Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Black Duke - the Tome (part 1)

The third and final piece of the Black Duke project was the Tome. The clients wanted something old looking to represent a dark tome, sort of like a satanic or demonic bible. At least that was my interpretation of what they said they wanted. They were originally attracted to my work from pictures on this blog of items such as the Unholy Cross of Cthigla and the 9th Gate tomes. The tome was the first item we discussed (originally it was the only item we discussed, until the project turned into three items). We talked about different design elements, color schemes, covering materials and certain other requirements they had, such as they wanted a large baphomet head image to dominate the first page of the book. They also had some color prints that they wanted incorporated into the interior. They didn't need the whole book to have custom content (which would have been expensive and time consuming as I would have had to lay out each page by hand and sew the signatures), but they did want some custom pages inserted into the body of the book, so that they could open it up and flip through a few pages on camera.

They wanted the dark red lizard skin vinyl covering cloth that they had seen on some of my other tomes, and they finally decided to go with the inverted double cross from the Unholy Cross of Cthigla as the centerpiece. They picked the gothic bosses from the back side of the Unholy Cross of Cthigla tome for all the corners. I gave them a few different size options, and they decided to go with the "big honkin' dictionary" size. It would be a very large and impressive tome indeed. The largest I had ever made.

As with most of my projects, I was eager to get started, so I neglected to take many "before" pictures. Above is the earliest image I have of the tome. It was made from a very old, large format unabridged dictionary (Webster's, I think) that I rescued from a yard sale. It was 8.5 inches wide, 11 inches tall and about 5 inches thick. It weighs several pounds. The cover was a little beat up, but usable. I removed it and cleaned up the spine. The red vinyl cloth was used to recover the original book boards. I did have to perform a little surgery on the original cover. It needed a little larger "square" at the foredge, as the original book was found lacking in that department. The spine covering was fairly soft and the French groves sort of floppy and ill defined. Before re-covering the boards with the vinyl, I decided to cut the spine down the center and paste in a piece of cardstock to make it a little wider. This would push the grooves farther around the corners and push the foredge out a bit. I also had to paint the edges of the text block, as there were these annoying black tabs visible which marked the sections of the dictionary letter by letter. The gilding would hide these spots. You can still barely see them when the book is open and the pages fan slightly.

We decided to go with about a dozen custom pages (technically it was 24 pages, twelve leafs). Some in the front, and some in the middle. I would use a baphomet image that they picked out, as well as some color prints that they had sent to me, along with some actual medieval wood cuts and a few pieces of my own line art that I decided to throw in at the last minute. For the majority of the text, I went with excerpts from liturgical texts in Latin, using an Old English style font that has a very distressed look, like very old hand carved typeface. Luckily, due to the size of the book, standard 8.5x11 pages fit into it almost perfectly, with only very minor trimming needed. Above, you can see the custom pages drying after receiving their aging treatment of black tea, coffee, and walnut ink. The color images had to be printed after the pages were dyed, as the color ink from my printer is not waterproof. Later, these pages would be "tipped in" to place by using a thin strip of glue along the spine edge of the new pages and inserting the pages in the desired location (effectively gluing it to the page in front of it, just along the edge closest to the spine, also called the "gutter"). The original pages of the dictionary were badly yellowed from age (and being printed on poor quality paper), so they would match pretty well to the color of the custom pages if the camera caught someone flipping through the book.

I started designing the cover by laying out the cast resin pieces that I knew I was going to be using. Then, I marked their relative size and location with some masking tape, so that I could see their positions while I was working on other elements.

I decided to go with two thin leather straps with buckles to close the foredge of the book. To balance the design, I went with matching leather straps as decorative pieces across the spine. I started out by working out my design, size, and spacing by making a template out of card stock.

Next, I cut out the pieces from black latigo leather, using the paper templates as a pattern. Even though the leather I used was thick and a little rough, there still needed to be some dressing done to them in order to make them look old and distressed, much like the leather covering and thong used on the Diary. I started by giving them a good rub down with some mink oil. Then I beat the crap out of them with a hammer, giving them dents and marks to simulate age and use. That wasn't enough. I was going for a very old look, so I need a convincing aging of the leather. Next, I took a hobby knife and started making small careful cuts to the surface of the leather, especially along the edges and at corners to simulate nicks, splits, and cracks. In addition to straight slices, I also cut out small triangular wedges for deep splits. This looked pretty good, but still wasn't convincing enough. The real magic happened when I hit the pieces with the propane torch. Just like with the thong from the Diary, the heat from the torch made the leather dry up and shrivel slightly. It exaggerateded the cuts I had made and made them look more like cracks and splits from age and abuse from years ago. It also removed the fuzziness of the flesh side and around the edges, which is a dead giveaway that the leather is not old.

