Saturday, May 15, 2010

Coptic Headband Class

Well, life has been busy as my partner and I prepare to leave St. Louis and start our new life out east. Today, we disposed of two old desks, shredded old documents, and purged more things that won't make the journey with us. Despite these preparations, I am trying to squeeze in as much bookbinding as possible and have continued to fill my Etsy shop. I am wondering how quickly I will be able to being the creative process again once we get settled.

Last weekend, I took a class on sewing Coptic Headbands. It was great fun! I will miss my bookbinding teacher, Joanne. For anyone interested in bookbinding near St. Louis, I highly recommend you getting in touch with her. She is an excellent mentor and has been quite an inspiration. I have learned so much and am always motivated to learn as much as possible when in her creative studio space. Before working with her in 2006, I tried to make a couple of books, but didn't even know about grain direction or proper glues. It is fun to look back at those books now. Her instruction has been monumental for me; the knowledge I have gained about bookbinding has forever changed my life - it is like a rewiring of the brain.

Once I got the hang of this sewing technique, it was quite rewarding and didn't seem too difficult. Starting the process was the most challenging. It is very neat to see the finished product; I love the idea of using contrasting colors to really make the headband "pop." After the class, I replicated what I learned on another book I had recently sewn and was happy with the end result, even though the measurements were a bit off. The next one will be even better! I look forward to incorporating this technique on more structures soon. The details of this sewing are in the book, Headbands How to Work Them by Jane Greenfield and Jenny Hille. But, taking a class and learning from a professional is so much better (at least for me). It gives me the confidence that I am learning correctly.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Butterfly House, Chesterfield, Missouri

The Butterfly House in Chesterfield, Missouri is one of my favorite locations in the St. Louis region. It is truly one of the best butterfly houses I have ever been to. Since my partner and I will soon be uprooting ourselves in order to move to Massachusetts, we are creating a "bucket list" of sorts, places and restaurants we want to go to again before our transition. Not having much else planned today, I heard the butterflies calling! With my camera in hand, I set off. It was a great day; the conservatory was very active! Thousands of lepidoptera were flying around the room, many landing and resting on the tropical plants all around. They just seem to be oblivious of the many humans surrounding them.

For nine years, I have been part of a teaching team inspiring second graders about these majestic creatures. From the life cycle, to behavior patterns and other interesting facts. In my quest to inform them, I have learned so much and am forever grateful for the knowledge and appreciation I have gained. This environmental passion was heightened and magnified through the inspiration of two wonderful colleagues. One of my favorite parts of this kind of environmental education is that children learn how delicate nature can be, also how colorful, amazing, and patient.

It is interesting to stand back and watch other people interact with them too. You can see the uncertainty on the face of some - young and old. Some of the children are quite afraid of them; I understand that. They might but them in the same category as bees or other flying creatures. I can't wait to explore some of the natural aspects of western Massachusetts. I hope one day to be able to plant a butterfly garden in my own yard so I can watch these awe-inspiring transformations in my own space.

I have added a photography section to my Etsy page; one of these photos is there now - the others will soon follow.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Plunge Into Etsy

A number of years ago, a colleague of mine (who also happens to be a very good friend), went to a craft show in northern Missouri. She met a potter who made this wonderful tall sleeping man mug. The potter was telling my friend how she had not made many sales in her actual brick and mortar shop; in fact, she had barely enough money to buy the clay that she needed. After joining Etsy, this artist found great success selling her work online. (I am not sure who the artist is, but would be interested in knowing if anyone in cyberspace happens to know.)

At the time, my bookbinding endeavours were relatively new. But, I kept this story in the back of my mind. Once my products got to the point in which I felt as though they were "quality enough" to share with others, I considered the idea of selling them online. In December of 2008, I took the plunge, setting up my account. I sold my first two items within hours and days of posting my first few items. While this initial success slowed, I have enjoyed the challenges and joys of selling online. I have especially enjoyed the personal connections that I have made with people from all over the globe.

My friend retired last spring. Now, I am preparing to move to Massachusetts. She came to my classroom the other day, bringing this clay figure with her. She is gifting it to me. Not only does it remind me of the valued friendship that we share, but also of my journey into the world of Etsy. I look forward to putting this functional sculpture right along with my other treasured art supplies once I get my new "art space" set up - be that a closet (like I have now) or a whole room.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Custom Orders for Teachers

Much of the last several weeks have been spent working on custom bookbinding projects. These three are for teachers who make a difference every day! As this school year winds down, don't forget about those special teachers in your life.

