Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Marbling with children

A few weeks before Christmas I spent a most exhausting but very enjoyable day marbling with children at a local heritage field day. I belong to the Ray Park Heritage Group, formed to celebrate and preserve the old farming memories, knowledge and photographs of a part of Sydney now very suburban. Each year we hold a themed open day, the latest one being on Farming and Orcharding. We had many agricultural activities as well as old fashioned crafts for children to enjoy and I volunteered to set up a marbling table. I also volunteered my friend Nerida, who knew nothing about marbling in the morning but by the end of the day could answer any question put to her.

I normally marble on carragheen (or carrageenan) but some years ago I did a workshop with Marianne Peter, a Belgian marbler who had us marbling on guar gum. I decided to use the guar gum with the children and found it easy to prepare and it worked reasonably well. I used acrylic paints thinned with water and with a drop of ox gall to make them spread. I alumed 80 sheets of cartridge paper the day before and prepared the gum and the paints on the day. As we were marbling in the Boy Scout Hall there were many restrictions and I had sheets of protective plastic for metres around the work table in case of splashes; just as well because the children loved spattering the paint with the whisks.

Most of the children were aged between 4 and 10 but there were a few 3 year olds and a few mothers who couldn't resist having a go. We started at 9am, finished at 5pm and had a 30 minute break in the middle of the day. There was such a constant queue of children that Nerida and I didn't get outside to see any other activities; in fact we didn't have time to eat.

Because we were so busy helping the children to marble their sheets of paper neither Nerida nor I managed to take any photos of the children's work. I feel rather sad about this because there were some really lovely papers and it's a shame no one took a photo of the colourful hanging racks. I know the children were delighted with their efforts and after hanging them to dry they very proudly took them home. The next day when we were cleaning up (and what a huge clean up it was) children were coming in to ask when could they marble again. Maybe next year, though I rather think I'd like to make books with them next time.
Certainly I wouldn't have been able to get through the day without Nerida and my willing helpers for setting up and cleaning up, Jacqui and Rosemary.

I do have two pieces of marbling I produced at Marianne's workshop, illustrated here. These were done on guar gum, with printer's inks and onto shiny white paper. Marianne is a stunning marbler and her workshop was an eye opener for me, being used to water colour marbling. As I've said before, I'm only a dabbler when it comes to marbling, so it was a great thrill to produce these two pieces.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Caterpillar, Centipede or Millipede?

I had seen and admired Keith Smith's caterpillar spine sewing in his Non-Adhesive Binding Volume II [keith a smith BOOKS 1994], and in fact the book (with all his others) was on my shelf, but I had felt daunted by the complexity of the sewing. Keith credits Betsy Palmer Eldridge with teaching him the caterpillar.

A couple of years ago Adele Outteridge (Studio West End, Brisbane, Australia) taught several coptic binding styles in Auckland, NZ, including the caterpillar, but I just missed getting to the class. I live in Sydney, Australia, but I try to get to New Zealand each year to make books with my friends in Auckland (on the North Island), and that year my timing was wrong. However, generous Elizabeth Steiner allowed me to photograph the books she made in Adele's class and I decided to try making the caterpillar from the photograph. I prepared a few book blocks and covers while staying with binder & good friend Sheila Coltman, and then went on to the South Island to stay with my friends Alison Evans & Dain Simpson at their resort,
The Portage, in the Marlborough Sounds. I knew I would have plenty of time for sitting in the sun and sewing a book or two.

After doing a 4 needle coptic stitch I had the book secure but I had no idea how to start the caterpillar. I had already punched the holes using Elizabeth's photos as a guide and after a couple of false starts I got into the swing of it. I was delighted to find my caterpillar forming, though I suspected, quite rightly, that it left a bit to be desired as far as Keith's caterpillars go. I also decided that mine was a centipede because a caterpillar only has 6 legs.

I did all my sewing in the sunny lounge at The Portage Resort Hotel, looking out over the glorious blue Marlborough Sounds, and occasionally being offered hot chocolate or a glass of NZ wine (Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc of course) by the bar staff. The other guests were fascinated and I had to overcome my desire to go and hide and instead gave quick off-the-cuff explanations of hand book binding. I found this very satisfying actually as most people are amazed that it is possible to make a book and they loved to see the books taking shape.

When I returned home I started another smaller book, also a coptic, sewn with 6 needles. The caterpillar, now a centipede in my mind, was made following the instructions in Keith Smith's book [pp 265-271]. In these instructions each caterpillar actually attaches the book block - in other words sewing the sections, but mine were already sewn so I sewed into the 2nd and 3rd stations. At first sight the instructions are incredibly complicated, as are just about all of Smith's diagrams but if you really concentrate they are quite wonderful in their intricacy and detail. You just need to be fairly dedicated and desirous of the end result.

Another version of this stitch has been developed by Abi Sutherland at The Evil Rooster Bookweb. Keith's stitch takes 7 stages to make each section of stitches but Abi has designed her Half-Hitch Millipede Stitch which takes 4 stages. This is an elegant solution and Abi's instructions are wonderful. In fact her entire site is wonderful so please have a good look.

Friday, 11 January 2008

On the rocks above Coogee Beach

Coogee Beach, located 8 km (5 miles) south-east of the Sydney CBD, is on Coogee Bay, washed by the Tasman Sea, and just a few beaches south of the famous but rather more brash Bondi Beach. To the left is a photo from above the Bay, looking north.

