Saw this quote by Seth Godin and my hair caught on fire: "Here's the thing: The book that will most change your life is the book you write."
He's onto something. My thoughts immediately ran to the rows of journals I have made and filled over the past three years. I am certain that the act of filling these books has impacted my life in hundreds of ways.
I have been continually refining my system for making matching-sized books since 2013. (Let's call that Year Zero)
It doesn't take me long, I can begin and finish a book in the same day . . . even making the bookcloth, if I start with that first thing in the morning.
Bob Burridge, in speaking about preparing his painting surfaces, says, "I like to get my DNA all over it!" (This he says with vigor as he scrubs some gesso onto watercolor paper.)
With each new book, a unique character develops. The covers vary from each book to the next, but the structure remains the same. They look a little odd, side by side on the shelves with their black lassos encircling most of them. Like a snapshot of long-haired girls at poolside, hair rubberbands on their wrists.
As each book is ready to use, I jot down a little calendar on one of the front pages, a list of often-searched-for words. I put an "If found please return to..." note somewhere near the front, and . . . potential awaits.
I write anything and everything. I draw and doodle, make lists and take telephone messages. There is no index, although I've seen this great Japanese indexing technique that I've fiddled with a time or two.
I used to say that someday I will mine these books and see what I can develop from their content. But I find I've already begun. My calling cards have quotes, comments, bits and pieces on the reverse side, gleaned from within some of my recent books.
I expect some of the people who start making their own books will find the same delight, catching the idea "permission granted" for wherever they want to go and whatever they want to put in their books.
I make books and write in them. It's my "thing". Late at night I will just let my interests run willy-nilly and write things, draw things, and basically fill pages of my current book. I'm very generous with my pages, because I have materials on hand to make many more books, as they become full. (Recently my husband counted something like 85 books that I have made since the end of 2012, but by adding gifts, exchanges and commissioned editions, I have made more than a hundred in the past 3 years.)
Yesterday while waiting to be called into an appointment, I "borrowed some faces" of other people in a clinic's waiting area. They weren't exactly likenesses of the people, I was just exploring what the people looked like and what my pen could do with what I was seeing. A woman nearby wore a beautiful sweater and I captured its appearance, dressing one of my ladies in it.
Late at night, I used a light ink wash to bring some depth to the forms. I may add color later. My books become little "coloring books" some evenings, as I go back through recent drawings and augment them with Inktense pencils and water washes.
I Yesterday I found myself at Artist & Craftsman Supply in Seattle. Sometimes my car just simply takes me there. While I was there, I chatted for a minute with two sisters and flipped open my book to show my favorite skin tone color. Off the top of my head, I said that the color was "orange vermilion". I was remembering wrong. The color's correct name is Mid Vermilion. It doesn't look like much on first glance, but makes a nice general skintone (for white folks).
Inktense pencils are a special formulation of pencils. They behave like super-charged watercolor pencils, and provide vibrant marvelous colors. I lay down a little color onto the paper and then activate it with a waterbrush. Once dry, the color is permanent and can be drawn or painted over without disturbing the color already in place. You can buy them individually online. List price is $2.89. I've seen them for $1.54. They aren't available at my favorite art supply store, but there's a big commercial place on Capitol Hill that stocks them.
I have just begun to pay attention to the visual energy fields around people (they look a little like oil-on-water to me, many colors, sort of rainbow, flowing together). Tried to depict it. These pencils make it a fun experiment. "Let's shed light like my dog sheds fur."
Preparing to visit my son in Argentina three years ago, I watched a video on how to paper-back fabric. My idea was to make my own book cloth to cover journals for exchanging with other artisans. But it took a special ingredient that I was unfamiliar with, CMC (carboxymethylcellulose). I had no idea what this product was or how to get it.
