Each year on the seventh day of the seventh month, ILSSA celebrates its own version of The Festival to Plead for Skills. The festival is derived from the Chinese holiday of Qi Xi and the Japanese festival of Tanabata, in which celebrants wish for the betterment of their own craftsmanship. Instead of wishing, the ILSSA festival is a holiday of PRACTICING. Every year on July 7, ILSSA members observe this holiday by practicing a skill: using a tool, trying a method, honing a technique. Members are asked to take a picture of their practice, and to send this photo along with a brief paragraph description to the Co-Operators.

Historically, the collection of Festival photos and descriptions have been published in print form and distributed to all members as a part of the ILSSA Quarterly. Beginning with the 2013 Festival documentation, we are transitioning to a web-based, digital publishing format. It is our hope that this will better cultivate and celebrate our community of practicing.

We invite all members to join us on July 7, 2014, as we practice together again! For the 2014 Festival, our goal is to digitally post contributions as soon as they are received, so be sure to send in your photo and paragraph to operator(at)impractical-labor.org and we will share your practice with the membership. Happy Practicing!


Sarah Bryant (Local 302 Shop BJP)

On July the 7th, 2014, I took some time to practice with a new pair of tools: a tiny saw and a tiny miter box. I need to make some corners for a display area in a new edition and I'd like to use wood, a new material for me as far as my books go. So I bought some strips of wood and some new tools and got to work. A little sandpaper, a little glue, a little linseed oil, and my corners came together just fine. Time to order additional materials and start editioning. Making tiny corners turns out to be pretty satisfying, and linseed oil sure smells nice.


"Michael" Cunningham (Local 847 Shop "M")

With the load-date for an upcoming woodfire looming, I could not dedicate festival day to exploring a new skill. I had to double-down on my usually practice of carving to try and get a piece fully finished for the next firing. That said, the carving I worked on that night was definitely a learning experience because I was really pushing my abilities to their limit. I was carving a porcelain yunomi (a Japanese-style handle-less cup) and never before had I done such detailed and extensive carving inside such a tight, confined space. My primary focus for the night was carving the fishnet knots that can be seen in my photo of the yunomi interior.

This pieces had started simply enough with a large cormorant (a fish-eating diving bird) carved on the outside. it was the start of a commentary on the rebound of the cormorant population after the banning of DDT and the fear some fishermen have of a dwindling harvest due to competition with wildlife. I rarely know what the finished piece will be when I start carving, I just know the starting point and the themes I want to touch upon. I had the cormorant, but how was I going to layer in commercial fishing? When I thought of the fishnet solution for the interior, I almost dismissed it as too time consuming, but I've never rejected an idea for that reason. Particularly not an idea with such great visual potential. So as my fellow union members declare, I too avow, "As Many Hours As It Takes."


Marianne Dages (Local 215 Shop MD)

Today I am making a notebook out of an old book that I brought back from my trip to Iceland last year. I am using the bone folder I made and the paper tearing knife I made. I wasn't able to bring many things back from Iceland so I will use this book and every time I do it will make me think of my time there.


Amanda D'Amico (Local 215 Shop AD)

My goal for the festival: don't over think your studio practice. Assignment: One Page Book in a Day, edition of 25. Drawing all morning, layout and photocopying in the afternoon, folding in the evening. Content: all the food I ate over the holiday weekend. Because sometimes you just want to draw pictures of bagels and ice cream.


Lyman Edwards (Local 850 Shop LL)

I endeavored to learn the skill of pinstriping and scrolling using a pinstriper's paint brush and sign painting enamel. I want to learn how to control the brush and the paint with the eventual goal of adding some scroll work and pintstripes to the truck.


Bridget Elmer (Local 347 Shop FS)

I spent the day practicing printmaking without ink at Ox-Bow, where I am currently co-teaching a two-week class in the Print Studio with fellow ILSSA member Jessica Peterson. After our class concludes, I will be teaching a workshop at Wildacres where I will not have access to a letterpress -- an unfamiliar and challenging situation for me. To calm my nerves, and inspired by a book by fellow ILSSA member Sarah Bryant, I decided to try a technique of pressure printing with carbon paper on one of the etching presses here at Ox-Bow. It was a real joy to forgo my usual materials and equipment for the day and immerse myself in something new. Thank you to ILSSA for the invitation to practice, and to my colleagues for the inspiration!


Lauren Emeritz (Local 202 Shop LE)

I have been working on hand carving oversized letters out of wood to print on the letterpress. I use flexicut and olfa tools and a technique I learned in a workshop at Bookworks in Asheville in 2013. Sometime I post images of my work here: twitter.com/LE_dc.


Maria Epes (Local 828 Shop ME)

The skill that I miss the most is plain old drawing and so I decided July 7 would be the day to start doing a little of it, as often as possible. So I began near home and walked up my road to the the farm nearby and drew the black Angus cows who were staying cool under the trees. It felt great to fill up 9 pages in my sketchbook of these fascinating forms. Here is page 1. Cows have remarkable bodies, so different from the cats and dog that I am much more used to studying. All the relationships of neck to head, limbs to body have such different proportions. Felt fresh and good. Thank you ILSSA for the Festival!


