bookbinding, journaling + mail art, stuff i've made

Brown bag sketchbooks

brown paper bagsI have wanted to do something about this stack of large, heavy-duty brown paper bags—the kind that you get your bok choy and bananas in, at a farmer’s market—that I carried home from some yard sale ages ago.

Today I cut the bottoms off, leaving a kind of paper ‘tube'; I then slit the tube with a large kitchen knife at the side folds into two pieces, cut the resulting two sheets in half once more, and then folded the sheets, ten at a time, to form signatures or sections. A few quick stitches using heavy linen upholstery thread, some cloth tapes cut from a scrap of printed cotton, some glue and half an hour under the press. Just like that, I have two brown paper books, a hundred leaves (200 pages) in each. I may, or may not, worry about covers (I’m a bookbinder. That means most of my own books spend their lives half-finished and coverless…)

brown paper journalsI have a lot of good art papers, and at least a dozen hand-bound drawing and watercolor sketchbooks, to take on my travels…but I needed some scribbling-and-doodling books that didn’t feel precious; made of the cheapest possible paper and roughly sewn together, so that I wouldn’t be afraid to waste the pages, to draw and write utter garbage, to jot down phone numbers and shopping lists. I like that the pages in these two books are creased. There are some stains and spots where the bags got rained on last year. I even left the double-thick strip—where one side of the bag was glued to the other—to form a margin on some pages.

Often, it is in such cheap and accessible books that the best work gets done. The mind is so strange.

stranger things have happened

I began to test various dip pen nibs on the rough, hairy paper, trying to figure out which nib would work best. This random line from an audio book—Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives—I was listening to as I began to write appeared on the first page. I guess I have unwittingly named one of the books…

testing pen nibs on the paper

Standard
bookbinding, books, Online Shops

GOINGALLIVANTING : : ETSY Coupon Code

etsy banner galiivanting
I’ve set up a coupon code for my ETSY shop, The Smallest Forest

Buy a handmade journal, or both of Kris’s books (or anything else on there) for a total of AU$40.00, and get 15% off the price of the items by using the code
GOINGALLIVANTING
at checkout.
Watch the spelling (or Copy/Paste it from here to be sure,) and look out for the blue link “Apply shop Coupon Code when you’re on your Shopping Cart page

Screen shot 2014-09-17 at 12.58.53 AM

Applied properly, you should see how much of a discount you’re getting BEFORE you proceed to checkout.

Screen shot 2014-09-17 at 12.59.35 AM

Runs until November 15, 2014, or the shop runs out!

Thank you!

Standard
amazing people, bookbinding, books + poetry, Inspirations, Online Shops

A few new journals, and Kris’ books, in my ETSY shop

I’ve been trying to photograph and write the listings for some new journal designs to post to my ETSY shop this past week, but there have been so many social commitments, lately…I can’t believe the number of my friends with their birthdays in September, there sure was a lot of baby-making going on during the Christmas holidays! Oh, curious thought: Maybe Santa’s your real dad?

Here are four new journal designs in my ETSY shop…these are made with Spoonflower fabric designs by other talented designers, not me. Sometimes it’s nice to see someone else’s ideas on a journal cover, I get tired of my own style.

Clicking on the image will take you to my ETSY shop. If you want to purchase the fabric, instead, click on the designer’s name under the picture.

Hither & Tither journal. Fabric is “Time Travel” by nadiahassan

Little Mothers journal. Fabric design is “Matryoshka Russian Dolls” by LittleSmileMakers

Tweet Forest journal. Fabric design is “Fun Trees” by Bethan_janine on Spoonflower

Der Deer Party journal. Fabric design is “Oatmeal Spice Deer” by scrummy on Spoonflower

I only bought a fat quarter of each design, so there are only four journals of each. This is pretty much the last bit of bookbinding that I will be doing for a while, so if you’ve had your eye on something in my shop, best grab it now! I can’t take these with me when I leave Darwin (too heavy!) and I will have to put my shop in stasis until I manage to make something new on my travels. I know this all sounds so vague, but I feel as though I am standing at the edge of my known world, about to hurl myself into an abyss! I don’t know any more than you do about what is coming…only that I’ll be with my love, again, and that makes up for everything else!

Speaking of Kris, he left me some of his self-published books, and I have decided to put them up for sale on ETSY, as well! They were printed by small presses in the Philippines, but Kris bound them all by hand (very roughly, but the point of these books is the story, not the binding), so they can legitimately go on ETSY. (As of this listing, Kris is in Africa, cycling through Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.)

I am selling his two best books:

Monsoon Dervish by Kris Larsen

“Dream. The day you stop dreaming, you are as good as dead.” —the Monsoon Dervish motto.

On a home-built Chinese junk that had no engine, electricity, radio, GPS, not even a compass, my partner, Kris Larsen—a carpenter by trade, an adventurer at heart—crisscrossed the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific for seven years, from Australia to Madagascar and Japan, covering a total of 45 000 miles.

