ignoring the expert's rules & making things your own way : an eco-printed art journal

When I was in high school, my older sister showed me how to make my own simple book for an art project. It was a concertina process that housed all my little artworks to create an overall ‘picture book’. I loved it – the making of it and the outcome. It was simple in construction but to make your own books changes the way you think about your work, words, pictures, stories, ideas, thoughts…… To be able to stitch or glue your own paper into a form that you can carry around and add content to the insides. That’s sorta pretty special.

In form a simple book can be as rudimentary as you like, or as technical as you know how. Most book binders (like traditional quilters) are precision people – with the paper being perfectly torn to just the right size, and the stitches being immaculately formed. I’m far from being most bookbinders or a traditional quilter – I’m messy and eager to jump in and create something without making sure it’s perfectly formed.

Someone recently heavily implied to me (ok, basically told me) that because I'm not an expert bookbinder means that I shouldn't push the boundaries, ask questions on the way to tear paper, or assume that I know enough to bend the rules. I have complete respect for expert bookbinders and the craft that they practice, but I also know that once upon a time there were never books, and someone made the first one ever, and they weren't an expert and it was probably wonky and wrong, but probably also beautiful and amazing, and heartful. 

To say that because someone is not school-trained, or an 'expert' in that field means they can't try new ways, ask questions, look for different options. To say this is, in my mind, rigid and strict and stuck in your own ego, rather than allowing the creative practice to come out. A book perhaps only needs to be held together for the purposes of writing, reading, drawing, enjoying. If it does this job then isn't it a book. Does it matter if the paper is torn the wrong way, or the stitches aren't the right ones? Does it matter? (I love this post by Felicia about using the wrong quilting fabric). 

Imperfectly perfect. Embrace the wonk. Make mistakes. Push boundaries. Ask questions. Assume nothing. Upset the rules. Test yourself.... test the experts too... 

So when I sat down to create a Hand Stitched book as part of The Creative Year, I knew I wanted it to be something that fulfilled the brief of being a thing of beauty to hold in your hands, and be practical to use, but I also knew that I didn’t want perfectly cut pages, and I didn’t mind if the stitches were measured accurately. I wanted to create something that felt like it was instinctual made, formed rather than forced, evolving rather than traditional.

To begin I put my pages in water and cooked them. With smelly leaves and delicate colour-staining flowers. That was the best part – creating an eco-dyed paper that was filled with personality before I even started forming or stitching the book. Then I used a cover that has been created in a similar manner – cloth rolled and bundled in leaves, left to felt and was tattered.

This felt like a book that didn’t need perfectly formed words, didn’t need “artist” lines, but simple mark-making or rambles of thoughts, or tumbles of words. The pages were already marked and stained and patterned – whatever I add afterwards with my pen or paintbrush is simply adding to the work, rather than staring at a blank page.

I am more than in love with this book – nature-printed pages, hand stitched spine, eco-dyed felt cover…. and slowly slowly it’s being filled with whimsical words, and half-caught thoughts, and scattered marks across the page. And it feels full and rich and warm and like me.

Here photographed are two different books I made as part of my online course – the Eco-Printed Pages and the soft-fabric cover using my Shibori & naturally-dyed silk fabrics. The pink and blue book has plain pages inside, and the cover is soft to touch (with padding underneath the silken fabric). It’s deliciously special book, with a ribbon binding that I made up and share with you on my videos.

I’ve made these books using tools and materials at home – I didn’t go and buy new bookbinding supplies; I’m more about creating from what I have rather than needing to buy more to make things. Being a multi-creative with many interests, I need to use tools in an unusual manner rather than the perfect right tool for the job. Sometimes it makes you be a little more inventive not having the exact right tools.

If you'd like to make your own art journal book, making mistakes, learning new things, understanding yourself in a new way - I have shared my experiments, processes and thoughts to make your own book. With step-by-step videos and lots of sharing of my story and encouraging you to share your own story. I can't really quite tell you how much you'll love using your own art journal. It will free you up in your words, your making, your process. Showing you that while the experts can be useful in certain times, their advice doesn't always have to been heeded. Have a look here