Chopstick journals

I just finished up a batch of chopstick journals for a wholesale order. It’s always satisfying to see a fresh stack of books sitting on my work table. I’ve been making this style of journal for at least 4 years. I’d have to go back through my files to know for sure. You can see more of my current designs on Etsy.

Handmade journals by Blue Roof Designs

When I developed designs that became part of my production line, I decided that I was going to make each design in a limited edition of 24 books. For some reason, I never let people know that and it also never occurred to me to number them as an edition. I think that part of me was afraid that if a design didn’t take off, then I’d be stuck with 24 of the same book.

I am rather obsessed with finding the right chopsticks to match a cover paper. I have 2 plastic shoe boxes full of chopsticks.

Plastic tubs filled with chopsticks

I have been to at least half a dozen Chinatowns across the country. I have spent hours combing the internet. My favorite online retailer is Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen. They have lovely designs available.

I have to say that I have a chopstick nemesis.

I found the most perfect chopstick design in a grocery store in the Boston Chinatown. They were purple with gold and silver cranes on them and they were fabulous when matched with a purple Yuzen paper decorated with cranes. I was in heaven. They came in pack of 5 pairs and cost only $1.99!

Purple chopsticks decorated with gold and silver cranes

But the store only had one pack.

And I can’t find them any where else – I have Googled “purple chopsticks with cranes” more times than I care to count. I seem to have no problem finding the exact design on black, red, and white chopsticks, but not purple.

It’s like I found the last existing pack in the universe.

I am putting out a challenge to anyone reading this – if you can find me a source of 19 pairs of this chopstick design (hopefully under $2.50 a pair), I will happily give you one of the journals incorporating them.

I’m not the first person to use chopsticks in a binding. Rhonda, owner of the MyHandboundBooks shop on Etsy, has published a tutorial on her blog that shows her use of chopsticks in a pamphlet binding. She also created a Flickr group where folks can post their own chopstick journals that have been made using her tutorial. Her books use only one chopstick, while I use two. I can’t bear to separate a pair of chopsticks – they’re married!

If you have used chopsticks in a binding before, please post a link to your images. I’d love to see them!

The Kutrimmer is a beautiful thing

I have finally returned to production mode after my long vacation. I have a wholesale order that I need to fill early this week.

After having spent the last 2 days cutting bookboard by hand, I now have funny (not funny ha ha) numby feelings in my right forearm. When I look back, I realized that I’m a crazy person for the amount of board cutting I’ve done on the floor of my studio. Yes, on the floor (it’s concrete). It’s the only way I can get the leverage I need to cut large pieces of board.

I don’t like to send out my board for cutting because it’s important to me that I do all of the production of my books by myself. Of course, the continued use of my limbs is also important.

I have been drooling over the Kutrimmer 1071 forever.

Kutrimmer 1071

The Kutrimmer, produced by the MBM Corporation, is a paper trimmer that seems to be pretty well regarded amongst bookbinders. Manufactured in Germany, the trimmer cuts bookboard up to a thickness of .098″ and a stack of around 40 sheets of paper. And it has a clampy thing that helps keep things from slipping.

The 1071 model has a cutting length of 28.5″, which is perfect for me because my bookboard is 26″ wide. The one thing stopping me from buying it yesterday is cost. I know that over time, it would probably pay for itself in time saved during production. Unfortunately, average cost for this model is between $850 – $900.

That’s a lot to lay out at once.

Until the day when the Kutrimmer and I become close friends, I will continue dreaming that I open my front door one day to find a board shear wrapped in a big red bow. And then I’ll use it to cut the bow off.


Le Tour de Garage Annex School

Last month I wrote a post about the Garage Annex School. I mentioned how huge the studio was and how it was jam-packed with boxes of stuff and equipment that was bigger than me. Well, on the last day of my class with Julie Chen, I took a photographic tour of the studio to show you what I was talking about.

First are some shots of the studio/classroom. So very large. Look all of that storage space.


