bookbinding, stuff i've made

Released in the morning

released in the morning

This small handful of journals and watercolour books that I put together yesterday spent the night tightly clamped between smooth, hard boards…like unruly winos locked up for their own safety.

A favourite way to start the day is to pour a cup of coffee and sit in the breeze on deck as the sun comes lancing over the tops of the mangroves, and release the previous day’s work—what was a loose and motley collection of disparate pieces held together with runny glue and faith in the powers of synthesis—from the grip of the press, to find that everything has come together with a grace and finesse that still takes my breath away.

kidskin and marbling watercolour book

Yesterday: paper, thread, fabric and leather scraps, glue, grey-coloured board.
This morning: a dense, well-made, glowingly beautiful book that feels precious as it sits in my hand.

tea journals

Magic. I will NEVER become blasé about the transformation.

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bookbinding, Online Shops, stuff i've made

Spirograph journals are out (after a little spell of self-doubt)

I showed you this fabric I designed and printed with Spoonflower aaaages ago, right?

Well, I was chuffed when it first arrived, but then I got cold feet about actually making journals from the fabric and it has lain all this time, unused, in a drawer. I let my self-destructive superego get the better of me. I started to find fault with the design: too busy, too many colors, too immature, the subject was too simplistic, not enough thought had been given to composition, to balance, not enough care was taken in painting it, blah, blah, blah…. In the end I convinced myself that I should be ashamed to show this design to people, or put it on my journals and offer them for sale at craft markets or online. It was just SO UNSOPHISTICATED!

But my ETSY shop was empty last week, so I took the fabric out, looked at it again, and (in a gentler and more accepting mood) found myself thinking “It’s okay for a first time fabric journal design…and there is something uninhibited, psychedelic and childlike about the intense colors, the clashing patterns, the higgledy-piggledy arrangement of elements. All of which, I realised, I’m actually grateful had happened to this journal cover design, and not some other. At least these qualities fit the subject, no? So I have been lucky, really.

1969 Spirograph : : a handbound journal

Inspired by a Spirograph toy from 1969—that I always wanted but never got—which Kris bought for me on ebay a year ago, on Valentine’s Day. The original design was worked in inks, paints, and colored pencils on linen; with additional textures, overlays of other paintings of mine, and some floral patterns added in Picmonkey. The actual book covering fabric is linen-cotton canvas printed by Spoonflower (this is an awesome fabric to cover books with…the more I use it, the more I like it). There are two cover designs (because I printed the cover as a mirrored repeat) so you can choose to have a greeny-blue cover, or a mostly warm reds-and-yellows cover.

I have 7 of each cover version, now available on ETSY. Details about the paper and binding are in the item’s description there, too.

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bookbinding, journaling + mail art

In with the new…

Papa Legba

Make the book

Because I am a book binder, when I start a new journal, I get to choose and bind the paper pages together, measure the book, then make covers for the book based on these measurements. For this next journal I opted to use a text block that Kris made for me…it is comprised entirely of old sailing charts. The paper’s very strong and heavy, and I love the way patches of land and water appear randomly on the pages, along with the names of distant ports and reefs and bays, both familiar and unfamiliar to me.

símbolos para abrir los caminos

The year 2014 already has several trips booked or blocked off on the calendar, and those are just the baby steps of an odyssey that we think may span some 4-6 years (!) So, obviously, the spirit of this new journal is one of wanderlust, exploration, change, movement and maybe even adventure (all good, I pray!) The strong feeling that I am about to throw myself into the unknown exerts powerful influences on the journal, too. I painted a canvas with symbols and requests to spirits of the crossroads, the guardians of the ways, asking that the paths I walk be unblocked for me, that gates and doors to a happy destiny be opened to me. It’s good to see my dreams and hopes visualized on the covers of my journal, hidden in little charms and rezos that I’ve tucked in among the decorative elements…

rooster feathers

If you are buying a journal, you are spared all that work, though you may want to decorate the generic or commercially decorated covers with your own symbols and designs to make the book more personal and unique. I once wrote a tutorial over on ilovegifting.me, about painting the covers of a cheap, generic hardbound blank book, that might help you customise your journal.

