Leah Virsik is an artist based in Oakland. Her work is driven by an interest in materials and includes collage, sculptural fiber and book arts. She received her Masters of Fine Arts degree from San Francisco State University in 2016. In addition to directing the Adobe Art Gallery in Castro Valley, she facilitates watercolor and drawing to people with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Find out about her upcoming exhibitions and classes by subscribing to her newsletter.


I’m looking to another wonderful summer teaching a week long book arts class at Feather River Art Camp: June 9–16, 2019. Come join me!

Exploring Material and Metaphor in the Artist Book
Susan Stewart, in On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, writes that “The metaphors of the book are metaphors of containment, of exteriority and interiority, of surface and depth, of covering and exposure, of taking apart and putting together.”

Spend a fantastic week creating a variety of book structures. Start with the basics like the simple accordion and the pamphlet stitch. Get inspired by the natural environment, consider the metaphors of the book or collaborate with other campers to create something meaningful for you.

In addition, make a variety of soft and hard cover books with exposed spines including sewing around tapes, long-stitch and a modified Retchōsō binding. These books open flat and have multiple sections making them great for notebooks and sketchbooks.

You’ll have an opportunity to experiment with different materials to make covers: Momigami (kneaded paper that feels like cloth) and fused plastic. These techniques can be used to make alternative things in addition to covers. Additional materials will be available to make multiple versions of the same book to reinforce the techniques. Previous bookbinding experience is helpful, but not required.

Please bring the following materials: bonefolder, bookbinding awl available at: The Caning Shop, self-healing cutting mat, ruler and triangle or ruled square, i.e. Omnigrid, craft knife, i.e.: X-Acto knife with no. 11 blades, scissors, favorite mark-making tools: a pen and/or pencil. $30 materials fee will include a variety of papers, paints, Konnyaku and other supplies.


Self-Portraits in the Age of Selfies

January 10–February 9, 2019 | Open Thursday-Saturday, 12-5pmMercury 20, 475 25th Street, Oakland, (510) 701-4620between Telegraph & BroadwayEvents:Artists Reception: Saturday, January 19, 4-6pmFirst Friday Art Murmur: February 1, 5-9pm What are we to make of artistic self-portraits in the age of the selfie? The once rare self-portrait has become commonplace. Is there any special significance left in …

Pipe Dreams

City College of San Francisco Art Gallery August 27–September 26, 2018Reception, Thursday, September 6, 2018 | 5:30–7:30 pm Multiple capped pipes stick out of a wall of the City College of San Francisco Art Gallery. Painted in a effort to blend into the white walls, these pipes no longer serve their original purpose and speak …

Feather River Art Camp Summer 2019

I’m looking to another wonderful summer teaching a week long book arts class at Feather River Art Camp: June 9–16, 2019. Come join me! Exploring Material and Metaphor in the Artist BookSusan Stewart, in On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, writes that “The metaphors of the book are metaphors of containment, …


I took my first class on making books with Anna Wolf at UC Berkeley Extension many years ago. This is not the photographer Anna Wolf who also makes fabulous little books. I took this class because I was curious about books and I wanted to make my own portfolios for my graphic design interviews.

Since then I’ve taken classes with Victoria Heifner, Carolee Gilligan Wheeler and Susan Angebranndt to name a few at San Francisco Center for the Book. It’s a fabulous place.

Art Related
Booklyn Artists Alliance Booklyn’s mission is to promote artist books as an art form and an educational resource, to provide the general public and educational institutions with services and programming involving contemporary artist books, and to assist artists in exhibiting, distributing and publishing artist books.

Bay Area Book Artists BABA is a group of independent artists bound together by a passion for the book arts. The Book Arts Jam is BABA’s annual celebration of book art.

Artist Mike Kendall’s Creative Reuse Free Stuff in Benicia, CA. Great guy doing really interesting work.

