Smoke Gets in My Eyes… and Lungs… and Brain…

wood stove
Wood stove by Paul Johnson.

There was a certain irony in my recent post about Paul Johnson’s talk, since one of the photos included a beautifully crafted paper rendition of a wood stove that was part of one of Paul’s books.

I haven’t yet mentioned this here, but an increasingly large part of my life lately has been, and is, devoted to anti-wood smoke activism. Humboldt County has always been a smoky place. But it has gotten noticeably worse over the last several years. Our lives have become a breathless misery (we all have asthma, including Dominic the cat, and, before he died, Larry the cat as well).

I started doing some research on the matter, and I soon discovered that it wasn’t our imagination that wood smoke is not a good thing to be inhaling. I began to connect with others online who are suffering because of wood burning. It is not a small community. There are a lot of sick and unhappy people out there who are running up big medical bills and who’ve been forced from their homes because of what their neighbors are sending up the chimney. It’s a growing problem.

More people seem to be turning to wood stoves in an attempt to lower their heating costs. Unfortunately, their neighbors wind up subsidizing those heating costs with their own increased medical expenses. (See the 17 Reasons to Ban Wood Burning publicized by the group Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment).

Part of the problem is that many people think of wood as something natural. They believe it is environmentally a better choice. However, wood smoke is now thought to be more toxic than cigarette smoke, and the research on it is overwhelming and clear: it kills. Wood smoke exposure is known to cause asthma, heart attacks, strokes, COPD, lung cancer, systemic inflammatory responses and more. It is even now thought to play a role in the development of neurological disorders and dementia.

I’ve become involved with a group of people who are fighting against wood smoke in their communities. An outgrowth of this effort is a new international organization that is being formed to fight wood smoke pollution. It’s still getting going. And I hope to help in whatever way I can.

The EPA’s “Burn Wise” program was developed in partnership with the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, an industry lobbying group that sends its members to training workshops on how to lobby against clean air initiatives. They put out a booklet last year entitled “Tips For Communicating With Congress.” Their mission is to get people to buy more stoves, not to protect health. The problem is that those newer stoves aren’t as clean and green as people have been led to believe. Newer “EPA approved” stoves actually can emit more dioxins, furans and other carcinogens than older stoves. These are some of the most toxic chemicals to which you can be exposed. Their performance also degrades over time. Within a few years, they can emit as much particulate pollution as an older stove. The wording from the piece below comes directly from the EPA’s website, but with my own alterations:

Smoke Wise

A few selected links for more information:

Families for Clean Air

Clean Air Revival/Burning Issues

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment

“Woodstoves may be as toxic as cigarettes,” newspaper article

Comments to an article in the BMJ

Note: After the latest round of WordPress updates, the lightbox feature suddenly stopped working. If you click on the pictures, they don’t enlarge. But if you right click, you can get an enlargement in a separate window. I suspect this is going to be one of those things that will take a while to sort out… ugh. 

Make a New Year’s Spinner Card

I like to make spinner cards, and I find that people like receiving them. They are so fun and game-like.

I thought I’d show you how I made a New Year’s card for a select few friends. It’s a remake of one I made four years ago during another election cycle.

political spinner 2012
The last nightmare.

"Happy" New Year!


I’d thought back then that things couldn’t get any worse. Never say never!

First, I start in Adobe Illustrator. It has a handy polar grid tool that is perfect for making spinner templates. It is found nested under the Line Segment Tool.

Polar Grid Icon

If you double-click on the Polar Grid Tool Icon in the tool bar, it will bring up a dialogue box. For this purpose, 2 concentric dividers and 8 radial dividers are just about right. I skew the concentric divider so that it’s close to the center:

Polar Grid Box

I actually hadn’t put in those measurements on top: 6.66 inches. I just noticed them as I was taking the screenshot. Very interesting . . .

At any rate, once you have your parameters set, draw your template:

Spinner Template


You could, of course, continue to work in Illustrator. But I’m going to be doing the rest with photos and I’m more comfortable in Photoshop. So I close the file in Illustrator and re-open it in Photoshop as a Photoshop file. You also, of course, could just draw it by hand if you don’t use Illustrator.

With your template open in Photoshop, select one of the sections with the magic wand tool and create a new layer.


