Whether it is visual art, music, crafts, film or writing, the Rock Paper Scissors Collective in Oakland encourages community members to teach, sell, exhibit and learn about art. The shop on Grand and Telegraph Avenues offers a collection of hats, sketches, mixed media art, sewing equipment and jewelry as well as a large collection of zines—magazines, cartoons and books self-published by the writers.
“The collective is run by a group of individuals who wanted to provide a space for people to come and create,” said Hazel Wood, the shop’s summer intern who on a Sunday afternoon was organizing the materials for the book binding class she planned to teach. “The space includes an art gallery, which is changed out monthly. There is a retail space for local crafters and artists to sell their merchandise and an art lab where individuals may use any of the donated materials to create their own projects.”
The Rock Paper Scissors Collective, which formed in 2004, helped found the Art Murmur and just officially became a non-profit this year. The group now hosts First Friday events when new art exhibits open in galleries around the city, as well as classes through which volunteers teach about crafting subjects such as jewelry making, origami, fabric dying and embroidery.
Katherin Canton Titus is the Rock Paper Scissors community collaborations director and has been a member of the collective since 2008. While attending California College of the Arts, she learned about an internship with Rock Paper Scissors and applied because she was drawn to the community service aspect of the program, and because the collective was about harnessing and embracing every individual’s skills and talent. It was also very youth-focused, which worked perfectly with her background in youth education. “I grew into it and I’m still involved after all these years,” Canton Titus said.
“The founders wanted it [the collective] to be this DIY space that everyone could be a part of,” Canton Titus said. “They also wanted it to be an exhibitions space, so our gallery is really important–not about having solo shows but it is a collective process. It’s DIY but not really. It’s still about community.”
On Sunday, Wood was teaching a class on book binding, offering two methods from which students could choose which kind of book to make. One was a Japanese-style binding in which long strips of paper are used and the books are bound together with thread sewn on the outside edge of the binding. The other involves a more traditional book that is bound together from the inside. Both use thread, cardboard or mat boarding that is covered in cloth.
On the table in front of Wood were sheets of blue paper pre-cut to size, book binding material made of cloth in browns, tans, teals and grays, glue and nylon thread coated with wax to keep the string from stretching. Wood drew an illustration showing how the book is put together and where the holes for the strings should go. She used a seam ripper to pierce through the wooden spacers used to create a fold in the binding, which allowed the book to bend back and forth.
She cut the matting board to the desired size and placed the binding material underneath it in order to measure an area approximately one-half an inch wider than the board it would cover. Wood placed the spacers just above the board and wrapped the fabric around both pieces.
After gluing the paper onto the matting, Wood placed a heavy object on top to make sure the clue adhered to the matting. She put the two pieces of board together, inserting the paper in the middle and adjusting the edges so it all lined up evenly. Woods marked the binding by using a ruler to make sure the number of inches were the same between each space.
“I like teaching this class, because the bottom line is, what I want people to take away is this idea of a blank book,” Wood said. “Take a blank book and fill it, because it is something that can create such spiritual growth, whether you are a writer or you draw or you just need to write lists in it. I think everyone needs a blank book.”
As the session progressed, other customers moved through the store, not wanting to talk, just look. They browsed the bookshelves, sat down on the floor and read a while, or looked at the art before packing up their belongings and leaving again.
Gwendolyn, an artist who did not wish to give her last name, said she is new to the city. She began coming into the collective almost one month ago to draw. She sat at table near the window in front of the store. On her narrow sketchpad, she was working on a what she called an organic mandala, a drawing for meditation. She said the first time she came to the collective there were three people drawing. That day, although she was the only one at the table, she said it reminded of why she likes to come to the collective. “It’s a place where instead of being home alone, I can come here and draw and be with people,” she said.
One person who had come to browse the space exited saying, “Thank you for having this here.”
In the weeks that follow, Woods will return from her internship to college and Lydia D’Angelo, the collective’s volunteer coordinator, will revise the volunteer schedule to accommodate new people, who may eventually want to become members of the collective. As it has in the past, the space will draw new artists, new events and new members of the community will come in teach, sell, exhibit and learn about art. Next week they will host an open craft night where every kind of craft is an option, from card making to beading, sewing or making a collage. Next month, a creative writing workshop and learning how to make cosmetics in your kitchen are on the schedule of events.
“Our goal now is to find some kind of structure that helps us become more sustainable,” Canton Titus said. “We just got our 501(c)3 [non-profit] status as of March of this year, which we have been working on for about three years. Now we have to put in place all these different structural components so that the organization can live outside of just the people.”
Typically, the collective has relied on the members and the people who volunteer free labor, but this is not a sustainable model, Canton Titus said. Now, she said, it is about “trying to become more financially, structurally, organizationally sustainable” and at the same time increase the amount of participation from artists and volunteers.
“In the future it might be nice to remodel and find ways to us the space more efficiently, and to be able to offer class or studio space to artists,” Canton Titus said. “It is important to know that the programs go forward based on the number of volunteers that are available who are also passionate about the collective’s work. We hope it can become more of a place where folks can come and hang out.”