Friday, February 15, 2013

Music Manuscript Book

A childhood friend recently hired me to make a custom manuscript book as a gift for her friend, a longtime pianist and her daughter's piano teacher.  I loved the idea, and really wanted to help create both a vessel to hold the pianist's written music, and a treasured object.

We started by ironing out some specifics: she wanted an 8.5 x 10 inch book (8.5 x 20 when opened), 200 pages (counting both sides), and printed with blank sheet music for piano.

I make it a general rule not to print pages.  Without the right tools and equipment it is quite a lot of work and rather costly.  So, initially I attempted to find manuscript paper that was large enough I could just fold it to make my signatures.  No luck there, plus there was no way to tell the quality and thickness of the pages without buying the paper.  I wanted this book to have wonderful page paper - something thick enough so pencil and pen didn't show through the other side.  If I wanted to create this book, I would have to print the pages myself.

I was able to find free music manuscript pdf's online, but there were limitations to their usefulness for my particular project.  Some were portrait orientation only.  And those that were landscape orientation weren't the right dimensions for my particular project.  The most useful manuscript page generator that I found still wasn't quite the right dimensions, and included their url on the bottom of each page... not quite as classy as I needed for this book.

It made sense to me to use the website to generate a page close to what I needed, then refer to the pdf as a model while I created my own sheet music in MS Word.  It took several hours of manipulating, printing samples, and making adjustments to get it where I wanted it.


With the pages printed, I was given free reign for cover design and had several ideas while working on page design.  The large size of the book impacted what I could do with the cover, for example, reusing the cover from a vintage music book would be fun, but I might have to resize the original cover (if I could find one), which could look junky.  An LP would be a bit too small for a cover and perhaps not enough support for so many pages.

A rough sketch of the cover design.
My own tools / equipment were also a barrier.  More than once I pined for a letterpress printer which might have allowed me craft something with imagery and words pressed onto handmade paper on bookboard.

Ultimately, "simple" and "classy" struck me as the right balance.

 Lokta paper was a natural choice for the cover.  It comes in a variety of colors, including black and "ivory", has a wonderful palpable and visual texture, is thick and sturdy, lends itself well to tearing or cutting, and works wonderfully with PVA.  It is my go-to handmade paper.

As I experimented with the cover, it made the most sense for the black keys to be torn rather than cut, and leave the white keys solid.  Any attempt to make the piano "look real" would be cheesy and completely ineffective.  The suggestion of a piano, however, is doable and can look and feel right.

       Clean cut - eh.                    Torn suggests movement.

This project challenged me on several levels.  I had worked with 200+ page books before, but not in such large dimensions.  I had never printed pages that would be folded in a signature, and certainly in such bulk.  And finding a way to convey what the book was for/about gave me some food for thought.


The result of my endeavor!
Click photo to zoom in.

The finished product was lovely and my friend and her pianist friend were so pleased.  The best part of working on a custom order like this, is that I get to stretch my skills and imagination in ways I wouldn't ordinarily seek out.  Hooray!



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