Awards can be a wonderful thing. I was given a medal a couple of years ago for being a living organ donor. The medal sits in a custom wooden box on a shelf, under a 1970s wooden carved bust Godfrey gave me to when I was a teenager. The award is but a symbol. The actually blood and guts sacrifice is impossible to imagine when you see the medal. However it is a nice thing to look at every so often. It’s golden-coloured and shiny. It has a dogwood flower engraved on it (BC’s provincial tree). This bitty piece of metal is a symbol of that particular struggle and the triumph of life.
At my friend Elsie’s suggestion late in 2014, I sent a copy of my first book “Wood Storms, Wild Canvas: The Art of Godfrey Stephens” to the IPPY Awards: The 19th Annual Independent Book Awards 2015. Then I promptly forgot about it. Then I remembered about it a few weeks ago. So, I went to the website. Didn’t see my book listed as a winner in the art category. So I forgot about it again.
Then yesterday, I got a big envelope in the mail. I had no idea what was in it. Just opened it up. A chunky round metallic golden thing fell out of the envelope and almost broke my toe!
My brow furrowed, I picked it up and was wondering who was trying to sell me what. I get free pens, address stickers and books in the mail routinely. Well….It turns out that my first published book won a Gold Medal for Best Regional Non-Fiction! Over 5700 entries for the IPPY awards were submitted. I was smiling. (I should have checked the Regional Awards section!)
This award is particularly lovely because it’s truly independent recognition – after years of planning and months of furious work with a free-spirited, loving, wonderful y muy complicado artist who is my father’s older brother. It is also a testament to all the people who contributed words, photos and stories… from my father to Lloyd Kahn to Robert Amos. Peter Grant to Joe David to Aija Steele. Truly, many a time I worried that I might spend forever writing this book. There was so much I didn’t know about Godfrey and had to learn and pronto. I didn’t even realize that he was a ‘real’ oil on canvas painter until a few years ago! I thought he only painted watercolors and boats. How wrong I was! His large murals go back to the 1960s. I had to learn the difference between a print and an original. I had to learn how to use a camera. I ended up with a PhD in Godfrey. Over a few years, I sorted through thousands of photos letters and emails and needed Godfrey’s advice and blessing to incorporate the best of them into the book. Of course (?!) I love Godfrey to bits but to say that the process was challenging is a bit of an understatement.
Here’s an anecdote that illustrates the process.
me: Godfrey can you please tell me about this boat?
Godfrey: It’s not a significant boat. I sailed it a couple times and then gave it away.
Me: (writing this down: not a significant boat). But I’d like to use it, it’s a beautiful picture of the boat on seaweed. Please Godfrey! Focus por favor. What is it called? Where is it now? When was it made?
Godfrey: Gah, it’s a modified Rushton Sailing Canoe wth a junk main. I called it S/V Lil Till. Now woah! Hey! Look at this picture of my friend from Jamaica in 1964. No – – OH! Look at this one!
(30 minutes later)
Me: Godfrey can I just review with you some of these pictures before I leave?
Godfrey: Wait! Just look at this picture now!
Me: Godfrey please focus with me.
Godfrey: yeah, but listen to this groovy tune. This takes me back to Paris where I lived on the Seine in a houseboat owned by Picasso’s dentist.
Me: Really? Wow. (looking at my watch and putting the photo of the boat in front of his nose). Okay Uncle G, I have to go, I wrote that this is S/V Lil Til, a Rushton sailing canoe. Also it’s not a significant boat.
Godfrey: WHAT!!!??? WHY ARE YOU SAYING THAT’S NOT A SIGNIFICANT BOAT!? Gurdeep, it has travelled all over the world, on the Nile and in all the oceans of the world. You can’t say that it’s not significant!
Me: (sheepish, incredulous and mildly indignant) I’m just reading back what you said a few minutes ago.
Godfrey: You have to get your facts straight.
Repeat this process for each image and word that went into the book. The Storms in the title could very well refer not only to the art but the process of creating this book. We argued (in mostly a friendly way) ad nauseum. Poor Godfrey, neither of us had ever published a book before and we didn’t know really what we were doing. The worst were low-res photos that would print small but looked good on screen. Godfrey couldn’t understand why… We also argued over text. Godfrey wanted me to not have any explanations about the art. He wanted to include his friends and their art. And write the whole book in Haiku’s. Or better yet, without any words whatsoever. “Make people really work to understand it,” was his idea. I like the idea of an experimental book but I wanted a more classic coffee table book. Godfrey is hard enough to understand to begin with. And his art! His art is multiple layers upon multi-dimensional layers of meanings and quadruple entrendres. Flipping through the book Godfrey wanted would be like going through his photos with him. Interesting, entertaining and good until you had to go, leaving you a little befuddled if not entirely convoluted.