Next comes the equipment in all of its weighty goodness. Even though I don’t know what all of these things are and/or do, I would still invite them in for dinner if they showed up at my front door. If anyone can give me insight into the details on these machines, please let me know and I’ll update my post.

It was not easy coming back to my studio after my class last week. Then I thought about how little space I have to clean and I felt better. Not that I clean my studio much, but I did feel better.

10 cool things I learned about Julie Chen

During my workshop at the Garage Annex School, I learned a lot of interesting things about Julie Chen. I felt the need to pass them along and share her coolness:

  1. She likes candy, including Swedish Fish and gummy bacon.
  2. She has a great sense of humor.
  3. She feels inspired by Rock’em Sock’em Robots.
  4. She has, on at least one occasion, shocked airport security by the presence of paper bacon in her carry-on bag.
  5. When she does an edition, she works on four pieces at a time.
  6. She uses an acid-free Uhu glue stick in her work. Not the purple one.
  7. When she does an edition, she keeps three copies: one for herself/studio, one exhibition copy, and one for her mother as a disaster recovery backup.
  8. She doesn’t like to talk about projects she hasn’t developed fully out of fear that she will be hit by a bus.
  9. She has held on to a sentence for 15 years, waiting for the right project to come along for its use.
  10. When she decided to get trained in bookbinding, she had no previous experience. The faculty of Mills College almost didn’t admit her into the program. She’s now an Assistant Professor in their Book Art program.

Bonus: She is not the same Julie Chen who hosts Big Brother.

Julie Chen workshop: Day 5

When I arrived home last night at 10 o’clock, I immediately walked into my studio and thought, “I wanna make something!” Once the moment passed, I went about the business of unpacking the car. Meh.

It was hard to ease back into “regular” life today. Instead of playing in Julie’s class with paper and other fun materials, I was outside mowing the lawn and weeding the garden beds. I decided that if I were going to start a band, I would name it either Tenacious Clover or The Girl Who Cried Snake.

Yes, there was a snake incident today. Please don’t make me talk about it.

On our last day of class, in the interest of time, we didn’t do a collaborative art book. I was bummed about it too. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with a new person every day on something spontaneous.

Instead we dove right into the sharing and critique of each other’s panel books.

It was really wonderful to see everyone’s completed books. I was amazed how different concepts can develop from the same set of directions. Julie commented that our work as a whole was very strong and that she could see the evolution of our work throughout the week.

After the critique, we moved on to a new project. We were given a set of 14 blank cards and were asked to some up with an exercise that we could use in 3-5 minutes which could act as a creative push when we became stuck. We also had to embellish the cards using a technique that we had used in our panel books. They didn’t all have to be exactly the same, but as similar as possible.

We only had to write our technique once and Julie photocopied them for us to collage on to our cards. I enjoyed this project because it allowed the group to receive something creative from everyone in the class. At the end of the day, Julie swapped out the cards so everyone got a complete set. I plan to make a box for mine.

My card: Scribble on a piece of paper for 15 seconds. Spend 3 minutes looking for an image in the scribble and flesh it out. (a classic art therapy technique)

Julie’s card: Choose an everyday object (a pencil, a toothbrush, etc.) and spend 3 minutes writing a list of any words that come to mind in relation to the object. After 3 minutes, go over your list to see if anything interesting stands out.

Overall, the class was a wonderful experience for me. I feel like I learned a new set of tools that I can use in my own creative practice. In the past, I’ve started new projects with the expectation that I will have all details worked out at once. This seldom works well.

Now I hope to use an approach of developing projects over a more realistic time period, thereby putting less pressure on myself. I think that this will make my work both more enjoyable and meaningful.

I highly recommend Julie’s class – if she comes to a school near you, sign up quickly! I would definitely take another class with her if time and finances allowed. Hopefully my blog posts have conveyed just how enjoyable her workshop was to attend.

