Making books of all different sorts has always appealed to Michelle McCunney. Even as a child, her artistic pursuits included making little books. After earning a bachelor’s degree in visual arts at UC San Diego and a master’s from the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas in Mexico City, she taught painting, drawing, illustration and other art courses on both sides of the border. Often she assigned artists’ books and found that students really enjoyed it.
McCunney also wrote and illustrated children’s books for a time. While researching how to self-publish one in particular, she realized she didn’t love the overall look of the ones she’d seen. So, she took matters into her own hands. “I ended up putting together a small edition that was very labor intensive, but I really enjoyed the whole process. I decided I wanted to continue making handmade books and stop worrying about actually publishing them.”
McCunney now teaches art courses at UC San Diego Extension with bookmaking as her first love. The focus isn’t just on the book’s content, but its form—case binding, sewing, gluing, trimming, the whole package. You don’t need prior experience to take a book arts class. McCunney says students look at a variety of techniques for bookbinding and image making, and “different techniques resonate with different people depending on their own needs, their own interests.” She gives students a broad topic, such as a childhood memory, then lets them run with it and create their books using everything from block printing, collage and marbling to stab binding. “It’s always a pleasant surprise to see what people come up with.”
Recently, McCunney’s students and their counterparts at Universidad Autónoma de Baja California had their work displayed at the Geisel Library at UC San Diego. In addition to showcasing individual works, each student was tasked with creating two pages for an accordion-style book with the theme “myths and legends from childhood and the collective imagination.”
This story first appeared in UC San Diego Extension's Winter 2019 edition of Accelerate Magazine, produced in collaboration with San Diego Magazine. Read more from Extension including being part of the solution to the opioid crisis, the power of storytelling, how to adapt to life’s challenges, or you can check out the latest edition.
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