Friday, October 16, 2009

Make Your Own Soft Weights

Don't you need something new in your tool box? Here's a little project that will keep you busy this weekend, and it includes a field trip.

We covered the virtues of using brick weights for book projects in earlier posts, but there are some projects that just don't lend themselves to being bricked. Box construction falls in this category; if the box is small, a brick is just not going to fit inside. So, whip up a few of these soft weights, and you'll be all ready to press the next time that odd shaped project appears.

You'll need 2 pieces of sturdy cotton fabric, 5" wide x 6" high. Use solid colors or fun fabric prints. Place the right sides of the fabric together and hand or machine stitch on 3 sides, using 1/2" seam allowance. Trim the seams to 1/4" and zig zag, serge or overcast the seams to finish. Turn right side out. Here's an option: blanket stitch around the three sewn edges on the outside, leaving extra thread to stitch the final edge when it is closed.

Fill a small (3" x 5" or thereabouts) plastic zip lock bag with copper coated premium BB's, about 1 to 1 1/4 pounds. Close the zip lock and slide it inside the fabric bag. Fold the remaining open seam edges to the inside, finger press, then slip stitch the edges closed. Complete the blanket stitch around the last edge if you chose this option.

Ta Dah! You've made your very own soft weights! Now, where does one buy BB's? Why, at a Man Store, of course. I went to Cabela's because we have a giant one nearby. As soon as I walked in the door, I could sense the testosterone rising, and felt strangely compelled to start scratchin', belchin' and droppin' my g's .... Just go to the gun department, get a nice big bottle of BB's and then get the heck out of there before you find yourself looking at the fish lures and wondering if they would make nice earrings or book embellishments. Enjoy your field trip and your new tool!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Marbling 101

After several months of collecting beautiful hand marbled papers from my travels, I decided to take the plunge and try making my own. Learning to marble has been on my wish list for some time now, so I set aside a couple of days in August.

First of all, you have to do a little planning and procuring in advance. You'll need to round up the tools and trays needed, in addition to the paints, paper, marbling gall, and other materials, and massive amounts of paper towels and newspapers. I've always admired the marbling done by Galen Berry; last spring I purchased his instruction book for marbling at Hollanders, and I liked his approach, so I chose to buy most of what was needed from Galen. I used some plastic drawer units from Target for my marbling trays, as I wanted to work small for this first batch of sheets.

The day before you plan to marble, you need to prepare the size and the paper. I used carrageenan for size; it comes in powder form and is mixed with water in a blender, then poured into a larger container with more water added. (I made a gallon for my session, in a recycled plastic iced tea container.) The paper was sponged with an alum mixture on one side, then dried for several hours. To prevent wrinkling, I pressed the dry sheets in my book press overnight. I made my brushes by banding plastic broom sticks together, making one for each paint color.

The next day, I mixed up some paint colors and began my adventure. The first sheet I pulled was exciting for me but technically not wonderful; some air spots between the paper and the paint didn't yield the even results I would have liked. However, by my third sheet, I had found that using a small plastic squeegee on the back side of the paper while it rested on the size would remove the air bubbles. My sheets became progressively better.

I grew more adventuresome with using the combs and rakes, trying to master the basic gel-get and non-pareil patterns so I could move on to peacock feathers and other exotic designs. Creating these patterns was the most fun, as you can achieve surprisingly sophisticated results with relatively simple, layered moves using the tools. The small tray and paper I was working with began to feel limiting as the session progressed, so I made a note to find a larger tray for the next session.

What fun I had in the morning! I pulled about 10-12 sheets, and was quite pleased with them. Then, in the afternoon, the chemistry began to change as the August humidity found its way into the studio. I tried a new batch of size, and began adding more marbling gall to the paints, but alas, the colors began to sink to the bottom faster than I could pull them from the surface. All of these observations were carefully recorded in a notebook that I kept nearby; sometimes in these sessions, we need to be as much scientist as artist. When you're embarking on a new venture, it's good to document the process.

So, here are a few of those first sheets. All in all, a fine first day! Stay tuned for more as I continue to explore this exciting media.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Flying Carpet, Landed

I didn't want to leave you wondering about the Turkish carpet we purchased in Istanbul. It arrived about two weeks ago, not by post but by personal delivery from the salesman in the store! He was visiting the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for a carpet show, and thought he would just stop by Munster on the way and drop it off.

After the initial shock of getting that phone call, I had a huge wave of guilt for not believing the story about his brother who lived in Chicago, and how that translated into a special price on the carpet, just for us. My bad.

So the rug was, indeed, delivered in person, AND it was the same carpet we chose. Amazing! Don't you just love it when everything works ?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Of Sighs and Good-byes

The Doge's Palace in Venice is undergoing some renovation; in place of the usual boring scaffolding, the Venetians have chosen to wrap the entire area in a bright blue vinyl covering, featuring the sky and some figures. It definitely stood out among the other buildings of Venice; we could see it during our approach on the ship, and experienced it first hand when we walked across the footbridge that overlooks the famous Bridge of Sighs.

The Bridge of Sighs is entered through the Doge's Palace. If you were one of the unfortunates whose name had turned up on an anonymous note as described earlier, you were tried in the court rooms of the Palace and then went directly to jail, via the Bridge. The Bridge was your last look at lovely Venice (hence the name, Bridge of Sighs) as you headed to the hoosgow, never to return. I took a surreptitious photo of the view from the tiny window as we were crossing over; I wonder how many other last views also consisted of a gondola and a jeering crowd?

