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, 2015, as we practice together again! For the 2015 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!


Anna Lena Phillips Bell (Local 919 Shop AL)

I thought I’d forgotten to practice on 7/7, but then I remembered: I spent hours at my computer, working with a scan of calligraphy done by my mom, using Illustrator and Photoshop to render her work laser-printable. Recalling this makes me aware of the different ways I value my labor in the physical world and in digital spaces. I feel so push-pull about it: how annoying — and how unhealthy — to stare so long at a screen. And it’s hard to have the chance at something “perfect” (as we are lately led to conceive of it), but to have only an incomplete view of the tools I’m using to try to get it.

If I’m setting type, or writing a letter, or sewing a book, I’m moving around, moving other things around. The mechanisms I’m working with, while still sometimes opaque and mysterious to me, are at least more intelligible — and more fun to interact with. And the experience of being out of time that comes with working hard at some physical-world art or craft feels magical—whereas, when I have that experience in my computer, it’s almost a scary feeling, one of being lost to the world.

The ability to make and repair in the physical world is a privilege. I love it and feel responsible to it. And I appreciate this laptop and software, which allow me to make my mother’s handwork replicable — that I therefore don’t have to ask her to calligraphize as many copies as I need (too many, in this instance), and that I can play with layout and color in a way that would be harder on the page. Here is an example — flourish by Sharon M. Phillips, digitized by me with the aid of Adobe.


Sarah Bryant (Local 302 Shop BJP)

The 2015 festival was a carving day at Big Jump Press in anticipation of a printing day in the near future.


Alyson Coward (Local 831 Shop QXIZ)

Yes it be true, Local 831 Shop QXIZ has not only drafted her own bowling score sheet, but multitasked as the bowling scorekeeper, keeping up-to-the-minute scores current by pure brain power.


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

Skill practiced: carving at home. This may not seem like an actual skill that needs cultivating, but I must confess that I have not been carving at home despite sincere intentions to do so. I do my ceramics work at a community college and recently the administration implemented a onerous policy that eliminates unmonitored studio access. The time that I would normally be in the studio has been reduced at least four hours per week and the extra hours I would occasionally put in are completely unavailable. This new reality is why I need to become proficient at carving at home. Truth be told, after clearing a space, gathering supplies, setting up the camera and doing some extra work for my day job, I only did 40 minutes of carving on the seventh day of the seventh month. But the other thing I need to embrace is the truism that little bits of time add up. And hour here and a half an hour there will eventually add up to as many hours as it takes.


Bridget Elmer (Local 347 Shop FS)

For the 2015 ILSSA Festival to Plead for Skills, I practiced a skill that I sorely lack… a technique so unfamiliar to me that I'm not even sure what to call it. As the 7th day of the 7th month approached this year, I realized that I deeply needed to practice saying no — making brain space, curating my daily experience, filtering the noise. Upon pondering this most difficult skill to master, and the many forms it could take, it occurred to me that such a practice is, in and of itself, seemingly obsolete these days. The now of our moment seems to be about saying yes perpetually, answering all correspondence immediately, and listening to everything that everyone has to say. Quite honestly, it's driving me a bit batty. So, for our annual festival of practicing, I practiced saying no in the contemporary forum of yes that makes me feel the most uncomfortable — Facebook. I practiced by clicking the Unfriend button… many times… while reassuring myself that the act was not judgmental, cruel, or definitive, as the interface seems designed to make me feel, but instead honest, caring, and necessary. It was not easy… in fact it made my palms sweat and my mind race… but with each click, I became more comfortable and confident in my practice. And as the day came to a close, when I revisited the streaming wall of yes that is my Facebook News Feed, I am proud to report that I was *actually* interested in most of what I encountered… and it felt good to be there. Thank you, ILSSA, for the opportunity to say no — all day long.


Lauren Emeritz (Local 202 Shop LE)

Today, I used my xacto to cut some letters out of paper to remind myself, design is fun!