From Grant Reserve above the beach it is possible to explore the Hawkesbury Sandstone cliffs and this is one of my favourite picnic spots. This is mid summer and while we are enjoying hot and fine weather in Sydney we should never forget that Australia is a huge country and right now vast areas are in drought while others are in flood, and still others are experiencing massive bush fires. But living on the coast it's hard not to take advantage of the beaches and the weather while we can.

Last night, with friends, we took Crystal Bay prawns from North Queensland and Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc wine from New Zealand and had a feast in one of the most beautiful places I know. What could be more celebratory than good friends, great food and wine and a million dollar view. Which is exactly what the view does cost for many of the big houses on the headlands.

Hawkesbury Sandstone makes up the sculpted cliffs and hundreds of thousands of years of weathering has produced wonderful honeycombed effects. The cliffs are very exposed but these shallow cave features usually make it possible to find some form of shelter from the wind and the salt spray.

Seagulls hovered above us to check out the food possibilities but they weren't really interested in us. They were probably too well fed from the pickings of fish and chips over at the beach to bother with a few scraps of prawn shell, though it did seem rather out of character. You certainly can't sit anywhere on the beach with food without being mugged by seagulls.

This is a favourite place to bring visitors to Sydney, close to the sea but without the problems that come with sand getting in the food. It's not just a great place for a summer picnic - winter is also beautiful on the cliffs, as long as you can get out of the wind.

I'm very conscious of how privileged I am to be able to live in and enjoy this wonderful part of Australia. Our beaches and coast line will be threatened by global warming but I really feel for the low lying islands I have seen in the Pacific, such as Tuvalu. I hope our new government will be generous when faced with the plight of the peoples of the Pacific.

Monday, 7 January 2008

My fish fetish

How can I put this? I have a passion for fish. Not to eat. Pictures of fish, and even more particularly fish drawn in the very early natural history books of the 15th to the 18th century. I collect reproduction volumes of early ichthyology encyclopaedia and I'm fascinated by the fantastic shapes and colours of the fish. I have a two volume facsimile set of Louis Renard's Fishes, Crayfishes, and Crabs or Poissons Ecrevisses et Crabes, ... que l'on trouve autour des Isles Moluques, et sur les Cotes des Terres Australes. Amsterdam, MDCCLIV [1754]. See original. The facsimile was published in 1995 by The Johns Hopkins University Press.

I have been using some of Renard's fish to illustrate my own version of fishy things, at first sticking quite closely to the original shapes and colours but gradually finding I can deviate and make them more my own creations. Some of my earlier attempts I've used in miniature concertina books but I'm now working on a more ambitious book that may eventually see the light of day, perhaps even here on this site. I don't really have enough confidence in my drawing ability to be sure of that, though I feel okay about my ability to produce the book itself. I've been making books for over 20 years but only drawing for a year and I have no illusions about my talent in that regard. But I figure that I need to keep at it in the hope that I may improve.

However, last year I spent a wonderful week in Brunswick Heads with my marbling friend Joan Ajala, and I produced some tiny monochrome marbled fish. I filled a small shallow dish with carragheen, used mostly china black (though I did a few with colour) and manipulated the ink with a needle and ox gall. I used very small pieces of alumed paper, (Arches from memory,) and worked very quickly on each fish. I found this much more satisfying than drawing but I suspect this was because I enjoyed the element of hit and miss - it's very easy to have your fish become a muddy puddle when you work on it too much.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

How I made my slot book

Happy New Year!

After a lot of emails about slot books I've made another one and taken photos in an attempt to describe the process. Thanks to Wendy who emailed me the information in Alisa Golden's book. It was interesting to see that although the principle is the same, my book has a different slot and tag system. My original book is small and is made of 110 gsm paper which gives it a nice firmness. This one is larger and made of 80 gsm photocopy paper and is rather sloppy. Okay for a trial but not very impressive.

I used 20 sheets of A4 long grain copy paper which gave me 80 folios. Fold in half and slit. Fold in half again and slit. Then fold in half and crease with folder.

Stack the folios and press. Mark spines in pencil into thirds.

Divide into two equal stacks. Stack 1: Cut a 1mm slot into the centre of each fold. These are slot folios. Stack 2: Cut a 1mm slice from the third above and below the centre third. These are tab folios.

Alternate slot and tab folios and stack.

To assemble:

Open the first slot folio (in this case purple).
Take the first tab folio (pink) and gently roll from the head to the tail of the right hand side.
Slide this roll (pink) through the slot of the first page from the inside.

Then slide the same roll (pink) through the second slot folio (white) from the outside.

Open up the roll and it becomes a new page (pink).

Take the next tab folio (blue), roll and slide through the inside of the (white) folio and then straight into the outside of the next slot folio. Continue in this way until all tabs and slots are assembled.
The spine looks quite pretty and you can make whatever cover you think would suit. I haven't covered this one yet.

I hope this description makes sense. It's very fiddly and the pages that get rolled look a bit sad when unrolled. I'd be pleased if this just gave you some ideas, which is what it has done for me.
I'll be trying Alisa's version sometime soon.

Thanks to everyone who emailed with thoughts, opinions and questions about slot books. You gave me a lot to think about.