Sunday, September 11, 2011


ser·en·dip·i·ty [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee]
an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.
good fortune; luck.

Let me begin by saying that in any sort of major project, maintaining balance is crucial. A monomaniacal focus, while it can result in high degrees of productivity, can also lead to early burn out.

With that in mind, yesterday, on my first real day off in a while, I decided to spend the day with my amazing girlfriend, Megan. We had to planned to spend the day at the zoo, and then go to dinner with a friend of ours in the later evening.

Well the sun  same came out, and the zoo rapidly filled with strollers and wandering packs of those pushy, inconsiderate types that make any public venue, at best, barely tolerable. (Why I thought it would be any different on a gorgeous Saturday, I have NO idea.) So, after lapping the zoo a couple times, and it only being 1pm, we decided to leave and go find something else to do.

I had been told that down in the Fremont district is Theo’s Chocolates. ( Well, being the “boldly forward” type, I had no darn idea where it was other than a general sort of ‘over there’ (vague gesture westerly) kind of way. We wandered Fremont for a little bit, crossing block by block, and not finding it. Sensing that Megan was getting impatient ( I hadn’t told her why we were in Fremont), I tipped  a panhandler a couple bucks for directions. (Which, I might add, were completely wrong…teach me to take directions from a guy with pupils popcorning like something from Wonderland –grin.)

So we wander off ‘in that direction’ (non-committal wave over this other way), completely miss the chocolatiers. But, continuing down the street, we start coming to the fringe of the Fremont district, and I’m thinking “Well, this is a bust.”, when what do I see in a tiny little storefront, but a small hand-lettered sign saying “ALL HANDMADE PAPERS 25% OFF”.

Going in to the shop, (which turns out to be a small importer of Tibetan handicrafts) I rapidly find myself in a conversation with the owner Kirk. ( Turns out Kirk is one of those ethical, socially responsible sorts that has personal relationships in Tibet (he travels there a couple times a year) and has worked to develop sustainable business amongst the rural Tibetans in the mountain regions north of Kathmandu.

One of the micro-industries of this region is a hundreds of years old traditional of producing lokta paper. (The entire story will deserve its own post. It’s pretty cool.) So Kirk has brought the paper to the US, and was hoping to find crafters/folks that could use the paper, but hadn’t had much luck, and was getting at rope’s end. He really wanted to help his friends in Tibet to find markets for their products.  And here I having been searching for a consistent source of quality, hand crafted paper…I had even been talking to another lokta importer in Ontario, Canada of all places (double import duties….ugh). I wanted to have a relationship to the producers, I wanted it to be eco-friendly, sustainable, and above all, I wanted to be able have some say in what the finished product was.  All things that are now possible. And best of all, Kirk is LOCAL.

If the zoo hadn’t filled up early.

If I hadn’t randomly decided to take Megan to the chocolatier’s.

If we hadn’t gotten lost.

If the panhandler had given more concise directions.

If I had just looked a little more sharply and failed to go that one extra block.

A great friend of mine, Jeremy, hearing the story last night at dinner, said “It sounds like the Universe has you on the path you’re supposed to be on.”

I heartily agree. Serendipity.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


I have, in the past, sat and cranked journals for days straight, every night after work, and for my entire days off. But it’s been a awhile since I’ve done any focused, non-stop binding…and today marks the end of my first full week back “in the saddle” as it were.  My fingers, from pulling, tearing, waxing and stitching of heavy thread, paper and leather feel a bit like shredded cheddar.
I’m not complaining; I set myself this goal, and I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. There were a few times this week where I asked myself “What the hell was I thinking??”  (He grins.)
But as I look at the first batch of books, I am reminded how much I love making them, and can imagine how amazingly cool it will be when, someday, I am sitting in a booth at the Bellevue Arts Fair, and having folks “Oooh” and “Ahhh” over  them.
It is important, I think, in achieving our goals, to constantly remind ourselves of why we are striving in the first place, and to keep the mental image of what victory will feel like.  I guess one could call it “positive thinking”, but it is more than that…one can be positive without a plan, without forward action, without a target in sight.
Another important part of achieving goals is a willingness to keep striving, no matter what. The ‘Power Book” series, (of which I have so far done 3), are dedicated to what I feel is the greatest of Human virtues, Persistence. Persistence and determination, I believe, are quintessential in achieving our aims. (in this case going from the table to the Bellevue Arts Fair.)
So yeah, there were times this week when I wanted to say “Oh, screw THIS.”, but I wouldn’t allow myself, and now that the first week is done, I’m kind of proud of myself. (Cue: Swollen Head).
 So I will keep going, keep striving, facing each obstacle as it comes, and by God, I will do this. (Now if I would just grow some darn calluses….)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Supply and Demand....