1) A teacher that I work with is expecting her second child soon. Her teaching partner asked me to create a photo album to present as a gift from the class. The children created advice to the baby and these illustrations were sewn into the book. When I photographed the book, I realized that I put the covers on the wrong sides; hence, the pictures were upside down! I felt ill - what a terrible mistake! My mentor shared that being able to fix mistakes is a key element to bookbinding (as well as many other areas of life). Realizing that I had a few days to redo it if I needed to, I cut the stitching on the spine and resewed the book, aligning the pages correctly. My obsessiveness took over and I had to complete it that evening - it couldn't wait until the next day. At first, I was concerned that I would need to flip all of the pages and worried that the holes might not match. And, what if my thread tension is different and the pages don't fit correctly. Then, I realized that I would only need to change three of the sections; a little planning and trimming fixed my problem perfectly. In fact, the book might have felt more tight and secure upon this second sewing.

2) I had a student teacher this semester; she was excellent by the way! She taught a writing project that required students to create a polymer clay character as part of their planning process. I used the left over clay and a rolling pin to create two polymer clay covers for a special book. Our students illustrated book sections advising as to what makes a good teacher. I sewed these as well as several blank sections into the book. This was my first clay covered book. I wonder how it will hold up over time. Hopefully, it will be a special memory of her time in our classroom.

3) My nephew is a second grader in Michigan. His mom asked me to make an end of the year gift for his teacher. So, I created this green hinged box structure and included the hand painted paper that is integrated into much of my work. Several handmade cards are included. These cards are what inspired me to launch art as an "obsessive hobby" in 2004. A hand cut black panel is attached to water-color paper. Several layers of coordinating colored paper frame the design. Envelopes were created by folding an outdated atlas - a great way to outdated paper from recycling. Once the teacher uses the cards, the box will serve as a special container for many years.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Second Grade Immigration Journals

As a second grade teacher, I enjoy incorporating bookbinding into my language arts curriculum as often as possible. One of our capstone projects comes during the Coming to America unit. Students study the lives and perspectives of immigrants; mostly we focus on historical immigration. We read many wonderful children's books about the topic. Many of these use excellent descriptive language. Students also work with the drama teacher to present a play inspired by many of our literature selections.

We dress the children up in all kinds of old clothes and fabric, and take their photo. From there, they imagine themselves as an immigrant character from long ago. Many children base the character on their own ancestor. Others are creative in their selection. Then, we set up two simulations for the children. One is a passport simulation in which they stand in a long line upon their arrival to school to be questioned by "inspectors at the passport office" (teachers). Their photo is attached to the passport. Finally, students experience an Ellis Island simulation, where we take them on a walk in areas of our campus where they have rarely been. We take them in the attic and through a fire escape, down in the basement of another building. We use chalk to draw a boat on the sport court and have them cram together. This year, they even had some water splashed on them. Once we leave the boat, students spot the Statue of Liberty (a teacher wrapped in green fabric holding a green binder and a foam crown). They gather around her and sing, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free..." Then, we lead them to the inspection station. Many children comment that while they know this is pretend, they truly feel like an immigrant.

During the last few weeks of the unit, the teachers create fabric journals for each student in the class. In some years, students select fabric from the mountain we have collected over the years. One remnant in particular, a red floral print on heavy canvas, was left over from a colleagues curtains several decades ago. There was so much, she made overalls for each of her own four kids. The scraps were turned into immigration journals - we used the final piece last year. This year, we involved grandparents and families by asking students to write letters, asking for some fabric that can be used. One child brought in pieces of her great grandmother's wedding dress and veil. Another child brought in a handkerchief embroidered an ancestor. My colleagues and I cover book board and use binder rings to secure the pages together. These rings also give us the flexibility to take pages out or to add more depending on the circumstances.

Students then imagine a historical fiction story of an immigrant character from 100 years ago. The expound about learning of their journey, leaving their homeland, life on the boat, and entering an immigration inspection station (usually Ellis Island). Finally, they write a paragraph or two about their first night or week living in America. Because we spend so much time leading up to this moment, the children often find inspiration from the books we read.

I am always completely amazed at the effort and quality of work that comes through on this project! Even the emerging writers really put forth their best, and often do better on this assignment than on others. Some of the stories read as though they are actual stories from long ago While each one follows the sequence and includes historical information that we outline in class, each one has unique and interesting characteristics that set it apart from the others. I think these stories are so great because they can truly connect to this handmade journal, a book that features fabric that they have selected and come to feel an attachment to. Also, the immaginative experiences really enhance their thinking!

Here are some of the books we enjoy in class:
* Coming to America by Betsy Maestro
* Watch the Stars Come Out by Riki Levinson
* How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Story by Eve Bunting
* When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest
* The Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff
* If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island by Ellen Levine
* Hannah's Journal by Marissa Moss
* The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

Monday, February 15, 2010

Painted Paper

I love painted paper! Somehow, it brings me back to childhood - playing with watercolor paints or crayons - even the time in elementary school when we put crayons in our glue to make the white adhesive change colors. I love the array of commercial and handmade decorative papers that is used in bookbinding and handmade box projects. But, it is also fun to experiment and create my own. There is just something about getting messy, playing with colors, and accepting the final product.

