Victorian Pleasures

Scrapbook cover

My friend Shirl is an ephemera magnet. I don’t know where she finds what she does! We’re talking seriously good ephemera. And she’s also extremely generous, much to my good fortune.

She recently gifted me with a scrapbook from the 1880s. The binding has completely come apart and the spine covering is gone, which, for me, is a large part of its attraction.

Victorian scrapbook spine

Its spine was formed by layers of paper that were folded, accordion-like, to form guards. The folios were inserted into the valleys. It was all sewn together over tapes.

There is only one folio still (barely) attached. It’s a bit hard to make out in the photo, but, if you look carefully, you can see that it had been sewn into the valley.

Spine sewing

There is also a single fabric endband still attached.

Endband

Dang, I just love looking at old deconstructed bindings.

The actual content is marvelous too. It’s a fairly typical Victorian scrapbook filled with advertising cards and whatnot. I plan to photograph or scan some of it later.

Advertising cards in scrapbook

Sweet 16

Advertising ephemera

And, by coincidence, I also recently acquired another Victorian-era treasure. A Webster’s dictionary from 1859! It was being sold in two pieces with a few pages missing, which made it affordable. Aside from that, the pages themselves are in good shape.

dictionary

1859!

In the front there is a section of illustrations (some of which I am later planning to photograph more properly). As you can see in the photo below, some of the “birds” are a bit… interesting… to our modern eyes. (The “fishes” are similarly a bit surreal  — apparently, for example, seals were considered a type of fish.)

The Birds

All the latest in science is here too:

Phrenology

And some botany:

Poppy

Among other things, I was surprised to discover that as relatively recently as 1859, the word “weird” still solely meant something to do with witchcraft.

Weird

It has a handy usage guide too.See Insanity

I also have been enjoying Webster’s essay detailing why, for instance, he has taken the “u” out of words like “colour.” “That Johnson,” you can almost imagine Webster sighing and shaking his head as he wrote.

We took the u out of colour

 

Ground Squirrel

The Paper Ground Squirrel somehow doesn’t have quite the same ring…

Note: if you want a close-up look of any of these, click on the photo. It will take you to another page where it won’t look any bigger. However, if you click on it again from the other page, it will then display a larger version. Sorry for the inconvenience of having to click twice. It’s the native WordPress way, apparently.

Thanks Dr. G

An ongoing project.

As many of you know, I grumble about medical people. I’ve seen more than my share of crummy quacks.

But my internist for the last 15 years was an exception. My suffering, both physical and mental, would have been so much greater if not for him.

He died last month, and I’ve been raw with grief.

Prior to finding him in the late 90s, I’d gone through a succession of lazy judgmental doctors. I was an artist and did not hold a conventional 9-5 job. I tend to come across as a little batty to medical people. I’d been getting sicker and sicker. One doctor told me all of my gastrointestinal problems were evidence that I didn’t cope well with stress and needed to be on Prozac (I was later diagnosed with celiac disease). Another told me I was like “a Victorian lady.” A bit too delicate and hypochondriacal.

At the time, my throat was swollen halfway shut all of the time. I’d gone to a local allergist who’d told me it could be any one of “hundreds of things.” It was pointless to try to figure it out. But if I started having trouble breathing, I should go to the ER. And that was all he could offer me. The doctor who’d made the Victorian lady comment prescribed a heavy-duty antihistamine that I later discovered was most often meant as a sedative.

I was telling some of this to the woman who cut my hair back then. She told me she liked her doctor. He took people seriously. He’d come up here recently from LA and was now chief of staff at the local hospital. He’d help. I was skeptical. But I was also desperate. I made an appointment, expecting to, yet again, get the brushoff and be told I needed Prozac. I remember telling a friend the night before that I was about to try a new doctor. “Whatever you do,” she urged,” don’t tell this one anything about your background! You know what they’re like…” I agreed that, indeed, feigned normality was my only hope of getting unbiased care. I’d try my best.

This new doctor’s reaction to my symptoms was “Oh my God! You’ve got a serious problem! Dangerous! We need to get to the bottom of this.” He assured me he would find out what was causing the swelling and the other sick-making stuff. In the meantime, he got me on some non-sedating meds and insisted I start carrying an anaphylaxis kit, just in case.

