Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Handmade Cicada Sketchbook

Last year my amazing illustrator friend Christina gave me a gift so precious it made me cry.  She painted a beautiful watercolor of my cat Sunshine which you can see here.  My goal was to make her a sketchbook for her birthday.  Although I am many months late I finally completed her book this week.

As you know I have been obsessed lately with embroidering on card stock and have been interested in combining embroidery with printed imagery.  For my last project I printed the design on my printer.  But this time I wanted to try using my printmaking skills I picked up from my printmaking class at Xavier.  As you can see below I carved a cicada I designed in Illustrator into Safety-Kut block material.

I then tested it on paper, fabric, t-shirts, and finally my book cloth.  I totally loved this part and had so much fun stamping everything I could get my hands on.  I even carved some wings I thought I might use for a cloth bag for the book.

After I stamped my book cloth with my cicada print I glued the book cloth onto an old book I bought at the thrift store that I had cut the pages out of.  My friend Amy taught me how to make books this way and it is way easier than cutting book boards from scratch.   Once I had glued the book cloth on, it was time to make the holes for the embroidery.  I was super nervous to pound holes into my perfect cover but it had to be done.

I thought after I pounded all those holes the embroidery would be the fun part.  But it was always a struggle to get the needle through the board.  I ended up having to pound all the holes about three times and really working to make them wide enough for my needle and thread.  If I had to do over again I might have used a thinner thread for the red design and eyes.  As you can see below I triumphed in the end but my fingers were quite sore. 

On the right below you can see I also carved a quick chop to sign the book.  My original design was a bit ambitious and didn't read quite right.  So I simplified the tail and re-carved another one.

I also made a bag for the book because I randomly stamped some scrap fabric that was the perfect size for the book. 

My original plan was to embroider wings onto this cicada but then I thought it might get caught on things.  I ended up carving wings for it and was about to stamp them on when I realized the cicada would no longer be centered vertically if I added wings.  I had made a special trip to the art store just to buy the white ink for the wings and it took some extra time carving and designing them so it was hard to let go of them.  But in the end I love it wingless and am happy I showed some restraint and was able to let go of my wings.

I have to admit this project really pushed me to my limits at some points.  I had a very clear idea of how I wanted it to turn out and at each step I felt I might ruin it.  In fact, I did make a huge mistake in the very final step.  In order to sew the pages into the book I had to punch holes through the spine.  I carefully figured out that I would need two rows of holes for my four signatures (up and back twice to catch each one).  I then made a template and poked all the holes in the signatures.  After that I put all the signatures in the cover and closed it, marking where each one lined up along the spine.  And then I promptly punched four rows of holes (instead of two!).  When I realized what I had done I wanted to cry.  But I literally forced myself out of that space as quickly as it came and started figuring out how to fix it.  I ended up sewing each signature in twice to get the double thread look on the outside and now it is even stronger.  Those pages aren't going anywhere!

This experience reminds me of an article I just read by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she argues that creativity can ONLY coexist with fear and the idea that creativity requires fearlessness is bull-pucky (my own words).   I liked this article because fear (and joy) sat on my shoulder the whole time I made this book.  And my worst fear came true...I made a huge mistake right at the end.  But I have learned that nothing would ever get done if I listened to fear so I just keep plugging along one baby step at a time.  And every so often that perseverance pays off ...sometimes in the form of cupcakes, or an illustration, or a photograph.  And sometimes it takes the form of a hand-made cicada sketchbook that made me squeal with delight when I finished it.

Happy very belated birthday Christina!  I can't wait to see your beautiful watercolors fill this sketchbook!


Jessica Jones said...

Vanessa! It's fantastic!!!

Christina Wald said...

This is incredible! I love the process shots! Thanks SO much!

Unknown said...

Thanks, Vanessa, for that amazing blog on the sketch book. I was feeling the pain of that embroidery as I read along. But what a beautiful outcome!!

Congratulations on a beautiful result.
Monica L

Jodi C said...

I love the book & the fear. Reminds me of a favorite quote:

"Only those who will dare to go too far
can possibly find out how far one can go." Or something like that...

And having gone too far myself more than a few times, the fun becomes figuring out how to redeem myself, my project or whatever and recover in some unexpected and hopefully delightful way.