Monday, August 3, 2015

My First Handmade Book

When my Typography instructor told us that we were going to make our own books-- by hand-- the entire class started freaking out.

It seemed impossible.

There were two assignment options: create a handmade book celebrating typefaces, or create a book of The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot.

Some of my friends created awesome design books about typefaces, but since my emphasis is in illustration in addition to design, I chose The Waste Land.

Some of my classmates looking through sample books from previous students. That day was OVERWHELMING.

Doing Eliot's book would give me an opportunity to create drawn illustrations. After a solid year of only design classes and no "artsy-art" classes, I relished the chance to sit down with a sketchbook, guilt-free, and have some fun. Plus, I studied The Waste Land in high school as part of my classical curriculum. I love returning to old high school assignments, as I inevitably get more out of my second read.

The Waste Land is a long, modernist poem that I think was purposefully made to have the most obscure and scattered references ever. Gah. Quite the challenge to illustrate.

To begin, we proofread the poem, set up a template in InDesign, and formatted the text.

The first step was actually the longest for me, although it's the hardest to make others appreciate. (My family, for instance, was easily impressed by the physical book looked at me in astonishment when I tried to explain that the digital part was hardest).

Fellow designers will commiserate, but for the rest of you, here is a sample of what went goes designing the "boring part" of a book:

  • Read several articles about book design and the "proper" way to set up a book
  • Get thoroughly confused about bastard titles and half titles, and where which one goes
  • Decide on the size, type, and weight of paper for the book
  • Create a template in InDesign
  • Set the margins, taking in both the most aesthetic ratios and the most practical margins for the type of binding you will use 
  • Decide on the typeface-- make sure it is a well-designed family with everything you will need (small caps, obscure punctations [get those hypens, en-dashes, and em-dashes straight, darn it!], etc) and ensure that the type family and "look" fits the feel of the text
  • Fix the bad kerning before the "W"
  • Get the running headers to actually center
  • Link chapter headers to the table of contents and set paragraph styles
  • Decide between 100,000,000 glyphs and colors to pick the perfect accents for the pages
  • Fiddle with a single-pica distance to get the glyph spacing just right
  • Fix that issue with the page numbers starting on the wrong page
  • What the heck is a colophon? Write one.
  • Edit the tracking so that the extra-long lines don't run into the margin!!!
  • Count the pages and make sure you have everything ready to make the signatures
  • Have a debate with your professor about whether you should follow the rule of always italicizing foreign languages, when the poet himself did not italicize

Then came the illustrations!

I developed the imagery and symbolism for the illustrations by reading through the full poem, reading through Kolbe Academy's analysis notes, and doing lots of doodles. Eventually I sketched everything on Bristol board, then drew it with a dip pen and india ink.

(Sidenote: I love my dip pen. I'm just getting started with actual calligraphy, but it's also great for drawing. The pressure changes makes the ink flow with such energy, and it does help to make quick illustrations much more lively).

I then watercolored the illustrations and scanned them in on high resolution. The rest was removing backgrounds in Photoshop, tweaking colors and spacing, and just fixing all those little technical details.

The Waste Land is really depressing, so I had a bit of a time trying to tone down my normally happy art style to use darker, creepier colors.

Oh! While I was working on this, something cool happened!

The girls who run Humans of Springfield, a photojournalism facebook page, ran into me while I was working outside and interviewed me! They were super sweet and it definitely made my day, as I was super stressed earlier that day.

You should check out their page and browse through their growing photo/interview collection.

In addition to these chapter illustrations and the tree frontispiece, I went into overkill-overachiever mode and calligraphied every title and header for the entire book.

Looking back at it now, a mere month later, I'm really not happy with the lettering. I've spent a couple of days practicing good pointed pen script, and I see a few problems here, but it was a learning experience and still looks cool!

After everything was laid out digitally, I took my book to the printer.

Big problem.

I had previously spoken to a local printer, who had the specialty paper my instructor had approved. But in the end, they messed up the print about three times and all of the colors were deadened. I couldn't get a refund, either!

Getting my two copies of the book printed was, overall, a three-day ordeal in the middle of studying for all of my other finals.

In the end, I got a copy printed at the cheap on-campus print shop that all of the professors say not to use because they screw up your prints. But they actually printed it really well, on regular thick stock, and for half the price!

Sewing the book. My practice signature is visible on the right, and the half-finished covers are at the top of the image.

Next was the bookbinding, which I had expected to be ridiculously difficult, and which turned out to be very enjoyable.

I used a mix of Coptic stitch and Japanese stab binding to sew the book together.

The book used 8-page signatures, which means that I take four sheets of paper, fold it in half, punch in the holes, and then use cotton cord threaded onto a rounded needle to attach the signatures to one another.

Once the text was bound, I cut the book with a utility knife and prepared to attach it to the covers with a Japanese style stitch.

