Monday, March 19, 2012

All For Books, And Picture Books For All

There once was a mail-sending snail
who told me a rip-roaring tale
of love at first glance
and a stamp with a chance
to deliver this thought without fail.

Everyone loves picture books because they warm the cockles of our hearts. Granted, I'm not entirely sure what cute animals and poetry have to do with a kiln (see origin of the phrase), but by Jove (another funny one), we like 'em!

When I'm not cackling manically over a wizened typewriter and piles of kraft paper late into the night, I have the absolute pleasure of earning my primary income at the adorable hands of these fuzzy-fingered follows--I work in Children's publishing.

As part of my job, I receive printer proofs of upcoming titles, which then get recycled once the book is bound and released. But every now and then I stumble upon artwork that is simply too cute to send the way of the Pulp-Masher-3000, so I remake the pages into something new:

Postcards, Envelopes, and Liners (not pictured), Oh My!

Board Book Postcards (thick cardstock)

Picture Book Envelopes (cut using a Paper-Source envelope template)

I have always been a fan of reusing book elements in my work--for invitations, notebooks, or just about anything I can my hands into, really--and so it's nice to incorporate pages into casual correspondence, also. There are so many things you can do with the materials you find (I can't say I've ever had to purchase my aforementioned kraft paper), and when you keep an eye out, you start seeing the framework of and inspiration for new projects everywhere! Upcycling makes for some very easy, very interesting correspondence, and costs next-to-nothing. . . even if it does turn you into a bit of a hoarder (cue toppling paper-tower of doom).

I'm looking forward to giving a few kid-enthusiasts (AKA still kids at heart) a nice "Happy You" present with these sets, myself. 

And to learn more about great picture books NOT worth cutting up, check out fabulous reviews and commentary at Jackets And Sleeves in the "fight against fluff."

Monday, March 12, 2012

More Than Just an Inkling...

I've taken you down the proverbial rabbit hole to the making of sealing wax, but what's a letter if it's not written in your own ink?? (Other than a wonderful thing that you should still most certainly send--hell, write in crayon, or in a series of Pictionary drawings, as long as you write!)

To make your own, very easy and simple Rosemary Ink, follow these directions:

1. Use enough herbs to cover the bottom of your pan.
2. Add enough water to cover the tops of the herbs.
3. Bring to a boil and let simmer until the water has reduced to a generous tablespoon.
4. Strain and you’re left with a pretty light brown ink.

It takes a while to boil the water down to the last "generous tablespoon," but it smells SO good while you wait. I recommend a spontaneous kitchen dance party to pass the time.

Once you've exhausted all of your best dance moves, pour the remaining liquid into a bowl, and press the boiled herbs through a strainer (to make sure you get as much out as possible). By the end, your rosemary should be nice and pulverized, and presto! Your very own, home grown (whether rhetorical or literal) ink!

Try to use a container that is small and secure (something from the no-splash-zone to avoid spills), like a baby food jar. I improvised (there's that word again) with an old jar of caramel dipping sauce that I cleaned out and re-purposed, and it worked wonderfully well. Your batch will only produce a small amount of ink, but it goes a seriously long way; and a small pot will minimize the air exposure between uses.

You can write many-a-letter in a whirlwind of excitement, or save it for a rainy, and snail-happy day. Given that the ink is made up of rosemary, I have noticed that it's somewhat perishable, so this ink will need to be used up in a timely fashion--and refrigerating the concoction would probably help. I'd estimate a few weeks per batch.

Happy mail, my darling snails!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sealed With A Ki--ckass Seal!

It's fair to say that a lot of my crafty experiments come from--and could probably do to stay in--the bodily portion kept 'round the back of my trousers. . . but how I blunder on with enthusiasm! What I continue to neglect in foresight, I seem to make up for in dumb--improvisational--luck.

Sealing wax is something I've had my proverbial (and physical) eye on for some time now. The problem: it's grossly overpriced; and it's hard to find, unless you count the (not) cheap, glue-gun imitation. Which I do not. I happily embrace tape and glue products for the chemically enhanced, hoof-meltingly genius inventions that they are (on clear nights you can faintly hear the phantom moos of an underground cattle trail heading from Elmer's Ohio out to happy California. . .), but I sincerely wish it wasn't such an alien concept to create materials from scratch, and indeed sell such wonderfully crafted materials. Be the change you want to see, right?

