bathymetric /ba-thi-ˈme-trik/ of or relating to measurements of the depths of oceans or lakes
What's this all about? ...Here's an introduction to this blog and here's a 30-second overview of the book itself

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Making Of...

When showing my book, one of the first questions that I'm often asked is: "How did you make this?"

For the very first version of the Bathymetric Book, the design was limited by my simple tools and by materials I already had and most of the work was done by hand. My original method may be interesting, but it's what I'm trying to do away with!  The goal of my current project is to move beyond that, making a version that's much more easily reproduced... Yet the original process is important because this is how my initial concepts and design were implemented. 

I started with a stack of paper. I had eleven sheets of a thick, textured white paper that I assumed to be watercolor paper, bought unpackaged and unmarked on clearance at a craft store. I liked the weight, the texture, and the color, especially with a stack fanned into layers; that texture creates a very subtle variety of shadows across the sheet, and the thickness gives nice definition to the layers where the light casts a shadow off the edge. When I bought the paper, I wasn't sure yet what to do with it (I do this frequently with such materials). Luckily, it helped inspire this project some months later.

Briefly, my procedure was this:
  • downloaded data from a USGS survey of the lake floor
  • created contour lines using Quantum GIS (a free geographic information software) 
  • cut my limited stock of paper sheets in half to double the thickness of the book 
  • scaled according to the thickness of my stack of paper, making the horizontal scale match the vertical ratio of 1932 feet (depth of the lake) to approx. 3/8 inch (depth of my paper stack) 
  • printed a single contour, along with the shoreline and scale, onto each sheet of paper using my little old inkjet
  • cut out each contour with an Exacto knife... this took hours. My hand hurt and then felt numb from gripping the knife and making tiny, tight corners in excruciating detail. 
  • pieced together the features rising up from the lakebed, such as the Merriam Cone.   
  • stacked up the layers, along with covers and a few additional pages
  • punched holes through the entire stack 
  • sewed a Japanese stab binding, stitching through the stack and around the edge to form the book 
  • clamping the book together, painted the lake model. I decided after a few days that adding a color would help the lake really 'pop.' In plain white, the model was very unassuming; a bold blue made the lake's shape visually striking, especially from a distance.    

I'd like to direct you to my time-lapse video: The Making of a Bathymetric Book, which shows my process for creating the original version. There's a notable omission in the video: it leaves out the digital work. I recorded this while making the second copy of the book, which is virtually identical to the first.

Another question I frequently get is: "Can you do [insert lake name]?" Part of the goal of this project is to create a workflow that will transfer to similar work using different data. That includes eliminating much of the hand-work... which may be impressive, but it's cumbersome and inefficient. Machines can certainly do the cutting for me... although the binding may still be hand-sewn.

Perhaps it will lose the charm of its handmade cuts, but I believe that the piece is partially about intricacy... and a whole string of related concepts that I'm still trying to draw together coherently. It's based on very detailed data that I just couldn't execute by hand. My cuts are too angular. The paint smudges. That's why I'm comfortable with turning the detail-rendering over to a laser cutter for future versions. 

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