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Early Stages: Sketches & Scribbles of Venetian History

When I began this book, it was not a book at all. It was simply a series of scribbles and sketches, photos and rambles on loose pages that I splattered after inspirational trips into the Venetian Republic, mostly on the train ride home. Some lines just flowed out, I wasn't thinking much of it. But over some years, they started to pile into something significant. 

I had always wanted create a tangible project from my sketches from my previous living experiences in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, but I was never quite sure how to format them - Would they become a series of paintings? prints? What was the purpose to the format chosen? A show? something else? Logistically, how would I transport everything to an exhibition space when I am living overseas? Where would I store everything? Considering practical details seemed to stifle any development, besides,  I was enjoying my somewhat nomadic life. Although I gathering quite a bit of material on my hard-drives, I had little time to actually sit and process it all. 

When I moved to Italy, I had the curse and luxury of living in a very small town. I was teaching in a village set on a cliff by the sea, with one stop sign, one corner store,  and one castle, with one princess. I had no internet, phone, or television at home, and Venice just so happened to be my favourite train ride getaway. I loved trying to find ways to sneak its stories in to my lessons - utilizing its examples of water filtration, sedimentation, petrification, social organization and formations of the scientific method for my Environmental Systems Course, or linking Futurism, Manifestos, Glass Making, Printmaking, or the Biennale to my Art Classes. After my first few years of teaching in this new setting, I managed to forge some spare moments in the evening and weekends to further develop these ideas for my own art; I was curious to know how the experience of creating art in a place could root you more deeply to its cultural heritage. 

Sketchbook Images, © Sarah Pierroz, 2014

Feeling far from being a writer, I initially felt a bit of an impostor when choosing a book format for this project. Yet, Venetian history was so poetic to me. It seemed to unfold with words and images complementing one another, quite different to the guidebook and history books that I was reading. This book is for the visitor, like me, who sensed that Venice was a special place, but couldn't easily find the stories behind its stones. I wanted to reveal her story, as if I happened upon a Venetian grandfathers' table at a cafe, had stamina to taste her long and detailed existence.  

As for the art, I wanted to hand-draw every illustration, from front to back. As much as I wanted to flood each page with colour, in order to keep equal emphasis between the text and image, I used only a fine, black line for each drawing. Call me a traditionalist, but I wanted the hand of the artist to be present in the book; I scanned every drawing and avoided photoshop and illustrator as much as possible. I had had a conversation with one of my art students who had completed an internship with a graphic designer, who mentioned that she saw that designers did not really draw by hand anymore because programs take care of shading much more efficiently. I wanted this book to be different; I wanted a sense of the actual impressions of the city to come through on the page with each line. 

To help frame the beginnings of the book, I had set three simple, initial guidelines:

1. The writing on each page would stand as an easy to read story by itself, giving a taste of Venice's history. If one was visiting Venice and had a moment's rest, he or she could open the book to any page and learn something wonderful about the city. If the reader had more time, then so be it. I wanted each page to be a meeting point with the city. 

2. I would illustrate every page of writing, in black and white, by hand (to my own eventual demise). I wanted the illustrations to hold equal weight as the text, so I used only fine black lines, and tried to visually balance the font with the image. 

3. I would never illustrate a Venetian as an actual person. (i only broke this rule once....but on purpose.....)

Over the course of this project, I worked on this book in over ten countries, on many tables and coffee tables, on trains, planes, ferries, and even in a canoe. I was obsessed with the city and came to find inspiration in many unexpected places. Against my nature, I kept every picture, every file, every sketch. Reflecting on these early stages I was happy that I did the following: 

- Established a stable workstation and set up a large, visual inspiration board. 

 -Scanned all my drawings at a high resolution and did not alter the original file in any way. (I would come to learn more of adjust levels, and contrast properly later). I also backed-up all writing and image documents, even if I didn't like them.  

- Kept every book, article, note, scribble and scrap of inspiration, and developed the ideas that I was most captivated by, even if they did not seem to relate to what I was working on at the time. I also organized all visual content in a folder which I could easily switch to a portable viewing device (i.e. ipad). 

If anything, I had too much material to work with, which I was told was a good dilemma, and I could come to share on this blog (which I hope you enjoy!). After the collection phase, the book became a matter of discipline....sheer dedication and confidence that you have every right to do what it is that you are setting out to do, even if you have never done it before. Go forth! Explore all that your heart calls you to do!




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Venetian Printing Presses: The Modern Tintoretto

 Venice Views, Print  ©  Sarah Pierroz, 2014. 

After the invention of Guttenberg's moveable-type printing presses, the art of printing exploded in the Venetian lagoon. By the end of the 15th century, there were over 200 busy printing houses in the city. In these vibrant hives, writers, composers, translators, editors and master printers collaborated to pen, proof and edit their works. They also experimented with layouts and fonts, as Aldo Manuzio, who cleverly created the italics font in order to squeeze in as much information as possible on his pages fit for a smaller hand-held paperback design. The Venetian State was also heavily involved in this thriving industry, and was it known to lay down harsh penalties for poor ink and paper quality.

In the quiet area of Cannaregio in Venice, I happened to walk into a real gem of a studio called La Bottega del Tintoretto. This lab, which is located next to the house of Tintoretto, was opened in 1986 and it holds presses and equipment recovered from historical Venetian presses. Venice was once the mega-printing capital of the world, and this studio collective seeks to preserve and share its extensive tradition. Here, one can study classical techniques in engraving, wood-cutting, and lithography. I have had the absolute pleasure of working in this creative oasis for some of my own projects, as well as bringing groups of my art students here for workshops. Just walking into this space and its stacks of acquired books and prints and hanging notes, it is more than evident that one has set foot in a truly inspirational and creative place. 

interested in visiting? A link to the studio's web-site can be found here: BOTTEGA DEL TINTORETTO

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