The cover itself is made from two layers of matboard glued together with a sturdy blue linen stretched across. The title is a piece of stamped brass.

As part of this project, we had to develop endpapers for the book.

Endpapers are used to help the cover and the paper stick to one another, and they also really help to set the visual tone of the book.

I wanted to try paper marbling (I'd given it some attempts two or three years ago) and my first attempt, done at school during a spare half hour, really didn't work.

The weekend before the book was due, I drove home (ostenably to work on my Photo 1 project, but really to hang out with my family) and my little sister liked the idea of a craft day. We spent an entire afternoon perfecting the process. (I am planning a tutorial!)

And I think the endpapers turned out really well!

I did produce two books for this project. One was with the first, bad print (it is really expensive to print in color, and they didn't refund the bad print, so that and a couple other long stories all considered, I went ahead and kept the bad print for one copy).

The differences, to say the least, are drastic. That dull, weird yellow page just doesn't cut it.

The one thing that I was really upset about with this project is that the school keeps the good copy. I understood why we made two copies-- it is a huge learning curve-- and I like that she graded the good copy. But now my book is going to go in a summer exhibit in the school library (I think it's there!) and then it will get stored in a box in a back room, to be pulled out once every year for new students to look at.

I spent so much time and money on this book, and now I've only got the second-best copy for my portfolio!

My classmates also made some beautiful pieces-- I wish I could share them with you!

By the time finals came around (both this book and several PDF portfolios were due the day we took our exam) we were all dead with homework exhaustion!

But despite the overwhelming workload, this book is tied for the best project of my entire sophomore year. :) Projects are always the best when they are over and your hard work has paid off!

(This post is the latest in my blogging adventure about college classes. I'll be writing a short post about the rest of my Typography class shortly. You can see all the related blog posts right here.)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Old Custom Pieces {2013}

I used to always give away my artwork to friends and family, and at some point I decided that if I was never going to actually have any of my artwork, I should have a record of it and take a picture. I was then eleven years old and had just been entrusted with my very first camera.

I've been trying to carry this practice over with the jewelry that I create, because there are many custom items or craft fair sales which I will never see again. So I snag a snapshot before sending the jewelry away.

Tonight, while waiting for my YouTube video to upload, I dug around in some old files and found a few memorable pieces that no one but the recipient has yet seen! 

These are, so far as I can tell, all from around 2013.

(I did unearth some from a full 3+ years ago, but the quality is... well, let me direct you to what I considered some pretty cool jewelry in 2009... I started to actually develop good craftsmanship in 2012, but that's back when I blogged fairly consistently and actually posted about small custom work.)

This red and gold beaded necklace features a St. Benedict medal that I was so excited to find.

I've been considering making more religious jewelry like this; most stuff you find is a simple cross or medal on a chain.

Braided cuff, and rings, in black and silver.

St. Therese good-deed sacrifice beads (I wrote a blog post about good deed beads some time ago). For some reason, 2013 was the year of the St. Therese beads!

This chainmaille project is so beautiful-- a long choker necklace made with the 2-in-2 weave, with silver plated and blue enameled copper. Each ring (as always) was woven individually.

To match it, I made a Byzantine weave bracelet.

And two matching earrings for the set.

Remember how I said that 2013 was the year of the St. Therese beads? This was a custom order for 60, SIXTY, sets of beads. Above is my best friend and my little sister, who helped with detailing the beeswax to make the beads slide better.

I love the Czech glass beads that my customer requested!

Yep. That's a LOT of beads!

This was another set-- I think I made ten-- and the Czech glass is interspersed with Swavroski pearls.

Even more sets-- these jet black beads were for three brothers.

A cool chain bracelet with that bead flower I use in so many designs...

An intricate copper necklace with lots of swirls and fun green leaves...

Here's another chainmaille necklace!

I wish these weren't so expensive to make-- I'd have several in every color in stock if I could!

The metal in chainmaille is just so fluid!

This was a gift; a fun lightweight necklace for a music-loving friend.

This... I don't remember making this or what it was for, but I have pictures by golly! It's supposed to be a headpiece with fun dangling chains.

However, 2013-me also took a picture of it on a lampshade.

2013-me also demonstrated how it could be turned into a statement necklace. Remember when overkill chain necklaces were all the rage?

One of many, many Evenstar sets I made that year.

And this is a Christmas tree ornament! I formed the copper wire, hammered it, and filled it in with beads.

That's it for the custom work of 2013! I have nearly three times as many pictures from the custom work of 2014. Keep an eye out for that blog post in a couple of weeks.

Friday, July 10, 2015

January's Shop Tour

Over my Christmas break, in between visiting with friends and family, I spent a good deal of time in the garage working on jewelry.

Last summer, my dad partitioned off part of the garage into a workspace, and now it's a full-blown studio! AND I GOT A TORCH!!!