Fast-forward a month or two: While in Argentina, I met Laura who was quite familiar with this stuff. My new friend gave me a lesson in how to use the powder. (Though she uses it in an entirely different application -- making edible figures for cake decorating.) The process includes sprinkling it over a bowl of very hot water and to make a fantastic gel. Our beautiful bookcloth finished the covers for the journals we put together at her kitchen table.
Lately I have bought little 1/4 yard cuts of fabric and which each produce enough bookcloth for 3 books. The process requires a smooth shiny surface (a sheet of glass or smooth countertop), a piece of backing paper larger than the fabric and, for my purposes, a piece of cotton print fabric 9" by 15" or so, and the pre-mixed gel. The gel is smeared onto the paper to moisten it. The paper is set aside. Then the cloth is laid face-down on the smooth surface and coated with more gel. It's then covered with the paper (wet sides facing) and smoothed with a roller. Left overnight, the paper has dried, the fabric is "paperbacked", and the unveiling is just very enjoyable. It lifts off with a satisfying ripping sound, revealing a lovely workable structure, ideal for wrapping the cardboard for book covers.
See Sage Reynold's instructive video for my original source for this technique._
This fellow makes an extremely heavy paste (his recipe calls for 1/4 cup CMC per cup of hot water, my experiments have used less than a Tablespoon per cup, a quarter as much as him). He uses silk fabric, mulberry paper and binders board. (I use quilting fabric, printer paper and glass surfaces).
I am delighted with the results I get. It makes such great cover material - perfectly smooth and lovely to work with.
I credit my early love for books to my Gramma Frankie, the eldest child child of Oregon Trail pioneers, the teacher in a one-room schoolhouse for many years before my birth.
By the time I was ready to read, the school district had expanded and Francis Steinbach was teaching in the more modern environment of an elementary school. But my instruction began in her kitchen, rather than a classroom. Sitting on her tall paint stool, I learned to read, sounding out the words. I can still picture her knobby fingers pointing out words to me, one sound at at time. The year was 1956. She was a great teacher. I was a quick study.
Her back room was lined with books. Their simple bindings had little variety. The pages were brittle and yellowed by the time I discovered them. I would lay on the guest bed reading from retired school books.
Fast-forward 56 years to 2012. An idea occurred to me that I should become a skilled journal maker. There were videos to instruct me, abundant supplies in my city, and what a great time to get serious about this skill as I was planned a visit to see my son in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I taught myself to make journals, took some along with me on my travels and exchanged them with other artisans. At one of the weekend craft booths in front of the Recoleta cemetary, I traded for a leather-bound book. The sizes of the books in the exchange were nearly identical. By the time I returned home, I had taught people from New Mexico and Nigeria to make their own books. I visited an art supply shop and discovered fibrofacil (the thinnest masonite imaginable). I waded across flooded streets, holding hands with strangers. I drew and made books. I began a journal chronicling the tale of travelling with my recently-deceased mother.
Upon my return to Seattle, I was invited to teach an evening workshop for International Night of the Book. I was hooked. I wanted to teach people to make their own journals. I taught scholars from Seattle World School, recently immigrated from China, Vietnam and Guatamala, women from across the west at a conference, and discovered a classroom I could use for Seattle classes.
My books are sized to what feels most comfortable in my hand. The paper is smooth and creamy. The covers are experiments of various types. I've begun adding elastic loops to close the books and lasso my fountain pen.
And now I write. I write freely, at all angles, and with doodles generously sprinkled throughout. I develop symbols and metaphors. I draw the same things again and again until they flow comfortably off my pen. I play with colors and capture brilliant phrases as I hear them. I exhaust a journal in four to six weeks, and as I reach the end of one book, I simply create another one.
This past winter, I began giving my books more honor than ever before. Today they sit in my bookshelf, as worthy as the "real books" that surround them.
Gretchen Williams has been journaling / note-taking in hard-covered blank books since 1970 and has made her own journals for the past few years. She wants to teach 300 people how to make their own journals.