UO Interviews: Misa Chhan


This week we are getting ready to launch Bind Your Own Book (BYOB) - a workshop lead by Melissa ‘Misa’ Chhan- to get you started on bookbinding and learning new ways to make something with your hands. We visited Misa and chatted about the upcoming event and her process. Scroll on to read more!

Sign up for BYOB here!


For those that don’t know you, could you tell us a bit about yourself and where you’re from?

I was born in Long Beach, CA and moved to Highland Park (in Los Angeles) when I was 5 or 6. I still live here now. My family has a donut shop that’s been part of this neighborhood for over 23 years and that’s how I became really connected to Highland Park. I’ve been making books (among other things) for over 7 years now, eeesh ! 


What is it about living in Los Angeles that excites you?

I love the plethora of knowledge and culture that exists out here. If you want to learn something, no matter how strange or nuanced, you just need to put the signal out there and it will reach you ! I also love the community of makers out here. Somehow it eventually all connects and you slowly piece together what everyone does. 


You graduated with a degree in Book Arts from UCSB College of Creative Studies, how do you think that experience affected your perception of books?

Honestly I had no idea what ‘Book Arts’ even was until college. I was really addicted to Printmaking on many levels and I love paper so getting ‘recruited’ into the program felt really natural. Book Arts is where paper, handiwork, craft, and printmaking, and writing become this happy marriage haha. I worked as a bookbinding apprentice throughout college for a master bookbinder named Sandra Reese who runs a press with her husband, Harry Reese. Together they have a press called Turkey Press. She taught me almost everything I know about books, beyond just the binding. Her handmade books were literally perfect. It makes me wanna cry just thinking about them; it’s really an experience you never forget because you’re in complete awe that a person made this. She taught me a lot about poetry, and of course making chapbooks was and still is popular to publish poems; and she also taught me that sometimes it’s not just the text on a page that affects the reading but the type of paper, the sound it makes when it turns, the size of the book in relation to a person... sometimes a book doesn’t need words to be effective either when you have the ability to push its tactility. 

When I first learned how to make a book it demystified the object for me. Made me feel like I could build a house afterward ! A crazy fact is Sandra is also friends with Dan Flanagan and has some of his work around her studio, and Dan was Margaret Kilgallen’s book mentor, and she is truly one my favorite artists of all time. Really impacted me. When I learned that it really just came full circle for me. Made me feel like I was in the right place, right time.


What can you tell us about the common thread between your work in printmaking, bookmaking, and textiles? What keeps you interested in these mediums? 

I think the common thread is the printing aspect of them all. Or maybe it’s about having a surface to print on? I got deeply into textiles these past couple of years because I was learning how to naturally dye my handmade paper to make books with. But then my curiousity got the best of me and I wanted to naturally dye fabric, too. So that snowballed and became something else and I started block printing textiles and doing cyanotype on fabric etc etc. Always comes back to printing. I’m glad that happened though because it totally opened up another world for me. I would love to bring this all back into books though. Everything exists to end up in a book. 


Can you tell us about your art making process and a common challenge you deal with?

Being playful with it is what I like. I write a lot in my journal and jot down words that I can’t stop thinking about and sometimes the work revolves around words or phrases as a starting point. Lately I feel like I’ve been having a hunter + gatherer approach to my art making; I collect a lot of textural things with patterns I find interesting to print with. I’m trying to not rely too heavily on finding material because when I misplace something I get totally fixated on that thing and that’s distracting. And there’s just a lot of experimenting and testing involved to get to the look I want and so many mistakes to be made. Some of the processes I use are time sensitive so that’s a challenge. The other challenging part for me is focusing because it’s pretty easy for me to get completely lost in the process and forget what I was trying to do but that’s where all the fun happens and when I learn new techniques. 


Does tangible/tactile matter when it comes to presenting work in this digital age?

Oh good question, I think it depends on what you’re trying to present. For me, I still find it difficult to properly document a book. It’s never the same feeling as seeing it in person. That goes for anything that’s meant to be touched (like a letterpress print). I like to describe some letterpress prints with words like “crunchy!” because that’s how it feels like in person. Photos can only say so much. Of course with things like Photoshop you never really know what is real so yes it’s totally important to see in person when possible haha !


What is the future of printmaking/bookmaking?

It’s definitely not over ! I think more and more people are becoming more interested in self publishing and putting out books/zines about literally anything that interests them and that’s the beauty of it. Also, I feel like there are soooo many print processes and materials that haven’t been pushed as far as they could be. There’s a lot of potential, especially in book structures. I used to be weary of the digital age obliterating the handmade but that’s totally false— I think they go hand in hand and should be seen as tools to inform each other. I just think it’s funny and ironic when I see fonts trying to emulate handwriting. Like what ? You should just write it out with your hand and scan it. I’m not a purist and very ok with the hybridization of the computer and hand. I think that’s what is missing from a lot of digital work which can sometimes feel pretty cold and sterile. There’s still a lot the hand can do that a computer can’t, and vice versa. They should be used to complement each other.


Who or what has inspired you recently? 

1. RuPaul

2. Learning more about health/wellness/the human body has been inspiring  


Which artist of the past would you most like to meet?

Margaret Kilgallen


Which artist of the present would you most like to meet?

Frank Ocean


What do you hope to achieve in this new year? Any plans?

More travel for sure and take more pics on film. I would like to participate in a book fair this year ! Can’t believe I haven’t done that yet. Also I want to be a really confident swimmer!


See more of Misa’s work --> www.misa.studio

Photos by Iris Ray