Julie Chen workshop: Day 4

Once again, we started the morning with a collaborative art book. This time, our partner was chosen at random. You can see the results of our work below. The overall concept was a much simpler than yesterday’s (yes, the blue roof was intentional).

Collaborative Book Project from Julie Chen workshop

No other new projects were introduced today (phew!). We spent almost the entire day working on our timeline/panel books. We were told that our books should be completed today so that they could press overnight. I was able to finish my book around 4 p.m., which was surprising considering how many problems I ran into (Stupid glue! What are you doing there? I didn’t put you there!).

Here are some shots of my final book:

For the next hour or so, I worked on completing my text/image card book, which I talked about in yesterday’s post. These books are being bound with a comb binding, which I’ve never done myself. I’m both frightened and intrigued by the comb binding machine thingie. I think that I would very much like to not comb bind myself.

My plan is to write blog post about tomorrow, the last day of Julie’s class (meh). However, I’ll be driving back home to Vermont tomorrow evening and unless I want to take a detour to Crazy Town, I’ll wait until Saturday to do it.

And in case you’re wondering, Crazy Town is not accessible via GPS.

Julie Chen workshop: Day 3

We started this morning with another a collaborative art exercise. Just like yesterday, we were given 10 minutes to work on a piece that would eventually turn into a book.

We went back and forth with a partner who was behind us at the next table. In addition to working on the piece for an hour in 10 minute increments, today we were given the opportunity to put finishing touches on our work for the last 10 minutes (this was not an option yesterday). After today’s exercise, I found that I became much more attached to my final piece. I was able to work on an overall theme that made my book much more cohesive.

We didn’t work on our timeline/panel books today. The majority of today was spent on a text and image project, which we started yesterday. I forgot to mention it in yesterday’s post (oops!). We’re working on so many projects throughout the day that I’m starting to lose track of all of them.

Here’s the catch-up: We were given a template that outlined 6 cards, each about the size of a playing card. We had to create three image and three text cards. Text cards needed to be created with a 3/8″ margin. The image cards had to include the following:

  1. One card included one image of an object.
  2. One card included one image of a place.
  3. One card included one image of a figure (statue or person).

One text card had to be paired with one image card. The group of text cards had to include the following:

  1. One card included text that described an image without naming the image.
  2. One card included text that added information relating to the image but didn’t directly describe the image.
  3. Once card included text that was unrelated to the image, but created a sense of tension when the text and image are presented together.

Today we were given a complete set of color copies of cards made by the entire class. From these cards we would be creating a small artist book. The book had to use the following criteria:

  1. Use a combination of both text and image cards, with at least one of each used more than once over the course of the book.
  2. Create a minimum of 9 leaves (18 pages, front and back), not including the covers.
  3. Do not leave a page blank unless it is considered intentional content for the book.
  4. Do not alter any image or text cards. The exception is addition of background color.

You could also choose one of the following options:

  1. Make a minor alteration to a text or image card.
  2. Create a “wild card”, which is a text or image card of your own. The wild card could not be the first or last page of the book.

I was able to select my cards and develop a concept fairly quickly. I used only two of the cards I created myself. We worked on our books until around four o’clock, at which point my brain was fried. Luckily, our books don’t need to be completed until tomorrow. I was happy when Julie suggested that we work on something else for the rest of the day. We had 45 minutes to complete a book project.

Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Research phase: 15 minutes to collect materials and text.
  2. Design phase: 15 minutes to determine structure and start minor assembly.
  3. Production phase: 15 minutes to complete assembly.

I was so stressed out during this exercise and came nowhere close to finishing. I thought too big and almost everyone in the class had the same problem. Our collection of work was very simple and sparse. Julie told us that when we get stuck, it can often help to do a time-limited creative exercise. With the pressure of deadlines, you think less and do more.

She didn’t expect any of us to finish our books – our brains aren’t trained to complete work in 45 minutes. She said that over time it would become a more doable exercise. She told us to leave our unfinished books as they were. I am so struggling with that direction.