A Beginning List of Noteworthy Blogs about Books
Alisa Golden’s Making Handmade Books
Erin Zam’s blog
Judith Hoffman’s Metalwork and Artist’s Books
Ginger Burrell’s Midnight Musings Thoughts on Making Art
Susan Angebranndt’s Green Chair Press
Fuck Yeah Book Arts
Alison Jean Worman

Books: Favorites
Making Handmade Books by Alisa Golden
Bird by Bird
by Anne Lamott
Writing Down the Bones
by Natalie Goldberg
500 Handmade Books
by Linda Kopp
The Collector by John Fowles
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Art Without Compromise* by Wendy Richmond who also writes columns for Communication Arts
The Artful Dodger and The Trickster’s Hat by Nick Bantock
The Collage Workbook by Randel Plowman
Volume I Non-Adhesive Binding Books without Paste or Glue by Keith A. Smith. I’ve found buying directly from Keith to be personally very rewarding. I also have and recommend Keith A. Smith’s Volume II Non-Adhesive Binding: 1- 2- & 3-Section Sewings and Volume III Non-Adhesive Binding: Exposed Spine Sewings.
Cover to Cover by Shereen LaPlantz
How to Make Books by Esther K. Smith Buy directly from Esther K. Smith and you might get a phone call asking how you’d like it signed. I enjoyed doing this, something Amazon just can’t do.
Collage Unleased by Traci Bautista. I saw a fabulous exhibit of Traci Bautista’s work at the Olive Hyde Gallery and was inspired to buy this book.
Making Journals by Hand by Jason Thompson. Love this book. Teesha Moore is just one fabulous artist featured in this book.
Mixed-Media Nature Journals by L.K. Ludwig. Beautiful artwork! I found out about L.K. Ludwig by perusing through the website of Carol Parks who I came across by buying The Creative Entrepreneur by Lisa Sonora Beam.

Paints and Mediums
Golden Acrylics Fluid or Heavy Body: I love working with these paints for their intense colors. You need very little paint and to extend the paint you can use equal parts medium or gel and still achieve the same color intensity. I get them from Dick Blick or Artist and Craftsman.

Golden Matte Medium or Utrecht Matte Medium or Liquitex Matte Medium: These are adhesives that I use for lightweight papers that I use in my collages. I use them straight out of the jar without dilution. If you want to adhere a heavier paper like cardstock, I suggest using a gel (Golden Soft Gel Matte, Gloss or Semi-Matte) or  polyvinyl acetate (PVA) an archival white glue for stronger adhesion. Consider the weight of the object that you are adhering to your surface. The heavier the object, the stronger the gel or glue you’ll need to adhere the object to your surface.
Matte mediums have a whiting agent that gloss mediums don’t have and give paint and papers a dullness. If this bothers you, use gloss medium as your adhesive and afterward apply a matte medium. You can apply a varnish as the very last step if you like. I like Golden Acrylic Polymer Varnish, Matte with UVLS. It  also comes in gloss and satin finishes.

Utrecht Modeling Paste Extender: I like applying this to muslin with a cake knife or applying it over stencils. It’s heavy body and it creates great texture. Some areas of the muslin I leave raw without the modeling paste. After it’s dry, I then apply watered down acrylics to the entire surface and the texture underneath is more apparent.

Dorland’s Wax Medium: I use this to help acrylic-painted book pages not stick together. I use a soft cloth to spread it on my dried pages. It’s a wax and can be used as a resist as well.

Liquitex Clear Acrylic GessoI like using this to prime muslin or mix it with acrylic paint and paint directly onto raw muslin. Then you can have any color gesso that you like. I like the regular Liquitex Gesso as well. It’s white and I use it instead of titanium (opaque) white paint. If one wanted a more transparent white then one could use Zinc White. More info about the difference between zinc and titanium whites.
Tesia Blackburn gives free worthwhile Golden lectures in San Francisco and beyond.

Paper (My favorites for bookbinding)
Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Sheets 90 lb. (22″ x 30″) I order it online from Dick Blick. I haven’t found it in stores yet. If you want to try it, it’s the same paper that’s in Strathmore’s Mixed-Media Visual Journals. Roz Stendahl has written extensively about this paper.
Velin Arches or Velin D’Arches (previously Arches Text Wove) sized at 19.5″ x 25.5″ is available at Artist and Craftsman in Berkeley, CA. I don’t know if they sell it online. It’s sold individually or in a 10 pack. It’s also available online from Daniel Smith in 25″ x 40″ sheets. It’s also a great paper to use if you are making paste papers. Also great for letterpress.
Fabriano Artistico Hot Press 140 lb. (22″ x 30″) Teesha Moore turned me onto this paper. Great paper for accordion folds.
Paper: Cutting Tip If you buy large sheets of paper, parent sheets, you’ll need to get them cut down. San Francisco Center for the Book has a guillotine paper cutter as well as a board sheer. Art stores will also tend to know and recommend places where you can get paper cut down. Make friends with a printer. Green Graphics on Broadway, close to Dick Blick Art Materials in Oakland has a fancy digital cutter.

