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Spotlight on Faculty: Tia Blassingame, Director of Scripps College Press Assistant Professor of Book Arts/Scripps Press

A black woman with short black hair and wearing a blue dress working in an art studio.

This fall, 11 new tenure-track faculty members joined Scripps College. As part of our ongoing series on Scripps’ faculty, the Office of Marketing and Communications recently sat down with Tia Blassingame to discuss artists’ books, architecture, Scripps College Press, and unique valentines.

Marketing and Communications: You direct Scripps College Press, as well as own your own, Primrose Press. What does operating a press involve?

Tia Blassingame: Running my own press involves creating my own artwork, but it also allows for collaborations. Sometimes it’s centered on custom work, like wedding books and invitations. But my focus is really printmaking in the book form—artists’ books—which could honestly take any form or be any format. Sometimes it’s letterpress printed, or it takes on a digital format.

My subject matter is purposefully broad: I look at issues of race and racism in the United States—issues of race are in everything. Having that loose parameter allows me to dip in anywhere, whether it’s a historical issue or contemporary. I tend to work on a lot of projects at the same time, so the press is really my own explorations around those topics.

MC: What kinds of books do students create at Scripps College Press?

TB: The students create individual books as well as collaborative class books, which have standing order patrons such as alumnae, libraries, universities, and museums. Since I’ve started, we’ve moved from fine press books [traditionally bound, letterpress-printed books] to artists’ books. Artists’ books can look like anything, so it’s more about the interaction between the reader, the book, and the book’s ideas. One of the definitions of an artist’s book is that there must be some kind of interaction. It might be a physical interaction, or it might disrupt the reader through its form. As students create these books, they’re starting to explore and think outside the box.

The artists’ books at Denison Library help students see what’s possible. They explode students’ understanding of what a book can be and what engagement with that book can look like. An artist’s book could be about anything, look like anything, sound like anything—the sound of the string as you’re turning pages, like in Keith Smith’s Book 91, A String Book, could be part of the experience. I think it’s really important, as students are learning about artists’ books, to think about all of the senses. There are books that have scents and fragrances in them, and those can trigger memories.

Artists’ books can be strange, and that’s okay! But they’re also impactful and memorable, and they can be containers for pretty challenging subject matter. These books can have a conversation with the reader in a way that might not be possible with a standard textbook or an article.

MC: You have graduate degrees in printmaking and book arts, but your undergraduate degree is in architecture. How has architecture informed your work with artists’ books and at Scripps College Press?

TB: Architecture is very much part of my process, as well as part of the process I present to students. Artists’ book projects are just like any type of architectural project—they have production schedules and complexity. I think it’s very important to create mock-ups as I’m working toward that final product. I always work to scale, since it gives me a lot of information about whether things are working in the way I think they’re going to work. If you make a scale mock-up, it’s much faster to create and bind the material, and you can use it to make notes about the final product. I wouldn’t have that kind of framework without the architectural degree, and I doubt I would be doing this work without that background.

MC: What’s a fun fact about yourself you’d like to share with the community?

TB: I organize this artists’ valentine swap with composers, printmakers, musicians, poets, and other bookmakers. Each person makes and receives three or four valentines from artists they don’t really know, from across disciplines. It’s so much fun to receive anything from an erasure poem to a printed musical score! This year’s valentine swap includes an amazing group of emerging and established artists.

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