Strata: Roz Stendahl

Plenty of people say they know books inside and out, but Roz Stendahl truly does. As a bookbinder, she makes them from scratch; as a graphic designer and illustrator, she’s been responsible for the look and feel of hundreds and hundreds of textbooks which people reference every day; as a lifelong visual journaler and book artist, she never goes anywhere without a handmade book in which to sketch and make notes.

Dedicated to encouraging other artists, Roz teaches bookbinding and visual journaling at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and her blog is nothing short of an education in itself, full of helpful analysis of art materials, tools, and techniques. Her work has been featured in numerous books, including (one of my all-time favorites) Danny Gregory’s An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers; Cathy Johnson’s Artist’s Journal Workshop: Creating Your Life in Words and Pictures; Ricë Freeman-Zachery’s Creative Time and Space: Making Room for Making Art; and Carla Sonheim’s Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun.

Roz is the brains behind International Fake Journal Month, which has completely transformed the month of April for its many participants. (Have a look at the website and you’ll see what I mean.) In addition to all that, she’s a contributing blogger at the Artists Journal Workshop site, and at Twin Cities Urban Sketchers. I can’t keep up with her.

It goes without saying that such a visually creative person has an intriguing office, but when I asked Roz for a shot or two of her workspace, she offered me something entirely unique. Gigapans! Click on the links here and here, and you’ll be able to move around, zoom in and out, and see everything in her studio. If you click on the “Snapshots,” you’ll move directly to the item depicted, and a caption will appear with an explanation of what it is. (Roz notes that a few things—the paintings on the walls, a new computer—have changed since these images were shot by photographer Tom Nelson.) This is definitely a first for Strata, and I think you’ll agree it’s grand fun being able to poke about in someone else’s workspace.

What does your desk—the bare desk itself—look like, and how did you acquire it?

I have a couple of “desks.” My writing desk is a 5 foot x 30 inch sturdy, collapsible office table with brown metal legs and a fake wood grain top. I bought it when I was just finishing graduate school. It’s wide enough to hold stacks of books and notes on either side and yet still allow space for me to write. It is also deep enough for me to have notes in front of me, as well as other “office” objects, without cramping my writing space. One main characteristic is that it’s exactly the right height for me.  It has no drawers or ledges under the table top. I’m able to scooch right up to it.

My drawing table is another desk of sorts, except that it’s where I draw and paint (I have an easel for big paintings). I bought it for about $70 at Sears. It was unvarnished plywood and you put it together yourself. I varnished it afterwards. I really have gotten my $70 out of it! There is a bendable light attached at the back which has balanced lighting. On the right side there’s a plastic divided tray for tools like pencils and pens. On the wall to the right is a peg board where t-squares, triangles, and scissors hang.

My third desk is my computer desk. It’s two-tiered (for keyboard and monitor). It too is set up so that I can sit close to the desktop. There’s space at either side for papers or notes as I’m working. I’m short, so under each of my desks you’ll find a custom wood box footrest that Dick made for me. TMI? Comfort first!

What’s on your desk?

Currently on each desk there seems to be a stack of stuff that needs immediate filing. (I like to put my work neatly together at the end of the day.) On the writing desk there are two stacks of books that I’m trying to read and absorb, or read so that I can review them on my blog. I’m annoyed at all this so it’s going to all go on my worktable. I just finished binding some books and don’t have to keep that table clear right now.

Also on my writing desk are some personal mementos—pictures of my two Alaskan Malamute bitches Emma and Dottie, that sort of thing. And a whole lot of pens. I use a lot of pens. The computer desk has notes and related materials (proofs and some images) for a book I’m designing. Also some computer manuals because I’m trying to learn some new software (always it seems). The drawing table has a prepped canvas board on it, waiting for me to start my next painting (which is going to be a penguin based on sketches I did at Como Zoo). I would most like to be working on it.

What do you wish wasn’t on your desk?

Those two stacks of books, so I’m going to move them as soon as I stop typing! (I’ll read a couple to deplete the stack at the same time. That will feel more productive than just shifting them.)

Are there artifacts in your office that relate to your current project?

There are a lot of print outs of images to be included in the book at the computer desk. There’s a file on my work table (which will soon be moved back to my writing desk) which has my current writing project in it. The drawing table has photocopies of my penguin sketches on it, enlarged, and a final sketch that I made by referring to the enlargements. I’ll transfer that sketch to the prepared board when I’m ready to paint.