Forever broke, dodging officials and flying by the seat of his pants, Kris found himself trading spices in Zanzibar, collecting sea-cucumbers on a deserted island, and entertaining gangsters in a Japanese night-club. In Sri Lanka he was arrested as a suspected Tamil terrorist; in Comoros he was chased out of the harbour by gun-waving policemen. He survived a 360º rollover in a typhoon off Taiwan, finally stopping on a beach in the Philippines to write this book.

For the next seven years he tried to find a publisher for his work: anywhere, anyone. Nobody was interested. Frustrated, he typed the text onto a CD and on the next trip to the Philippines he paid a printing press in Davao to run 200 copies of the book. Each book has been bound by hand and covered with old sailing charts, and every copy is different. The first printing sold out in 4 months around the Darwin waterfront. Roughly bound and roughly written in Kris’ pronounced Russian-English, this book is surprisingly funny, entertaining, and inspiring, too…it’s gathered a small following of readers from around the world.

Out of Census by Kris Larsen

“If I could choose one thing to take with me on a round the world trip, I would take a warm sleeping bag. If I was allowed two things, I would add a good passport. In that order.” — opening lines of Out of Census

This is the first volume of an autobiography by my partner and belovéd—a mad adventurer and prolific writer— Kris Larsen. It follows Kris’s growing up in Eastern Europe under communist rule, his days as a tramp and a rock climber, his brazen escape into the West, going half way around the world as an illegal alien with dodgy papers, over-landing to India and beyond.

It’s a humorous take on the life of a would-be refugee that nobody wanted, showing how little you really need in order to do the things you always dreamed about. You want to go on an expedition? Put on your boots and go.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Standard
bookbinding, paints and pens, stuff i've made

A pigsty of one’s own

moroccan journals

What was in that candle’s light
that opened and consumed me so quickly?
Come back, my friend.
The form of our love is not a created form.
Nothing can help me but that beauty.
There was a dawn I remember when my soul
heard something from your soul.
I drank water from your spring,
and felt the current take me.

—Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)

Not everything about Kris’ sailing off in the general direction of Mozambique a few days ago is sad. I must admit that—for a few months, at least—it is awesome to have the entire boat to myself. Until I start to seriously miss his conversation, his tenderness, his boundless energy, his complete competence in running our household, I usually enjoy the first few weeks of living like a bachelor-slash-bohemian:

An apple, a knob of rock-hard dried bread, or a fried egg, on its own, for dinner (usually because there’s nothing else to eat…Kris did all the groceries, Kris made sure we ate healthy balanced meals, Kris made sure there was always orange juice in the fridge for my breakfast, real coffee in the pantry, bars of chocolate at the ready during my periods!) Art materials and projects spread wildly across all the tables, floors, shelves. The pile of dirty dishes in the sink gamely trying to keep up with the pile of dirty laundry in the hamper (Kris did the dishes. Kris did the laundry. Kris made sure there was always fuel for the outboard. Kris bought cat litter…Kris held my world together, and every time he goes away I realize that what I thought was the wonderful life WE’D created was really the wonderful life that my wonderful man had created FOR US. Doh!)

I stay up late, smoke too much, live on pots of coffee, rummage through the dirty laundry to recycle something to wear, sleep on a bed without sheets because they’re in the dirty pile, too, and the cat isn’t speaking to me because Kris always bought kangaroo steak for him on weekends, and I’ve got him on a Spartan diet of cat nibbles and water. But! I’m not a complete wreck…look! I am making Moroccan-inspired journals for the next ETSY Territorians Pop-Up Market…and I’ve just ordered stacks of postcards of six weird animal illustrations (four shown below) I did for the Dream Menagerie group exhibition that opens on the 20th of this month. After the show opening, I’ll have these postcard sets in my ETSY shop and at the monthly craft markets, as well. The colors are a bit over-saturated in this picture…they won’t be so harsh in printed form…part of the mysterious loss of luminance that every RGB-to-CMYK conversion entails.

Pictured below are (clockwise from top left) Coddled Salmon (he’s wearing a sweater), the Spangled Jerboa (pink desert hopping mouse with sparklies), the Pack Alpaca (for obvious reasons), and the Panzer Wombat (a.k.a. Armoured Wombat, in Galapagos tortoise shell)
animal postcards collage

So what do you think of these? Which one do you like best? (there are another two, but I’ll show you closer to the exhibition date).

Standard

In my Smallest Forest ETSY shop today…three Art of Tea designs, and Pink Bicycle with Doily Wheels, as handbound journals. All covers are of linen-cotton canvas, printed by Spoonflower.

I love them…someday I’ll be able to afford to keep one of each, for myself! But first, let’s pay for that ticket to South Africa, hmm? ZOMG I’m so excited by so many things, I think I’ll just sit here and squee for a while…

bookbinding, Online Shops, stuff i've made

Aaaaand…some new journals!

Image
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
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")

Standard