We met with one of our newest additions to the MADE artist family for our January newsletter, Julie Elefante. Creating under the name Rock, Scissors, Paper Press Julie's meticulously crafted handmade books are a joy to behold.
How did you get started creating your pieces?
I needed a creative outlet to help process all the complex emotions I’d built up during the last handful of years—a lot of loss and change to grieve. I used to write a lot, but when I tried this time, my brain was working too hard to make sense of things that had happened in the past, and I wanted a more meditative activity that let me stay grounded in the present. I found bookbinding ASMR videos and then tutorials on YouTube and decided to give it a try using materials I already had on hand—countless partially used pads of drawing paper, the chipboard backs off calendars and notepads—and a $14 bookbinding kit I found online. The process of crafting books, combining the creativity of design and construction with the mundanity of folding and cutting paper, was the exact catharsis I needed.
What’s the favorite part of your work/what you make?
Choosing the materials. It’s almost the equivalent of “new relationship energy,” getting to know, enjoy, and appreciate the material and understanding the mutual support and potential we can bring out of each other!
How do you express your creativity through your work?
It often comes through in material choice. Bookbinding has traditional materials—papers and book cloth—but I like exploring and pushing past the boundaries with my own handmade paper or paper products rescued from the recycling pile. I’ve made block prints and applied them to discarded hanging file folders and turned them into notebooks. I’ll use nonstandard fabrics like upholstery remnants or the small bits of leather remnants for cover material or as binding tapes that help stabilize the spine. It’s also fun taking traditional binding methods and adding my own spin to them so the binding acts and looks how I want, diverging from the original traditional method.
What brings you joy?
The whole experience of bookbinding brings me joy! The materials, of course; the processes I can sink into that become meditative—folding and stitching signatures; and pulling the finished product out of my makeshift book press, which for me is a pair of old cutting boards, so it’s a double-decker press, with a hand weight on top. I also love the endless learning I've been able to do. I've learned so much from local studios like paper jam + print and Hazel & Violet who make it a priority to share their extensive knowledge, space, and equipment with the community, and I'm grateful to have spaces like these because it supports and advances what I want and am able to do!
What challenge(s) have you overcome?
Time and energy are my biggest challenges lately. Like a lot of artists and makers, I do this on top of a full-time job, and mine is mentally taxing and driven by deadlines. I also prioritize spending time every day with my partner. It’s almost lucky I’ve always had insomnia, so I can take the time formerly spent staring into the darkness waiting for sleep and use it for bookbinding! Haha! I also have Hemoglobin H disease, which is a genetic blood disorder where red blood cells die off really fast, leading to anemia, so I’m in a constant state of fatigue. That’s alongside diabetes, hypertension, and heart conditions like cardiomyopathy, bradycardia, and long QT syndrome that affect my pain and energy levels and how well I feel. But overall, I’m grateful that although my body is tired and unwell, it still comes through for me and allows me to function daily, even if it isn’t optimally.
Anything exciting in the works/coming up for you?Whatever the next book is! I recently made a pair of books with precious stones and crystals hung from windows cut into the covers, and I have more of those lined up. A friend sent some remnants of handwoven fabrics from the Philippines, including some from the province my parents were from, and I’ve already made one custom book incorporating some into the cover. I’m looking forward to making more for my brothers. I’ve been wanting to carve another block to ink and print more book covers. And I’ve been talking to people about making custom books for them, so I’ll get to experiment with more materials and styles. Some of these books will be meant for environments journals don’t normally see- one will incorporate parts of clothing that hold special meaning into a family scrapbook, and another potential project would incorporate a new company’s logo and materials. During market season, my emphasis is on journals and sketchbooks I can sell to the general public, and I love being able to do that, but I’m looking forward to slower times when I can put more focus on art books I can use to share feelings, ideas, and stories rolling around in my head.
What are your wishes for the world?
Peace and humanity. There’s enough for everyone to have what they need and want—space, food, healthcare, shelter, education, equality and equity, just space and time to be seen and heard—but in so many ways, people have to fight for even these most basic needs.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?One of the reasons I love making books is people seem inspired when they have a beautiful space where they can be creative or even just jot down a to-do list or grocery list. Some people are intimidated by it, though—they don’t want to mess it up. I want you to use what you’ve got that you’ve been saving or afraid to use. Write in the pretty journal, light the special candle, drink the fine wine, wear the lovely clothes and the precious jewelry, let it inspire and energize you now so you can bring that forward with you into the following moments and share the good feelings with the people who cross your path. These things are made to be used, not hidden away; even if you think it’s getting ruined or used up or wasted, or it gets broken or dirty or stolen—when you use them, you’re letting them fulfill their purpose and make your life nicer even if just for a moment.