Are there living things in your office (besides yourself)?

I hope not, that would be eerily creepy. Like an episode of Twilight Zone. There aren’t even any plants—especially plants! When the girls were alive I had rugs everywhere for them and they would lie under the printer table and the light table and nap between walks. I could always hear them breathing, and of course dreaming. I miss that. Note: “The Girls”were our two Alaskan Malamute bitches: Emma (who was 2 years older than Dottie and her aunt) and Dottie (Dorothy). (Draw your own conclusions.) They lived with us from 1989 until 2003 (Dottie’s death). We always called them “the girls,”and Dick always referred to all of us as “the three bitches.” In fact I published a zine called, “The Three Bitches” for awhile in the 1990s.

What else surrounds you?

Right now I would have to say too much clutter. I’m in the process of clearing out a whole lot of stuff to make more room for shelves. I need to be filing things away, but I’m low on filing space so that requires some thought as well. Some things are going to have to be permanently archived! Basically when I’m at my writing desk I’m surrounded by shelves, some of which hold books that I’m using in my research, some of which hold my old journals. As for the journals I keep about 10 years worth out on nearby shelves so that I can access them. I have found that if I don’t take myself up on a painting idea after that time I might as well move on and store the journal.

To my right, as I sit at the desk there is a corner cabinet made by Dick’s great uncle August. It’s filled with the usual stuff: cans of dog ashes, dental impression molds, and a bunch of cups and plates I don’t want to have to dust.

What’s on the walls?

Pretty much any wall space that isn’t blocked by shelving has photos or paintings on it. I have some of my own paintings, paintings from friends, paintings from artists I admire, and photos from friends who are photographers. I am incredibly grateful that I have known talented painters and photographers throughout my life. Recently someone else asked me a similar question and in thinking about it I realized that I have a photo or etching of Charles Dickens on pretty much every wall (not quite, but it seems like it). I find this interesting, but not at all surprising.

I also have a learning clock on the wall, visible from my computer desk. (A learning clock is divided into quadrants to help children learn terms like “a quarter after,” “half-past,” etc. from when analog was king.) It helps to remind me to get up and stretch more.

What have you lost in your office that you really wish you could find?

Lately it seems I lose something every day (because I’m in the process of clearing out a bunch of stuff). Often I can’t find something like my bike computer manual. I look everywhere, especially where it should be in the file folder “bicycle,” and it isn’t anywhere. Then I wait a few days and look down at my table and see it at first glance. Something rather serious is happening here. I used to believe that I had a great filing system. Now I’m humbled to know I definitely do not. But you can only go forward. I had to stop loaning books out to people. It seemed that I would need a book and know I had a copy. I would search off and on for two days and then remember that I’d loaned it to someone. Now I simply can’t afford the search time. I ended up buying too many duplicate books to replace books I thought I had lost but had only loaned out. (See, not a good system.)

What tools do you write with?

I mostly write with Preppy Fountain Pens. These are cheap refillable pens for which I have converters so I can fill them with whatever color ink I want to use. The Uniball Vision is another pen with which I enjoy writing for long periods of time. For sketching I am partial to Staedtler Pigment Liners, but if one is at hand I’ll pick it up and start writing with it. I have some Zebra gel pens in different colors that I use for writing notes in my books (that’s another reason I can’t really loan my books out—my marginal notes are too revealing).

Once in a while I go old school and write with a dip pen. I really like the new Japanese nibs popularized by the Manga craze. I sketch with these all the time, but if they are out I’ll write with them as well. Pretty soon my writing trails off and I start to draw. It’s futile to resist.

Is anyone allowed to come in and clean?

Yes, I decided that Dick and I had different ideas of clean and I didn’t want to fight about it, basically because he doesn’t fight, and that would leave just me gesturing in a corner. To avoid this we started having cleaners come in: a team of two women. On cleaning day I put all my works in progress on my worktable and throw a sheet over over it all. The cleaners come in and dust, vacuum, and mop the whole house, in record time. Then I return to the clean studio and unwrap my work.

T. Myers is a writer who believes that gigapans of her own office would simply be too shocking for the general public to witness.

(Roz Stendahl photo ©2009 Tom Nelson Photography. All images courtesy of Roz Stendahl.)


1 Comment to Strata: Roz Stendahl

  1. Margarita's Gravatar Margarita
    July 13, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Definitely, a “like” button here :)

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