I took one jewelry class (Metals 1) that previous spring, and the biggest thing I took away from that class was a focus on craftsmanship and technique with hand-tools and a willingness to just dive in and, you know, play with a 2,000 degree flame.

My Christmas present was money towards a propane+oxygen setup for the Smith Little Torch. Between the torch and all of the necessary supplies and safety items, I wiped out my summer's profits, but hopefully all in the interest of great things to come.

Back in January I filmed this vlog, edited the video, and managed to stick all of the files on the wrong harddrive. Now I've dubbed it-- so feel free to join me in a tour of my amazing studio!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Art Dump {Color Theory}

Art school adventures continued! As any long-time reader knows, I am currently attending a university that offers an in-depth art department. I've already shared some of my artwork from Freshman classes: 2D Design, Drawing I, and Drawing II. Freshman year I also took Metalwork and 3D design.

Now that I've completed my sophomore level studies, I'm taking a look back at my progress throughout sophomore year.

I am shooting for a double major in Graphic Design and Illustration, with a minor in Art History. This spring, I completed portfolio reviews and was formally accepted into the Dual major program! This spring also marks the end of my Foundation studies; starting next fall, I get to take specialized classes in graphic design and illustration.

This is what the dorm room looked like while I was putting together my application portfolio.

Back in the fall I took three art classes, and three ge-eds (Calculus-- which I actually enjoyed--, a really awesome literature class, and Anthropology).

My favorite class of sophomore autumn was, by far, Intermediate Design (otherwise known as Color Theory).

A very sweet, knowledgeable Polish artist taught the class. She challenged us all with complicated assignments and in-depth critiques, and I have to say that both my painting skills and my eye for design improved dramatically last autumn.

But let's just say, I had no idea how much could be involved in the study of color.

Sure, back in eighth grade I was so confused by how color worked that I read the Wikipedia article on color, studied the way that color frequencies are absorbed and refracted, made my mom buy me two prisms, got thoroughly confused about color spaces and gamuts, and proudly knew how the eye detects color and sends the signals through ganglion cells.

Normal people totally do that, right? (ha). But, aside from a "gut reaction" to what colors go well together, I had no objective understanding of how subjective color can be. Of the ways that they affect one another and regularly trick your brain with a myriad optical illusions. Of how to pay attention to hue, value, and more to made educated choices in your artwork.

We didn't have any assigned textbook readings for this class, but hands-on experimentation is, I think, pretty much the best way to learn about color theory.

Turns out that hands-on experimentation means the most homework I had ever dealt with in an art class.

And now begins the art dump! Unlike some of my other classes, I'm actually excited to share every project I worked on, so beware of the length of this post. :)

Color Value Study

The first project focused on learning about value and how to see the value of colors when the hue would normall overwhelm.

We first came up with designs-- mine was inspired by Fluer de Lis.

Then, each "set" was painted with acrylics. The full fluer-de-lis design was done in high contrast, and the dismantled one in low contrast. Each shape had to have it's own value.

The top set on the left page was done in nonchromatic gray (black + white) and the bottom set was done in chromatic gray (black + white + just enough color to give a gentle tone).

The right page features full color (only fully pigmented paints of analgous colors were allowed to be mixed) and muted color (a color + white or black to made a tint or shade, or a color + a color from across the pond on the color wheel).

The values of each square needed to match, regardless of the type of colors used to piece this puzzle together.

Let's just say that the first time I attempted the color part I completely misunderstood the assignment sheet. 

Chromatic vs. achromatic grays

Analogous colors

We were also assigned two "free studies" to go along with each project. These were my first two!

Transparency Study 

Implied transparencies were the next task; painting each of these shapes overlaps and the colors mixed via that overlap were very difficult for me, technically.

I made the abstract mountain in Illustrator during one of my graphic design classes' deadtimes in class, and added the circle and rectangles by hand afterward when I was copying the design onto canvas.

(Also, notice in the picture above that my friend C. introduced me to the wonders of pillboxes for storing small amounts of paint!)

I still am not sure how I feel about this color scheme... not the biggest fan of pastels. But I do think that, personal prejudice aside, they are at least cohesive and balanced.

I made a color map as I mixed colors; all told, this piece had some 82 individually mixed colors!

technical transparency study

My favorite part of this project, though, was the free study homework.

We had an old copy of The Hobbit, dropped into the bathtub by my brother, that I saved to use for art projects. It's been put to good use in some of my sketchbooks before, and here I just doodled all over two pages.

This is my favorite bit, though. I'd heard of masking fluid before and wanted to mess around with it; this was when I finally had an excuse to purchase yet another overpriced art supply. This is why artists are stereotypically broke. It's not that we can't make good money; we just spend it all on cool new toys!

Peeling it off is oddly satisfying.

