How-to · Workshops · Zhen Xian Bao

Different Ways of Teaching Zhen Xian Bao

Trying out arrangements of boxes and patterns

Recently finished up teaching a 12 session 12-week zoom class called Zhen Xian Bao and Beyond, which I co-taught with Susan Joy Share for Center for Book Arts. Had the best time ever. Not only did the class go really well, but I had the opportunity to continue to evolve my teaching in this new zoom world.

Here are some thoughts.

Doing a series of two-hour classes weekly can be pretty intense, but the pay off is that people have time between classes to sift through what we covered and work on it at their own pace, which is exactly what happened. Everyone in the class, and I do mean everyone, evolved creatively and made incredibly interesting work. I won’t be showcasing the work from this class in my blog, as I am hoping that there will be some kind of on-line exhibition of this work, and I don’t want to jump in front of that possibility,

Instead, I will share with you part of what inspired the trajectory of the class, some of what I taught, and some of what I learned.

A page from Ruth Smith’s book, A Little Know Chinese Folk Art Zhen Xian Bao

Ruth Smith’s book on the Zhen Xian Bao inspired the class. The most commonly taught construction from this book shows four twist boxes on top of four masu boxes, hiding two rectangular trays, with a large tray underlying everything. We began the class learning how to make the parts of this lovely, elegant form, but right from the start we let students know that there are many more ways of making these Chinese thread books. As soon as we had become familiar with this foundational way of working, we got creative. It took about half the sessions to get through the basics, but after that, the sky was the limit.

A page from Ruth Smith’s book, A Little Know Chinese Folk Art Zhen Xian Bao

We explored all sorts of arrangement of boxes, sewed books into the covers, created different kinds of enclosures, explored a wide range of closures, scaled our creations to be all sorts of sizes, and more. First we drew inspiration from the myriad constructions in Ruth Smith’s book, then we drew inspiration from each other.

Another page from Ruth Smith’s book, A Little Know Chinese Folk Art Zhen Xian Bao

Due to the fact that the class happened over a three month period, I was able to respond to people’s particular interests. For instance, people wanted to learn a very beautiful closure that was designed by Hedi Kyle. I knew we didn’t really have time to learn this in one of our sessions, so I made a video, which people watched on their own.

Here’s a video of that closure

Co-teaching was full of surprises. First, I had no idea it would be so fun to co-teach. Since it was Susan Share that I was teaching with, I knew I would learn a great deal. What I didn’t realize was how working with her would deepen my understanding of things I already knew. Experiencing how Susan approached the material we both understood gave me a world of new insights. Also, since there was another instructor who was thinking about the next class, it gave me the freedom to create new content between classes that supported what was taught in the last class.

For instance, even though I taught an enclosure that we called a clutch, referencing chic small handbags, I refined my design after teaching it. Eventually I made an instructional video of this too, which you can view here:

Last thing I want to write about right are some thoughts about one-line teaching.

First, I broke with protocol concerning muting students. I asked everyone to keep the microphones on, unless they had a reason to turn it off. I found this way of working on zoom to be extremely valuable, as it allowed instant feedback. If I was drifting off camera, going too fast, hiding my work with my hands, people felt free to say something right away. If someone had a question at a critical point, they knew they could ask. I could hear people’s reactions when they saw something they really liked.

Now here’s something else that on-line teaching facilitated: by setting up a google slides page people were able to share their work, and see what others were doing. I believe this expanded their learning exponentially. It’s one thing to see me showing my models, but when they see the range of work that comes from each other, so so so many more possibilities open up. At this early stage of learning, having students see each other’s work was like giving plants copious amounts of sunlight, water, and rich soil just as they are beginning to grow. Susan and I had much to offer, but what students offered each other was really quite extraordinary.

That’s it for now. I hope that the next time I write about this particular class it will be about telling you where you can view the work of the fabulous artists who took the time to work with Susan and I through Zhen Xian Bao and Beyond,

4 thoughts on “Different Ways of Teaching Zhen Xian Bao

  1. Wow, Paula! Love the paper you are using. In the very 1st picture in the middle where you have a red box over a beige, silver, gold one – what is that paper? Just amazing! And the topper on that red box, is that a Japanese tato? I have and continue to enjoy your work and posts. Will you be teaching the 12-week course again? I found out about it too late! Thank you – Notès

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      1. Thank you, Paula! I was so amazed by the paper that I forgot to tell you how much I loved what you (and your students) did to change up the Zhen Xian Bao. Just marvelous! Thank you for sharing your creativity.

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