Once the leather pieces were appropriately aged, I could start adding the necessary hardware. The buckles I used were from a craft store and had an antiqued brass finish. In attaching them to the leather, and for attaching the leather to the covers, I used a combination of leather glue (pva) and rivets. The rivets were two part quick rivets that also had an antiqued brass finish. You can see the leather being glued and clamped in the image above the paragraph above. However, the brass collars that hold the strap in place after it is buckled (I have no idea what the technical term for them is) were hand made by me out of sheet brass. Well, actually it turned out that it was steel with brass plating, but that didn't matter much. Making the collars was a big pain in the ass. It involved a lot of heating and hammering, and I don't have a proper anvil anymore for this type of work (I lost my mini anvil in a move), but they turned out really well. I didn't want a sharp edge, so both of the edges had to be turned under. Trying to use a hammer and a pair of pliers to fold a strip of metal lengthwise along it's edge, that is only about 3/4 of an inch wide to begin with, was a real chore. I dry brushed them with black acrylic paint to try to match the antiqued finish of the buckles.

Once the buckles and collars were in place, I started attaching the leather pieces to the cover. The strips that go around the spine were attached first, by placing two rivets in the center of the spine on each strip. Then the book was closed with the text block in place and the decorative ends were glued in place to the front and back covers. No glue was used along the strap, just on the ends. If the book had not been closed when they were glued down, the book would never have been able to close, as closing it would have stretched the leather straps around the hinge. If the straps had been glued down, they would not have been able to buckle as the book was opened and again would have interfered with the working of the hinge. You can see the buckling at the hinge in the picture above. This happens because the hinge of the leather straps and the hinge of the book are operating on a different radius, because one is outside of the other. Obviously it would have been difficult to hammer the rivets with the text block in place, so to do that I hung the cover over the edge of a sturdy table.

The leather straps at the foredge were attached the same way, glued and riveted. This was the first piece that I have made that used this double strap design for a closure. I like it a lot, but it was a lot of work to make.

Tune in next time for the addition of the cast resin pieces and the finishing touches.

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Deus Ex Libri

Since switching to shorter posts, and posting large projects in serial format, I have been trying to post every three to four days. But, as you can see, I have fallen behind again. Sorry about that. I have been sick for the past few days.

Very shortly I will be posting about the third of the three prop items from The Black Duke project, but first...

A few weeks ago I mentioned that a friend of mine, for whom I was doing some book repair and recovering, brought me an old bible of his mother's that was in need of repair.

This bible (new testament) was printed in England in 1928. It has solid wood boards and (had) a leather spine. The boards are carved olive wood from Jerusalem. The leather spine was very badly rotted, practically non-existent, but the pages were in good shape (I'm told there were one or two pages that had tears, but I didn't see them so I didn't repair them). The end papers were pretty far gone too, but they would have to be sacrificed during disassembly anyway.

I carefully cut away the rotted leather spine with a razor knife. Then I did something I had never tried before, I tried to disassemble the book properly, using water to soften the glue, the way an archivist would. Given the book's age, I assumed it was probably constructed in the "proper" way, and thus should be able to be taken apart by softening the glue with water. Most professional bookbinders and archivists only use glue that is "reversible", meaning can be dissolved, so that any repairs or changes can be "undone". I used a spritzer and carefully wetted the endpapers that were glued to the boards (called "paste downs"). After about an hour the glue began to soften and the papers and their glue were able to be removed. It took quite a bit of wetting and scrapping, but I was able to get all the glue off of the wooden boards this way. I cleaned up the glue from the spine by scrapping it with a knife, just to get any loose glue. I didn't want to risk damaging the signatures, so I didn't bother wetting the spine to remove the glue. The paper used for this bible was that really super thin vellum like stuff. Besides, the spine seemed to be holding up pretty well (apart from the leather) so I didn't think it was necessary. I did, however, remove and replace the rotted silk bookmark that was attached to the spine. I also gave the cleaned boards a good rub down with Old English and let them dry a few days before continuing.

While removing the glue and end papers from the boards, I noticed that one of the boards had been cracked and subsequently repaired by someone else. The repair seemed to be good and was barely noticeable. The crack runs underneath that piece of cellophane tape in the pic above the last paragraph. At first, I thought the tape was just to repair a tear in the end paper.

The next order of business was to cut a new piece of leather for the spine. I started by making a paper template to get the size right. Then, I cut a new piece of leather from an oxblood hide I had in stock. I had considered using the brown "bomber jacket" leather, as the original leather and the end papers were brown, but the brown leather just didn't look as good up against the wood boards.

The next step was to thin, or "skive" the leather, suing a skiving knife. This is a very tedious process that involves basically shaving the flesh side of the leather with a tool akin to what you would use to shave down corns on your feet. But trust me, the two tools are not interchangeable. Using a skiving knife is an art unto itself. One wrong move and you can cut right through the leather. The reason I needed to skive the leather at all, was to reduce its thickness, especially on the head and tail, where it is going to be doubled over to create a neat edge. And, to smooth the transition at the edges where it will be glued to the boards. I don't want the thickness of the leather to be noticeable under the end paper. So mostly I'm just thinning around the edges, probably about an inch in on each side.

