Cyanimals: Behind the Book with Amy Jasek

The story of Cyanimals is one of collaboration and exploration by two creative family members, Amy Jasek and her daughter, Louise Jasek Calder. It all started under the sun with photo prints and blossomed into a unique magazine  filled with poems and creatures. Amy talked us through the whole bookmaking journey: how they inspired each other, how rewarding this project turned out to be, and what she’s looking forward to creating next.

1. Tell us about the story behind Cyanimals. What inspired you to create this book?

My journey with the cyanotype process began in 2015, when I joined a group of photographic artists (Shootapalooza) and learned how to make sun prints on the beach. After a little experimenting, I started making cyanimals: cyanotypes collages of botanicals that suggest the whimsical outlines of various animals. Around the same time, my daughter was studying poetry at school (in fourth grade), and learned about a poetic form called a cinquain. I’ve been a poetry enthusiast for most of my life, but this was the first time I had heard of that form, and I was excited about her interest in it. Hoping to encourage her writing, I suggested a collaborative project for us, and I promised her I would turn it into a book.

2. Which came first: the cyanotypes or the poetry? 

The idea for cyanimals came first; I didn’t think about pairing them with poems until my daughter mentioned the cinquain. Together, we made a list of animals that could realistically be turned into cyanotypes, including ones I had already made, then she wrote the poems. I have that original list and her poetry in a little journal; she wrote many of them while we were in the car after school. I knew I needed to seize the moment and get her writing immediately while her interest was at its peak. Once the list and poems were ready, I worked on the rest of the cyanotypes. I still go back to that list.

3. What did you enjoy most about the process of collaboration? 

Having my daughter involved added deeper meaning to the work as a whole for me, and it added motivation. It was easier for me to complete and promote the project because it was no longer just about me: I wanted to do it for her. I’ve always considered it very important to show her what you can do if you put your mind to it; I try to show her as often as I can that creativity can go beyond just something that lives in your head. Also, I wanted to put our project “out there” with the hope of inspiring other children. Having a young person involved changed everything about what I was doing, in the best possible way.

4. How did you decide on the format, size, cover, and typography for your book?

I chose the “zine” format because I wanted the final product to be affordable, so that determined the size of the book. Since this is a project that I want to be accessible for all ages, I chose a larger font; I thought about my own child at an earlier age looking at it and examining the words. It was important to me to fill the page with the artwork, without having to crop the original print, and have the poetry lay on top. Sometimes this meant using a landscape orientation that required turning the book on its side, but I would hope that increases the reader’s engagement. The cover piece I chose because it seemed the best print to wrap around the book. 

5. Which tools or software did you use to create your book and why? 

I used BookWright software to create the book, importing digital photographs that I made of each individual print. This project was my first time making a book with Blurb. I explored other options, but they were all honestly too complicated for me, and I didn’t want to have to invest in expensive software. It was a steep learning curve for me at first, but I learned a lot! 

6. Where do you look for creative inspiration day to day? 

I find inspiration in everything, every day. Life in general inspires me; I never know what little moment might light a fire and send me running to create. One of the things I love about the cyanotype process is that it’s something I can do at home, in my kitchen, while life goes on around me. I don’t have to interrupt the flow of my family in order to make a print. When it comes to creating cyanimals, my favorite thing to do is go for a walk, mindfully selecting little samples here and there of what I see around me in nature, then spread it all out on the table at home and see what leaps out from the raw materials.

My daughter and I did a larger cyanimal project a few years ago as an exhibition at a local cafe: I pillaged the cafe garden for botanical samples and made all site-specific pieces, then Louise wrote cinquains to accompany them and the work was hung together. Having this project displayed for the public was a wonderful experience, especially since my daughter was able to stand up at the opening reception and speak about her poetry. I am hoping to turn this into a Cyanimals 2 book!

7. What advice would you give another parent and child collaborating on a book? 

Involve your child in the process, and give your child free reign over his / her part of the project. Let the CHILD shine through. Be excited about it, be present, and be SURE to see it through to the end. Having a finished product is super important. It doesn’t have to be perfect! 

8. Do you have any new creative projects in the works?

Always! I have ideas for a number of books using my own work, mostly poetry, but I do keep trying to get myself motivated to make a photo book. With October approaching, I am firing up my now-teenage daughter to join me in a collaborative Inktober project, with her ink drawings and my poetry for each prompt. We tried it last year but didn’t end up with 31 pieces. Fingers crossed we can do it this year; she knows that if she makes all the artwork I WILL turn it into a book!

Ready to create your own art book, poetry collection, or zine? Get started today!

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