Thursday, September 27, 2007

Family Workshop Report

One of the facts of life is that there are always lessons to be learned. There were a few at the Earth-Friendly Bookmaking for Families workshop at the Newburyport Public library last Saturday. The first was that having people sign up ahead is a good thing. For this one, since the format I planned was informal and didn't require knowing numbers, I decided not to bother. The last time I gave a family workshop at the library, with sign-up, we had a full house. This time attendance was very low. It could have been the time, the season, the topic, or the fact that people had to bring materials, but I think people are much more likely to come to something they have already made some level of commitment. Plus when there is a sign-up, the Children's Room staff always calls the day before with reminders.

Most of my workshops are done in schools which is a much more controlled setting, even in the case of evening family workshops. Teachers can remind the students, send notes home, etc. I think in the future in public settings I will ask the staff to gather materials for me and not require the participants to bring anything which is the way I have done things for years.

The happy lesson is a confirmation of the innate openness and creativity of kids. I am in the planning stages of a book for families on making books with recycled materials. As I think about it, I feel that in some ways it is the parents who need the book more than the kids. Although we lament, and with good reason, the amount of time kids spent in front of the computer and TV, I take heart in the fact that when kids are presented with what they need to sit and create, they do it with enthusiasm. When they make a book, they can't wait to write, draw, or collage in it. Adults on the other hand are often timid and reserved. They are afraid to dive right in.

The library experience also demonstrated the power of the collage box. I collect paper from all kinds of sources. Everyone in the house knows to keep the wrapping paper for me after the presents have been opened. I save scraps of art papers, old calendars, interesting envelopes, can labels, catalogs, and anything else that catches my eye. I cut or tear them up into smallish pieces. I am a firm believer that everyone is creative. One of the problems with creating on paper is that so many people assume it is necessary to draw well to do so. The colorful papers in the collage box are a friendly entry and a great way to get children and adults working.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Crayon and Paint Palm Leaf Book

The traditional form of book in India and Southeast Asia is made from the leaves of palm trees. Traditionally the writing and illustration are done with a metal stylus. The writing is scratched into the leaf, after which ink is rubbed over the page and the excess ink is wiped away. Our book is made with a reverse process. The paper is colored with crayons and then painted with black ink. The writing and illustrations are scratched into the paint to reveal the crayon colors.

I used the inside of the front panel of a cereal box. I have found using recycled materials to be very liberating. When you start with a piece that has edges that you have cut yourself, it frees you from worrying about evenness and precision.

Making the Book
You will need one piece of cover stock or one panel of a cereal box, a piece of yarn, and two beads, buttons or the closure tags from bread bags.

1. Color the entire surface with different colored crayons. Paint over the crayon with black poster paint. I used two coats for solid coverage.

2. Hold the paper in front of you vertically. Find the center by eye and push the punch in as far as it will go. Again by eye, cut off a strip so that the punched hole is in the center. You may find it easier to judge if you are looking at the side which does not have the crayon and paint.

3. Use the strip you just made as a guide, and cut up the rest of the paper. Punch a hole in the center of each strip.

4. Follow the directions on the website to complete the book.

5. Do the writing and illustrations with a stick or a bamboo skewer with the pointy ends trimmed off to prevent eye injury.


Information about Palm Leaf Books

A photo of an illustrated palm leaf book made in Bali from my collection and a text written for children can be found at

Photo of and brief information on a palm leaf book from the library at Cornell.
Click on the photo for a larger image. To explore books from other cultures, go to the Table of Contents. This website offers a concise, well-illustrated journey through books made from paper, leather, clay, and stone.

Information on the construction of palm leaf books from the Buddha Mind website.
This one is the most direct. Make sure you click on the small images on the left; they will lead you to more images.

The Preparation of Palm Leaf Documents from the Princely States Report of the Journal of Indian States History, Philately, and Numismatics
This is a bit dry but has good information and illustrations of the styluses used for writing and photos of book pages.

An article I wrote about Traditional Cambodian Books appeared in the September 1998 issue of FACES magazine. Each issue of the magazine focuses on a particular culture or topic. With the help of an interpreter, I interviewed the Venerable Sao Khon, the senior monk at the Triratanaram Temple in North Chelmsford, MA for the article.

Books by Artists using the Palm Leaf Book structure

Nigrum by Shu-Ju Wang, Click on the third image down on the left for a full photo and information.

Under the Ice by Mia Leijonstedt

Adapted from the September 2007 issue of Making Books Monthly
Free subscriptions available at

Earth-Friendly Bookmaking with Families

I will be giving a drop-in workshop for families at the Newburyport Public Library on Saturday, September 22, from 10 am to 12 noon. Making books is a great family activity that gives us opportunities to record our observations of the world around us and celebrate our lives. When we use recycled materials, we consume less paper and also learn to look creatively at the things we discard. There is magic in the process as we transform boxes and bags into books.

The program room will be set up with four bookmaking stations with a different project at each. Lots of samples will be on hand to inspire continued bookmaking at home. After thirty years as an artist and educator, I am a believer in the value of exercising one's creativity for people of all ages. Bookmaking is an easy entry into creative work and I have made the process as accessible as possible. All the books are simple to construct and using recycled materials makes it affordable and easy to get started.

Admission to the workshop is free but each person who plans to make books should bring 1 grocery bag, 1 cereal box, and 4-5 sheets of used copy paper with writing on one side only.

This workshop is for families in Newburyport and the surrounding towns. I am working on a book proposal on this topic and would be interested in giving similar workshops at other libraries in the area. Let me know if you know a library that might be interested.

Here is pdf of the flyer for the Newburyport workshop.