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”.