Then you can find a picture of something you’d like to put in the section. It might be something nice… or it might be something disturbing, as in my example. You can combine images too, of course:

layer one


Keep adding images, working in a new layer for each section. If things overlap, select inside the shape of the section you’re working on, then select inverse and delete to neaten things up. When you are done, you should have a wheel filled with pictures:

2016... UGH!


As you can see, I got rid of the lines in the middle and filled it in with white. This also has a bigger circle in the middle than our original example, because I made it earlier using a different template.

You could then cut it out and glue it to your card. Or you could create a document in your layout program of choice and insert it. I use InDesign.

I created a new InDesign document with three joined pages of equal size. This is going to be a rather small card, since the arrows I will be attaching are small, and I also want to print it out on my wide-format printer, which can handle a page that is up to 13″ wide. Three pages that are 4″ across will fit nicely, so I made each joined page 4″ wide and 6″ long.

I placed the image on the page to the left, and added some text on the page to the right. The middle was left blank. You’ll soon see why.

card layout


I then created a PDF of the document, being sure that it was saved as “spreads” with all of the correct pages lined up together and the pages at 100% scale. It is also helpful to make sure that the crop marks will be included.

PDF of card

I printed it out on matte card stock. I then scored at the appropriate markings and trimmed along the outside, following the crop marks. I then made a mountain fold at the first score line, and a valley fold at the second.

card folded

I then made a hole in the center of the spinner, at the dot in the middle. It should be just big enough to fit a tiny brad. To keep the arrow from scraping on the card, I sandwich a little nylon washer between the arrow and the card.

Spinner parts


To help the arrow spin more freely, I find it helps to stick something thin like a metal spatula underneath each prong as you press down on top of it with a bone folder.

Using spatula

When it was all assembled, I folded in the mountain fold and sealed the card up around the inside edges. You can use glue or double-sided tape. Now you see why the middle page was left blank — when fully assembled, it hides the back of the spinner.

Card Folded Over

Now it’s done! Although… come to think of it, this is so grim I think I’ll lose friends if I actually mail it to anyone.

Spinner Card Front

"Happy" New Year!

Happy New Year! And best of luck in 2016!

My San Francisco Week in Books: Part Two

The book I made in the workshop.
The book I made in the workshop.

I like Drum Leaf and similar types of bindings. I’ve read as much as I could find about making them, and I’ve seen a video of Tim Ely making one, but mine sometimes have bumps where I don’t want them and other unintentional features that displease me. When I saw that John DeMerritt was going to be teaching a Drum Leaf workshop the week I was going to be at the San Francisco Center for the Book anyway, I jumped at the chance.

John turned out to be funny and nice, and made the class a delight. By this day, I was so tired I glued some of the wrong pages together and even managed to … ugh … slice a finger and drip on my book. Fortunately, it was on the end page and was not going to be visible once the book was finished. But my classmates were going to see it. I was embarrassed. But John turned this into a light-hearted moment too. (Among other things, he told us he used to have a sign in his bindery that advised, “Don’t bleed on the work.”)

It was such an educational class. There were a few times when John would show us something or share a tip, and that one thing alone was, to me, worth the tuition in itself.

We made the spines out of Cave paper. John had us pare the paper along the sides, using our scalpels and sanding blocks. I must say, it had never occurred to me to pare paper before. He also taught us a handy trick for turning-in the cover papers over the board edges using a little squeegee tool, which creates a neater edge when gluing.

We also were given nice materials — aside from the Cave paper, we also got handmade Saint-Armand papers for the covers, and enough materials to make two books. Yum.

There are piano hinges in front of the wing that open out to reveal much more inside.
There are piano hinges in front of the wing that open out to reveal much more inside.

Immediately after the workshop, Paul Johnson was back to give a talk about his work. He showed us his amazing, big and long accordion-style sketchbook, which he invited people to spread out around the room (alas, I didn’t get any photos of it). He talked about his father, who’d been a talented amateur artist, and showed us slides of some of his father’s drawings. He talked about his own work and about how the environment in which he’d grown up — in the shadow of the nearby cathedral — had influenced his work throughout life. Afterwards, we were invited to go up to a display of his magnificent sculptural books. I did get a few snaps of these, but they barely convey the complexity and size of his wild, multi-layered creations (for one thing, most were so big when opened out that it was impossible to get more than detail shots in that crowded space). I noticed later, after downloading the pictures, the childlike looks of wonder and joy in the faces of my fellow adult attendees as they circled the display. As I say, the photos don’t do them justice.

