Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Guest Books: Pens

One of the most common questions I get is about which kind of pen to use.

Partly it will depend on the book.  Some books have really thick pages, and others less so.  Here are my thoughts and preferences based on my own books.

While a regular ballpoint pen is fine, depending on the ink formula, it may fade, or stain the pages with a kind of oil over time.  Alternatively, ballpoint pens are really inexpensive and easy to get your hands on. Plus they come in a few different colors.  And honestly, people on Etsy are doing some pretty cute things with ballpoint pens to make them beautiful for use with guest books.  You can also get some fancy plumed ballpoints like these pictured.

The left two are nib dip pens from Nostalgic Impressions,
but they also sell ballpoint versions. The ballpoint pen on the right
was found at Pier1 Imports several years ago.

Sharpies are a bad idea.  I know it's super tempting to go with Sharpies.  With 39 colors, they seem so fun!  However, Sharpies are not archival or Ph Neutral / acid free.  This means they seep through most guest book paper to the other side, and over time their acidic chemicals will do unattractive things to your pages, shortening their life.  With artwork I've done several years ago I've noticed a "halo" around the inks.  I think it's a kind of oil that has spread into other fibers from the ink.
Don't use Sharpies in your guest book!

Instead, I recommend an archival / pH neutral pen. You can find many color choices at your local crafts or art supply store, or online if you have time to order.  I'll tell you about two brands I use.

I really like Sakura's Pigma Graphic 1 pens (1 means 1mm, don't accidentally get 01, those are super thin).  The tip is a bullet shape which makes for super smooth and easy writing.  These come in Black, Sepia, as well as a bright blue and red. 

Pigma Graphic 1 in black and sepia

You could probably get away with a Pigma Micron 08 pen if you found a color or two you like, but these are technical pens with a squared tip, making a thin line.  I find them a little less easy to write with compared to the Graphic 1.  Steer clear of the Graphic 2 and 3 - they are chisels and make a chunky line that is difficult to write with.

I also love Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pens, which now come in a huge variety of colors intended for scrapbooking and journaling. Green and blue set, orange and red set, and as well as metalic and metalic color.  In other sets, the sizes offered for these colorful ones are B (brush) or XS (extra fine).  XS makes a pretty thin mark, while B has a tip similar to a thin paint brush or a marker. You can also buy the black (and usually sepia) individually at art stores in XS, S, F, M, B.  I prefer size M (0.7mm) in black or sepia for signing or writing in guest books. Sometimes you can find the other colors in the range of sizes, but it's more challenging.

Faber-Castell PITT artist pen set from Michael's

Similar to Sakura, Faber-Castell inks tend to be waterproof, lightfast and acid free.  The waterproof part isn't a huge deal because you'll hopefully not be using your guest book as a drink coaster, but the other two are great.

Lightfast means the ink resists fading when exposed to light.  This might not be an issue if you're book is put away.  But if you like to have it sitting out, or if you've decided to frame the pages, or have guests sign something that is wall-mounted, this might be important to you.

Look for words like "archival ink" or "acid-free" and "lightfast".

Ink that is not Acid-free or pH neutral will damage your paper over time (remember my warning about Sharpies?)  If you intend to keep your book forever or hand it down to your grandchildren, this may be important to you.

For your entertainment, I've included a sample of paper with various pens (mostly those I've discussed.)  The only one that bled through or left any kind of mark on the backside was the Sharpie.  This paper is 70 lb text weight, but it would also bleed through on 80 lb, and often on 100 lb if you leave the pen "idle" for too long.

Example of pens, ink, sizes.
The Sharpie bled through 70 lb text weight paper.

I always include a few extra sheets of paper with guest books so folks can experiment with pens before choosing.  Ask your guest book maker to add in a couple sheets for you.  You can take them with you to the store and make sure your ink doesn't seep through!

