The State of Book Making

25 Feb 2013

When I was in fourth grade, our state (Michigan) was the main theme of our social studies class for the year. I distinctly remember that the big project that would sum up all we had learned was a handmade book that we could interpret artistically.

Shaped journals by Ingrid Dijkers, featured in
Cloth Paper Scissors
magazine March/April 2013.
Now, this was back in the days when most parents were very hands-off on homework. It was also before the proliferation of a wide variety of increasingly costly art supplies. Consequently, on the day the project was due, most of us turned in handmade books created with construction paper and cardboard, illustrated in crayon or colored pencil. The pages were stapled together, held together with brads, or tied with yarn. (The latter was not looked upon as a creative gesture, rather, one of desperation and homeliness.)

Some of us went so far as to cut the cover and pages out into the shape of Michiganno mean feat when you consider that Michigan is made up of two peninsulas. (Big benefit of growing up in Michigan: you can spell and use "peninsula" in a sentence at a very young age.)

But if any of the kids who had handmade paper books in a mitten-with-wing shape thought they were hot stuff, they were humbled at presentation time by a quiet boy whose name I forget. The covers of his handmade book were made of wood and had a hinged binding. Moreover, he had used a wood-burning tool (with his dad's help) to incise a state map on the front.

This was also not the era of everyone-gets-a-trophy. This boy's project had won the day and the teacher made sure to praise his creativity and suggest that the rest of us might consider stepping up our book-making efforts next time. (Rather than be envious of this boy, I recall feeling secretly happy for him because he had finally had a moment in class to shine.)

I thought of the Michigan project the moment I saw Ingrid Dijkers's shaped journals made with boxboard and wood in the March/April issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Not only do they have wooden covers, but one is in the shape of a mitten! (OK, a hand.)

If you're reasonably handy with a jig saw and drill, you can create these books in just about any shape you want, provided there is one straight side for the binding. Ingrid used ¼" plywood for the covers and boxboard for the pages. She writes:

"Boxboard has always been my go-to material for book pages. It makes for a very sturdy book that will take most media well. It's also readily available. Cereal and snack boxes are perfect, and if you keep your eyes open you'll find boxboard in many places.

"Sheets of boxboard are often used to separate stacks of paper products in stores and they are happy to have you take it away. Hot-press, 150-lb. watercolor paper also works well, and Bristol paper is another option, but my favorite is boxboard."

I can't help but think that these shaped journals would make excellent social studies projects (with adult supervision on the sawing and drilling). Or perhaps a fun project for a grown-up artist who wishes she could redo her 4th-grade Michigan book.

You can learn how to make a book like Ingrid's, plus techniques for creating unusual textured papers and much more in the March/April 2013 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors.

P.S. Do you have a memory of creative envy or pride from your school days? Why does it resonate with you today? Leave a comment below.

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on 25 Feb 2013 10:30 AM

While I didn't make a book in school, for a French class in high school, I tried to make an illuminated manuscript. I used butcher paper, singed the edges with a match, painted my illustration and used gold paint meant for airplane models to highlight areas. However, to give the page the look of what I thought vellum looked like, I lightly smeared the whole page when it was dry with Crisco, the preferred cooking fat when I was growing up down South. By the time I turned my project in, the fat had oxidized and turned rancid, so I had to put a little cologne on an edge so that the whole thing didn't stink too badly. I go my "A" for the project, but learned a valuable lesson about testing ALL of the materials to be used in a project before committing to using them in a project!

lesachef wrote
on 25 Feb 2013 10:52 AM

In 7th grade 1972 (Has it been that long?) I made an art book that was used to show our work for a semester. My dad helped with the cover it was wooden (actually a leftover piece of green paneling from our basement) that I covered with a mosaic of colored popcorn kernels and assorted beans. The mosaic was a rainbow. Dad also put hinges on the cover. That book is still in my bedroom closet at my mom's house. My teacher commented sarcastically as I remember, that someone received a lot of help with their project. I just smiled and took my A+! Thanks for helping me revive that memory!

on 25 Feb 2013 10:53 AM

I enjoyed your book remembrance very much--your happiness for the quiet boy was very thoughtful too...thanks for sharing~  

A favorite book creation from grade school was one where my teacher, a courageous & creative woman, had us (2nd graders?) collect leaves, and with help from another adult, after drying them abit, dipped them in melted wax to preserve them.  Then all the leaves were attached (probably with tape!) to large manila pages and labeled...along with a lovely cover, created with more manila pages but using leaves to create reverse silhouettes, the cover was then 'splattered with paint, toothbrush and mesh grid' to leave blank shapes where leaves had been.  I still have that lovely creation!  a wonderful memory--thank you~

on 25 Feb 2013 11:28 AM

My memory is not about making a book, but it is a very clear memory about learning how to sew from my Grandmother when I was 8 years old. Gramma Blair would sew for a living to supplement her income. I remember sitting in our living room, learning to hand sew a little green corduroy doll's dress. Gramma would look at my crooked seam and tell me to rip it out, and start again. Or that the stitches were too big and far apart. Finally after what seemed like a very long time to me, she approved of the little dress and we dressed my doll. I was SO proud of that dress, and honestly, I don't recall another time in my life that I felt that feeling of accomplishment, as strange as that sounds! Even though I remember Gramma as a very stern unsmiling person, in every photo that was ever taken of her and me together she is looking at me and beaming. This was 45 years ago. And now, I sew for a living, too.