Give your journal a name

If you want to, of course. Walt Whitman’s poem Song of The Open Road has always inspired me…its wide open spaces and its rambling declaration of love for walking the road of life with ordinary people has always moved me, so now I can name this journal after it, in homage and desire.

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road….”

Some pages you can fill in or prepare, now:

  • Your name and contact information on the front page…very important, should you lose the journal. Keep the information up-to-date.
  • The quotes, poems, passages that inspire you and embody the feeling of the new journal
  • You can glue in pockets, tabs or dividers; you can add foldouts of blank paper, maps, heavier pages for photos.
  • Create a calendar for the coming months or years.
    If your plan is to carry your journal around with you all the time, you can actually use the calendars as your everyday planner (so much more awesome than a printed planner!). The pictures below are from the visual diary I kept while taking a few classes in visual art at the local uni—a ‘show-and-tell’ journal, not a deeply private one—so I used these calendar pages like a daily planner…appointments, deadlines, class schedules.
    Otherwise, use these pages to record events…a kind of “Year At A Glance” for things that have happened: Births, deaths, red-letter days, world events that will go down in history…it’s a good way to keep track of all the things that happened in that month/year, so you can quickly look them up without having to read your entire journal to find them.

art journal calendar

art journal calendar

  • Paint or write the prefatory pages…are you going to have a table of contents? A list of illustrations? A title page? A prayer, poem, or blessing at the start? A curse for intruders? Islamic manuscripts always started with a dedication of the book and its contents to Allah, the merciful and compassionate. The Jesuit priests (and their students) at the university I attended some 20 years ago used a shorthand version of this by writing their motto, “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam” (shortened to “AMDG”) at the start of everything. It means “For the greater glory of God”.
  • Other lists and written rituals
    Different people have different rituals. Kris keeps a list of about 140 countries he’s always wanted to visit, which he started writing when he was 10 years old and living in a Communist country. His mother made fun of his list, and everyone told him that he would never see those places, as virtually no one was allowed to travel beyond the borders of their coalition of Communist countries. It became his life’s goal to run away from Czechoslovakia and visit all those exotic places. He still moves the entire list from one journal to the next, ticking off the ones he has been to (half the list, some 70+ countries in all). And he hasn’t stopped making plans to see the rest.
    I, on the other hand, give each year a name, at its end, to sum up the most important, prevalent, unusual, influential thing that happened that year. For example, 2013 has been named The Year of Jacksons. I re-write my list of named years (started in 1997) in each journal I start.painting journal pages
  • Do a bit of background artwork, if you like. Paint some pages with washes of color. Fill some pages with hand-drawn lines to write on later. Maybe stick fabric down so some pages are cloth rather than paper.

WARNING: Don’t overdo it…the current mania for “Mixed Media Art Journaling”—where all the pages get fancied up and stuck all over with collages of colorful junk from magazines, meaningless words, and pieces of washi tape—is not a good way to stay grounded in the present.

By filling the journal up too much at the start you don’t leave yourself any room for the unexpected, the magical, the miraculous. You don’t have room to respond in the Here & Now to your surroundings, or to grow as an artist. Don’t apply a formula to the entire journal in advance, as though life were just one day on a loop…reality doesn’t do Groundhog Day; every moment is different, unique, and impossible to return to. Respect the immediacy of the moment, honour the singularities of your life by leaving lots of wide open spaces to fill with your own drawings, your own designs…really simple, honest work that doesn’t rely on store-bought journal bling or eye-candy cut out of other publications. Scare and challenge yourself by going, armed with only a pen and some colors, into that empty field of blank page, and developing the art you’re really capable of, when you aren’t peeking at what everyone else is doing, or trying your best to imitate Donna Downey and the gorgeous pages you see in dozens of Art Journal Workshop-type craft books.
Do yourself a favour. Get rid of those books. Stop buying them. Stop wasting time looking at other people’s enviable talent on Pinterest. Go naked into the arena of the unknown. Go often, kick ass often and get your ass kicked even more often! Become really, genuinely, innately, self-sufficiently CREATIVE. Make something out of NOTHING—which is real creativity—and turn your back on kits and how-tos and pre-chewed, pre-digested art mush, and “all the creativity that money can buy”.