This isn't an exhaustive review of pens.  But hopefully this gives you an idea of where to start if you want something special that will last a long time.  And of course, a ballpoint is okay, too!

Other blog articles in the Guest Book Series April 2017:
Choosing A Size
All About Pages
Managing Blank Space   

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Guest Books: Managing Blank Space

No matter how perfectly you plan, you will likely end up with some amount of blank space in your guest book, and that's okay.

Most people are worried they won't have enough space and Granny will be cramming her "wish you the best" into a margin, so they order too many pages.  That's not really an issue if your guest book is a three-ring binder and you can just pop out the extra pages.  But if you've gone through the trouble to have something hand-stitched, you want to thumb through it admiring the perfectly spaced sentiments of your guests.

So, even after you've done your best to choose the right size book for your event, with an appropriate number of pages how can you manage the inevitable blank space?

I've put together some ideas and creative solutions I've seen over the years.

Before your event:
  • Attach photos or thin, lightweight memorabilia on a few pages throughout. This can encourage people to look through and write near something that strikes them.
  • In a light pen or pencil, write "saving this space for photo/menu/etc" on a few of the pages that you want to keep blank for things you want to include after your event.
  • Steer clear from bulky stuff until after the event - it makes it difficult to write on pages above the bulk.
  • Ask your calligrapher-pal to write a few quotes or writing prompts on a few pages throughout (see below: During your event).
  • Draw or stamp some page framing designs/images to break up the space or make the blank pages less intimidating.
  • Have a few friends write their messages large as a "model" for what people are "allowed" to do.

During your event:
  • Provide "instructions" (framed or near the book) that briefly explain your guest book desires/expectations/intentions: Help fill this book with wishes for the future; Tell me/us a story you remember about me/us; What song reminds you of me/us?
  • Ask the DJ or a brave friend to make periodic announcements during the event to remind people where the guestbook is located and to leave a heartfelt message.

After your event:
  • Attach your event announcement, menu, etc. on some of the blank pages.
  • Include your own thoughts/reflections about the event.
  • Attach photos that were taken at the event.
  • Write out or attach the evening's musical playlist.
  • Learn to Zentangle.
These are just a few possibilities for managing blank space.  If you have more ideas, I'd love to hear them - please include them in the comments!

And tune in next week for demystifying guest book pens.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Guest Books: All About Pages

We've been talking in April about things to consider when ordering a guest book.  Last week we discussed dimensional size of the book.  This week, it's all about pages.

6x9 inch guest book

Paper Weight:
First and foremost, how do you imagine your "completed" book?
Most likely you intend your guest book to include the well wishes of your guests. But will you have a Polaroid at your event and be including snapshots, or attaching event memorabilia?  This vision will inform your paper needs.

You'll want your pages to be thick enough to handle ink, the weight of photos, and/or memorabilia.  I recommend no lighter than 70 lb text weight paper (104 gsm).  It's about the weight of really heavy copy paper - the nice stuff.  And it's the lightest weight of paper I will use in my guest books.  It can easily withstand the ink and pressure from ballpoint pens and quality artist pens, plus is available in an unimaginable variety of colors.  (Pen post is coming later this month!)  It can also comfortably carry those thin Polaroid photos, and a small amount of memorabilia.

For heavier ink, regular photos, or a LOT of memorabilia, you'll need something heavier, like 100 lb text weight (150 gsm) or more.  The maker of your book should be able to tell you what weight they are using and if it will work for your needs.

My preferred weight is 80 lb (120 gsm), but colors are limited in this weight.  It's just slightly heavier than the 70 lb without being overly thick, as I find the 100 lb can sometimes feel.

Number of Many Pages:
Unless your friends are all poets, cartoonists or graphic artists (it's possible!), I usually suggest limiting your book to no more than one page per couple/family/single guest.

Why? It's unusual for couples or families to sign on different pages - and if they write individual notes it's usually on the same page.

