Jan 202014
 

Pages from one of my journalsSketchbooks, visual journals, daybooks …. Different artists call that book they carry around different things. No matter what I’ve been — or not been able to be —  doing in the studio, I always keep a couple of different kinds on hand. It’s essential. Even if all I do in a day is scratch out some lines, at least I’m doing something. 

One of my take-along books is a sketchbook that’s used mostly for jotting down ideas and making mock-ups of book pages and that sort of thing. I’ve carried one of those around in one form or another for a very long time. The current one is a thin store-bought softcover thing with graph paper inside. It serves the purpose.

 

The handmade paper with flowers was something I'd done a while ago.

The handmade paper with flowers was something I’d done a while ago.

 

The other carry-along book is handmade. Its purpose is to keep me making marks on a regular basis. Often, this is while the TV is on, or while I’m out doing errands and stop for a rest with some coffee. When I go out, I bring it in a sack that’s also filled with colored pencils, pens, threads and needles, a glue stick, eraser, pencil sharpener, brushes, small scissors and scalpel, a 4 x 6″ cutting mat, vial of water, and, occasionally, a small watercolor palette (yeah — I overpack my suitcases as well). I also have a small zippered case that contains an assortment of postage stamps, papers and other stuff.

 

journal page with embedded mirror

The mirror is a scrap left over from another project.

 

I haven’t been particularly satisfied with what to call this book. Although I take it to coffee shops and the like with me, I don’t sketch my fellow visitors in it. It doesn’t seem to be a sketchbook. It’s also, to me, not quite a visual journal, which, in my mind, has a dated and linear progression expressing the feelings of the moment. For the most part, the only dates are the ones to note when it began and when it was retired. I very definitely do not work in a linear, nor systematic, way in them. I make marks — sometimes drawn, sometimes cut and sometimes sewn. The object is not to make art, nor to work out my thoughts or state of mind. It is, rather, my plaything.

journal pages with paper cutouts and stitching

It’s my relaxation, and it keeps me thinking about patterns, lines and colors, even though my one self-imposed “rule” is to not think too much about anything I put in there. Just grab something and start moving over the page. The pages themselves are not plain. This helps keep the flow going and reduces the intimidation an expanse of blank paper can cause. It also simply makes it more interesting to me.

pages made from various items

I took this everywhere with me for over half a year. You can tell.

This was dragged around everywhere with me for over half a year. You can tell.

Drawing in my plaything has become a pleasurable obsession. The latest incarnation of this type of sketchbook-journal-plaything began with a sewn-board bound book (shown here) that I made early last year. I filled it with different kinds of handmade and decorative papers, fragments from outdated science journals, printouts of things like enlarged postage stamps, a postcard, old library catalog cards, and translucent vellum in different colors.

There are small magnets and a metal strip embedded in the laminated page with the pop-up to help keep it closed.

There are small magnets and a metal strip embedded in the laminated page with the pop-up to help keep it closed.

The pop-up page is held tightly closed, thanks to the magnets inside.

The pop-up page is held tightly closed, thanks to the magnets inside.

The binding is actually a bit eccentric. Sewn-board bindings with their drop-down spines aren’t supposed to be thick (it’s usually recommended for books with around a half-inch spine). Plaything number one (with the red spine), however, is more than five times that wide. And I love it. It has a covered spine like a regular book, but the pages fold down flat and are easy to work on. The cloth from the spine automatically folds out of the way when I’m working on it. 

More journal pages with mixed papersI recently (more or less) retired the first one, and have just begun a second sewn-board bound plaything filled with lots of stuff, including photos of foreign money, guilloché patterns, postcards, Yupo, decorative and handmade paper, library catalog cards, lotus-fold pages… It is covered in silk that I made into book cloth. (Local friends — Eureka Fabrics has wonderful silks and cottons that make gorgeous book cloth, and their prices are reasonable for the excellent quality.) It took me weeks to actually make the book, but planning it out has been part of the pleasure.

The Old Icelandic Sagas catalog card is a flashback to my days when I actually did learn a bit of Old English and Old Icelandic. That was in a previous lifetime. It was so long ago the library was still using those catalog cards.

journal page made from a postcard

Handmade papers, paste paper, a postcard …

There’s actually a story behind the silk cover. While adhering the book cloth to the boards, I was very, very careful to wipe all glue quickly from my fingers, and to immediately remove any soiled scrap paper after gluing. I glued with a bad case of bookmaker’s glue paranoia. And so, of course, as soon as the front was adhered, there was a big blob of a stain right to the left of the depression where the label was to go. Impolite things were said.