A big issue for a bookbinder like me is a consistent source for quality materials.
 Leather is fairly ubiquitous on the web, but when you require a specific type of leather for artistic consistency, it can be pretty hit or miss. I like to use 5-7oz latigo hides, distressed, with range marks and blemishes. I find it has the feel I want, and gives a nice ‘medieval’ gestalt to my work.
Ordering online in the past, I’ve gotten leathers that were too light (garment leathers), too heavy (veg-tanned, tooling leather) and or completely tanned wrong (shiny, hot pink patent leather, even). So finding a place where I can inspect and handle the hides before buying is a pretty momentous occasion.
I lucked out today and found Quilceda Leathers, up in Marysville, just a short drive from where I live. The manager there, Lacey was helpful, knowledgeable, and all around good-people. If ever you need some leather for a project, or have a hide you need custom tanned, I highly recommend stopping by or giving them a call.
Now, paper. Paper remains a HUGE issue. Back when I first started binding in ’99, there were several great suppliers available on the web and they carried huge selections at really reasonable prices. Then 9/11, and suddenly importing heavy, low-profit paper became a losing scenario. I’ve been searching fairly diligently for a domestic source of the paper I like to use, but to no avail. (The closest approximate I’ve found is a fellow in Wisconsin that handmakes all his own paper, but wants an usurious $12 a sheet!!)
This being Seattle, there are of course many a fine art supply stores (especially my new favorite, Seattle Artist & Craftsman Supply. However, the local stores focus on mainly the hot-press, finished papers used by fine artists and illustrators, and that would have very limited application in my work. The few papers I have found that could be of use, are mostly watercolor pages, (weighing a whopping 300gsm), or are too small (19 ½” x 27 1/2”) to be of much use.
So, being the resourceful, self-reliant source (and humble! –grin) I decided I would investigate papermakers overseas (India and Turkey, mostly). I found this great international business site ,  Searching through it, however, is like trying to nail jello to a tree. Unless you know EXACTLY what you’re searching for, it’s going to get away from you, and you’re going to end up a sticky, sobbing mess. (Well, ok, maybe not sticky.) I have located several great possible leads, but I think from my intial inquiries, even though we’re all speaking English, no one is speaking the same language. I am thankful I have paper enough to make several dozen more books before I really get desperate.
But, having made ‘The Book of Ganesh’, I thought I would search for ‘Ganesh’ on Alibaba.  Wow! I suddenly have a new business idea!
 U. Ganesh. A.! For all your Ganesh needs! Ganesh idols? Got ‘em! Ganesh incense? In stock! Ganesh balloons, shirts, posters, pillows and candy? It’s all here! Ganesh pens, lighters and bandaids! Ganesh coloring books! We’ve even got inflatable Ganesh ! So hurry on down to U. Ganesh. A.! (Located behind the Thriftymart in downtown Boogerville, Pennsylvania!)
You get the idea.  =)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Doing things yer own way....