Close-up of one of Paul Johnson's Books

Noah's ark (opened)
Noah’s Ark, unfolded.
Close-up of Noah's Ark
Close-up of Noah’s Ark.

PS: Twenty years ago, John DeMerritt and Dominic Riley made a video about the history of bookbinding that was shown on San Francisco’s Public Broadcasting Station. I thought I’d post a link in case you haven’t seen it. It’s a half-hour long, but is much fun. Around the six minute mark they transition into historical costume…



My San Francisco Week in Books: Part One

Paul Johnson with his ark folded

A few months ago, I discovered that Paul Johnson, one of my all-time favorite paper artists, was going to be coming from England to teach a few workshops at the San Francisco Center for the Book. It was going to be in November, right around the time I was going to be in S.F. anyway for the usual medical reasons. Books are the best medicine, thought I! I signed up for two of the classes.

And then I discovered that John DeMerritt was going to be having a Drum Leaf binding workshop as well, during the same week and when Paul Johnson wouldn’t be teaching. Hmm… one of my favorite bindings with a master bookbinder…? I signed up for that too.

My first workshop day was foldable piano-hinge screens with Paul Johnson. I’d never thought of making piano-style hinges with paper beads before, which is essentially what these were. You roll the paper around a skewer to form the hinge in a bead-like fashion. When they’re done, you string them back on the skewer and attach to the screens. Very nifty.

This was mine:

foldable pianto-hinge screen with cat and bird designDay two was little toy theater-style pop-ups, along with some similar things. This was one of my projects from that day:

Pop-up Card

And that was supposed to have been the end of my time with Paul Johnson. I hadn’t signed up for the weekend workshop on pop-ups as well. But I was beginning to regret it. One of the lovely people at the workshop on the second day had signed up for all of the classes. As we were leaving, she told me that her hands were getting worse, and Paul Johnson was getting older. Who knew how many opportunities she’d ever have to do something like this again? Which, given my own circumstances, echoed what I was thinking inside.

As it turned out, there was still a slot left for the weekend. It became mine.

Next post: Drum Leaf bindings with John DeMerritt and a talk by Paul Johnson.

Paul with ark open

The Chipmunk Has Not Expired…

Dominic the cat carrying a chipmunk

Appearances to the contrary, I wanted to let you all know that I’m still around and plan to blog again. I’ve just been having a bit of an extended break. As a chronically sick person living with someone who is even more chronically sick than I am, this is sometimes necessary.

Dominic recently presented me with (hmm… a coded message perhaps?), and I feared you all were thinking the same thing.

It turned out my fears for the chipmunk in the photo were premature, I’m happy to say. When Dom got closer, I realized the poor thing was still alive! (It hadn’t looked that way to begin with, and that was why I’d tastelessly bothered to snap a pic on my phone.) Then mayhem ensued after I dropped the phone and tried to encourage him to drop the chipmunk (he growled and ran with it).

Then it dawned on me. He’s lazy. He might prefer canned.

So I scurried into the house and returned with one of his favorite flavors of Fussy Feast and loudly opened it near him. He dropped the chipmunk. The chipmunk ran like hell toward some trees and looked remarkably ok.

Fortunately for Dom’s prey, but less so for Dom, he has no canine teeth and had just had his nails trimmed the day before.

Chipmunks will prevail.

Library Exhibit and Accordion Pleasures

Exhibit Case

A few weeks ago while at the Humboldt State U. library, I noticed that a new, intriguingly eclectic book exhibit was being installed in the main display case.

The friendly person arranging the books told me that students in the Museum and Gallery Practices certificate program, which was responsible for the exhibit, had each contributed a book of personal significance for inclusion. They were calling the display “Inspiration in a Book”.

Two of the books in particular caught my eye. They were accordions. I’m always fascinated by mass-produced accordions. They were each a reproduction of an old Japanese work of art for a Western audience, and both were published in the 1960s.

One was Choju Giga: Scrolls of Animal Caricatures, adapted by Shigetaka Kaneko from the Japanese text by Hideo Okudaira (the book was published in 1969; the work itself dates to the 12th and 13th C).

Choju Giga in display case


large accordion book in display case
As the copy of “Who’s Who in the CIA” would suggest, this is indeed an eclectic display.

The other was a reproduction of Sesshu’s Long Scroll that was published with English commentary by Tuttle.Sesshu's Long Scroll in display case

This enjoyable display inspired me to share the commercially-produced accordions from my own personal library.

