Games and toys are an integral part of surrealism. As the artform that confirms rationality by shattering the rational, surrealism depends on the implicit and explicit perversities of play to open paths of expression. Thus, the tradition of surrealist pastimes.
One of the most charming, in my opinion, is The Ghosts of My Friends. A hybrid of keepsake and amusement, The Ghosts of My Friends produces distinctive and instinctive abstract inkblot images out of handwriting. One’s friend writes his or her signature in a liquid ink, and the paper is folded over before the ink dries, revealing a psychologically suggestive “ghost” of the writer’s personality in the blotted form.
I first came across The Ghosts of My Friends in A Book of Surrealist Games, Alistair Brotchie. Recently I learned that, in the early 20th century, the Frederick A. Stokes Company of New York produced a book especially for this game, a kind of diary of ghostly autographs. Copies of the book, usually partially filled, occasionally pop up at estate sales in Europe and are, apparently, prized collector’s items. Design Sponge last year caused a bit of a fan-fluffle by posting an example.
See also this more recent posting from How Now Brown Pau, who offers some excellent photos and whose fat white cat is not as handsome as my fat black cat, and probably not so well and properly spoiled, either. I mean…jean shorts? Really?
Anyway, the point of bringing all this up, is that I’m making Ghost of My Friends books of my own this week. I have such fondness for the Ghosts that I want to encourage revival of the game, but there are technical challenges to address.
Obviously, first there is the question of blot-able ink. Modern inks, both for writing and drawing, typically have more efficient drying agents in them, making it difficult to get good blots. Members of the Fountain Pen Network discussed this very problem in response to Design Sponge’s article in 2008.
Like them, in experimenting — see sample of my signature, above — I found that I got better results using a heavily loaded dip pen and calligraphy ink, but there is a fine line between enough ink and too much. To make the game accessible and user friendly, the old book’s instructions will have to be rewritten to include how to use unfamiliar writing instruments and recommended techniques.
Next, is the issue of paper. As users of liquid ink pens or markers will know, many modern writing papers are rather absorbent, which is fine for fast drying inks, but causes bleed through and feathering with wetter inks. In regards to the Ghosts, the more absorbent the paper, the less of the ink will sit on the surface for blotting. In my experiments, I found that even calligraphy ink could become un-blot-able within a couple of seconds, just in the time it took to lay down the pen and fold the sheet.
So we want a less absorbent paper, but one that is not so stiff or brittle that it won’t work with the binding I have in mind. An art paper will do the trick but I will need to experiment with weights.
I have my work cut out for me this weekend, and I guess I just gave a big hint of what everyone on my list will be getting for Christmas this year.
PS: More on the subject of cats later.