Unfinished projects make me

Julie Chen workshop: Day 2

You have to understand something about me: I get very spazzy when I am near a celebrity. For example, this past Saturday, I saw Boeing Boeing while in NYC. A friend of mine worked on the production so we got a backstage tour. Both Bradley Whitford (he was in the show) and David Hyde Pierce (saw the show, skinny guy) were just inches away from me. I played it all cool while inside I was yelling “Famousperson famousperson!”

I experienced a similar feeling yesterday when I first met Julie. I played it all cool while inside I was yelling “Famousbindingperson famousbindingperson!”

I was much more relaxed today during the second day of Julie’s workshop. Thankfully, I have returned to my normal level of spaz.

We started the day off with a collaborative art exercise. We were given 10 minutes to work on a piece that would eventually (maybe) turn into a book. After the 10 minutes, we had to exchange pieces with our table mate and work on her piece for 10 minutes. We repeated this for a total of one hour. We ended up with the piece we had started at the beginning of the exercise.

My piece evolved into a map-folded form with a travel theme. We shared our pieces as a group, which was interesting. We were able to gain insight into how each pair of artists worked on their piece (it stirred the art therapist in me, all those interpersonal dynamics).

Collaborative Book from Julie Chen workshop

After completing the warm-up, we moved on to our timelines from day 1. We cut up our timelines into six 3.5″ panels. Somehow, I managed to cut one of my panels 1/8″ too narrow (meh).

Artwork by Elissa Campbell
We focused on one event represented on each of the six panels and spent three minutes on free association writing. Afterwards, we reviewed the written text for each of the panels and looked for common themes. We were then asked to summarize concepts for each of the six panels, using specific details from the related events, if desired.

The free association part of the project was such a struggle for me. I should mention that one of the main reasons I am taking Julie’s workshop is because I struggle with expressing myself through content in my books. I focus on blank books partially because it’s safer – I don’t have to take any risks by exposing what’s on my mind. In some ways, I think I started blogging to help me with this issue.

Once the writing exercise was finished, we started working on the structure of the book. We learned that we would be attaching our six pieces to a Panel Book, a structure created by Hedi Kyle. To be honest with you, I had never heard of nor seen the form before. It is wicked cool. And I don’t use the word “wicked” lightly. I am so making more of these.

If you’re aware of any books/references that have more information on this structure, I’d love to hear about it. You can see the basic form below, before I attached my timeline panels. We will be working on these more tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Blank panel book

Julie Chen workshop: Day 1

Today was the first day of Julie Chen‘s workshop – Artists’ Books: Ideas, Actions, & Transformations – at the Garage Annex School. I am such a geek. I got a seat right up front. The class of 12 was made up entirely of women, which I find curious.

Julie didn’t look as I had imagined, although I couldn’t really tell you what my vision was. Once the class started though, I was satisfied that she did, in fact, look like she should.

Our first exercise involved the expression of an emotion. We selected a piece of paper with three emotions on it and had to choose one. We then carved a rubber block to represent that emotion using shape and pattern. When finished, we were given 14 cards and had to print our image in the color of our choice, using orientation and position on the card as a way to further convey our chosen emotion.

I had anxiety.

I mean I chose anxiety for my emotion.

In fact, I had anxiety about representing anxiety in a visual manner.

Handmade stamped cards by Elissa Campbell

We then swapped prints with everyone else in the class. We were given a list of all the emotions and had to decide which emotion they were trying to express. Surprisingly, most people seemed to think that I was expressing surprise. It made me anxious.

Then we got back all of the images we had made guesses on. After seeing what the correct emotions were, we were asked to alter the images so that they better reflected how we saw that emotion. I immediately felt my art therapy background come blazing through my brain – how could I tell someone how to better express an emotion? Nonetheless, it was interesting to get everyone’s feedback at the end, when we received our original prints back.

