Rai Peterson

Gipson Schabel on Working at Book Arts Collaborative

Creative Writing minor Gipson Schabel recounts her experience working at Book Arts Collaborative, a “makerspace in downtown Muncie where community members and Ball State students learn about letterpress printing, book binding, and artist’s book design and publishing.” Book Arts Collaborative is currently fielding applications for the Fall 2017 semester; interested students should email Rai Peterson at rai@bsu.edu to apply.

It is important to first note that I earned my bachelor’s degree from Ball State University in actuarial science, with a minor in creative writing. Actuarial science is a brand of financial math specifically focused on statistics and predictive modeling. Creative writing is nearly the opposite. Half of my undergraduate years at Ball State were spent as a double major in these two subjects, which I was warned countless times was very weird. Mathematics and creative writing could not mesh, I was told. They were “left brain” and “right brain,” whatever that means. To me, it made sense. I was good at math and I enjoyed the concise correctness of it. Yet, I have been writing novels since age five. I wanted my education to reflect not only my strengths, but my passions. This is also the goal I had for my senior honors thesis: to combine mathematics and creative writing in a way that reflects not only what I have learned, but who I have become during my time at Ball State.

For my last semester of my undergraduate degree, I spent twelve hours a week working at Book Arts Collaborative, a print shop and book bindery run entirely by Ball State University students. I did not join Book Arts for credits or for a requirement. I just wanted to be a part of something that I thought was unique, cool, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We partnered with local businesses to create and sell products, participated in local events, and lead workshops to encourage our community members to get their hands dirty and create cool things.

I just wanted to be a part of something that I thought was unique, cool, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Printing and binding have become a weird, niche hobby in the twenty-first century. What first started as run-of-the-mill, blue-collar work has now been revived by a quirky arts community to celebrate doing things by hand. Locking up a chase with small pieces of metal type, large wooden blocks of furniture, and perfectly measured spacers does not come naturally to anyone. Building a casebook cover requires much more thought and consideration that you would think. There are no apprenticeships and local print shops are few and far between. Everyone who starts letterpress printing and binding starts with absolutely no prior knowledge, but a desire to just jump straight in.

I entered the book arts scene with no previous experience with printing and binding and learned everything I could from my peers and community partners. I learned the basics of letterpress printing, including how to design a print, set a chase, apply ink to a press’s ink table, run and clean a press, and estimate costs. I also studied book binding and made several books with different styles of binding. I practiced Casebook, Coptic, Secret Belgian, and Japanese Stab style bindings, of which Secret Belgian instantly became my favorite.

During my time at Book Arts, we also created and released our first artist’s book, which I had the privilege to work on. We worked with Karl Alrichs, an Indiana-based photographer, to create a set of sixty hand-bound copies of his travel photography collection, Spaces Between Places. For nearly a month, I worked on collating and sewing a dozen of these books and collaborated with my peers on one of the most ambitious projects I’ve worked on. It was important that we were precise and correct in each stitch, cut, and measurement. To top it all off, we had to be quick. We finished sixty copies of Spaces Between Places in three weeks. It is for this reason, the need to be exact, but also efficient, that I saw an opportunity to use my knowledge of mathematics.

A vast majority of the students that I worked with and nearly all the printers and binders I met during my time at the Collaborative came from either an English or art-related background. I was the only mathematics major Book Arts Collaborative has ever had. In fact, mentioning math in the shop was almost always met with a groan. However, I could not help but notice how many daily operations would be improved by a couple theorems, formulas, and concepts.

I spent most of the semester identifying problems and recognizing ways mathematics could be applied to help. I focused concepts and examples on specific problems I encountered at Book Arts Collaborative and was able to write my honors thesis on applied mathematics in book arts.

When I began my internship at Book Arts, I was expecting to put in my twelve hours of work each week, make an average thesis, and leave. I was expecting to learn about binding and printing, then graduate and never try it again. However, I am proud to say that I loved every minute of my time at Book Arts Collaborative. I worked as hard and as often as I could. I participated in every Muncie Arts Walk of the semester, a fun community event where local artists and businesses pay for snacks, activities, and open their doors to the public. I took weekends off work to help lead workshops and to work at the Book Arts Collaborative spring festival, Interrobang, which hosted printers, binders, and passionate book artists from across the Midwest. To my surprise, I have even bought my own cutting mat, bone folder, binder’s board, paper, and thread. I have stocked my apartment with all the supplies I need to bind books in my free time, proving that working at Book Arts Collaborative was not just an immersive class, but a jumping off point for my own artistic journey.

My proudest accomplishment from working at Book Arts Collaborative and from joining such an incredible and exciting art community is the step I took with my honors thesis to add to the Collaborative. I took advantage of my unique background in mathematics and creative writing to create a math book for non-math people. I found a need in the book arts community and did my best to meet it, through figures, graphs, weird examples, and formulas interpreted in laymen’s terms. I created something that I could give to the wonderful artists I had the chance to work with and something that hopefully could be of use to them in the future.

