Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Black Duke - the Diary (part 1)

Finally. It's been several months since I finished this project and shipped it off to its eager recipients. Now I am finally ready to begin reporting on the saga that is The Black Duke project. I took over 160 pictures of the items for this project, so it has taken me a while to deal with all of that.

Let's start with a tiny bit of back story. It was early in the year, January, and I was already underway with the Shadowmanor project. I got an email from someone interested in having a custom prop tome made for an independent movie project he was producing, entitled "The Black Duke". My first instinct was to say "no thank you", as I don't particularly like doing commission work. It does not suit my temperament or my creative process. But I needed the money, so I entertained the request and began discussing the project, tentatively. What started out as one prop tome, quickly became three separate prop items; a tome with some custom interior pages, a diary with blank pages, and a wooden box with an engraved design on the lid.  Within a few days, I had some issues come up that looked like they would prevent me from taking the job, so I politely declined the commission. I felt bad for doing so, since negotiations had already begun. But as it turned out, a few weeks later, my situation changed and I wrote them back and told them I would make their props if they still wanted me too. These props were central to the plot of their movie and having seen my work posted on this blog, they were still eager to have me make them for the project.

The first items I started on was the diary. I thought it would be the simplest and the easiest. The concept for the piece, as discussed with the producers, was something along the lines of the Grail Diary from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It was to look like an old leather covered journal. Simple in design and with significant weathering. I was going to leave it blank, as the client was going to fill it with their own content. But the book was going to be used open, so the pages also had to be aged. My diary started off as a small (4x6) art store sketch book.

I had to remove the text block from the cover in order to customize each. I had originally though about using the faux leather kraft paper finish with a dark red color...
... but it didn't look right. It didn't look enough like leather, and this prop was possibly going to have some close up shots in the movie, so I decided to start over and go with real leather.
I chose a nice "bomber jacket" type leather that had a yellow under color and a dark brown top finish. Above is the under side of the leather, marked out with a sharpie to show me the edges of the book cover. I had to use a skiving knife to shave the leather down to make it thinner, especially around the edges. This took some time and made a huge mess. There were tiny shavings of leather fiber "fluff" everywhere. You have to be very careful using a skiving knife, one stroke that cuts too deep and the whole piece is ruined.
Here is a picture of the top side of the leather. It had a crease running through it, but that just added character. I decided that I wanted a simple leather thong as a closure, so I cut a piece of brown leather lace and glued it to the back cover of the book boards. I would then make two small slits in the leather, right where the lace was glued to the cover, and pull the loose ends through them. This will eventually put the spot where the lace is glued on, underneath the covering leather. After the glue was dry, I also used a couple of staples to help secure the lace in place so it didn't get pulled out from use.
You can see that the leather lace has been pulled through the slits in this picture. The masking tape was just there to hold the lace in place as the glue dried, but since it would be covered by the leather, I just left it in place.

For the book block (blank pages), I used a mixture of water, black tea, instant coffee, and black walnut crystals to dye the pages. This particular brand of sketch book is well made and uses sewn signatures that are properly attached to the book block. They are easy to remove and the pages stay together nicely. I knew that the pages were going to swell significantly, so I removed the first and last signatures of the book block before dying. Otherwise, the pages would not have fit back into the cover. After applying the dye, I fanned out the pages and placed it on top of a space heater to dry. The pages became predictably warped and wrinkled. When it was mostly dry, but not completely, I put the book block between two pieces of hardboard and clamped them tightly in order to flatten the pages back out somewhat.
I left them that way for a few days while I worked on the cover. When they were dry they came out looking like this.
Before gluing the leather to the cover boards, I stretched the leather out over the corner of my work table. This gave a crackled and worn look to the brown top coat, and allowed some of the yellow under color to show through. I glued the leather to the cover boards and turned in the edges. Here is the underside of the cover, with leather attached, and the finished book block, ready to be put together.
That's all for now. Tune in next time when we case in the book block and put some finishing touches on the leather cover to make it look ancient and abused.

P.S. Although it doesn't seem to be ready for viewing yet, here is a link to the production company's web site. Hopefully things are going well and information about the film will show up there soon.

See also:
The Black Duke - the Diary (part 2)
The Black Duke - the Box (part 1)
The Black Duke - the Box (part 2)
The Black Duke - the Box (part 3)
The Black Duke - the Tome (part 1)
The Black Duke - The Tome (part 2)
The Black Duke - the Set (fini)

1 comment:

  1. Nice addition with the leather strap. Got me thinking about the re-binding I'm doing right now. Thanks for the pics!

    And good luck with the rest of the commission. Very interested in seeing how things turn out.