I received a comment that my representation of anxiety was too controlled. It’s my classic response to anxiety – I clamp down and structure structure structure.

The next exercise involved creating a personal timeline. We used a stencil technique called pochoir, which I have already forgotten how to pronounce, so don’t ask me to do it.

Artwork by Elissa Campbell

We didn’t need to share the details of the timeline with anyone else – it only had to have personal significance. The timeline had to include the following elements:

  1. At least one line to represent the passage of time.
  2. Events should be in chronological order.
  3. At least one image of a traumatic event.
  4. At least one image of a joyful occasion.
  5. Use as much of the paper as possible, with little white space in the margins.
  6. No representational imagery, but use an inner logic.

The kicker – we would be using this timeline later in the workshop, but weren’t told how it would be used.

Here comes that anxiety again.

My trip to New York Central Art Supply

I have just completed the first half of my summer vacation. I won’t bore you with the details, other than to let you in on something valuable I learned during my travels – it is quite possible to lose your passport within 1 hour of landing at your destination. And your cell phone. And your husband’s passport. Enough said.

So here I am in Holyoke, MA – the night before day 1 of my Julie Chen class. As I sit here on my lappy, the Tour de France is playing on the television. Life is good.

Exterior of New York Central Art SupplyWhile in NYC during the past few days, I was fortunate enough to achieve one of my paper geek goals – I made a visit to New York Central Art Supply. I had been hearing about this place for years – lots and lots and lots and lots of paper. Just when I feared that I had finally hit a vacation without a possible paper purchase (no paper in the Virgin Islands, meh), my streak remains intact (you can read more about my vacation paper streak in this post).

I was prepared to do some very unnecessary spending. I had great hopes as I walked up the narrow staircase to the second floor where their paper department was located.

Once I got upstairs, I was greeted by very loud Sex Pistols music. There were three sales staff located behind a desk, talking amongst themselves. No one said hello to me. This is one of my biggest peeves. While I do prefer to shop without being pestered, I like to be acknowledged upon entering a store. It’s good manners.

I don’t like to be cranky when I shop for paper. This makes the spendy feelings go away. It makes me even sadder when I lose an opportunity to get paper geeky with someone else. I was forced to browse their paper selection in silence. Meh.

[wipes a tear away]

Then I saw the sign that said something along the lines of the following:

We only take out paper for people making purchases and not for those who just wish to view it.

HUH??? So I can only look at it if I agree to buy it?

Then I saw the next sign:

Go ahead and talk on your phone in here. It’s not rude.

Now I’m not a fan of people talking on phones in stores, but geez. If you’re going to say that, you might as well put up a sign that says: Just put your money on the counter and go home.

So, on to the details. Prices are a bit less than what you’d pay at Kate’s Paperie (which is within walking distance from this location) and the selection is bigger. They claim that if they don’t have the paper, then it doesn’t exist. Well, I did find a number of papers at Kate’s that weren’t at NY Central.

Their paper samples are attached to large moving panels on the wall – they’re basically mounted like a big book and you turn the pages to see the samples (like those poster display thingies). This setup makes it hard if more than one person wants to look through the samples. When you move one of the panels, you risk smacking someone further down the wall.

They also sell bookcloth, but you have to ask to see the sample book because it’s not out on display. Their bookcloth prices compare to Hiromi Paper and their selections are almost identical.

I finally walked out with some paper and 2 yards of gold Japanese bookcloth. As I made my purchase, I got no smiles from the woman who helped me. Another peeve.

To sum it up: if you are in NYC and are dying to see the place, go for it. If my visit was typical, then do not expect any assistance while in the store. I did hear them answer questions from some shoppers, but they weren’t exactly friendly. You’re best off knowing what you’re looking for in advance. If you’re someone who needs a lot of hand-holding, then this is not the place for you.

Would I go back there? Probably not. And I like to shop at independent businesses. But if you can’t give me a reason to come back (good customer service), then I’d rather shop online.

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