If you're going with a larger size - like 10x10 - you might opt for even fewer pages.  Most people write pretty small and don't actually say more than one or two sentences - even when you are their most favorite person on the planet.  For example, I tend to write a good paragraph of well wishes, but struggle to fill more than 3 x 9 inches of space when leaving a written message in a guest book.  In a 9x9 guest book, that will leave 6x9 inches of blank page space unless others fill in the blank.

Which brings me to another observation - guests generally tend to keep working on the same couple pages and are hesitant to start a fresh page or be "the only one" on a page.  (Ah, who remembers their high school year book?)  Which means you may have full pages filled in, and full pages left blank.

I feel like this quickly went to a "guest book doomsday" place, but don't despair!  You have plenty of tools and knowledge to make some good choices about your guest book.

Final thought:
Unless you have exuberant guests who love writing and do it big, you'll need fewer pages than you imagine, and likely have a fair amount of blank pages and blank space... which is totally fine, because there are some great ways to deal with that space...

Tune in next time when I discuss: Managing blank space!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Guest Books: Choosing A Size

This April we'll be looking at some common questions and considerations when ordering a guest book.  This week's installment is about size - one of the most stressful parts about ordering a guest book for an event.

Over the last decade of creating guest books, attending events and hearing feedback from friends and customers, I've compiled my best questions and suggestions to consider when ordering your guest book.

7x10 inch Cream with Black Magnolias

Where do you plan to keep/store the book?
If you want to keep your book on a special bookcase, it needs to be able to fit the height and depth of the bookcase, without scuffing the top or hanging off the edge.  If you prefer it laying out for display, consider what size/shape would look best on your coffee table (or wherever)?  Where will it go after that?

Do you plan to put any memorabilia / photos / ephemera inside?
You might want your event announcement, menu, or musical playlist.  Presuming you've already printed/ordered these, they need to fit comfortably if they can't be folded.  Often times you can just attach the envelope to a page and keep your announcement within, but that envelope does need to fit on the page with at least an inch around the edges.  Having memorabilia that fold open can also be charming, but try not to have too much of these, or your book will get bulky.  If you plan to have a lot, let your maker know so they can build in spacers, if possible.

The little folded bits are spacers. They add just a smidge
of space between each register of the book.

What shape do you like?
Do you love/hate squares?  Do you prefer a rectangle that is almost a square?  Do you like the landscape look or portrait look better?  Maybe you don't care, but some folks do!  Whatever you do, don't order a 9x9 book just because squares are all the rage if you will cringe every time you see it.

Portrait Rectangle                           Square                             Landscape Rectangle

Final Thought:
The last thing I want to leave you with if you still don't know "what size to pick" is this: don't worry!  It ultimately doesn't matter if it's a 6x6 or 7x10.  Your book will be filled with love from friends and family, and that will warm your heart for all your days.

Tune in next week where I discuss the frustrating question of "how many pages"!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bzzzz, a puppet show

I've always been intrigued by puppets. I suspect Mr. Rogers Neighborhood is at the center of this, but I do also recall some paperbag puppets in my elementary school years.

At the December meeting of the Book Arts Guild of Vermont we got to meet fantastic puppeteer Sarah Frechette and her partner Jason as Sarah performed a mini-show of The Snowflake Man, based on Vermonter Snowflake Bentley, who photographed the first snow crystal in 1885. Sarah also gave us access to her giant pop-up book which is also the stage for The Snowflake Man!

Afterward, Sarah and Jason helped us each make our own pop-up stage and stick-puppet with just paper and a kabob stick.

Last week I made a puppet show with my creation and wanted to share it with you.

Ultimately, I'd like to make a much neater stage and puppet.  But for now, I'm happy with my summer show.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

CCS One-Week Work Out: Day 1

Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) is my favorite school on the planet.

Summer 2014 I attended the CCS Create Comics week-long class, and LOVED it.  So, I was all for it when they announced a "One-Week Workout" this Autumn.

