Adventures in Handmade Books

As we opened presents Christmas morning, the members of our family noticed something odd about daughter Olivia's packages: almost every one was 1" – 2" thick, rectangular, and could be held in one hand. In other words, she got a lot of books.

Olivia, who is in college studying creative writing, loves to write almost as much as she loves to read, so some of these books were blank journals. She keeps one for everyday thoughts, another for her writing, and a special dream journal.

handmade books
The first of many handmade books I hope to create.

When I had asked for her Christmas wishes a few weeks before, Olivia had given me a list book titles and very specific instructions on the kinds of journals she would like. The dream journal should have blank, not lined, pages and "be all Renaissancy with a carved leather cover and bound with dyed silk ribbons."

I knew her description of the exterior of the dream journal was partially fantasy, but as I have a little experience with handmade books, I set out to make the dream journal come true.

I had all kinds of ideas about how to create the covers. I thought about printing dreamy images on fabric and stitching them onto interfacing. I considered painting Tyvek® to look like leather. But in the end I took a relatively easy route: I used an old photo album I had found for free at a recycling center as a base. This suited my purpose perfectly as it had an embossed cover and holes on one end where the pages and covers were tied with a cord. I love shortcuts.

Although the covers were created from pressed paper, they were made to look like dark red leather. I knocked back the red with some slightly watered down gesso. I didn't want to add too much water as this could make the cardboard warp.

I painted on the gesso lightly and almost immediately started rubbing it off with a paper towel. By gently wiping off the gesso I was able to keep the texture of the covers that was in place. I painted the outside of the covers and the inside where the red wrapped around the edge in this way. Applying the paint on both sides also kept the covers from curling.

When the gesso dried, I noticed some of the red was still peeking through, but I decided this was a good thing: it would add depth and character, making the cover look more old and worn. Olivia likes green and yellow, so I mixed up some sage green paint with a bit of yellow and painted on top of the gesso, using crisscrossing brush strokes to add to the leathery effect.

dream journal book binding
Binding this book was easy, because the covers
came with pre-made holes.

I was really liking the results, but now I needed to highlight the embossed areas of the front cover and add a little magic. I used a coppery metallic Shiva® Paintstik® to do this, lightly rubbing it over the top of the relief design and a brown oil stick here and there on the edges of the covers. I blended the paint in places using my fingers. I loved the effect, but had to wait the full 24 hours recommended before it was dry. That was hard, as Christmas was rapidly approaching and I still had a couple of things to do.

When I could touch the covers again, I glued patterned scrapbook papers to the insides of the covers to finish them and cover the plain paper. Next, I cut blank paper to size, punched holes in the right places, and restacked it. I removed the cord and eyelets from holes in the binding and replaced it with some golden green silk ribbon I had in my stash, tying it in a bow.

Finally, I printed out "Renaissancy" letters spelling out "Dream" onto paper, cut them in circles, mounted them on pieces of scrapbook paper, and glued them to the cover over the word "Photographs."

On Christmas morning, Olivia was thrilled with her new stash of books and journals, but she especially liked her handmade dream journal.

During the rest of our time together, I shared my copy of the Cloth Paper Scissors Pages special issue, with how-tos on art journals and handmade books including how to make a book, book binding, and other book-making techniques. Olivia is inspired, and we're looking forward to creating our own handmade books together in the near future.


P.S. What kinds of books do you dream about making? Leave your comment below.

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Blog, Handmade Books

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