Sewn-Board Plaything Two

And then I reminded myself that these sorts of accidents invariably lead to something better than what had originally been planned (this really is true). I decided to add a second label to cover up the mess. I tried to impress a recessed area for a label over the stain using my press, but the resulting impression was too feeble for that purpose. And so I put the label on top and added a silk-covered “frame” around it. It worked. To make the other label match, I added a second frame. I put images from Chinese and Danish banknotes in them. Happy things were said.

Handmade journal bound with silk coverAs for size, this one is a pleasingly eccentric nearly 3″ thick. Special considerations come into play when lining the spine of the book block and making the cover when the spine area will drop away that much from the book. But those sorts of small technical details are for another day.

If you’d like more information about making sewn-board books, here are a few links:

  • Bookbinder Henry Hébert usefully details the steps for making them on his blog.
  • Gary Frost, who devised the structure, discusses them here (PDF).
  • A PDF handout from a Karen Hanmer presentation on Drum Leaf and Sewn Board Bindings is available at the Guild of Bookworkers site. Also, the bookbinder Erin Fletcher recently featured Karen on her Flash of the Hand bookbinding blog. This post provides more background to Karen’s GBW presentation.
Sketching things on table in coffee shop

A good way to have coffee.

Do you have a favorite way to keep a journal, sketchbook, daybook or plaything? What do you bring along in your to-go kit?  Have you discovered the perfect drawing tool or organizing device you now can’t live without? Do tell.

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  16 Responses to “Sketchbooks and Playthings”

Comments (15) Pingbacks (1)
  1. Serendipity. I, literally, have the journal/notebook/plaything that you made me (and which I LOVE) open in front of me as I read your post.
    I was preparing a post at Vision and Verb, hunting for a quote I KNEW I had written in it (and I was right) and revelling in the book itself.
    And the books you have featured here look amazing. A window into your heart and head. Wow.,

    • You don’t know how happy it makes me that you use that book, rather than keep it on a shelf! I’m so glad it has made you happy, as well as provided you with something useful. Thanks, EC, as always for your kind, and ever much appreciated, enthusiasm. (And quick! I just posted this!)

  2. Oh, you are just so talented. Sigh. I love seeing the things you make. Nice that the “mistake” ended up being such a cool cover.

  3. Wonderfully inspiring post! Thank you!!

  4. Both look just wonderful! I never made (or had in my hands) a sewn board book. Just a couple of days ago I told a friend that I have no special goals for this year, but stepping over to here from Amanda’s Blog, seeing her beautiful book and now yours, I think one is just forming in my head: Make a couple of books this year, and try making them something new.
    Thanks for the nudge and the links!

    • How wonderful, Hilke! I do hope you’ve found some inspiration. I must say, those beautiful threads I got from you sure added to the nudge to me to sew some books! Nothing compares to having quality materials.

      I’ve become a bit obsessed with these kinds of bindings that have a drop spine. I especially liked the link to Karen Hanmer on Erin Fletcher’s blog (Karen describes herself as “quite evangelistic” about them.) There’s a slide from the GBW presentation she gave that shows different options for dealing with the bit of raw board that stays visible near the spine. Useful to think about.

      I look forward to seeing what you do!

  5. Wow, those are two very cool books (I’d call them visual journals or art journals even though you don’t write in them but that’s just me), and beautiful photos to showcase them. I love binding books too, and I need to make a new art journal soon I think, you’ve inspired me. :-)

  6. Well that’s odd. I’m certain I left a comment on this post but its not here… I came back because as I ve mentioned I was pondering making something similar, for a change around, and wanted to retread your thoughts. I do find this book inspiring!

    • I remember reading a comment you wrote about it over on Facebook, I think. I’m so pleased you find them inspiring! I hope you do decide to give it a try. With your interests in art and artful sewing, I can really see you getting into making books.

  7. Ahh FB! Of course, that was it.

    I have made a few books in the past – sketchbooks mainly, but pretty basic. I like it but for the measuring and cutting. I have never got on well with anything requiring precise measurements or angles, so mine are always a little wonky :) fortunately I don’t mind that !

    • Years ago before I started making books, I remember watching a friend who was a bookbinder as she was working on her latest creation. “I could never do that!” said I. “I have no patience for measuring and precision.” Go figure.

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