To make these pieces, I first painted the white gears and flowers with masking fluid. Once it dried, I applied a thin layer of dappled watercolors. More masking fluid; another layer of darker and more saturated colors; and repeat.

Just look at this awesome magical multicolored effect. IT'S SO COOL.

This is the larger piece I made; I'm not so fond of the pure white everywhere. I should have done a nice gentle wash before using the masking fluid.


Yay celtic knotwork, I always have to use celtic knotwork in my artwork!

This is a shattered knot that is a study of gradation.

Gradation free studies... 

...and more free studies. I was totally that art student who went around campus grabbing leaves to paint.

Bezold Effect

Certain colors, when placed near each other, seem to affect each other in strange ways. The Bezold Effect deals with the way that a color can look lighter or darker (or, more or less saturated) than it really is, depending on what sort of ground it has.

The placement of color can also alter the dominance of a design.

Again, we were not allowed to do "representational artwork." This project would center around a pattern, either copied from or inspired by historical patterns.

I chose to draw my design by hand (knotwork and such is actually faster for me by hand than on the computer). It's inspired by components of patterns from: Celtic knotwork, Korean dancheong, traditional Maori tattoos, and Norwegian rosemaling.

Each of the squares is the same design, and the same seven colors are used on each. No color was allowed to be in the same spot in any other square.

I scanned in my original sketch to do sample colors on Photoshop.

It's really interesting how the patterns look different just because of where the colors were placed!

I also LOVED basically every piece my classmates did for this project, too. There were some really clever and aesthetic ones.

Color Proportions

Oooookay. You want to talk technically challenging?

Oh. My. Word.

This project was just about the end of me. 

The process for this piece:

  1. Pick two pieces of art you admire; one with flat colors, and one with mixed colors.
  2. Mix exact copies of the colors in the artwork.
  3. Make rectangles or circles with those colors, and...
  4. Cut those shapes so that the amount of said color is in exact proportion to the amount of said color in the original artwork. By eyeballing it.
  5. Come up with designs inspired by the "feel" of the original artwork.
  6. Color that design using the exact proportions of color that were in the original artwork.

This design was supposed to be a dramatic cityscape seen through a window with water droplets running down the glass... but apparently a couple of people thought I was painting abstract people?!

This is one of those projects that I dreaded while I was working on it, but which I love now because I learned so much and developed neat pieces.

Illustration Snippet

Groupthink by Shaylynn Rackers :)

This painting is my favorite piece of the semester, which is hilarious because stylistically it is very different from my typical artwork.

We were each randomly assigned a small cutout from a magazine, and had to incorporate it into a painting. The technical challenge for this was to try to paint it so well that the illustration is hard to spot. 

It was our finals project, and we were given almost free reign. I have to say, it was a relief to be able to make a representational, illustrative painting!

My illustration was this funky guy opening his head and dumping words into something (a trash receptacle?). 

After just a couple minutes of brainstorming, I knew that I wanted to use this project to address the idea of groupthink. In high school, I studied 1984 by George Orwell and, in the midst of writing several essays on it, realized just how important and scary the book is. Compound this with the fact that every other book or movie these days is dystopian, and that I had recently been in a conversation about how real censorship (and mob censorship) is even in a country of free speech-- really there was nothing for it but to illustrate groupthink.

But how to tell a complex story like that on a single canvas? I didn't simply want to show a guy emptying his thoughts... hence the comic strip sections.

Since this was to be a cohesive single piece of art, my focus when planning the painting was on making the comic panels interact with each other. I also tried to use color and dominence so that (ideally) the viewer first "reads" the panels left to right top to bottom, then circles the painting clockwise, then hones in on first the man dumping out his thoughts, then the line of drones, then the book.

The Farenheit 451-esque book panel has text from various parts of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:

Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason.
The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

Also, in the background is "The pen is mightier than the sword" and some really poorly painted fire. I didn't have reference photos when I was in class that day, painting.

Stylistically I tried to pull in some Tim Burton and Dr. Suess (and, weirdly, a screencap of a background from Mulan). The struggle was real. 

Also, all of the gold and the smoke's gray were painted with shimmer paints. It looks really cool in person. :)

The other project in the class was a ten minute long presentation. My topic was synesthesia-- and I was so grateful I was able to get that topic, because it is a subject near to my heart! I'd done a great deal of research on this in the past couple years since I found out it was a thing. Hopefully my speech did a good job of presenting the science and coolness of synesthesia without making people think "LSD!" or "Superpowers!" I had intended to record a practice run for the YouTube channel and forgot; I might yet do that someday.


This large art dump represents an entire semester of work (minus the messy paint and the twenty-odd sketchbooks pages filled with some twenty thumbnails each and minus the overflowing Pinterest "research page"...).

If you stuck 'round for all of this, thank you! I hope that you've enjoyed it. :)
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