If you ask North Carolina’s Lauren Faulkenberry how she would describe herself and her work, the owner of Firebrand Press would have a difficult time choosing between author, artist or artisan.
“I do feel like I’m kind of a mishmash of a lot of things, but I guess primarily I’d say artist or book artist because that seems to be the thing I focus on the most,” she explained. “I’ve never called myself an author. I don’t know why, but I’ll call myself a writer.”
The fact of the matter is, Faulkenberry does all three: she has created artist’s books and children’s books that contain her own text and illustrations, then printed them herself using the letterpress method.
“I guess I came to it from an interest in illustration,” she said. “I mean, I’ve always loved books and loved the idea of making books but I never liked the way that I drew.”
Faulkenberry will visit the Morris Museum of Art next weekend to lead an Art at Lunch lecture on books as art objects and a two-day workshop on bookbinding (see further information and registration deadlines below). They are both subjects with which she is well familiar, having taken her first printing class at Washington University in St. Louis in 1998 and later earning an MFA degree in book arts from the University of Alabama. That MFA program covered printing and publishing, bookbinding, papermaking and the history of the book.
Faulkenberry’s own history with books reaches back to childhood. Her dream was to be a children’s book illustrator but, as she has already mentioned, she didn’t like the way she drew. She began writing in middle school, but it wasn’t until college that she began to get serious about her work. Faulkenberry says it was a handmade children’s book she created for her thesis project that got the ball rolling.
“I started from there and wrote some short stories and novels,” she said. “I had a few short stories published and had no novels published and then started writing the text that I made my artist’s books from in the last few years. The most recent books I’ve done have included some of the text that I wrote and sometimes it’s nonfiction.”
Do a quick search of Faulkenberry’s website (firebrandpress.org) and her Etsy shop (etsy.com/shop/firebrandpress) and you’ll find prints, cards and artist’s books in a distinctive style that their creator has yet to find a good way to describe.
“Sometimes I wonder if I even have a distinctive style,” she says. “It changes based on the content of a given book. Sometimes it’s kind of light, and sometimes it’s these dark woodcuts that have three or four layers of bright color and dark outline that gives it sort of a stained-glass feel. I’m kind of all over the place and it’s determined by the content of the book, but rustic comes to mind. I don’t know if I’d describe my style as folksy, but one or two have come out that way. Part of it is driven by animal imagery, anthropomorphic figures, and I have a weak spot for mythology and bird imagery.”
One of the most intriguing artist’s books shown on her website is, in fact, about birds. Well, sort of. “Migration: a Field Guide to Love That Was and Might Have Been” looks like a birdwatcher’s notebook, but instead of text related to bird behavior and migration, it recounts the narrator’s romantic encounters.
Though Faulkenberry is the owner of Firebrand Press she says that she has very little equipment of her own, preferring instead to rent space and a cooperative studio where members of the community can also take printing classes. And while she does hold down a couple of part-time jobs in between conducting printing and bookbinding workshops, she’s always working on her craft.
“I do try to write something every day and draw something every day,” she said. “It seems like I’m always thinking about book projects: what it’s going to be like and how I can do it. I work in fits and starts. If I find two weeks I can dedicate to printing then I’ll do it. I’ll rent space somewhere and go at it full force for a week or two and then move on to the next project.”