It is great to spend a couple of hours with liquid acrylic paint, black ink, Arches text weight paper, water, and other supplies. I love spreading out and going crazy (being careful not to get paint on the dining room table or the floor). Each sheet comes out unique and completely one of a kind! When trimmed into smaller pieces, the art looks very different. I can't just paint one sheet. I keep going - mixing the paints ever so slightly as I go along and spreading out the wet paper all over the living room floor until it dries. Yesterday, I painted 9 pieces of paper. When there is enough acrylic paint left, it is fun to paint book fabric. Like the paper, this painted fabric looks very different when attached to the cover of a book.

I have made a few journals in which the entire book block is comprised of these painted pages (one of these books will be posted to Etsy soon). At other times, I cut the paper and use it to embellish the book. Sometimes the painted paper is used to surround the spine of each section on a Coptic bound book and at other times, it is used for the cover of the book. Regardless, I find a great deal of satisfaction knowing that the paper used is partially designed by me, but mostly by the water and paint nearby. It seems to take on a life of its own.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Amherst and Lupe

It has been a while since life has allowed me to move forward on bookbinding projects. My partner is a scientist and has been on the job hunt this past fall. He just accepted a faculty position at Amherst College and we will be moving there this summer. We have known that a move would be coming and are both very glad to know where we are headed. The details during this initial decision making process have kept both of us quite busy! I truly look forward to getting to know more about the art community in and around Amherst. Now, it is my turn to explore job opportunities as an elementary teacher. Now that this major move is in place and we have announced it to those close to us, we can get back into some sort of routine once again. For me, this means carving out some time to create handmade books. Although, I also realize that I don't have much more time for bookbinding in St. Louis.

This afternoon, I finished one more upcycled book; this time, using a 1934 copy of the book, Lupe Goes to School by Esther Brann. It has an orange cover with black lettering. A little girl is walking across the cover. One of my favorite features of the book appears on the back cover. The fabric from the spine has been carefully detached and reapplied on the back cover. I love the fact that this old book has been given new life. It will make a perfect journal for just the special someone!

I have some other pieces of spine fabric that I have removed from other antique books. I might incorporate those into another upcoming handmade journal. This project also includes scanned portraits from a 1929 yearbook. Currently, the book is sewn and sitting in my "to do" pile. I look forward to the final product (hopefully, I can finish it this weekend or early next week).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lessons From the Post Office

Now that I am selling handmade products on Etsy, trips to the post office are more frequent. Living in a metropolitan area, there are often many other customers there too. I find the social interactions to be quite interesting - sometimes my observations even bring a smile.

I start out feeling anxious and frustrated, wanting to be next in line even though they are only on number 94 and my little pink tag has "114" written on it. Some people are in a hurry, others are confused, some find unanswered questions and are turned away. I watch. I listen. One man explains how his mail got lost and he needs to find out what happened to it. I wonder how in the world the postal workers could ever track down one man's mail. Someone talks on the cell phone; I wonder if they see the handwritten note that says, "Please don't approach the window if you are talking on your phone" Will they try to break that rule. I am quite sure that the postal worker will confront the person; she's tough! Despite this, I have discovered a fondness for her no nonsense approach. Someone else scrambles to find just the right box or envelope, wondering if it needs "first class" tape provided by the post office or if their own masking tape will do the trick. I have been there - not sure which box or envelope to use. Have I overpaid just because I used the wrong packaging? I wonder what is in the envelopes and boxes around me. Sometimes, complete strangers will give advice from lessons learned at the post office. I am pretty sure a person next to me is mailing text books or possessions, maybe sold on Ebay. One day, I talked to a woman wondered how much it would cost to mail her package. She was sending cereal to her son, who is in college. He lives in another area of the country and is unable to buy a certain brand that is found here in the central part of the country. She worried that sending the box would end up being more than the food was worth; it probably did! I formed a little connection with her; before I know it she is gone and I am left to reflect on her friendliness. There is a young guy, somewhat dressed up with many large crisp flat envelopes. Is he sending resumes in this difficult economy or submitting applications for graduate school? He seems a bit busier than some of us, like more is at stake. I find my customs form, get it filled out, feeling pleased that I can do this easily now. I think back to the first time I stumbled through this process.

When I first entered the post office, I hoped that my trip would only take a couple of moments as my mind is filled with so many thoughts. As it becomes clear that my trip will take longer than expected, I somehow find contentment in watching the variety of interactions. Strangely, it is even somewhat calming. I settle into the fact that I am there for the long-haul. While I occasionally see the worst of fellow men, more often I see kindness and patience persevere. This leaves me with the hope that things aren't always as bad as they might seem from the onslaught of news we are bombarded with each and every day.

