Friday, June 16, 2017

Running Toward Failure: in Teaching

So, this week I presented at the Book Arts Guild meeting.

The first part was about packaging and presenting work for sale, in which we were all victorious.

The second bit was about 40 minutes of chaos where I failed to teach the Ethiopian Double Needle Chain Stitch to about 22 people.

Where it all went wrong?

At the end of that first bit.

It was about 7:45pm at this point and I think folks were tired and understandably just wanted to socialize after an hour of attentive listening to the enthralling details of hang-tags, and clear bags.

In retrospect, with only about 45 minutes left of our meeting (including clean up time), I should have just said "lets just prepare our materials this time and do the actual binding instruction next time."

Alas, I didn't grasp how little time was left, or that we could push it to a future meeting.

Plus, I had put about 40 hours and $10 into preparing and printing the instructions and project materials, so I foolishly pushed forward.

Our co-chair called folks back to attention so I could give the first few instructions of "one needle on each end of your thread, and sew through your register and up over into the cover".

But I had lost control before we even began and never quite regained it.

There were still about 8 people who I proceeded to instruct individually as they flagged me over.  Most of these folks were able to get the cover attached to the first register by the end of our time, but even though they were very polite about it, I could tell it was a rather frustrating process for them.

So, while I am rather disappointed that the binding portion went so poorly, I'm not actually disappointed with myself and my role as I would expect.  I think this is in part due to the attitude I had when deciding to do the presentation.

Let me explain...

For me 2017 is the year I "Run Toward Failure".  This mostly means taking big risks, and just doing stuff no matter how impossible, knowing I will likely fail.  Fear of failure is a huge barrier for me in actually taking the kinds of risks that will make me successful.  So, to eliminate/reduce this barrier,  I've made failure an objective - an end goal.  Then, even when I fail, I've succeeded in failing.

So, how was this failure a success?
  1. I tried new things 
    • creating an instructional comic for the Double Needle stitching, which is beautiful!
    • teaching the Double Needle stitching to other people
  2. I learned new things
    • When there isn't enough time, stop. If possible, reschedule. If not, it's ok. Really.
    • I am an experienced presenter and can easily present to various sized groups.
    • I don't have the experience, energy, or vocal ability to facilitate a chaotic large group.
    • When teaching complicated processes, my preferred group size is 3 -10 people.
    • If I do teach a large group again, it should be an easy project, or I should have a helper who is familiar with all the steps. 
Trying something new and learning new things is pretty much the whole point, so although I wish I'd have made some different choices and that I'd been able to teach the stitching, all in all I feel pretty okay about it.

In conclusion, I'll use what I've learned through this failure to make new choices as I run toward new and exciting failures.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Comic: Not Even Chocolate

I can tell I'm overwhelmed with stress when even promises of chocolate can't convince me to make books or comics.

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.