Paper: Distributors
Kelly Paper
Neenah Paper Want to try out their paper? Order some samples first.
JC Paper For Mohawk Superfine Writing 28lb and Via Felt Text 23 x 35 inches, bright white, M. Weight 136, Basis weight: 080, Product code: 6001006
French Paper I can’t wait to try their paper. Lots of colors and textures! (Grain direction is second number: the grain direction of a sheet of 25″ x 19″ paper would go along the 19″ length) In California, if you want samples, you can contact Spicers Paper and request via their sample department: 510-476-7700.
Hiromi Paper is a great paper store in Santa Monica, CA.
Artist and printmaker Deborah Sibony clued me into Lenz Arts in Santa Cruz, CA for great deals on Rives BFK paper.

In the mail…I’ve been saving envelopes for the printed insides to do something with. Estate sales, garage sales, etc. When you’re focused on particular things they show up in your life. Tell your friends what you collect and they’ll give it to you!
Daiso The Japanese $1.50 store. I’ve only been to the one in Union City, CA but they have many different locations. Almost everything is $1.50. I’ve found the most fabulous office supplies here. Buy it while you can though, I don’t always find the same thing twice but then there are always new things… watch out… multiple things at $1.50 add up quick!
Oakland Museum’s White Elephant Sale I love this place. I loaded up on office supplies this year. I’ll definitely be back next year!
Alameda Antique Fair or Alameda Flea Market This place has been hit or miss for me for office/art supplies but always a fun place to go. I found a great map there for $5 I haven’t used yet and then a dictionary for $1. It always seems like the cheapest items are easier to create into something new.
Recology A fabulous place to go period. I went to an Artist in Residence Exhibit Opening here and also found that they had lots of recycled objects that they were giving away as well. Don’t know if that always happensbut it was definitely a bonus to the show. I highly recommend going to an AiR show or even taking a tour.
San Francisco’s Scroungers Center for Reusable Art Parts (SCRAP) I’ve found wallpaper books here and lots of paper and cards. I could get lost in here.
Oakland’s East Bay Depot for Creative Re-Use It’s awesome. Check it out. New things, all the time.
Impress Rubber Stamps I was visiting my sister in Washington and happened upon this place. I first discovered eyelets there and what you could do with them many years ago. While there are more local places to find these things now, I still go and visit them every once and a while.

Supplies: Thread
The Caning Shop in Berkeley, CA and online sells waxed linen thread as well as awls and bone folders. I have found smaller spools of thread from Paper Source. Waxed linen thread is not always my favorite, especially on coptic bindings. It can look extra waxy, especially when one is using heavier ply thread. Additional resources for thread and other bookbinding supplies: Royal Wood Ltd.John Neal Books, Volcano ArtsHollanders, and Talas. Talas is always a great go-to place for bookbinding supplies.

Supplies: Favorite Tools
Silky Brand Nevanon Scissors from Hida Tool in Berkeley, CA are sharp, cut through glued papers and are wonderful to use.

I love my Japanese Screw Punch. I actually have lots of other punches but this is the only one I would recommend. It’s just heavenly to use. I purchased mine from Volcano Arts but it’s also available many other places like Talas which is an incredible resource for Professional Archival, Bookbinding, Conservation and Restoration Supplies.

I have the Home Pro LR eyelet setter. (No longer produced.) I like it especially because it “curls” eyelet backs, instead of splitting them and for its versatility in punching paper, chipboard, acrylic and metal. For ease of transport and other reasons I currently prefer the Better Eyelet tool at Volcano Arts with the nubby. I use a hammer and a drive punch (available from Talas) to create the hole.

Travel Tools (not necessarily for air-travel)
awls: heavy-duty and light-duty, needles, book to journal in, squeegee for collage, bonefolder, miniature self healing cutting mat, glue brush, scissors, pens, pencils, eraser, wax, linen-thread, pencil sharpener, craft knife, extra blades, Omnigrid Quilter’s square

Tutorials: Book Binding
Crossed Structure Binding by Carmencho Arruegui

Tutorials: Embroidery
creativebug.com  Embroidery classes with Rebecca Ringquist
Great illustration of a whip stitch for joining blanket stitches
Blanket Stitch Tutorial For enough thread when sewing the blanket stitch measure five times the length that you’re sewing. Thanks to Aura Main’s blanket stitch video.
I like to do a weaver’s knot when I’m adding thread and here’s one and another good explanation.