I walked out almost in a daze. A doctor who was taking me seriously? This didn’t happen. He discovered that I was allergic to milk, something that I almost found hard to believe. I also had other food allergies. Once my allergies were discovered, the alarming swelling and the chronic eczema I’d had for years vanished.

I later saw the chief of Allergy and Immunology at a major teaching hospital. She told me I was deluded. I could not possibly have those food allergies. She would know. She ordered me to consume milk for the health of my bones. She was so adamant that I doubted my own sanity. That night I ate ice cream. And swelled up and got rather sick.

I reported this later to my internist. He narrowed his eyes with disapproval. “Nothing…  from…  the… udder… of… a… cow,” he slowly hissed while shaking a finger at me. “You really listened to that woman?!”

Around this time, I began to develop indescribable pain through my right, dominant arm and hand. It was incapacitating. As an artist, this was a career-killer. The pain spread to my other side. Other inflammatory problems blossomed. Life was not good. But I was more fortunate than most, especially around here, in similar situations. I had a doctor who genuinely believed in easing suffering. If he couldn’t cure it, he was at least going to do everything he could to try to keep me as functional as possible.

My internist had enormous physical challenges of his own and knew what it was like to suffer from a patient’s perspective. He was an extraordinarily empathic doctor.

Over time, he became as much a friend as my doctor. He came to my art shows and I went to his spoken word/music performances. We used to talk so much about other things — politics, usually — that I’d ask, laughing, if he’d mind if I interjected with a medical question. This, in the age of 8-minute doctor visits.

He gave me most of the pharma packaging I use for arts and crafts. Leaving an appointment, I’d sometimes feel mildly self-conscious clutching a grocery-sized bag full of pharma industry sales paraphernalia.

He liked to encourage artists.

He once gave me one of his own antibiotic pills from a recent hospitalization. He explained that the single pill was worth $200. I painted it gold and placed it on velvet inside a pill bottle cap. I presented it back to him at my next appointment along with a miniaturized bound copy of the annual financial report of the pharma that had produced it.

The $200 Pill

We had an unusual doctor-patient relationship.

It’s not that I agreed with everything he did or suggested. I still smile when I think of one time when we were having a shouting match because I’d disagreed with one of his recommendations. As our argument escalated, his nurse — long accustomed to his conversational style — cheerfully strolled in and, over our bickering, announced she’d forgotten to take my blood pressure. She then proceeded to do just that, smiling, as we continued to shout at each other.

The memorial gathering for Dr. David Gans was this weekend. There were so many mourners, the room overflowed to standing-room only.

True to his spirit, there was a giveaway table in back loaded with gifts for the assembled.

Everyone was invited to help themselves to the pharmaceutical industry trinkets that had been collected from his office. (For those of you not in the U.S., you probably can’t believe most of this stuff.) Tears turned to smiles as people walked off with pharma-branded mugs, clocks, toothbrush holders, mini golf clubs, toys, cup dispensers, paperweights…

Staring at the table, my husband Victor whispered in my ear, “better get some bags from the car.”

I pictured Dr. Gans laughing.

New tool holder

Nice (free) things to print

Thanks everyone for your kind support during my last and latest IT crisis. Much appreciated. It’s fixed now. I tried to thank my web host, InMotion Hosting, for finally figuring it out. Alas, the last message I sent them bounced back to me. From what I could tell, their own server (or spam program) thought their own address was spam. Hmm…

And good luck to those of you still suffering from the update to WordPress 4.0. I know I wasn’t the only one. I wish I knew what my web host did to fix it, but it’s honestly incomprehensible to me. Sigh…

At any rate, I’ve started to collect new materials to make pages for my next sketchbook/plaything. As part of that, I’ve been browsing some favorite online places for high-quality, public domain printable stuff. These are listed under “Free Picture Resources” on my links page, but I thought I’d explain a little.

You'll be busy for a while…

The Biodiversity Heritage Library’s Flickr account will keep you very busy if you like vintage images of nature and the physical world. All of their images are provided under under a Creative Commons license. I find that I usually need to touch them up in Lightroom/Photoshop to make them more to my liking, but you could probably also just download and print if you don’t care as much about such things. If nothing else, it’s a great visual reference resource.

Speaking of downloading, it came to my attention recently that not everyone I know is familiar with how to download images from Flickr (on accounts that allow it). It can vary by browser, but I think with most current and supported browsers, it now works like this:

 Click the arrow symbol on the bottom right:

Click here

This will make a little menu appear…

Click here next

Almost always, choosing “original size” will ensure the highest quality for printing. You can always shrink it down later. Click on that, and the picture will be downloaded to your computer.

Another fun browse is brought to us by a professor of the History of the Book at the University of Amsterdam. This account, found at http://www.flickr.com/bookhistorian is filled with detailed scans of fancy initials, ornaments and fragments from manuscripts.

History of the Book on Flickr

Of course, there are plenty of other Creative Commons resources on Flickr and the wider web. Photos from the US government, for instance, are generally not under copyright. So… looking for a nice NASA space image or something from the Library of Congress? You might want to start here.

And, thanks to Amy, I recently discovered some terrific, high-quality maps (among other things) at The Old Design Shop. It is claimed that all of the images here are in the public domain. These are, in my so-far limited experience, unusually excellent quality and ready to print without any digital fussing. I printed out some maps on plain Strathmore 400 Drawing paper and they look great.

Another site popular around the web is The Graphics Fairy, which leans heavily toward Victorian and Edwardian-style imagery.

What favorite sources for printable public domain imagery have you found?

Confusion Reigns

Confusion Reigns
“Off to go get more medical advice!” 8 July 2001

I just returned from my latest medical excursion to the city. Still no answers. I’m supposed to go back next month. Why? I sometimes wonder. I guess because it beats trying to get any help from the local “specialists.” (Insert mental image of a duck. Quack! Quack!)

By coincidence, just before I left, I discovered this page in a sketchbook from July 2001. How some things never change!

And this photo might be the last you might see from me for a while. It’s not that I don’t want to blog. It’s that the last update of WordPress wrecked my ability to upload pictures to my blog. Judging by the help forums, I’m not alone. It turned out that I actually could still upload tiny photos … 

However, on the advice of some of those help forums, I contacted my web host. They attempted to be helpful. And now that their IT folks have had a crack at it, I can’t upload any image to the blog. My reward for trying continues to be a server error. To be continued…

The last thing I wanted was to write another hand-wringing post featuring more IT woes. But there you have it. Wish me luck!

Where Oh Where Has My Blog Gone…

[Update: Restoration of the blog has been underway. Things are not nearly as dire now as originally reported. If it still is missing things when you look at it, please try refreshing the page.]

Some surprises are not very nice.

If you are a regular reader, you might’ve noticed the blog is looking rather strange at the moment, and a bunch of things are missing. Little things, such as all of the styling, fonts, colors, my banner, menus… (!) It just suddenly appeared this way today. Two calls to my domain/web host later, and they claim there’s no evidence it was hacked, although that would be the most sensible answer. They thought they might be able to restore it to its former state… but then couldn’t. After the last tech support call, they say they will make another attempt at opening the database that seems to be at the heart of this, um, hair-pulling moment.

I keep reminding myself that it’s only the styling, menus, banner, etc. I still have posts and photos. It could be worse.

But then my inner depressive cries out, “Don’t you remember how many hours it took to put in all those settings, colors, menus, banner….?!”

Alas. I just thought I’d post an explanation for the weird look and lack of some things on the blog. It will return in something resembling its usual state. Either it will be restored by my host… or I’ll be spending several hours clenching my teeth doing it the slow and frustrating way.

I’m curious — has anything like this ever happened to any of you who use WordPress?

And the Giveaway Winner is…

Everyone who left a comment on the last post! I couldn’t just pick one. I like all of you! The hard part now is picking out which big philatelic surprises to send…

Postmark
I promise — I will actually put enough postage on your mail.

They’ll be mailed on Monday here in California. If I don’t know your address, I’ll be contacting you over the weekend.


Filling Time Philatelically

Plus: A giveaway!

Things have been getting “interesting” again, alas, in the dual-degenerative disease household realm. I’ll spare you the details. I haven’t been able to be in the studio much. It’s making me grumpy, and unfinished books are still sitting… unfinished. Along with other projects I @#$% want to get to. But what can one do.

Notebooks full of postage stamps.
Notebooks full of postage stamps.

I have, however, been finding solace in, of all things, the piles of postage stamps I’ve been gathering and hoarding for years. I decided to finally sort them out so I know what I have. Sorting stamps is mindless and can be done sitting on the couch. It’s also strangely relaxing.

Stamps in slide sleeves
Stamps in slide sleeves.

I’m putting them in slide sleeves in notebooks, arranged by subject matter and, for some subjects that fill many sleeves, by color as well. That makes a lot more sense for finding stamps to use in art and craft projects than, say, sorting them strictly by country (although there are some pages of that sort too, when no other category seems to fit).

Dominic eyeing some yellow-themed postal cats.
Dominic eyeing some yellow/orange-themed postal cats.

Even my most recent plaything-sketchbook of the past few months seems to have a postal theme. Themes happen. I just follow along. (More on this latest plaything later.)

The cover of the latest plaything.
The cover of the latest plaything.

I realized recently that my 5th blogiversary came and went in March during my extended blog absence. Since time seems to pass in a blur lately anyway, what’s a measly four months? Let’s have a belated celebration!

Leave a comment, and I’ll send you a little philatelic surprise. I will also randomly draw one of you to get a somewhat bigger philatelic surprise as well (see this post for a hint). Deadline to leave a comment for the giveaway and drawing is Wednesday, July 16.

Steve is always quick to help.
Steve is always quick to help.

PS Thank you all for the outpouring of compassion after my cat Larry’s death last month. I was, and am, so touched by the heartfelt messages I’ve received, both here and privately, even from friends I’d had no idea subscribed to this blog. Thank you. It means more than you know.

Heartbreak

Young Larry circa 1999.
Young Larry circa 1999.

One day in January in 1999 I looked out the window and saw a black cat running across the yard toward the house. At that time, we had four cats, including a semi-feral stray who’d suddenly appeared a month before and had moved in with us. She was a black cat with a round and compact sort of build. We’d named her Lila.

Lila
Lila

However, this black cat was long and sleek, with big ears and lanky limbs. This was definitely not Lila. I went out to investigate. The long black cat ran up to me and began to frantically rub against my legs, over and over again. (A friend who’d dealt with abandoned animals in his job later told me that dumped cats will do this. He was hungry and scared.)

My husband Victor appeared, saw the cat and exclaimed, “What is this? Lila’s cousin Larry?!” The name stuck. And so did the cat.

We weren’t really excited at the prospect of 5 cats, but what could we do? Larry would position himself at the back door and wail pathetically in a soulful voice that could be heard throughout the house. He had chosen us.

Lila never cared much for Larry.
Lila never cared much for Larry.

I think the moment I fell in love with him was when, a few days after his arrival, I saw him wetting his paw in the water bowl in the kitchen, then reaching up behind his ear to wash himself. I’d never seen a cat wet his paw for a bath before. He was adorable, this gangly, yet elegant-looking cat, dunking his paw and washing up after dinner.

Larry-looking-back
Larry circa 2011.

There were quite a few things about Larry that weren’t like most other cats. He was so smart and had such an expressive voice, it was sometimes almost eery. He would talk at me and I to him. If I asked “Do you want to take a nap?” he would sprint to the bedroom and hop up to his spot on the bed, waiting for me.

Larry is featured in Superstition
Larry is featured in the artist’s book Superstiion.

Larry has been mentioned and given credit in at least a couple of my artist’s books, including A Cat’s ABC and Superstition, an edition I’m still assembling for Book Art Object. He was my feline muse.

He had beautiful eyes that changed color from green to yellow, depending on the setting. Through the years I used to tell him that it wasn’t fair, what he’d done to me. Someday he was going to cause my heart to be ripped from me, and I hadn’t gone out looking for that. He’d just appeared and made me fall in love with him.

