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Interview with Debbi Crane

22 Sep 2006

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (code for cyberspace) a lonely, art-starved editor thought to free herself from her type-filled, copyediting, desk-chained days by hosting an ATC blog swap. Soon, news of the blog swap spread like spilled walnut ink, and artists from all regions of our crackle-pasted, silk-screened, and encrusted part of the universe sent in ATCs.  One such artist was Debbi Crane––and being the clever artist that she is––sent her ATCs in a "Pink House of Cards," a collaged and stitched structure to house her ATCs. It was so witty, we just had to put it in Cloth Paper Scissors.


I then learned that Debbi, mother to two daughters, has been a full-time elementary art teacher for twelve years, and even with her packed schedule has pledged to make (and finish) one piece of art every single day.

How'd this happen? A few years ago she took a class at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts with a book artist and fell head-over-heat guns in love with making handmade books. She then combined her love for celebrating ultra-feminine art with bookmaking, and developed several patterns for small 3" purse-style books. The first year that she made the pledge to make art every day, she came through with flying colors, and made a whopping 366 books. (Hey, she’s ambitious––she chose a leap year.) 

Of course I couldn't let Debbi slip through my color-washed fingers, and some of Debbi's purses grace the cover of the next issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. (Available on newsstands October 3rd.)


I thought it would be great fun for Debbi to be my guest today, so she could explain more about her inspiration and how (and when) she makes art every day.


How did you get into teaching art?

I have an undergraduate degree in elementary education and applied for a substitute job for an art teacher.  I brought my portfolio to the interview, and the superintendent was so impressed with my work that he hired me for the next art job that opened up. The rest is history. It was just meant for me to be an art teacher.

And you applied for a grant and went to Arrowmont, yes?

After I had taught about 7 years I got to go to Arrowmont for the first time ––a revelation and the following year, I applied for my Lilly Grant. The first time I went was in June 2002 and I took a class with book artist, Matt Liddle. He teaches at a university in North Carolina.

In the article you talk about making a finished (albeit small) piece of art every day. This completely fascinates me because I have little creative energy at the end of the day, and I can't fathom finishing something. What is your routine at night?

My daughters are so busy with studies and sports, so I deal with that first and sometimes teach private art lessons. I try to do my daily art before evening.

You are very busy! How much time do you allot to making something?

Sometimes I spend a good part of my lunch break at school making a paper doll. Sometimes it's just a few minutes, sometimes more.

And you said you teach private art lessons--to adults or kids and what do you teach?

I do group workshops for adults and art lessons for kids. I LOVE to teach the Ethiopian coptic and all kinds of bookbinding, dolls, and cards...lots of stuff.

Do you teach out of your house? How do you get these gigs?

I teach in my studio and put out fliers and ads in the newspaper.  Sometimes groups will hire me to come to do stuff. Once I did a book class at a bridal shower.

How did that come about?

I knew someone who was hosting the shower and she thought a book would be more fun than silly games, so we had the guests bring photos and we each made a purse-shaped tunnel book.

Had anyone ever done a book before?

I don't think so.

I thank you for bringing more people over to the dark side! Do you meet with friends to make art regularly? Do you have a small critique group or art guild?

No, not really. Other than my students, and my husband has an opinion too. Sometimes unsolicited!

Have you studied handmade books
with anyone else?

Yes: Dan Essig, Keith Smith, Dolph Smith.

Okay, confession time: Just how many handmade books have you made?

1,000, maybe. This number includes my purse-style books. I've made all kinds of books in different sizes and shapes. Right now I'm working on an outrageous fabric book.

Are you going to be teaching anywhere nationally?

Not yet. That's what I want to do when I grow up. I dream of teaching at national art retreats.

You could do it! Tell me what it was like when you got "The Call"––that you're work might be cover. Was it like the Oscars? (Tongue in cheek)

((Scream)) I thought that getting in the magazine would be the pinnacle. I have been a basket case of excitement waiting to see it. One of my colleagues asked me if I would bring it to school when it comes out. I said bring it?! I'M GOING TO WEAR IT!

Oh, how that makes me smile. I put some pressure on you when we were considering the purse books for cover. I asked if you could make more purse books that fit a very specific style and color scheme, and I only gave you 48 hours to do it. Did I stress you out? Did you make a nasty, little voodoo doll of me? How ugly was it?

Nope, I didn't. I can do anything.

My guess is you're used to pressure and can wipe that inner critique off your shoulder pretty effortlessly, seeing you've trained yourself to complete something in a short amount of time.
I have one last question, but it depends if you're watching "Project Runway" or not. I'm obsessed.

My favorite show! I'm still wounded over my boy, Santino. I have a Santino t-shirt and I made 4 Santino paper dolls.

Those are hysterical! (Everybody make sure to go check them out here.)

So, Debbi, who are you thinking will take this?  Laura? Michael, Jeff? Uli?

Michael, but will he sell his soul for a convertible?

I love Tim's blog.

Tim's podcasts are the best. I actually told a class of second graders today, "Make it work!"

Ha! On that note, I'd like to thank you for being my guest today.

I hope everyone has a chance to read Debbi's article in the next issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Look forward to more articles from Debbi  and her handmade books in future issues!

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Tammy wrote
on 22 Sep 2006 6:32 PM
I can't wait to get this issue! Very inspiring.
Connie Bailey wrote
on 23 Sep 2006 11:21 AM
This is a great story, Debbi! I always love seeing the art your students create at the annual Arts Festival.
Sandy Jandik wrote
on 23 Sep 2006 12:37 PM
What a woman! It makes me feel like a slug and pushes me to the studio.
Anna-Marie wrote
on 24 Sep 2006 8:14 PM
I am a book and paper artist and LOVED the interview. Can't wait to get my hands on a copy! Thanks for the inspiration.
Marilyn League wrote
on 25 Sep 2006 12:30 PM
The Santino doll's a scream. My granddaughter and I are stuck on PR also. We put our hands on our hips and say "Carry on" and try to be JUST like Tim.
Jane LaFazio wrote
on 26 Sep 2006 8:47 AM
Lovely interview. Great to see a photo of Debbi, and hear (well, read) how she fits art into her life on a daily basis. Meant to be an art teacher indeed!
Nici Derosier wrote
on 27 Sep 2006 5:50 PM
I fell in love with the darling pink House of Cards in the last issue; so happy you are featuring more of Debbi's work! I love when ATCS find their way into unusual displays. I am currently creating a "beaded curtain" of them...over 100 of them! This way I can stroll through part of my collection over and over as I go in and out of my studio....
Cheryl Prater wrote
on 2 Oct 2006 6:11 PM
What an inspriation! I can't even commit to taking off my eye make up every night!
Cathy Bullington wrote
on 3 Oct 2006 2:40 PM
We are all so proud of Debbi here in Bedford! I have had the opportunity to take some of Debbi's classes and always ended up with something awesome to take home. She really is an inspiration as an artist and as a person.