Checking in with Josef Beery

Checking in with Josef Beery

What are you working on right now?
I just finished a huge collaborative project over at the Virginia Arts of the Book Center, this deck of cards. We started with the idea of doing a Tarot deck, and that evolved into the idea of doing a deck of fortune-telling cards roughly based on the idea of Tarot, and we call it the “contemporary cartomancy deck.” We had a group of more than 20 artists come together to decide on topics for these cards, and then each card was illustrated by a different artist.


Modern man: Josef Beery keeps one hand tied up in modern technology, the other busy with bookmaking and woodcuts. His guilty pleasure? “My wife is a pretty great chef. She’s a caterer, has a company called A Pimento Catering. She makes a lot of great food, and I eat as much of it as I can.”

Tell us about your day job.
A little over 25 years ago, I got started as a graphic artist. This was before computers, with all of us working at drawing boards with wax, rubber cement and X-Acto knives. There was not a very big arts scene in Charlottesville. Some of us got together and decided to form an arts cooperative called Ten Flavors Studios. That was a way for us to rent some space together, to be around each other, to collaborate and to review each other’s work. It started with graphic artists and illustrators, typesetters, photographers and architects. As time has gone by, typesetting has pretty much disappeared, photography is suffering, and new professions have emerged like web design and interface usability design. We’ve changed a bit as a result.

What is your favorite tool of the trade?

I was telling somebody yesterday that when computers came along, I’d been working at the drawing board, and everything started to go in two directions at once for me. I started learning everything I could about the Mac and desktop publishing, but at the same time, and in reaction to losing the opportunity to use my hands, I started teaching myself about more traditional methods of making books. About printing with movable type, making paper, bookbinding and printmaking. Doing woodcuts, which is my favorite medium.

My favorite tool right now is one I’m creating for myself, an electronic book. It’s an iPod Touch with which I can download thousands of free books off the web, or off of Amazon’s Kindle. So I’ve got this iPod Touch with thousands of books on it and no music at all, just books. And I have it bound in a handmade bookbinding. So I can open this handmade book, turn on my iPod Touch, and read any book I want.

Locally, who would you like to collaborate with?

I really want to collaborate with the Performers Exchange Project. We’ve started talking about the possibility of doing a book based on one of their plays, Zelda and Lucia’s Loony Bin Tragedy, which was written by Martha Mendenhall.

What is inspiring about Charlottesville right now?

The fact that young people like to stay here and be part of an artistic community. That there’s more art events going on at any time than anyone could possibly see, from established art events from places like Live Arts, to brand new theater groups that are coming together to make things happen. Street art. The folks who do the bike-in movies. There was a group called Better Than TV that was going for a while in the Jefferson Theater. That kind of stuff is just really healthy.

When you’re working on a project, what is your favorite snack food?
Usually during those periods I can’t eat. I’m just working. Sometimes the energy gets so intense that I need a small nip of scotch to slow myself down a bit.

What music are you listening to lately?
I just heard this group on NPR called Paper Birds, and I really like them. They’re a group from Colorado, young people who started out busking. They combine banjo with three-part harmony, woodwinds and brass instruments. To me they’re like a cross between Neutral Milk Hotel and Gillian Welch. High energy, fun music.

What item do you carry around at all times?
I’ve always got a little notebook with me in my pocket. Also, my Sony digital camera.