Studio Musings

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Creative Cross-Training: Book Making

pulling out one of my old hobbies - book making
This past year, my beading has felt far more like 'work' rather than 'fun'.  It's the hazard all working artists face.  We go into our chosen field because we love what we're doing, but sooner or later, the 'shoulds' catch up to us, and attempt to leach the joy out of creation.  While I still have plenty of ideas, and get excited thinking about them, it's been hard to stay motivated and get started.  All the old fears including "what if it's not as good as it should be?", come climbing out of their dark corners.

Sound familiar?  At this point, I know the routine;  this always seems to happen after I complete a major milestone.  Burn-out combines with the impostor syndrome to sap my energy and drive.  I've learned to work through it, but it's still hard.  Especially when it lasts as long as this particular round.  

One of the ways I've learned to deal with this is to indulge in some creative cross-training.  Turning my hand towards something totally different for a little bit as a way to jump-start my creativity, or more importantly in this case, simply to refill the creative energy well.  This past summer, I decided to participate in a gift exchange with fellow cruisers on Septembers' transatlantic journey, and that my gift would be little handmade, travel sketchbooks.  Then I got carried away, and somehow found myself needing to make thirty of them.  Yep, 3-0, thirty books, each with handpainted paper covers and sewn signatures. 

It was only mid-July, and I had until mid-September to complete the project.  If I made a book a day, I'd be set!  But since this was supposed to be a fun little extra craft project (an addition to my regular work, not a substitution), I set myself a rule:  I couldn't work on the books between 7am and 6pm Monday-Friday, as those are my normal 'working hours'.  As an extra little challenge, I decided that I'd use a different stitch pattern for each book.  If the goal was to stretch, then I should really stretch, right?

One of my all-time favorite books on book-making
Pulling down my sadly dusty copy of 1-2-&3-Section Sewings:  Nonadhesive Binding Volume II by Keith Smith, I set to work.  If you have ever had an interest in bookbinding, you want this book!  It's not one of those 'sexy' books with lots of color photos of other artists' creations - I don't think there's a single color photo in the entire book.  But if you want detailed diagrams and instructions for more sewn bindings than you can easily count, then this is the book for you.  I'd forgotten just how much I love this book!

Bookmaking doesn't require a lot in the way of tools:  an awl or large needle for punching holes, something to cut your papers to size, a bonefolder for creasing the pages, and a large-eyed needle for the sewing.  Everything else is just extra, or ways to make things easier.

scoring the spine with my bonefolder before folding the cover

stitching a section - the needle is so BIG!

continuing to stitch

Since the books were for a cruise, I went with 'oceany' colors for the covers and had a great time playing with acrylic paints using my collection of brushes, scrapers, sponges, even finger painting.  I made a complete mess of my studio, and it was totally worth it!  For the interior sections, I sacrificed a couple of blank sketchbooks, cutting and folding the pages to size.  For the stitching, I used cotton rug-warp leftover from my long-ago weaving days.  (A side goal of this project was to use up 'stuff' from my collections).

I sewed this one onto 'tapes' so show the ridged design of the cover
 A couple of my painted pages had these raised designs that I didn't want to hide underneath my stitching, so I decided to sew the interior sections onto paper 'tapes' that I then wove into the cover.  I felt particularly clever, figuring these out.
Thirty finished travel sketchbooks

The first several books; everything felt really awkward.  I had to really think about each step to make sure I did it right.  With each book it got a little easier, and before long, I found myself riffing off themes.  One stitching pattern would inspire the next.  And a week before my deadline, I had a stack of thirty little book (thirty-one actually, as I made an extra for another friend).

Did it help my issues with beading?  I fear the jury's still out.  But it was definitely fun; doing something crafty purely for play.   For the reasons I started crafting in the first place, way back when. 

Have you indulged in any creative cross training lately?  I'd love to hear about it! 


  1. These are amazing Karen - I bet your ship mates were thrilled to get them!!

  2. wow - love these books! you are truly an inspiration. I have not done any cross training, but wish I could find the time. I love doing that with my daughter! enjoyed this post so much

  3. The books are lovely. I had a friend 20+ years ago who made handmade books and marbled paper. One night she got together a handful of people and we made marbled paper. 20+ years later I still remember it as FUN! Glad you had a good time.