I started out using one of my old cutting mats to work on, but after gouging it up at the end of every stroke, it dawned on me to use a sheet of glass as a work surface. It is hard, smooth, and won't scratch or gouge. I will have to remember that trick for the future.

Skiving makes a huge mess, and takes forever. You're left with a huge pile of fluffy leather shavings that want to cling to everything. If you work with leather much, it's a good idea to save these shavings in a plastic bag. You can use them later for some projects. Some repair projects call for mixing glue with leather shavings to create a sort of "spackle" that is used to fill cracks in damaged leather.

A quick test fit determines where to fold over the ends for gluing.

Then comes gluing in the new bookmark and gluing the leather down to the spine. I used a red satin ribbon for the bookmark. The old one was olive green to match the olive wood, but Kelly Green (which is what I had) didn't look right. Since the edges of the pages are red (I think they used to be gilded), and the new leather spine is oxblood, I went with a red ribbon. Unlike the original bookmakers, who did use reversible glue, I used a PVA specially designed for leather. I considered using a reversible glue, but I was not confident in the holding power of wheat paste for the spine. I was afraid it would either not be flexible enough or would dry out and tear off. Oh well, The client isn't too concerned about the archival quality of my work. They just want their bible functional again.

Next comes the end papers. The old ones were a chocolate brown color, and although the paste downs (the part glued to the boards) and one of the flyleaves (the first page, that is also part of the end paper) had to be removed. I still had one flyleaf intact. I was afraid to try to remove it as I didn't want to risk damaging the first page of the text block (the flyleaf is glued to the first page by a thin strip along the fold). So I wanted the new end papers to be brown to match the remaining flyleaf, which would become just another superfluous page. I found a nice textured brown card stock in the scrap-booking section of the craft store.

The card stock was attached to the first and last page in the usual way, using a strip of dry roll-on adhesive film. The end papers were actually put into place before the leather spine was glued on, so I guess I posted that step a little out of order.

To prepare for attaching the boards, I used a piece of emery cloth (it's like sand paper) to rough up the finished surface of the leather. I wanted to make sure it adhered to the boards very well. A slight mis-measurement (about a millimeter) when turning over the head and tail, means that I will have to do a little trimming to making the leather spine meet up exactly with the edge of the boards. That was probably my biggest mistake on this project. Leather tends to stretch, so I can't even say that I measured it wrong. It may have just stretched a little while working with it.

The final step is to mask off the boards around the edges to glue down the "paste downs" (end papers). I used a spray adhesive to glue down the end papers, as I usually do. I like the spray adhesive for this because it doesn't add any moisture to the end papers, and I have had a problem with my end papers wrinkling from moisture in the past.

And that's it! Here is the finished book.

Byron's mom was very happy with it. She said it had been her grandmother's, and she was very happy to have it usable again. With luck, it should last her family another 80 years.

I had intended to cut this down into two posts, but what the hell. I haven't posted all week so, here you go. Enjoy.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tickle Your Fancy

Over the past year, since I first had the lamentable notion to buy some dip pen nibs on ebay, I have been enjoying crafting some hand made quill pens. Some with feather bodies and some without. They have been selling, albeit slowly, in my shop, and on ebay and etsy. About a week ago, I noticed that most of the first two batches I made were gone, and only about four or five remained on the shelf. I cranked out a new batch which made use of some nice ostrich plumes I bought for the purpose. Here is the latest crop of quill pen goodness.

You'll of course notice that the basic design of these pens are all the same. I like this design very much. They look nice, are easy to make, and feel good in the hand. However, I am planning on striking out and making some more challenging designs in the near future. This design is made from wooden pony beads glued over a hardwood dowel. The beads I use for them come pre-stained in muted earth tones like the ones above. They are nice, but the pallet is limited. I have taken to repainting them in bolder colors. I started doing so because they don't come in pure white, black or red, all of which I thought would look good with the feathers that I have.

On the ones with white feathers had very ugly brownish central shafts (rachis). It through off the whole design. To rectify the problem, I used a gold leaf paint pen and painted the shaft to cover up the ugly brown. It was a nice effect. I may try more of that sort of thing.

This is the only one that I made in this batch that doesn't have an ostrich plume. It's also probably me favorite of the bunch. I like black and white, with the silver accent.

For the future, I plan to experiment with some different materials, maybe some metal shafts. I also have it in my head to do something with sculpy over a wood dowel core. I also want to buy some higher quality feathers. I have had my eye on some blue macaw and other exotic bird feathers on ebay. They are very beautiful, and would make excellent pens, but they are a little pricey. With Halloween coming up, I need to make some more skull pens.