I won’t get into the time I was at the studio trying to get information on photos and Godfrey decided to modify a friend’s print with some red vino….
I started the book after I recovered from being an organ donor. Wanting to preserve highlights of Godfrey’s extraordinary life and ouevre before it became ‘too late,’ il libro became a top priority hobby for me. After making 7 blurb books (which Godfrey ripped apart page by page and rightly so), I decided to hire a graphic designer to speed up the process and have someone else to collaborate with. And hopefully team up with me to counter some of the more dada-esque ideas from Godfrey.
I started to work full-steam on this book after recovering sufficiently from rehab to write, talk and walk properly again. I thought it would be a gentle slide back into function. But instead of a soft landing, it was a hair-tearing few months. Fortunately, I met Marial Shea, an amazing editor who was able to be the literary sounding board I needed. She was the book’s big stroke of luck.
However, in the process of making the book, I found out that a graphic designer isn’t quite the same thing as a full-time book designer. I learned this to my chagrin (the hard way) the very week that the book was due at the printers. I thought the book looked great. I had pretty much sat next to the designer for every page, a lot of which was based on my own blurb book trials. The cover needed to be redone. Massive props to excellent graphic designer Dave Carey .
Through this process of making an art book, I learned that it is mostly about the pictures. From my iphone to fancy cameras, if the photo isn’t fabulous, it renders the work (however impressive) dull. So much gratitude to the twenty-something photographers who contributed photos. Especial thanks to my cousin Aija Steele for her photography. (You can see her work at the Duck Creek Gallery on Salt Spring Island).
Even fixing up the low-res photos, Marial had issues with the book. She said to me that the average person probably wouldn’t notice the kinds of things she was concerned about from a book-design perspective. I didn’t really know what she was talking about. But she convinced me to scramble last minute to find a dedicated specialty book designer to complete the book. Marial explained that ‘book-people’ would really note the details. I asked my sister and mom their opinion and they both said, “Delay if you must but make the best book you possibly can’. Wise counsel. No wonder they are so successful in business. It’s all about a quality product. A dedicated book designer is a person who has been perpetually smitten with a blessed evergreen love-affair with books. The fonts, the colors, the alignment. Where typesetting is top priority. Where consistency gives shivers up and down spines (pun intended!).
Book designer and photographer Jan Westendorp was on a first-name basis with Godfrey’s “Woodstorm” carving and was delighted to help make the book beautiful on a tight turn-around time for the ‘Book-intellgensia.” So, I got an extension from the printers (which wouldn’t delay the launch significantly). Jan is a marvellous creature. “I’m all about the project,” she said repeatedly doing what she called ‘a substantial renovation’ on the book. True to her words, All-About-The-Project-Jan worked day and night to meet the deadline, redesigned every spread, changed all the fonts and even re-did some of the sailing pages multiple times.
It had to be. Right.
Wood Storms, Wild Canvas is an art book, a coffee table book, a history of a uniquely talented artist. It was and is a labour of love. It was made with FSC certified paper. It was printed in Canada and made with eco friendly inks. It was not a cheap book to make. I am proud of this book. I am also delighted to inform that for the first 1000 books printed, 1000 trees were planted in BC. Beauty and industry must come full-circle and interweave cherished values.
Many people have told me how important the book is to them. Long time friends and admirers of Godfrey’s work finally can make some sense of the artist known as Goofi. To have all his various genres in one place in full color with explanations to contextualize it – Ah how wonderful! To have a sense of the breadth and scope of his output. To read his own grammatically-creative and poetic musings. To hear from respected artists and writers about Godfrey. To be just gob-smacked by the visual poetry.
It was a stormy ride but the proof is in the pages! That Gold Medal validates all that hard work with uncertain outcome; it means more than the IPPY Book Awards could probably imagine.
The book is available on amazon and at selected independent bookstores. For more information, please go to woodstormswildcanvas.com. To follow the art, please go to Facebook or Instagram. To buy Godfrey’s art, please contact Godfrey through his site http://godfreystephens.com/godfreysart/Welcome/Welcome.html . You can also try Aija Steele’s Duck Creek Gallery http://www.duckcreekgallery.com/Welcome.html
This is a sort of post-script written 2 days after this first post. I was so excited about the award that I didn’t even look it up until just now. According to wiki “The Independent Publisher Book Award is considered one of the highest honors for books published by independent publishers.” Here’s a slightly fuzzy selfie (it’s hard to keep the camera still, I wonder how the zillions of self-takers manage to get good photos?!) wearing the medal with Godfrey’s “Endangered Species” in the background: