The finished book

Here are two views of the finished book. The different colors on the front are the result of sanding through all the layers of paint on the distressed surface.

It was gratifying to make, although I’m not sure I’ll make another anytime soon. It’s rather small not particularly sturdy — not suitable for use as a carrying-around artist journal, for instance. It’s more of a library book. If I remember correctly, these Egyptian books were stored face-up with the fore-edge pointing out, and they had metal feet on the back cover to protect the cover from being scraped as they were being removed from or replaced on the shelf. So formal content would be more in keeping with the structure of the book, and the idea of supplying (let’s see: 12 signatures of 16 pages each equals) 192 pages of formal content is daunting!

But it is a very satisfying thing to hold in one’s hand.

Wooden Coptic Books: a workshop with Daniel Essig

This weekend my sister and I went to Asheville to attend a workshop Dan Essig taught at BookWorks. Even though I’ve done a good deal of admittedly basic bookbinding, many of the tools and techniques were new to me.

The first day, Friday, was mostly consumed with the making of a paper-only book with two-needle coptic binding; since I had only done single-needle coptic binding, this was new to me.

On Saturday we worked on the covers of our wooden coptic book. We started with 3/8″ blocks of wood, marking and drilling holes with a hand drill — I like the hand drill — and then beveling, cushioning and sanding the edges of the boards. We were shown several ways to distress the wood — wih a file, a ball-peen hammer, various wood tools, and more — and then we tried out different effects on our covers. A few coats of milk paint, some more sanding, waxing, and our boards were ready for prime time.

On Sunday we sewed our books using a 4-needle coptic stitch (with 2 stitch variations) and then sewing the endbands. We finished up by making a closure for our books. I chose to make one with a knob and leather strip. Making the little wooden knob was an interesting experience on the Dan’s Flexshaft grinder.

It was a interesting workshop in which I became acquainted with many tools and materials I’d never worked with before. Once I’ve sewn perhaps only 50 — or 500 — more books, I hope to have mastered the art of sewing these coptic books with even tension and beautifully laid knots and braids!

The photo shows the spine edge of my book just before it was sewn. I’ll post a picture of the finished book soon.

The Lone, Wild Bird

I’ve been trying to draw some more. (“More” is not a difficult accomplishment when it follows a period of “none”!) Since I’m primarily a calligrapher, the drawing inevitably leads to the question of how to combine letters and drawings on the page.

The integration of image and text in Oriental calligraphy is not the same problem it is in Western calligraphy. While Chinese characters, for instance, were once pictures, our Western letters are symbols of sounds. So there’s a jump from image to sound in Western language that doesn’t happen in languages whose characters began as pictograms.

The “windows” solution is illustrated (haha) throughout countless medieval manuscripts, in which rectangular frames and the counters of decorated capitals often act as a two-dimensional frame for a three-dimensional scene which exists on the page in another visual plane.

Over a hundred years ago, William Morris concerned himself with the integration of text and image through his work at his Kelmscott Press, designing type, decorative initials and woodcut borders to work together. So did others in the Arts & Crafts Movement.

The current fad for combining words and images is to simply layer them willy-nilly over and amongst and between one another. I believe this is both a reaction to, and a symptom of, our information-crowded lives. It’s not efficacious for me, except perhaps as a means of letting off steam. I’ve over-simplified the situation: I have seen layered work that is stunning and meaningful. But I’ve seen more that can be described as a chaotic mess.

I’ve started a black-and-white (so far) art journal recently. I’ve been working in it every day (so far). Here’s the 3rd page of it, which is mostly an attempt to integrate image and text by using the same tool for both. Another goal of this page was to work on a wider, flowing-but-not-too-sweet italic variation.

A little doodling

It’s wedding season, and I haven’t posted much lately. I have addressed a whole lotta wedding invitations lately … and caught up on my audible book listening.

But here’s a doodle I did recently in my new small Moleskine.

It looks a little like Japanese textiles, somehow.

My studio table

This table sits in the middle of studio. Nearly every one of the countless times I walk past it every day, I react to this table in three ways, often all simultaneously:
1. Delight: Look at all these cool things I’m working on. What is the next step forward?
2. Angst: Look at all these unfinished projects. Will any of them every amount to anything? Can I succeed at any of them? What about the things I’ve finished. Are they finished? If so, what do I do with them now? What is the next step forward?
3. Irritation: Look at this clutter! Maybe the next step forward is to clear it all off so the area will be neat and tidy.

I realize that I treat other people’s work with a lot more respect and sympathy. Once, many years ago, I turned the corner of the hallway in a house and came upon a framed piece of calligraphy. It was delightful for just one moment to admire this excellent piece of original calligraphy. I even thought to myself: “This is much better calligraphy than one usually sees.” Then I recognized it as mine. I could practically see myself shift from relaxed appreciation to criticism: “Oh, the letter forms are better than I remembered being able to do back then, but look at that spacing. Ugh! And what about margins, where is the white space around the text block? Did I never stand back and look at the piece as a whole? (Am I still forgetting to do that?) And that drawing. I should really not be drawing.”

It’s the eternal balancing act:
If I were to drop the critical appraisal altogether, where would be the challenge, the motivation, the engagement? But when I forget to appreciate where I am, I become paralyzed by the disappointments, mistakes, the constant lag between my critical eye and my actual skill.

Illustration Friday: Spring

Click on the thumbnail for a closer look.

A quick submission for this week’s Illustration Friday theme. This is something I did awhile back. I’ve been enjoying the roadside weeds this week — especially the masses of tall, leggy weeds with tiny little purple flowers.

The Graceful Envelope 2006

Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.

Well, I’ve just managed to squeeze in one post in March. Barely. This is the envelope I sent off a few minutes ago for The Graceful Envelope contest. Not a particularly inspired contribution, but it is very good to be doing something calligraphic after such a long time. A family health crisis has kept me out of the studio, but I expect April to finally be a return to life as usual. If there’s any such thing as “life as usual”.

Friday Illustration: Song

No time for a new Friday Illustration this week, but I wanted to send something. I did this for a band fundraiser auction a couple of years ago. The counters in the word “music” were cut away to reveal paste-painted paper behind.

International Dunhuang Project

Click on the title of this post to visit an excellent source of information about the bookbinding structures found in the collection Dunhuang and other Silk Road manuscripts housed in the British Library. The information at this website is both extensive and well illustrated with both photographs and diagrams.