Larry's Green Eyes
Larry’s Green Eyes

The other cats who’d already been in residence before the arrival of Lila and Larry were older. Over the following years they passed on, and eventually we were left with the two black cats. Or, rather, we had his ‘n her black cats. Lila barely tolerated me but adored Victor. Larry barely tolerated Victor, but he and I were a bonded pair.

My kitty.
My kitty.

Four years ago, Dominic showed up in the yard, just as Larry and Lila once had. And then came Steve, a moment of kitten madness on my part two years ago. Larry grew old and was afraid of the vigorous and playful Steve. I felt guilty for doing that to Larry, the cat who was more a soulmate to me than a cat. But we still managed to all coexist.

Dominic and Larry
Dominic and Larry

Lila grew ill and passed away roughly a year and a half ago. We spent our 20th anniversary that December burying her in the garden. I realized that almost every photo I had of her was either of her with Victor, or of her sitting vigil waiting for him. Such sadness.

Larry’s sleek black whiskers all turned white. His heart began to fail and he grew frail. He was taking almost as many medications as we do. The last time we saw his regular vet, her face grew grim as she listened to his chest. “It won’t be long… months, not a year.” And she warned us to prepare for the likelihood of a sudden death.

Three days before he died.
A few days before he died.

I discovered that “sudden” is a relative term. A blood clot, it turns out, is not a particularly peaceful way for a cat to leave this world. My beautiful, smart and devoted Larry has died of a broken heart, and he has taken a piece of mine with him.

Laminated Papers

Last month, Randi Parkhurst came to town and taught a paper embellishing class. One of her techniques involves using matte medium to laminate together two sheets of a type of translucent paper from the hardware store. We painted the papers before adhering them. Threads and other things were sandwiched in between the sheets. I’d long been wanting to play around with laminating papers, so this was an interesting concept to me.

Once back in my own space, I decided to play around with some other materials. I wanted to use handmade paper. And I wanted to use paste, rather than matte medium. This is just a personal preference. I like paste. I wound up using translucent Japanese tissue-style washi and Thai unryu in different colors. Any similar type of paper would work. I began by brushing rice starch paste over a sheet of the unryu:

Pasting Unryu

Then I placed some linen thread on top of that:

The thread will be embedded between the two layers of paper.

Then, another layer of unryu is pasted on top. It doesn’t have to be all the same color or same piece of paper. In fact, mixing it up a bit makes it more interesting. In the photo here the paper has been arranged on top:

Adding Paper on Top

Then I go back over it with more paste and leave it to dry. The threads appear to be sitting on top because the wet paper is so translucent. Once it is dry, it will be a bit more opaque:

Finished and Drying

While it is still wet, you can peel it off and hang to dry or place it on a drying rack or whatever other surface you like to dry things on. In general, I like to use sheets of spunbonded polyester for this purpose (sold under names like Reemay or Lutradur). They absorb moisture and help the drying process, but don’t stick. It is possible to just leave it to dry where it is if you don’t think it’ll stick permanently, but with a caveat: sometimes if you leave it in place — especially on something slick like glass or Plexiglas —  the side on the bottom will dry glossy and not have a nice paper texture.  The one above is on a piece of Plexiglas. (If you do anything like this with acrylic medium, don’t leave it to dry on Plexiglas! It can become permanently bonded.)

Drying Sheet of Laminated Thread Paper
Here are straight threads using a piece of corrugated plastic as a working surface. I left it to dry on the board and both sides came out the same — no unexpected glossiness on the back.

You can also put things like stamps between the sheets of tissue-style papers:

The side that dried against the plexiglas wound up being glossy.
The side that dried against the Plexiglas wound up being glossy, but in this instance I actually liked it.
Sample Laminated Papers
Samples of dried and finished laminated papers.

I love the texture of these finished papers. They have a nice crisp hand and are surprisingly sturdy. I’ve been using some of these in my latest “plaything” (sketchbook). I’ve been able to layer inks, colored pencils, washes… and more layers of the same, without any tearing. The papers hold up remarkably well. I guess this isn’t surprising, considering that handmade papers can be sized with starch. And if you think of it, these are also the basic ingredients for papier-maché (if you were to keep going with more layers). Here are a couple of Audubon birds collaged onto one of the finished papers. There are also some light colored pencil marks on the page:

Collaged page on top of laminated Unryu

This is the verso of the bird page, which I covered with layers of inks and pencils. Note in the previous picture there is virtually no bleed-through from this:

This is the other side of the birds, which was drawn with layers of inks and pencils. Note in the previous picture there is virtually no bleed through from this.