Gris-gris (a.k.a."Mano")

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bookbinding, embroidery and textiles, journaling + mail art, life, stuff i've made

Retiring a journal

Twist and Shout

Running out of pages in one’s current journal is not the only reason for retiring it and moving on to a new journal. It has been a very long time, in fact, since I filled a journal right up to its very last page. The way it usually happens, with me, is that I will sit down to my semi-regular ritual of journal-keeping, and feel a powerful aversion to writing in that journal. As though the things I want to write about don’t belong in that particular book.  My journals usually span a period of 5-7 years…a good chunk of time in which major life situation and personality changes might occur (I’m not talking about the fanciful myth that claims we generate completely new bodies every 7 years!) that find me a different person, at the end, from who I was when I started the journal.

Soon after we arrived in Australia (sailing from the Philippines, stopping along the way in Timor L’este for a month, all in all taking three months to get here) I found that I could not bear to write in the wooden-bound journal (the one named, no kidding, Tagebuch) I had brought with me. Tagebuch, and everything within it, belonged to the tropical archipelago of small limestone islands where Kris and I had lived for 6 years, in a fisherman’s ramshackle beach house an hour’s walk from the next cluster of human beings. There was no internet, mobile phone, digital camera, or laptop. We didn’t have jobs. We had no electric power of any sort—no lights at night, no fans, no television, no music—nor plumbing, and the little bit of money we had, we made by selling our paintings and handbound journals at galleries, exhibitions and craft fairs elsewhere in the country. There had been a huge tropical garden (my pride and joy) surrounded by 2 hectares of coconut plantation, and a jungle looming behind us that rustled with the movements of monkeys, pangolins, civets, pythons, tree shrews, sea eagles, mysterious night birds, and the rare, endangered local peacock pheasant, tandikan.

I wrote my journal in the mornings, at a table standing among hippeastrum lillies in the garden, or at a desk in the bedroom on wild monsoon nights, with half a dozen candles burning for light. We would sit in the doorway of our bamboo shack, senses alert in the total darkness of the night to every firefly or leafy crunch, every susurration of the sea in its different moods. We spent our days painting, marbling, reading or binding books; we took breaks to comb the beach for tumbled glass or chambered nautilus shells, or walk the twisty dirt roads of the surrounding countryside. We moved through cycles of making art, making love, making coconut curries, making strong loaves of peasant bread. This was the real world for us, and we seemed to exist outside of time.

How could I, arriving in Darwin—a whirlpool of working & earning & spending, of material culture, of social interactions, of self-assertion and ego-building, of status anxiety, and the never-ending struggle to establish one’s meaning or worth in empirical terms—continue to use my jungle book, my turtle-moon-hippeastrum-poetry-green-glass-seasnake-soulmate-candlight journal? It felt like a desecration, and that’s how I knew it was time to make a new journal.

Twist and Shout, 2007-

Twist and Shout has been my Darwin journal since 2007. The name was actually printed on the selvage of a quilting fabric I had used to make the covers’ patchwork with. It seemed to fit with the way I felt about Darwin at the time…the teeth-grinding busy-ness of the place, the commerce, the social and racial tensions, the clashes between individuals brought on by drunkenness or just selfish intolerance, the big hurry that everyone was in to get someplace else.

It contains the story of finding my place within this small city, of meeting friends and carving a small niche for myself, of making a home and coming to belong here. It cobbles together what I have learned about Northern Australia and the things I have come to love about the place. My very first fresh peach, apricot, raspberry, pomegranate were experienced here. My first fresh fig (a moment worth many chapbooks of poetry) and my first octopus (a moment worth many cookbooks). My encounters with crocodiles, flying foxes, frilled lizards, wallabies, kangaroos, and a Clydesdale horse so big that I thought of Norse gods.