on 25 Feb 2013 11:34 AM

The main creative expression that I remember from my elementary days here in Phoenix, AZ was making Ojo De Dio (eye of God). With two wooden dowels, a variety of strings, yarns, bead and feathers, we were encouraged to celebrate artistry and our southwestern heritage. I made hundreds of these wrapped beauties over the years and never repeated the colors or patterns. Unfortunately, my children have not made these in school due to budget restrictions on art in schools. Luckily for them their mother has introduced them to this craft. They have learned introductory color theory,  knotting techniques, and embellishing. They also get a bit of instant gratification because this is a quick and easy project.

jenny wrote
on 25 Feb 2013 1:26 PM

This brought back memories! I'm a Michigander and I remember my brother making a book in 4th grade about Michigan! He also did wood covers and used a wood burning tool with dads help. Your description sounds so much like my brother and his project! Our dad was my brothers Boy Scout troop leader back then, so they did lots of projects like this together :)

Thank you for sharing your story, it brought back some wonderful family memories!

Lark Pruitt wrote
on 25 Feb 2013 4:03 PM


I just love reading your posts,  You are a witty and talented kindred spirit.  Plus,  we seem to be of the same vintage so everything resonates in my heart.  Its never too late to make a new book, honey.

I myself,  felt the soul of artistry using colored paper and staples with a hand drawn and exquisitely colored pic of Sir Francis Drake's sailing ship on my stunning tome re: his exploration of the SF Bay Area. ( a true City girl) I still have it and after x amount of moves in this lifetime and the usual losses , it  remains a survivor as well.

It seems that you have struck a true chord reminding us of our creative roots and small hands creating their hearts out, Many thanks.

wenjohnson wrote
on 25 Feb 2013 5:26 PM

Oh your Michigan book tale certainly stirred a memory. Year 7 geography project was on the wheat belts of Australia. I can remember going to a feed store and asking for some wheat which I duly stuck in my exercise book. Naturally the book never closed properly again but I did get a very good mark for the project.

laescoba wrote
on 25 Feb 2013 6:05 PM

Cate, your article has brought back many memories!  I, too, grew  up in Michigan and lived there till 1982, when my husband got a job in Dallas.  While my project was not a book, it did bring a great sense of accomplishment. I don't remember exactly what grade my friend and I were in--probably a little higher than fourth.  We were shown a movie about making animals out of papier maché; they encouraged us to decorate them wildly, or even to make one that was a combination of two different animals.  We were given an optional assignment to try this, and my friend and I were the only ones to try .  We created an animal  that turned out to be a donkey, although I'm not sure a donkey was what we had in mind! We decorated it with pieces of scrap fabric from my mom and leftover enamel paint from the kitchen re-do. We were very proud of him, and our teacher was duly impressed.  Since I think I'm even older than  you, not only did parents keep hands off our homework, there was no such thing as "extra credit", either!  But we had fun and did something we'd not done before, and this memory has remained with me for all these years.  Thanks for stirring it up, again!

ctutt wrote
on 2 Mar 2013 10:51 AM

In grade school I was a fat little nerd; in addition we moved frequently so I never was in one school long enough to have any 'best friends.' In my copious solitary time I drew pictures and made all kinds of things. By fifth grade I was the 'go-to' kid when the teacher needed art work done for open house or the Christmas assembly. One year I remember being allowed to skip class, all day except lunch, to sit in the library and construct a piñata. At the time I remember thinking, 'This is the best day of my life!' Art days are STILL the best, LOL  ;-)

kathy ru wrote
on 2 Mar 2013 2:58 PM

while i don't have a memory to add, i wanted to tell you that i enjoyed reading all your memories very much.  i'm from michigan, too!  i just

realized, everyone has said that they are 'from' michigan.  i guess

everyone has moved away !!

Wanda Kletke wrote
on 2 Mar 2013 5:06 PM

I live deep in the boreal forest of far northern Alberta ... Canada. My school project was about ... my many experiences with Bears ... both big and small. The cover of my book was birch bark ... Dad showed me how to heat nails ... screws ... nuts ... bolts ... etc. ... anything textured and metal ... on the woodstove ... (yes ... woodstove ... far north ... looong story there!) ... to artfully burn the cover. Decades have come and gone ... memories have grown dim ... this wonderful article has brought those memories flooding back ... time to create one anew! When I posed the question to my artfully gifted niece ... she enthusiastically accepted ... what fun! ... now all we need to do ... is pick our subject matter ... methinks that might be the most difficult part!

Oh ... there's one other ... slight ... problem. Remember the part about ... far northern Canada? Well ... winter is a tad bit longer here ... six months down ... and two months to go! Our treck in the woods ... will be slightly delayed ... you see ... early spring around here ... is a weeee bit dangerous ... our Bear population are waking up ... and cranky ... after a looong winter's nap!

Thank you for your creativity ... and your willingness to share ... we are ALL so delighted ... that Cloth Paper Scissors ... exists!

ps ...  ...  you're all invited for tea ... I can invision us all ... gathered together ... sharing our creative minds ... and creating with our sharing hands!