Journal-maker Kacky Wells says she likes to incorporate different layers, colors, textures and items that catch and reflect light in her multimedia work, as can be seen by these books.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Many forms of art are meant to be seen not heard, not utilized and most certainly not touched. No matter how inviting a texture may look or how irresistible the urge to trace a design with a fingertip, art often is protected against such intrusions by panes of glass, signs proclaiming "Do Not Touch," ropes keeping visitors herded off at a safe distance, video cameras hanging as silent sentinels in corners or even live security guards ready to protect the impregnability of the art.
Kacky Wells of Kenai takes a different approach with what she creates. She's not happy with her art unless it is being poked, pawed, opened, unwound and even scribbled on. Wells designs and makes journals, an art form that is inherently interactive.
"You get the viewer to participate in it, that's the whole idea of it," Wells said of her books. "... What if I can engage them, they participate in the art piece, then it's a larger experience for you, and a larger experience for them."
Wells' life has be enveloped by one artistic pursuit or another since she was a child in Idaho choreographing dances with flowers she picked. She was a dancer herself until health problems forced her to channel her creativity in more sedentary ways. She was educated in art in Utah and has done painting, drawing, ceramics and about every other kind of visual art there is. Wells first became interested in bookmaking while studying illuminated manuscripts holy writings embellished with elaborate lettering, pictures and designs in art history.
"It was thrilling to me to see how they could combine such an art with a written text," she said. "They combine arts and crafts to make books."
Wells took a class in journal making at Kenai Peninsula College and found the craft enabled her to combine her visual arts experience in one endeavor.
"It's all come together after all these years," she said. " I painted for years, but I didn't want to decorate (people's) houses. ... But a journal has less chance of ending up in the back of a closet."
The mechanics of journal-making are fairly simple, and the process doesn't require much specialized equipment, Wells said. Some knowledge is needed to know what book boards, papers and fabrics to use, which adhesives work with which materials, how to bind the books and especially how to fold the corners just right. Once the techniques are mastered, the creativity begins.
Journals can be decorated quite easily with all the supplies that are readily available for the craft, like color-coordinated papers, premade designs and kits full of embellishments that can be glued on a journal. All these things are available on the Internet, of course, but also locally.
"This is the most amazing place to have all of these things available in such a little town," Wells said.
Some high-end supplies can get a little pricey, such as papers that are hand painted with one-of-a-kind designs. Though Wells uses some store-bought materials in her books, she often prefers to make her own paper and embellishments, which allow her to utilize her artistic talents.
"Where the art part comes in is when you create more things and you're not going to buy somebody else's," Wells said. "And that to me is the fun part."
A display of some of the paper that can be used to create book covers or inside pages.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Wells is a chronic collector, a trait she puts to use in her art. Old earrings, rusty metal, flowers, grommets, and even acupuncture needles find their way into her journals, pins, figurines and other creations.
"My kids would probably say I used to have a junk drawer, now I have a junk room," she said. "I collect everything. ... I think there's a use for so many things."
Some items are utilized as they are, while others are used to create something else. Wells makes her own paper for journal covers and inside pages by photographing things she's collected and copying and printing out the pictures. In one example, curled strips of birch bark and tree lichen are grouped together to form a paper design that would make a journal for a man who enjoys hunting or camping, Wells said. A more feminine design would be a collage of flowers Wells picked, pressed, dried and arranged.
"There are always things that you gather that will inspire you," Wells said.
Sometimes her inspiration comes from less-than-obvious places. Garbage dumps can be a great place to dig up or "mine," as she calls it material like shards of antique glass. In another case, dinner can be food for Wells and food for thought, like when she salvaged a soup bone, bleached it and used it as a decoration on a journal.
"(I like) thinking outside of the box," Wells said. "Instead of doing traditional things with objects, you apply them to nontraditional uses."
Most of the time Wells collects things and stores them with the intention of finding a use for them later. Other times an item, like the soup bone, screams a purpose at her upon first sight.
"It's a problem with every artist," she said. "You have a piece with something missing. Then a few months later, a year later, you see something and say, 'That's what it needs.'"
Wells displays a journal she made accented with grommets and glass stones.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Many of Wells' journals are made as gifts for people and others are done on commission, giving her a chance to try to create something unique that will appeal to a specific person. A gift for one of her family members could be a journal with pages made from copies of her grandmother's and grandfather's love letters interspersed with copied newspaper clippings from the era in which the letters were written. A journal she did for herself has miniaturized copies of old family photographs interspersed with her writing and some other memorabilia, including a picture of a peach-colored Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a fantasy acquisition of hers.
Eventually Wells would like to include children's stories in her handmade books. In the meantime it seems there's always some journal, drawing, painting or figure she's working on. Now that her two sons are grown, she's able to indulge much more in her collecting and creating, which can be an escape from the trials of day-to-day life.
"You get thinking about this stuff and forget about how your body is feeling," Wells said.
No matter what she makes, however, a piece isn't quite complete until it has someone else involved in it.
"When the art project is finished it's a history of what you've done ... of a growth experience," she said. "(It's) the show, the sharing, the performance of it, so then it becomes complete."
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