Maria Epes (Local 828 Shop ME)

This year I worked on a reduction print block for my second color on a 3-color image. I printed the first color, yellow, and then cut away everything that I do not want to print in the next color, red. I will cut away again for the the last color which will be a deep sepia. The image is translated from a drawing in my journal (far left in image) to a relief print in an edition of 12. I am always grateful to be inspired to work; ILSA and the Festival to Plead for Skills make this day special!


John Labovitz (Local 503 Shop JL)

Though I'd meant to practice something more traditionally art-oriented, my Festival day had me instead helping my friend Natalie build an herb spiral outside my front door. She adamantly but pleasantly refused my offer to place the larger rocks and boulders around the spiral, and pointed out that she could use some smaller rocks to create better drainage. So, several buckets in hand, I trudged down the hill and across the road to an orchard. It was a pleasant day, and being in the calm meadow under the West Virginia sun was a welcome interlude to an overly social week. Grasshoppers and ants and spiders and I did our work. What was the skill I practiced, exactly? Perhaps a few: quietude, observation, assistance, and being present.


Emily Larned (Local 917 Shop RC)

Most often when I impractically labor, the obsolete technology involved is some kind of craft, requiring nothing more than my hands, tools, and materials. Or, my labor involves an interaction with a mechanical machine, like a Vandercook. The Vandercook might make some errors, or more precisely permit me to make some errors -- but regardless it does not produce error messages. Getting error messages is typically not something I encounter while impractically laboring. Well, not today. Today I decided to try out a new-to-me purple drum for my recently acquired friend, a 10 year old Risograph RZ990. I got a few streaky, crappy prints and then nothing but this System Error / Recovery Has Failed message. All I could deduce from the manual was that this allegedly "refurbished" drum was a bust. Back to the seller it went. Using the Riso in its large gray plastic box with its digital display interface and oblique error messages can be frustrating, but I remain in awe of its capabilities. Like all things ILSSA, learning a new process (even! just! using! an! office!! machine!!!) is itself a process. Getting to know my new friend's habits, likes, and dislikes is part of this process. It's all part of ILSSA practice. We had a chat, me and my machine, and together we did successfully use the existing black drum to edition a page by Local 917 Shop JB Jen Bervin. (My Riso likes the HD black ink.) So, some success after all. Thank you, Riso RZ990, for your service today. Fellow impractical laborers, you'll see fruits of this labor in the next ILSSA mailing later this summer!


Scott McCarney (Local 585 Shop VB)





For this year's FESTIVAL, I spent time translating photos and drawings of binding structures into working models. I concentrated on pamphlet sewings with different cover treatments for a series of four "samphlets."

The first is patterned after a sixfold dos-a-dos binding from the National Library of Sweden, a web link forwarded to me by Carl Chiarenza. I translated the leather bound, heavy boarded and clasped example into a 4 x 6 inch book whose cover is folded from a single 12 x 18 inch sheet of cover stock.

Two early Janus Press chapbooks with simple yet interesting covers caught my eye in the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at RIT. One utilized a turn-in of an outer wrapper tipped to the fore edge of the folio the signature was sewn into and reinforced with 2-ply museum board inserts. The second had a cloth spine tipped to the signature support with folios of decorative papers tipped over each cover.

The last sample came from a posting by Peter Verheyens on the Book Arts Web. It was devised by Tracey Rowledge for a paper-back copy of a book she'd been commissioned to bind in full leather. I'm not sure if I made this the same way as she did as the photographs of her binding exhibited much more skill than I possess. I like the triangular spine that helps flesh out the covers of a healthy signature.

It was a great opportunity to take the time to work these things out. I doubt I'd have gotten to it without the Festival to Plead for Skills. The only complaint I would register is the Festival always falls on the hottest day in Rochester, so please pardon the sweat stains.


Aaron Cohick (Local 719 Shop NLP) + Marina Eckler (Local 719 Shop MFB) + Han Sayles

The Colorado Springs ILSSA members hosted a public Festival event at Mountain Fold Books, a non-profit bookstore/gallery in downtown Colorado Springs. It was held on the eve of the festival, on Monday, July 6, in conjunction with a regularly occurring event on Monday nights that is pretty much the same thing as the festival: Art Night!