Time seems to slow down as I watch a woman give up her seat, an old metal chair with a cracked green padding. She noticed a man, much older than her, amble into the building. He politely turned her down when she asked him to take her seat. But, struggling to walk and breathing heavy, he reluctantly sat as she politely walked away. The woman, now out of earshot, didn't see him turn to the young dark haired lady next to him and say, "Some people can be so kind, can't they?" It was heartwarming to see his appreciation. It was a reminder that this is how we should all treat each other!

I am next! My yellow envelope is now on its way to the buyer. When I turn away to walk through the metal and glass doors, all of the busy thoughts I had when I came seem less important. I entered the building thankful to have sold something online, but I leave having just witnessed human interactions that remind me of the important things I have learned about treating each other with respect.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Featured in Bookbinding Blog

I feel honored to have been featured on the bookbindingteam blog today. Please check out the interview here. There are some great bookbinding resources and interviews with other book artists as well.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Painting Book Cloth

I have always enjoyed playing with paints, but am sometimes reluctant to do so because I lack formal training in using these mediums. More recently, I am putting the uncertainty aside and am jumping in to experiment to see what works and what doesn't. Sometimes, the materials have ended up in the trash. Regardless, it is a lot of fun to pull out the paintbrushes, acrylic paint, glass of water, and other materials. Mixing the paints is also rewarding. When adding the colors, I might have an idea of what it will look like but am often surprised at the actual outcome. Since a specific color isn't required, I go with it!

Today, I sewed a little book with tan and black end sheets. I have some brown book cloth and decided to spruce it up some. I have been wanting to incorporate some printmaking techniques into my bookbinding. So, I pulled out some letterpress pieces - the letters B, E, and the numbers 2 and 6 (or 9). Some of these, I have collected over the years, and still others were purchased in Chelsea, Michigan on a recent trip to visit family in the area. I spread some paint on some well-used waxed paper, and using my letter press pieces (wood and metal), stamped designs on the brown fabric. Using some masking tape, I created some straight edges. In other places, I pressed the designs free handed. Then, I glued the book board to the fabric (after it has dried). Now, the project is in the press overnight. Tomorrow, I will be able to glue the book block into the completed painted cover. Look for it on Etsy soon!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sewing a New Book

I spent some time this evening sewing a Coptic bound book. I cut the cover off of the 1940 book, The Trees by Conrad Richter. A heavy blue book cloth covers this book and it is still in relatively good condition considering it is 70 years old. When sewing a Coptic book, I like to cover the sections with paper in order to give it a decorative embellishment as well as to provide a small amount of room for growth in case the person who uses it chooses to add photos or other ephemera. The unsewn book has been sitting around for a while waiting for me to tend to it. (I teach second grade full time and has taken up the bulk of my week).

I love the feeling of pulling out my various colors of waxed linen thread, looking at them - trying to decide which ones would be just right for the project at hand. Tonight, I settled on olive green, blue, and red. While these vary from the braided thread used as a closure, I think the colors compliment the cover nicely. Sometimes, the thread pulls or gets tangled, causing frustration on my part. Not so this evening. This upcycled journal came together perfectly.

I think back to the first time I sewed a Coptic stitch book by following the directions presented in Keith Smith's book, Exposed Spine Sewings. I used cardboard and copy machine paper since I knew it was for practice. It didn't turn out too bad, but it wasn't something worth keeping. Putting it in my "give-away" pile at school made a little second grader very happy though! I have come a long way since then. I feel rather confident about this particular stitch and would like to branch out and try something new. I played around with the Celtic Weave a week or so ago. It didn't turn out right. With practice though, this too will likely become second nature one day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Using Vintage Books and Game Boards

There is no doubt about it, I am an old soul. I have always liked old things - photographs, books, buttons, nick-nacks, and more. So, it is no surprise that I enjoy incorporating vintage ephemera into my handmade books.

Recently, I went to an antique store - a great outing for an old soul like me. I purchased some vintage books and two antique game boards and am in the process of constructing Coptic bound books. I love the idea of taking these old unused objects, adding new thread, new blank paper, and creating a different structure in order to create a practical item. In this way, these old books have new life. While working with these old books, I wonder about the former owners. Who was the first person to receive the book or game board? Was it a gift or did they purchase it on their own. Did they relish and enjoy the book or did it end up on a bookshelf unread? Some of the books have names written on the inside cover. Who were these people and what important things did they do in life? In 70 years, will people wonder this about me when finding my books? Will people still read actual books in 2081?

I must admit, however, that I feel guilty when cutting the book block out of its case. To lessen my guilt, I cut out the illustrations. Perhaps, they can be used in other projects. Hopefully, the former owners won't mind that I destroyed their possession. Instead, perhaps they will be honored that I chose their item to create a handmade journal that will bring relaxation and joy to someone living today!