Next to that is more ink and pencil doodling:

Another example of a drawing on laminated Unryu

On the other side of it are more layers of ink and pencils along with generous sloshings from a water brush. It all goes on beautifully with minimal (if any) bleed-through:

On the verso are more layers of ink and pencils along with generous sloshings from a water brush.  It all goes on beautifully with minimal bleed-through.

Another example of scribblings on a laminated paper page:

Another Example on Laminated Unryu

And here is the other side of it. There’s a little bit of bleed-through, but it’s quite minimal. The orange marks you see came from me moving the pen in the wrong place. It’s not bleed-through from the previous page:

The verso of the previous one. There's a little bit of bleed-through, but it's quite minimal.

Paper with embedded stamps. It’s double-sided — I placed the stamps back-to-back:

Laminated with Stamps

I also drew over them. This is the other side of the previous embedded stamp page:

The verso of the previous embedded stamp page.

At any rate, this is a great way to create durable decorative papers from delicate handmade translucents such as Japanese tissues and unryu. I’m also planning to experiment with using paste as a sizing and/or ground on different kinds of handmade papers, whether I laminate them with other papers or not. [Please note: I slightly edited this post to add more information about drying.]

Possessed Camera and Stuff

Pictures will resume shortly.
Pictures will resume shortly.

I’d planned to show you some photos of my latest sketchbook/plaything. So I placed it in my photo cube a couple of nights ago and flicked on my 6-year old DSLR… What the… The shutter release no longer works? Actually, neither does the on/off button — I turned it to off, and it stayed on. It is permanently frozen in some kind of possessed state that is neither on nor off. I eventually removed the battery so I could turn it off. I frantically Googled. Others have had similar issues. With this particular camera, it would be expensive to fix. And it wouldn’t be worth it. This was a low-end Canon Rebel of a few generations back, and I’d actually been fantasizing about upgrading for a while. The camera has had a few sputters in the past, and I’d even picked out which model I’d replace it with. But the sputters had always disappeared as mysteriously as they’d arrived, and any thoughts of replacing it had been definitely in the fantasy stage. I’d hoped to do it, if at all, after my various out-of-town medical trips had been paid off, etc. Alas. The timing was also a bit inconvenient. Norbag, the local book arts guild, has a monthly book exchange and I am their photographer. I document each month’s submissions for their Flickr account. [Later edit: I have since stepped down from this role.] The meeting was two days away. I do have a crummy point-n-shoot as well (which I had to use), but I find it awkward. I’m spoiled. Anyway… the new electronic baby is due to arrive later in the week… And then… photos will resume!

Press the lever… you know you want to.
Press the lever… you know you want to.

(In this house we actually refer to arriving online purchases as “pellets.” As in, the laboratory rat pushes the right button and then, lo and behold!, a reward pellet comes down the chute. The Visa bill, alas, is the negative reinforcement. Z-z-z-a-p!)

Speaking of the sketchbook-plaything, I’ve discovered that I occasionally become the entertainment for others when I’m out drawing in it. A few months back, I was in a coffee shop scribbling and snipping away when I became aware of being watched. There was a little boy of about 6 or so at the table in front of mine. He had a coloring book and some crayons, but had been getting increasingly antsy and whiny with boredom as his mother chatted with a friend. Then suddenly the boy became quiet. I looked up to see that he was now facing backwards on his knees, staring over the back of the chair. His gaze was firmly focused on the sketchbook. I continued on, pretending not to notice. He remained transfixed for what seemed quite a while. Then the kid suddenly whipped around back to his crayons and began to color with silent, manic enthusiasm.

I was thinking of this yesterday after a coffee stop on the way home. I’d wound up spreading out my crayon-equivalents and having some blissful drawing time to go with my iced caffeine. Two women approached as they were leaving. They, it turned out, had been watching me. “You were the entertainment!” Hmmm….

Coffee shop recreation