Sesshu's Long ScrollFirst up is … Sesshu’s Long Scroll published by Tuttle in ’69. They’ve reprinted it a few times. This version has wooden covers (I think it might be the same edition that’s in the library exhibit).

Couleurs du Jour

Couleurs du Jour detail

Couleurs du Jour detail 3
This slinky, joyful delight is Couleurs du Jour by Czech author-illustrator Kveta Pacovska. It’s definitely colorful. And it’s filled with pop-ups and subtle changes in texture on the pages. It’s also double-sided and l-o-n-g. There are openings in some places that offer glimpses of parts of the reverse. It’s fun to open it at random and flip through — and stretch out — pages . . . after pages. The pages are all joined at the fore-edge to form the accordion, as you can see in this top view.

Couleurs du Jour closed

It’s the sort of thing that fills one with potential ideas for making one’s own books. The illustrations are simple and childlike, and there are no words. But the piece as a whole flows with an inner rhythm that seems to make sense in an odd and playful way.

This is Fenêtres Sur Rue (“Windows on the Street”) by Pascal Rabaté. On one side are views of buildings by day. Then you flip it over for nighttime.

Fenetres: Matinées Fenetres: soirees

Like the previous accordion, the pages are all glued together along one edge only (note the extra thickness on the right top view below).

Fenetres top view

Nox, published in 2010, is a facsimile of a handmade book by American poet and classicist Anne Carson. Its theme is decidedly more somber than the others. It comes in a clamshell box.

Nox, open in clamshell box


Nox by Anne Carson

The eclectic display at the Humboldt State library is in the large case on the ground floor and will be on view until July 27.

At Last… An Answer!

Doctor Learning EmpathyThe last time I posted, months ago, I’d been feeling optimistic about the latest doctor I was seeing at UCSF. He’d seemed interested and respectful, unlike some of the others. But then his tests came back without an obvious explanation for my abnormal brain MRIs and corresponding increasing debility.

He quickly became disinterested and dismissive. I’ll spare you the details. But it was depressing.

Not long after that awful, demoralizing appointment, I found a little cloth doll at a craft store. My immediate thought was, of course, “Voodoo doll!”

Then, the last time my friend Shirl and I were at our favorite supply shop, Dollhouses, Trains and More in Novato, I found a cute little stethoscope. It fit my voodoo doll perfectly.

One of the things the dismissive doc dismissed was the pain I described that feels like burning pins on the bottoms of my feet. Some days I can barely stand to wear socks. Or, come to think of it, even barely stand. He said it didn’t mean anything.

Empathy is an important quality in a doctor, wouldn’t you agree?

Teaching a Doctor Empathy

However, in spite of the “experts” at UCSF, I might now actually have a diagnosis.

Sort of.

I visited a dear friend last week. She mentioned she’d recently found an amusing 70s-style tarot deck among her late husband’s things. She was delighted to know that I like tarot cards. “Pull a few!” she suggested.

And this is what I got:

A Diagnosis

Hey, I said as I turned over the second card, “Those are nightshades! That’s really funny. I can’t eat those. I’m allergic to nightshades.” We looked up the card in the the guidebook that came with the deck. It helpfully explained that people who follow a macrobiotic diet believe these are basically poison, but most people can eat them just fine. (Except for Ellen!, we laughed.)

After that was a card that said, “What’s Happening?”

Then the final card said “I come from a different planet.” Hmmm…. The guidebook explained that my memories were erased at birth, so I don’t remember. But I’m actually a space alien.

I figure it’s as good an explanation as any. Don’t you agree?

Random Things from my Natural Habitat

I thought I’d share a few random details from my natural habitat (aka The Studio). And, just like my studio, it will have no particular order.

This shelf features a few parody “pharmaceuticals,” among other things. There are also bottles from real (now withdrawn from the market) pharmaceuticals I’ve actually been prescribed, as well as souvenirs from when my husband was sent to (the now infamous) Dr. Moon of Redding many years ago… The purple rubber kidney was a gift from a good friend in memory of her late husband who’d been on dialysis.

This is another shelf. It features… stuff.

Bookends with flat backs make excellent little shelves when mounted to the wall.

Below is another bookend shelf… among other things. There’s enough room on the bookend to fit a large raven decoy:

Thread… Almost as bad a fetish as the one I have for paper. I have come to appreciate the difference good, beautiful thread makes on the overall quality and look of a handmade book. And, at least for me, a spool can last for years. *Supply note below.