Eric Farber (Local 646 Shop KO)

I'm up here at the Bard MFA program. I sent the notice about The Festival to Plead for Skills out to the whole program this morning! Here's my new skill: poetry.

The program up here at Bard brings the disciplines of sculpture, film, painting, photography, music, and writing together in a format that welcomes cross-pollination. I am in the music/sound discipline. I have noticed that when we all get together to critique each other's work (which happens daily in a formal setting), I have the most difficulty critiquing the work of the writers over any other discipline. This year's Festival to Plead for Skills has given me the opportunity to make my first poem since high school. I am going to see what some writers have to say about it -- hopefully this will be the start of building a common understanding!

See you next year, Festival to Plead for Skills!


John Labovitz (Local 503 Shop JL)

I've done electronics hacking since I was a kid, but it's been on the back burner for too long as an art medium. Today I decided to (1) dedicate a workspace to this craft; (2) organize my piles of wires, components, hardware, etc.; and (3) practice electronics by assembling a couple of small kits that have been sadly neglected. I do miss the smell of solder!


Lark (Local 206 Shop DP)

I wanted something simple, precise and methodical, employing an elegant tool. So I spent today hand stitching into linen, trying to perfect the stitch, simple repetition turning flat cloth into a three dimensional receptacle.


Emily Larned (Local 917 Shop RC)

This year I am practicing portability yet again, as I find myself far from my studio on 7/7. After a day of workshop teaching, I'm knitting my first sweater here in Rochester, NY!


Melanie Mowinski (Local 413 Shop 29P)

I practiced using my Ames Lettering guide. The Ames Lettering guide allows the user to draft out multiple lines that are equal distance apart. It even factors into it the leading and x-height. I use it when creating highly controlled hand-written compositions. Today I am practicing getting faster with making the lines and making the lines consistent.


Jessica Peterson (Local 973 Shop PS)

Today, I practice drawing. I hate drawing/rendering image by hand, but will practice using several one color drawing implements: a lead pencil, a yellow highlighter, a permanent marker. I will draw on one piece of paper with one implement until I feel the drawing is complete, and then start a new drawing. I hope this will feed a new practice of sketchbooking.


Anna Lena Phillips (Local 919 Shop AL)

After setting aside a book of poems for too long, I’ve made it my labor today, and all this month, to decide its order. I set up an abacus-style series of strings upon which slips of paper with the titles can be grouped, and placed a related set of poems on each line. I adjust the order by sliding the slips of paper, or moving them from one position to another, and I read it by moving among the lines in a zigzag, like you’d do when reading music. With a working order sorted out, I have begun clipping half-sheets with the full poems’ text to a separate, single line, which feels possible now that I have the first apparatus to play with.

As a break, I folded and handed out twenty or so copies of the first entry in Forces of Attention, a series of printed objects designed to help people remember what exists outside of their screened devices.


Erin Sweeney (Local 603 Shop ES)

This year, I'm working on a project with a group of fabulous ladies in North Adams, MA all about dresses. We're exploring the ideas of freedom and confinement. I'm making a corset out of Tyvek that will be built out, like a house. I'm going the confinement route...and, along with our dresses, we're doing a print exchange using this superawesome folded paper pattern. I spent my time folding lots of dresses, changing sizes and manipulating the pattern a bit.

I will confess to not doing everything exactly on the 7th, as I was doing a long drive home that day -- and also that week, at my part-time job, I thought a lot about impractical labor as I was shoveling three truckloads of sand into a wheelbarrow, rolling it down a hill and into a barn, where I was dumping it and raking it, lifting the barn floors a couple of inches. It was an impractical kind of week!


John Vincent (Local 802 Shop REV)

At A Revolutionary Press on the 7th day of the 7th month of 2014, I worked in collaboration with Martha Briana, graduate student in the MFA program at Southern Illinois University.

The act of collaborating, or just working alongside of another printmaker, in my small letterpress studio is definitely a skill I need to work on. This collaboration was Martha's idea and consists of a series of 10 prints where we present the other with a print which the other will answer by means of their regular printmaking activity. For Martha this is usually done through printing an image from a carved woodblock. For me, it is composing handset type and printing words and sentences for a broadside.

While I work on setting type for the text that I will print and then give to Martha to respond to, she carves and prints a woodblock which I will have to "answer". Her choice was to carve a larger than life size image of a small metal ornament (familiar to all letterpress printers) and print it in the middle of a sheet of paper.

Upon being presented with this print I have to now formulate an answer by setting type and printing it on the paper. I based my choice of text on the feeling I got when seeing an over-sized border ornament dominating the page, instead of its regular role as decoration around a block of text.

Thus I composed this sentence: "perhaps in a more perfect world civilization communicates with ornaments and words are marginalized". I print the letters around the image as I would do so with ornaments in a border; the usual purpose being to set off a 'supposed' important word or sentence which typically occupies center stage in my work.