Friday, February 25, 2011

What Is a Book?

I'm preparing a talk about the handmade book for the South Carolina School Library Association Conference in March. I took this photograph to illustrate a brief discussion of What is a Book which I think is a particularly timely question. Here are two versions of Chapter Five of Little Women: the one I downloaded from Project Gutenberg on my ipod which I read last fall and the copy of the book that I read many times as a girl. Are they both Little Women? For me the answer is yes. The book is both the physical object and the set of words.

My involvement in making books has always been about both the object and the content. Whether my books have words or not, they have always been about something. The challenge is always to find the right form for the content, what Ben Shahn called "the shape of content."

As I reflect on the future of the book, I become more passionate about bringing bookmaking to as wide an audience as possible. No matter what happens to the form of the book in the marketplace, we will always be able to hold physical books in our hands because we can make them ourselves.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bookmark/Living Art

I was so excited when I found Living Art: Designs and Crafts of the Otomi of San Pablito on the sale table of the Jabberwocky Bookstore in Newburyport. I have had a love affair with amate paper from San Pablito for many years. It is one of the main papers I use in the Spirit Books. I love its colors, its texture, and its history. Amate has an ancient tradition. It was used in the folded accordion books of the Maya and Aztecs and is still being made today by the Otomi in the village of San Pablito. There it is used to make cut figures used in ceremonies and made for sale as sheets of paper. Author Kerin Gould lived in the community of San Pablito from 1995 to 1997. She writes about life in the remote village where the primary source of income comes from crafts: amate, embroidery, beadwork, and carved wooden benches in the shape of animals. She sensitively describes life in San Pablito as well as the struggles of an economy based on artisans, and the future of the culture. The book is filled with beautiful photographs of both life in the village and the crafts.

You can also find out more about the making of amate here.

I will be posting a Bookmark most Tuesdays at Ones that refer to making books will also be posted here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Comic Book Inspired by Persephone

Although I'm still walking gingerly on the ice and peeking out from snowbanks to make turns when driving, I have spring on my mind. The days are getting longer, the sunlight is stronger. The first stirrings of spring are in the air. It makes me think of my favorite Greek myth, Persephone.

This project is from Handmade Books For A Healthy Planet. As I wrote in the book:
Comic books cover a wide range of stories from superheroes to Archie. You can create your own characters, use myths from different cultures as a source, or write about local heroes who make the community a better place.

For a small book (the Local hero book), use US Letter/A4 paper. I prefer paper from the recycling bin. Just have the writing on the inside when you make the first hot dog fold. For a larger paper, you can use the front or back panel of a grocery bag, a newspaper page, or construction paper.

Written directions

In Spanish


My Persephone Book on flickr

My other inspiration for this project was this wonderful book of six Greek myths by Cynthia Rylant. It is beautifully written and draws lessons and make observations about life from the stories. In Persephone, she wrote:
It is one of the stories of life that that which is most light often attracts that which is most dark. And so it would be for the maiden Persephone, for one day she caught the eye of Hades.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine Count Up/ Le Chansonniere Cordiforme

This amazing book is a facsimile of Le Chansonnier Cordiforme: Chansonnier de Jean de Montchenu. It is accompanied by a recording of the music from the book.If you should have 3,480 euros to spare, you could have a copy of your own.

Here is some information about the book from the seller's website:

This exceptional MS, closed, is shaped like a heart; when open it becomes two hearts joined, representing two lovers who send love messages to one another in each one of the songs. When the word “heart” appears in the texts, it is represented by a pictogram. Two full-page illustrations appear in the codex. In the first, Cupid throws arrows at a young girl while at his side Fortune spins his wheel. In the other, two lovers approach one another lovingly. Throughout the MS the pentagrams, music and love poems are surrounded by borders made up of animals, birds, dogs, cats and all kinds of flowers and plants highlighted in abundant and delicate gold. The book gets its name from Jean de Montchenu, a nobleman, apostolic prothonotary, Bishop of Agen (1477) and later of Vivier (1478-1497) who commissioned the work. The music repertoire consists of French and Italian songs written by Dufay, Ockeghem, Busnois and their contemporaries. Limited edition of 1380 copies bound in red velvet after the original; 2-part slipcase covered in green leather. A clear acrylic case is also supplied for display purposes. Audio CD with selection of songs.

Additional information about the book by Fabrice Fitch can be found on the Oxford Journal's Early Music site.

See all the Valentine Count Up posts at

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Valentine Count Up/ Heart Accordion

This Valentine book is made with three different size accordions: one of the largest, two of the middle size, and four of the smallest.

When making the heart shape, it's easiest if you cut through all the layers at once so leave the accordion folded. Make a heart pattern that will fit on top of the folded accordion, or just cut the heart shape by eye. Make sure you leave part of each side of the accordion uncut. If you don't, you'll have four separate hearts.

I made the largest accordion without a pointed bottom so the book could stand. I then made two smaller heart-shaped accordions and glued one (back of its first and last pages) into each double-page spread of the larger accordion. I added the four smaller accordions in the same way.

You can find directions for a four page accordion at You don't need to make a cover.

See all the Valentine Count Up posts at

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Year of the Rabbit

Today ushers in the Year of the Rabbit. I used Sachiko Umoto's Illustration School: Let's Draw Cute Animals to draw my rabbit. It's a charming book that guides you through the steps of drawing animals from small (guinea pigs and hamsters) to large (giraffes and humpback whales) with a sprinkling of facts about animals. For example; about flamingoes: "The reason they stand on one leg near water is to avoid losing body heat." I think of her books as hipper, more sophisticated versions of Ed Emberley.

If you'd like to print my Year of the Rabbit image, here's a pdf.