something did after all

It might mention some of the new toys and tools that living here made it possible to acquire. My job experiences as cleaner, as gardener in a plant nursery, as kitchen hand, as back-to-uni student, as craft teacher. My delight in bicycles and the daily love I feel for Darwin’s meandering, tree-lined bicycle paths through shady parks full of ibises, plovers, and sporty types, appears everywhere in its pages. It includes the year I rented an art studio, and the fun of putting together my first two solo exhibitions. The accounts of trying to learn a third language, to study printmaking, silkscreen printing, and doing a dressmaking course, are here, too. I made my own clothes for the first time here, on a 70-year-old sewing machine that I bought within a month of arriving in the country. Of course it documents the continuing importance of the sea in my life.

events of great intensity

On the whole it has been a good companion, this embroidered and patchworked book of 500 pages (400 used)—so full of paint and inclusions that its covers are permanently agape—although I did not write in it as regularly nor as copiously as I did in the last journal. I was much more bound by time during this period of my life…well outside of the standard rat race, but a rat on the sidelines, nonetheless…with unexceptional jobs, keeping regular hours, having bills to pay and other financial commitments, watching in growing anxiety as the days, months, years flew by because my attention leapt from payday to payday as across stepping stones…the rest of the days falling, unremarked, between them, and flowing away like water.

Last week, although there was plenty I wanted to write, I felt unhappy about having to write it in Twist & Shout. I’ve learned to recognise this feeling immediately, and so put away my pen and ink bottle, and re-read the journal, instead. The signs were unmistakable: some entries were fun to read, and a little bit was of continuing importance, but most of what I had written was already obsolete. No longer useful or even relevant to me, the person I was in 2007 had been left behind. I had moved on, and at some subtle point had turned a corner, from which my 2007 self could no longer even be seen or remembered, and the way back had been rubbed out behind me.Like a hole in the head

Only the present moment is real, though I have some vague ideas about the way ahead.

In my next post I’m going to write about making the transition between an old and a new journal. I suppose one could just drop the old journal, and start in the new immediately, but it seems a shame to treat an old friend and one-time constant companion that way. It seems ungrateful, somehow. There are rituals of gratitude and farewell for tools and objects—as there are for friends and loved ones—to soften the sharp edges of change and to prepare oneself for what might lie ahead. I thought I might share my own practices here, not so much for you to follow as to help you think up rituals of your own.

roll your own year...

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bookbinding, embroidery and textiles, paints and pens, stuff i've made

painting makeover, part 2

green gemstone journal

Hmm, so there isn’t really all that much left to show for this Part 2 except what I did with the finished painting/embroidery: a simple handbound coptic journal.

green gemstone journal

A quick shlip-shlop of blue-green paint on the back cover, and some fine lines of gold paint made with a syringe and hypodermic needle, sort of echoes the front cover design. Stitching of the book was done in DMC soft cotton yarn. Endpapers in teal. That’s all there is to it, really.

In other news, tonight I impulsively bought flights to and from Manila, departing at he end of January, returning in mid-February…in the hopes of catching my Mom alive one last time. Hopefully she will live that long. I’m due for a visit back, anyway.

Antipolo

That means I’ll be spending my birthday and Valentine’s Day in Manila. Should be a good trip, actually…good to catch up with my dysfunctional but fun family, and I have really missed my friends. Can’t wait to see them.

That means I’m dead broke again…by the time you pay the taxes, add some checked-in baggage, pick a window seat…what was an incredibly cheap couple of flights nearly doubled. I came within 10 dollars of my total bank account balance. Was feeling like such a scrooge as I neared checkout that I actually clicked “Remove” on the options “Travel insurance” and “Donate $2 to change a child’s life”. LOL Someday, maybe, I’ll change a child’s life; right now I’m just trying to keep my head above the water. You have to laugh at the things life throws at you…laugh or go crazy.

Rubbing my hands together over the next handmade gift…I have tonight, tomorrow night, and a few hours on Saturday. Unlucky co-worker # 5 may end up getting an origami boat. Not even a crane, but a crappy origami boat. Out of newsprint…

*this is how it always happens with me: I make a casual joke, and then ask “How can I run with that idea, and still make something awesome?“* Origami boat, huh? Hmmm…….