What is the One-Week Workout?  It's pretty much a cartoon exercise program with exercises emailed to you daily for one week.

I signed up immediately when I found out about it and due to intense chronic illness issues am going at my own pace... which means, I did the first exercise in November... and will be tackling the rest in January and February.

This comic is from Day 1:  A Four Panel Comic

To make it easy to figure out what to draw, I decided to make my four panel comic about my "To-Do List" for that day... post-election tasks and other junk I needed to take care of.

Usually I draw on paper first, create a final ink outline, then scan and edit.  But I wanted to try starting from scratch on the computer to practice using my Wacom drawing tablet.

I feel pretty good about this comic, and drawing digitally.  And I'm excited to get to the next exercises when I'm feeling better!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Gluten Free Eggpant Mini-Pizzas

This winter I've been craving eggplant, so decided to try using eggplant in a stove-top mini-pizza - and I love it!

I also appreciate that this recipe is naturally gluten-free, and can easily be vegetarian or vegan.

Personally, I can easily consume half a large eggplant for lunch, but you may not require such a hearty portion - just adjust the recipe to your needs.

Also, most pizza ingredients come in larger quantities than what you'd need for a single serving, so just grab whatever you typically enjoy on your pizza and make as much/little as you need, and then do it again the next day... and the next!

Left to right: Goat cheddar, Tomato,
Pizza sauce (upper right corner),
Eggplant, Mushroom
Necessary Ingredients:
  • 1 Tbsp Oil (for the pan/skillet) - olive, sunflower, canola
  • 1/2 Large round eggplant per person, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices (For lunch I eat 4-6 slices, about 4 inches diameter). Alternatively you can use thinner eggplant for bite size pizzas.
  • 1 can/jar of pizza sauce (store remaining sauce in airtight jar, can be frozen)
  • Toppings (see optional ingredients for ideas)

Optional Ingredients:

You really don't need much - for 6 slices of eggplant I used one 2 inch diameter mushroom sliced, 3 thin slices of tomato quartered, 2 olives sliced, and half a cup of shredded cheese.
  • Cheese: cow/sheep/goat/vegan
  • Meats: pepperoni, ham, bacon, sausage
  • Veggies: fresh tomato, sun-dried tomato, olives, onion, green pepper, mushroom, pineapple

  • Large Knife
  • Cutting board
  • Large deep pan or long skillet (the longer, the more you can make at one time)
  • Spatula (hamburger flipper)
  • Small spoon (for sauce)

Prepare your ingredients and tools in advance - eggplant gets mushy when overcooked, and you'll need to get your toppings on quickly to allow them time to heat and your cheese to melt (if using).

Start by heating your pan/skillet on medium low.

Add the oil and allow to warm, but don't overheat!

When ready, add slices of eggplant to fill the bottom of the pan/skillet.

Let the first side cook for about 2 minutes.

Flip with spatula - the first side should be a little brown.

Add a small spoonful of pizza sauce to the cooked side of the eggplant, and spread around with the backside of the spoon. It doesn't need to be even - no one will see it!

Add your toppings in the order preferred.

I like to add meat first (if using), then veggies (large to small, flat to bulky, and dry to wet), and cheese last. But of course, you can add things in whatever order you like (for kicks, sometimes I do cheese first!)

Cook for about 2 minutes - hopefully cheese will start to melt a bit. It's okay to cover with a lid, but it's okay if the cheese doesn't melt - it will still be delicious.

You really just want the eggplant to be cooked enough to be tender without becoming mushy or burnt. It may take a bit of practice, but even if it gets a bit mushy, it will be delicious.

Gently slide spatula under a slice of eggplant, taking care as you dislodge it if it has gotten stuck in the center (which it will likely do). Place on plates and serve with fork and knife.

If you're able to keep the eggplant firm, you can actually eat it with your hands like a little pizza - this can be rather messy and you might need a fork to get fallen bits once you've finished.