I feel that my thesis was not just a summary of my education at Ball State. It was not just an application of what I have learned or what I have spent my time here doing. It is a by-product of an exciting, bizarre, and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I stumbled upon and one that I wish I had more time to be a part of. My semester at Book Arts Collaborative was my favorite semester of my education. I learned more than I ever expected, collaborated with peers and friends on extensive projects, and followed in the footsteps of centuries of passionate, hardworking men and women. I found a place where my academic and artistic backgrounds could meet, mold together, and form something new.

Hold Onto Your Passion: Advice from Audra Dittlinger

Stars to Steer By presents Audra Dittlinger, a Marketing Content Manager and Client Experience Director. Ms. Dittlinger began her journey at Ball State in 2001 and officially graduated in 2014 with a degree in English Studies.   

How would you describe your job?Audra Dittlinger

I would describe my job as fast paced, exciting, and unpredictable. It’s a mixture of editing, brainstorming, and creating some amazing content for a start-up company that is growing quicker than we ever thought possible!

What does a typical work day look like for you?

A “typical” work day depends on the day. I am able to work about 75% remotely, with the other 25% happening onsite, usually at our office headquarters. On my work-from-home days, I get up, check in with my team, and work through daily tasks. Since our company is still relatively small, all team members are able to take on multiple positions at the same time. My day may consist of mostly writing and editing, or I may find myself conducting interviews with prospective customers. It’s never the same and it’s certainly never boring. The days that I am able to spend in the office are often charged with enthusiastic co-workers and inspirational leadership. Team meetings are perfect opportunities for us to collaborate and afterwards we all leave the office feeling recharged. It’s a relief, really. A lot of times, meetings can get a bad reputation in the corporate world. In our company, we’re constantly innovating and creating so we all get jazzed about coming together for a meeting of the minds.

How did having an English major affect your career path?

My English major heavily affected my career path. I graduated as a married adult with a 2 year old toddler at home. I was not a traditional student. At the time that I graduated, I was actually going into my 9th year of being an insurance agent. I had known for years that my true love is writing and editing, and that is what I wanted in my life. I wasn’t going to stop until I found it. After multiple freelance gigs, I finally landed my “dream job,” if you will.

What skills did you pick up in your major that have proved useful in your job?

I picked up a lot of useful skills in my major, but I think the most useful was that it really honed my craft as an editor and it allowed me to be more patient than I would have otherwise been. I now have a distinct process when editing, something I could have only learned through my classes as an English major. I now slow down and I perfect my work. I am not naturally patient, but as a writer, I can block out the world and take my time.

Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?

I was in a few classes led by Dr. Rai Peterson (Rai, as most English majors know her) and she definitely had an impact on me. I took two classes with her on campus and one online course. She really boosted my confidence and I’ll never forget the first time she wrote “You’re a writer!” at the top of one of my papers. It was one of the first times in my adult life that I really felt that I was moving in the right direction.

What advice would you give current English majors?

My advice would absolutely be this: hold on to what you love. If you really love Sci-Fi lit, hold onto that. If you really love Vonnegut, keep studying him. If you really love to edit, keep finding ways to do it. I let go of something that I loved to do and I spent 10 years of my life running in place and not living up to my potential. As soon as I found my passion again, I never let myself forget that feeling. That feeling is what drove me and what really helped me land my dream job. Don’t let people tell you English majors “have to be teachers.” Prove them wrong. It’s in you.

Monica Scalf, Owner of The Playground Group

monicascalf.jpgStars to Steer By is our monthly event series focused on helping #bsuenglish students make the best of their degrees after graduation. This month, #bsuenglish alum and owner of The Playground Group Monica Scalf will be presenting “Personal Branding: Uncovering Your Authentic Self” on Wednesday, 10/26 at 6:30 P.M. in Bracken Library 104. Below, Monica shares the career journey that led her to developing The Playground Group.

I studied Secondary Education and English while at Ball State. I also have a Master of Arts in English from Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH. When I first enrolled as a Freshman at BSU, I thought I wanted to major in telecommunications. After my freshman year, I realized I wanted to teach and study English, so I switched my major. I had always loved reading and writing, and this major was a natural fit for me.

I currently run my own corporate consulting and training business, The Playground Group, LLC. It’s called The Playground Group because we teach engaging and interactive workshops in corporate settings that are fun, but not corny. Employees get to “play” and learn at the same time. We specialize in teaching Team Building, Productivity, Personal Branding, and Personal Effectiveness.

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Good News, September 2014

Tuesday = Good News

In the latest installment of the “Good News” series, the Ball State English department highlights the accomplishments of our faculty and students up through the month of September.

That’s right. We have so much good news that we’re sharing it once a month rather than once a semester. In fact, we already have  a bunch of weekly good news queued up for October!

Jill Christman

  • Her essay, “The Avocado,” was featured on The Humble Essayist, a new site that celebrates and critically examines the essay form.
  • Her first e-book, Borrowed Babies, hit virtual shelves on September 4th, 2014.

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