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!