The official description of the MFB Art Night is: "Art Night is a mixed-media gathering, establishing an active, vibrant & collaborative community of artists, philosophers, filmmakers, doers and makers in COS. Bring a little something to work on, a practice to practice; a drawing, painting, poem, zine, a piece of jewelry or your knitting project. Bring an idea that you'd like to bounce around. Work solo or talk collaboration. Be together in the act of pulling something from the void, to tangible fruition."

We brought in the ILSSA Quarterlies and other ephemera for folks to look at.

See more pictures of the activity from the night...


Melanie Mowinski (Local 413 Shop 29P)

I purchased "sh*t" from Virgin Wood type a number of years ago. I don't know why I didn't buy all the swear words they were making then, and I wish I would have, because they aren't making them any more. But I have one and finally have the project for it.

My husband has been hounding me to make a card for him. So I decided 7-7-15 was the day.

The card? On the outside "If you're lucky, the shit storm will pass." On the inside, "If not, BREATHE deeply."

I used the Virgin Wood type "sh*t" and some of my 16 pt Helvetica. The pink and black cards will be sold with a forest green envelope. My husband thinks they will be our best seller yet.


Sarah Nicholls (Local 347 Shop SN)

Risographed pages of marbling courtesy Small Editions!


Pilar Nadal (Local 585 Shop PN)

This ABDick 360 was gifted to our studio a while ago. I'm not even sure how long ago. That long. Anyway, it's been on my list to practice (and hopefully eventually master) printing with it. Maybe it wasn't the best day to practice, as we also hosted a public festival to plead for skills — because I swear, that machine knew when someone was watching me and all progress went out the window. BUT everyone graciously made a pronto plate for me to practice with and I ruined all but one, and didn't make a single print. I made a poster in anticipation of the event with the Nigerian proverb: "it is not only the fox, even the snail reaches its destination." In the height of my frustration I remembered that, and realized that if I didn't practice this today, I wouldn't have all the questions I gained, nor the impetus to try again tomorrow. We had a grand time all day long, making plates, filling out instant books, eating cookies and finally settling on a name for this soon to be workhorse: "dammit!"


Katherine Soucie (Local 604 Shop SS)

Vancouver artist Zoe Welch joined me for the day to practice the art and skill of hand writing.

Our intention for the day was to explore handwriting but not in the traditional sense (pen + paper, chalk + chalkboard). Instead we intentionally investigated this craft/skillset using various waste materials directly associated with each of our practices (textiles, printmaking and clothing). Our hand writing exercises took on the ephemeral practice of this skill set. Inspired by the days of other ephemeral forms of hand writing such as writing on chalkboards/blackboards, we chose to use waste textiles, specifically waste hosiery left behind from my hosiery textile process. The next set of hand writing exercises came to incorporate other waste materials such as a torn note book, pantyhose packaging waste (paper that hosiery is packaged with), discarded clothing, etc. We practiced handwriting using hand stitching onto paper and machine stitching onto hosiery paper using an adapted broken industrial coverstitch machine that I use as a drawing machine in my studio.


Dan Varenka (Local 585 Shop HB)

I have a prickly relationship with time; I think it is more elastic than it is and I think I move faster than I do. Also, dates come and go very quickly. In an effort to not miss this year’s Festival, I have made my plea for skills to last three months, not just the six weeks I have off, or just July 7th.

My drawing skills have gotten rusty, in part to schedules/in part to teaching digital media, so every day (ideally!) this summer I am drawing at least one face. Sometimes from life, sometimes caricature, sometimes out of spite, and with no restriction on media. I’ve set up a blog for accountability and invite anyone to join me: www.facethesummer.blogspot.com.


Karen Zimmermann (Local 520 Shop KZ)

Many hours with photo editing and layout. Many lessons learned, tried, and practiced. Here’s an image.