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bookbinding, embroidery and textiles, stuff i've made

spirograph journal

Untitled

At last! I finally made a hardbound journal using my Spirograph-inspired fabric, printed by the magicians at spoonflower.com

The first design was reworked after I ordered a small proof and could see where things needed fixing. This second version has more intense blacks, more colour contrast, and I cleaned up some of my insipid painting by covering it over with vector decals, textures, as well as cut-outs from other paintings of mine. I used Picmonkey, Gimp, and Inkscape. I also chose to print the design as a mirrored tile on Spoonflower, so on some of the journals the design has been flipped left-to-right.

Untitled

The Saltwater Craft Fair is looming on Sunday the 29th, and I have to focus on getting more journals and sketchbooks bound before then…it’s been very difficult to find the time to do anything, as I have been working more days these past weeks, and our houseboat is leaning against the Dinah Beach wharf for a bit of maintenance at the same time.

What’s that like? Every time the tide goes out, the boat sits in the sucking, stinky mud and leans against a concrete wall; everything slides off the tables, drawers fly open, the path to the bedroom becomes a slope, and we sleep in the trench formed by the bed and the wall… like pigs in a wallow. It’s no fun, but a necessary evil while Kris grinds and welds the hull of the boat for two weeks.

UntitledBut what the heck, I love my newest journal. The colours are glorious. I love the detail, love the whole idea of designing fabric specifically for use as book cover material. And I love, love, love spoonflower mightily for making this incredible creative power available to me. Never go away!

Like the others, this journal measures 4 3/4″ x 6 1/4″, has 120 leaves (240 pages) of 120 gsm. acid-free Bianco Flash paper, and is sewn onto cotton twill tapes with 25/3 linen thread. There are two layers of made endpapers, in contrasting colours. I was too excited to add them to this one—I just wanted to see a finished book!—but the rest of this batch of journals will have hand-sewn headbands and ribbon bookmarks, as well.

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bookbinding, stuff i've made

The thousandth book

6 Aug 13 01

One of the books in this photograph is going to be my thousandth* handmade book, by the time I am done with my bookbinding today.

I started numbering my journals in 2001, when I looked back on the previous 7 years of bookbinding self-study and dogged making, and realised with a pleasant shock that what had begun as a hobby, a trivial fling with the craft, had turned into something I cared very deeply about. When I thought I had developed a unique style of my own, that they were “good enough” to sell, and knew I wouldn’t feel ashamed of them if some other bookbinder were to inspect them, I dared call myself a bookbinder.

The number’s not so terribly important—signifies neither the beginning nor end of anything—but I’m going to have a tiny celebration, anyway, by making myself a new journal this month (it will be Book 1,001). And by posting a bookbinding tutorial on this blog, though more about that later…it will take time to prepare.

*I didn’t count the first couple hundred that I had made while I was still learning the basics and making lots of mistakes.

Here’s a bright and sunny little film that shows the bookbinding process, give or take some of the heavy machinery, that all bookbinders know intimately, and love.
This video shows the process of making just one of the many different made-by-hand possibilities that come from the Binding Studio, a bespoke bindery in Auckland, New Zealand.
thebindingstudio.com/

Directed & shot by Joseph Jowitt
Music by Bonobo

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bookbinding, paints and pens, stuff i've made

sproing

inspiralled detail

My soul is alight with your infinitude of stars. Your world has broken upon me like a flood. The flowers of your garden blossom in my body. The joy of life that is everywhere burns like an incense in my heart. And the breath of all things plays on my life as on a pipe of reeds.

—Rabindranath Tagore

starting line

It started with a piece of linen, divided into front, spine, and back journal cover panels using some thread and a running stitch. Onto this I let wet circles of ink puddle and pool, adding details as parts dried. When all was dry, I photographed the cloth, and filled the orbs with PicMonkey overlays of flower balls and spirographs. The next day the finished piece was uploaded to Spoonflower for printing, as my first pattern design ever, and something new to cover my hand-bound journals with.

puddle-wonderful

Waiting for that first proof has me buzzing with excitement and/or apprehension.

Also, I have managed to surprise my disenchanted self, at this late stage. Last night I lay in bed and said, dazedly, “I actually got off my ass and did something I have been talking about doing for three years, and it only took two days!” Kris murmured back in the dark, “Shocking. What is the world coming to?”

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