I forget who said it, but some great mind once opined, “Go where there is no path, and blaze a trail.” While this is great sentiment, there are times I wish I did just do “out of the box” projects. I was working on a one-off Steampunk-themed wedding album, and I could find nothing off the shelf nor readily available to suit any of my purposes. So, I had to create the whole thing from scratch, including sizing the pages, figuring a way to adhere the velvet without ruining the pile, etc., etc. As I told my buddy Dennis during the 4th fruitless search of Michael’s, Jo-Ann’s and Goodwill that week; “God, I wish sometimes I just liked doing kit-crafts.” He chuckled appreciatively; he’s the same way I am about things. What we want is invariably something we can only get if we make it ourselves.
Which brings me to today’s Portobello topic: Doing it the hard way, and Eureka, moments of Inspiration.
Anyone who has held my books can immediately determine that I burn the art into the cover. In itself, that part of the process isn’t too difficult. It requires some practice, a steady hand, good light, and the nerve to wreck a $10 chunk of latigo. The art itself I usually freehand from something I see, on paper, then I transfer it to the latigo, using a scribe and a soft-charcoal pencil. Not over complex, but time consuming, and again, it requires a steady hand.
So flash forward to last night when I was working on a custom book for Brent Zimmerman of Fabulous Massage (up in the Loyal Heights of neighborhood of North Seattle…great therapist! Look him up!).
For Brent’s book, I chose a nice tan, top split with smooth finish, instead of the normal latigo. (Imagine a really smooth, thick suede.) I set everything up, and then spent the better part of 2 hours carefully scribing his logo. When I lifted the template, picture my shock when I discovered that NOTHING had transferred to the leather!! NOTHING!! GAH!
But, my personal motto is “Fall seven times; Stand up eight.” So I thought I would try with a different medium. Crayon. Nope. Marker. Nope. Desperation is setting in. I try black pastel-chalk. Well that’s a big, hot mess. I try this. Nope. I try that. Nada. My evening spent, a nice leather blank wrecked, I watched a cathartic episode of “Mad Men” and called it a night.
When I awoke 2 hours later at 3am, I had the answer. I KNEW how I would not only get the image I wanted on Brent’s book, but how I could make it work for ALL my covers, and be faster, sharper, and allow myself more creative freedom in the process.
Now, what is it, you may ask? Well, here I must smile enigmatically, and say “Proprietary secret, yannow.” But I can’t wait to share the results with you all!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

In the beginning.....

So. I suppose I should start at the beginning and introduce myself. My name is Chuck, and I am a crafter. A journal-binder, really.   I live up in the Pacific Northwest. I have sold some of my work, have done several commissions and have even attended some shows (albeit small rural ones).  I have always wanted to be serious about my craft, and take it from the kitchen table realm into something more…substantial, but I did not know how to make that great step from hobby-crafter to semi-professional.
I had put journal-binding by the wayside after my divorce in 2007, and had thought I would never again bind another book. But in 2010 I met Teresa Merriman of Mind’s Eye Journals, and I found, if not a mentor, then somebody that my secret soul desperately wanted emulate. Her books were so similar to mine, but at the same time, they were so far beyond what I had ever imagined making. I was inspired, and the bug bit again. But life, as John Lennon once said, got in the way while I was busy making other plans.
Flash forward a year and I found myself making a one-off Steampunk-themed photo-album as a wedding gift.  The fever hit hard. I dug out my leather and papers and got to work…and I have been pleased, quite pleased with the result.
Not to toot my own horn, but a search of Etsy and other people’s sites has shown me that I am….(wow, the hubris here) doing something….different. The response I am getting from people I show my work to is almost universal. I knew I made good books, but suddenly, folks were referring to it as “beautiful” and “art”. ME?? An artist?? Absurd! Or was it?
I don’t know if what I do is art. I know it’s unusual. I know I put every ounce of skill and talent I have into the books I make, and I guess that’s the best I can do. I use themes and images that speak to me, and to the folks I make books for, so I guess that contributes some sort of meaning…so if that’s art, then it is.
But I will leave it to you to decide.
So this is the initial post of my blog, “Portobello Road”, and the chronicle of my journey into making my hobby into something bigger, my discoveries along the way, and the process of turning “crafts” into “art”.