when people tend to shy away from it. In the Spice Market, we have tried to let color lead you through the book. Color virtually permeates the book and gives it a certain temperature. Some of our most exciting colors have come experimenting right on the press. I think Sibyl and I have both learned and appreciate each others color sense through our collaboration. She is still trying to make me see the beauty of hot pink however.

Sibyl: My favorite color seems to change throughout the years. Right now I’m into the lime and “gick” greens, olive drab greens — that has been “in” for about ten years now. Before that purples and blues and whites were big with me. In the 60s it was hot pink and day-glo. I love color, but oddly enough I always seem to paint rooms in my house white — not even shades of white — just white white.

How did you choose Rumi for your initial publication, The New Rule?

Sibyl: I had done a painting “The Bowl Breaks” inspired by a line in “The New Rule” by Rumi. Jim thought we should do a poem for our first piece at Bay Park Press, so I suggested that one as it had been important to me. Jim said great, although he had never heard of Rumi. I told him Rumi is the best-selling poet in America, even though he wrote in the 13th century. So Jim insisted we put a biography of Rumi in the book since he feared no one would know who Rumi was. So we did include a short biography in a hidden compartment.


What kind of response have you had to the Nancy Morgenstern edition?

Jim: Quiet. Very Quiet. It doesn't scream for your attention visually. But I think it is a very beautiful book; and, once you read the poem it all makes sense. We wanted the words to appear and then disappear as you go through, hence the vellum paper. We paid attention to the smallest details, subtle though they may be. It's a gem waiting to be discovered. I am very proud of it.

Sibyl: 9/11 is hard topic to deal with in any form — many people do tend to cry when they read the poem “Portraits.”

You've produced two alphabet books: ABECEDARIUM of the Universe and Alphabet
of Time. Are alphabet books a primary direction for you?

Sibyl: Seems to be. They are an easy way for us to collaborate and come up with a variety of ideas.

Jim: Well, it seems to be, doesn't it. It wasn't a big master plan. The first one arose from a design discussion. They have been fun. We have two more in the works but not as strict in terms of ABC sequencing.


Can you tell us anything about future works?

Sibyl: We are almost finished with our next book called “Spice Market, an Alphabetical Mélange of Spices.” It will come in a little cloth bag. This book has been a lot of fun to make. We have hand-tinted the pages with various colors and added curry and turmeric to some pages and paprika and cayenne to others. Our next big work is “O is for Opera” — that’s shaping up to be a baroque extravaganza of operatic proportions!

Jim: After Spice Market is finished we are on to an epic about Opera, which will probably break our record of number of times each page gets printed.

And my favorite question — if you were a book structure, what would you be?

Sibyl: Hard question. Jacob’s ladder, since this is for fun and that would be the only way I could ever be an acrobat!

Jim: I guess I'd be a simple accordion. You get to unfold little by little, revealing your secrets. Or make a big splash when you feel like it.

 

 

 

 

 

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