Drawers are a bit of a fetish too. This is a close-up of the one above near the raven. (Yes, the proximity of “Knives” to “First Aid” was intentional).

Nearby hangs a metal strip with some magnets. The magnets are strong enough to hold some of my tools. These needles are a pack of darners sized 1-5 from the craft store. They’re cheap and work well for bookbinding. (Although Buechertiger has also gotten me into harness needles, which are not so cheap, but, depending upon the size, are strong, nice and big (but not too big) and dull-ended — perfect for someone with clumsy hands like me. Still, I have a fondness as well for my darners.

Friends to keep me company…

(This blog began in 2009 with a post about the black widows in the studio. Spiders have been a running theme for a long time.)

Evidence of actual work in (on again-off again) progress. I really have not forgotten about those Book•ArtObject editions! Life has interfered in great ways with me getting them finished. But my goal for this year is to finally do that. This is Superstition. Or, rather, the second time around with Superstition. I almost finished the entire edition well over a year ago, but a technical disaster (among other things) struck. It all had to be scrapped and redone. A tale of angst I have not yet brought myself to write about.

Here’s also a sneak peak of “Poison,” which is a little simpler to assemble. I’m hoping to finish it first.

Yes — they really are printed, and have been for over a year (the copyright date printed on them is 2013!). Alas, extended time in the studio when I’ve been lucid enough to work has been hard to come by. As it stands, more delays are ahead, including another scheduled visit to my favorite far away medical complex(es)… But I do plan to be gluing some “Poison” spines before then (… she types, while knocking on her wooden desk).

*Supply note: An excellent source for high-quality unwaxed (and other) linen threads is Buechertiger’s supply shop on Etsy. We’re friends (full disclosure), but I’m also a happy customer.

Media Recommendation

Front Row: The Art of Book Cover Design

BBC Radio 4’s Front Row just had a half-hour program “The Art of Book Cover Design.” I suspect many of you will find it as interesting as I did. From the official description:

John Wilson explores the art of book cover design and meets artist Suzanne Dean, who has been responsible for more Booker-winning covers than any other designer. Writers Ian McEwan, Tom McCarthy and Audrey Niffenegger discuss the art that represents their words and Telegraph books editor Gaby Wood provides a reader’s perspective on what makes a book stand out in a bookshop. As more of us than ever read books on e-readers, is beautiful design the key to the survival of the physical book?

Follow the link above to listen on their website.

Travel Scenery and the Usefulness of a Sketchbook

I’m back from my latest medical excursion to the city. Actually, I’ve been back for a while, but upon my immediate return I succumbed to the virus du jour. It’s taking me a while to get my strength back. Hence, the extended silence. I went to see yet another neurological specialist. He doesn’t know what I have either. But at least he wasn’t an arrogant scum about it like the previous one. He actually seems to want to help. He’s also communicative and will answer a phone call, which, I’ve come to realize, is highly unusual. It seems I might never know what I have. But they’ll monitor its progression.

However, there’s more to a trip to the city than just medical stuff. There’s the scenery along the way!

Obviously, nothing says manly bar with “NO Grill” better than badly kerned Papyrus. Or at least it does if you’re in Willits.

I actually enjoyed the view from my Daly City motel.

What can I say — when you live in the sticks, having a streetlight outside the window is a welcome change of scenery.

Then I paused in Marin on the way back up. The motel scenery is more bucolic here.

Unfortunately, however, a convention of search and rescue professionals coincided with my visit. They were all fitness freaks. My room, I discovered, was directly above the treadmill. Let’s just say it was not as peaceful as the view would suggest.

And, of course, all throughout I dragged my sketchbook (and too many art supplies) with me.


The sketchbook especially comes in handy during medical visits. This time around wasn’t so bad, but the visit before last I saw a different neurologist. That one, unlike this respectful new one who answers phone calls, was an arrogant quack. Among other irritations, he twice walked out of my appointment for around 45 minutes.

The first time he left, I was at least still dressed. The second time he left me lying on the table, mid exam, in the paper gown. And didn’t return, again, for the better part of an hour. It didn’t appear to be for an emergency. He offered no apology.

At some point while lying on the table I realized my appointment wouldn’t be resuming any time soon. Again. So I got up and, after making a phone call and chatting for a while, got out my version of crayons and a coloring book and began to doodle. It really does help pass the time.

I call this spread “Medical Waiting Room.”