So this, dear readers, is the end of my travels in the Mediterranean. While you've been vicariously enjoying the tour, I've been busy learning some new book making skills, firming up plans for classes in 2010, and setting the calendar for the Book Arts Coterie, the summer week long workshops held in my studio. I'll be posting more details in the days to come.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Venetian Blind

Our brief afternoon in Venice included a gondola ride because, well, we were there and that's what people do. A few hundred years ago there were literally thousands of gondolas operating in Venice, today there are only several hundred, with just a handful privately owned. Operating a gondola requires a permit that is granted after years of training, apprenticeship programs, and formal testing, and is often passed down from one generation to the next within a family .

Before we arrived, I thought each gondola would be an artistic visual delight, perhaps reflecting the personality of the gondolier or the owner but, no, they are all remarkably the same. All are painted black, both a tradition and a law, and share the same design built from 280 pieces of wood of seven different types. It is propelled by an oar, not by a pole as you might have seen in every Venetian gondola parody ever written. The waters of the Venice canals are so deep, there isn't a pole long enough to do the job. The goldolier stands on the very back of the boat, steering with the magic strokes of the oar that keep it gliding along, and he never forgets to duck when he goes under the footbridges. (OK, maybe SOME of them forgot once, but never again.) They banter back and forth with the other gondoliers in rapid Italian, because you are never more than a few yards away from another gondola, discussing the weather, the soccer match, and the fashion mistakes of the passengers.

The gondoliers are also oblivious to your fears about tipping over. There were 5 people in our little boat, and every time someone shifted to take a photo or get into a more comfortable position, the rest of us held on for dear life, certain that we or our cameras, glasses, hats and totes were goners for sure. Once we got our gondola legs, however, we relaxed and began to have tourist fun, waving and calling to the pedestrians going over the bridges we were passing under, and hurling the traditional "eh, paison!" to the second gondola holding the rest of our group as we took turns passing each other. We saw all sorts of intriguing passageways, back doors of buildings whose fronts we would never know on this visit. Shown here are a few photos taken along the way.

After the gondola, we were off to see the Doge's Palace, the quintessential Venetian structure where nearly every surface is embellished but in a lovely, highly decorative way. We were not allowed to photograph inside the building, although I did sneak in a photo while crossing the famous Bridge of Sighs from the inside view. Housed inside the palace are some of the largest paintings you will ever see, all magnificent, very ornate, laden with symbolism and religious meaning, looking just as they did in the slides from your Art History class. The Doge and his posse had a system for routing out the sinners or thieves in their midst: a mail drop where any citizen could write out the complaint and post it anonymously to them, and they would take it from there. The stone face above is the repository for these deadly missives. Gee, do you think someone might have ever used this great system for evil?

We went to a glass blowing demonstration held at one of the hundreds of blown glass galleries and shops located in Venice; the shop owners invited us to stroll around after the demo and then discreetly kept turning off the lights behind us as we walked to the next room. It was nearly 6 pm on Sunday and they were so ready to be done with us. So, no glass purchases here; in fact, no glass purchases this day anywhere, because the shops really DO close at 6. Time to say good-bye.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Allow me to set the stage for one of the most beautiful Sunday mornings I've ever experienced. We are sailing into the port of Venice, last stop on our tour. It is about 9 am in the morning; the sky and weather are perfect, there is a light breeze. The sound of church bells can be heard from a distance; just a few at first, then many bells from dozens of different towers. The city is just coming into our view and we are on the top deck taking it all in, spellbound.

Suddenly the air fills with the voice of Andrea Bocelli, singing Time to Say Goodbye; the ship is playing his music over the sound system at full throttle, and coming into sight are the rooftops, houses, and foot bridges over the canals. We're actually here! Our ship is so tall, and the city is so dwarfed by comparison, I am reminded of the Thorne miniature rooms at the Art Institute in Chicago, and feel I am a curious bystander watching a tiny Venice start its day.

As we sailed on, the streets became increasingly more populated near Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Square. The lagoon began to fill with water taxis and other boats going about the business of getting around in a water town. We continued our approach and ultimately docked around 10 am. We were all anxious to leave the ship and get out into the streets with the rest of the tourists, as we had a tour of the Palace and a gondola ride scheduled. Alas, it is Italy, and the schedule has become a suggestion, not an actual timetable.

A half dozen or so passengers had become ill earlier in the voyage (not swine flu), and had been isolated from the rest of the ship, but the Italian health officials were not satisfied. Thus, before anyone could leave the ship, we had to complete a questionnaire and have our temperature taken ... all three thousand of us. This doesn't happen quickly in Italy (or, I suspect, anywhere else.) Several hours after our scheduled departure, we finally disembarked and set off on our tour. We took our gondola ride, saw the Doge's Palace (more about these in the next post), went to a glass blowing demonstration and then finally, finally, it was free time to walk and shop.

Armed with my list of a dozen paper stores which my spouse had carefully mapped out in a plan of attack, we quickly discovered that retail stores close at 6 pm on Sunday in Venice. As we were leaving for the airport at 7 am the next morning, there would be no paper shopping in Venice on this visit. One should always have a reason to return!