I did some online research and settled on the following recipe:

From the Encyclopaedia Britannica (first ed./1771) under "Wax": "Sealing wax is made in the following manner: Take one pound of bees-wax; three ounces of fine turpentine; olive-oil, and rosin, finely powdered, of each one ounce: when they are well melted, and the dross taken off, put in an ounce and a half of vermillion, or red lead, finely ground, and stir them together till they are well incorporated: and when this mixture grows a little cool, roll it into sticks, or in any other form. If you would have it black, instead of vermillion, or red-lead, put in lampblack."

After cross-referencing some of the other recipes to verify the contemporary materials needed, and some awkward phone-calls ("Hi, I'm looking for the following antiquated ingredients that I know painfully little about. Yes, I'll hold while you try to figure out what I'm smoking, and pass me off on each of your coworkers, sequentially."--I genuinely was being useless, and was happy to piece together information from everyone), I was set! All the smelly powders, clumps, and liquids I'd need for two batches of sealing wax.

Step 1: [Don't] Burn Baby, Burn
I cut up and melted my GI-GAN-TO 1 pound slab of raw beeswax using a pair of scissors (there has got to be a better way. . . ), and a (Jerry-rigged, of course) double broiler set-up to avoid burning my materials. This bowl was full by the time the wax was all in there (cutting the wax into shavings or small pieces is best for quick melting, but the blisters on my hand after an hour of doing so certainly feel otherwise). Then you pour the other ingredients in, and stir until the giant ball-o'-tar (AKA rosin) fully integrates into the liquid.

Step 2: Stick 'em Up!
When it came to molding my wax into sticks, it would have done me a lot of good to use that ever-elusive foresight. I read somewhere (while researching, at least) that to cool the wax you pour it on a pane of glass/marble, and then roll it into sticks. . . craftsmen in the days of yore may have been cool enough to do this (no pun intended), but I apparently am not (clearly, what with the constant punning). We're talking an epic fail. I was envisioning wax like globs of ice cream on the cold slabs at Cold Stone, melding and folding into the extra toppings; but what I created was simultaneously sticky and crumbly, and not going out that easy. Whether mine was how it's supposed to be, I couldn't say, being a ye olde noob. My guess is not.

So I improvised!

First up: Ice cube tray. I wanted to make cleanly molded sticks, and I just so happen to have a water bottle tray, with sticks instead of cubes, so I poured it in using a film canister and a pair of pliers as a ladle. . . seriously (worked surprisingly well, actually).

Second: Cooling rack and tin foil. As I only had one ice cube tray, I came up with the bright spark of an idea to make little wax troughs using tin foil in the space between a cooling rack grate. It wasn't pretty, but it did work pretty well (you have to pull the ends of the foil up to make a little barrier, but tin foil is fickle, and some messy spills occurred). When the wax was cooled, I just lifted and pulled the foil to get the sticks out. Easy.

The few measly sticks molded by hand.

The Tin Man, wishing he had a real mold.

And the far more successful, and impressive, tray sticks. They're a little longer and thicker than I would necessarily want, but if you're not burning your hand when holding them, then what does it matter.

From the delicious sight (and tar-lific smell) of my melting bowl, it's pretty obvious that I was unable to adequately wash it for consumptive use again. Luckily (or is that improvisationally), I used an ex-roommate-inherited bowl that I disliked and had many of, so it wasn't much of a loss. Having no irrationally negative feelings toward the spoon however, that casualty was marginally sadder. Basically, you want to use a bowl that won't crack from the heat, nor will you care if it does. Also, have windows open while working, because the fumes are a little intense, and it took me 2 full-length CDs and 1 screening of Atonement (seemed appropriate) to square everything away. So, lots of inhalation.

Step 3: Write a Letter
Do it, it feels articulate and generally awesome. This is a photo of something resembling my heart poured out.

Step 4: Signed, Sealed, and (hopefully) Delivered
Whip up an envelope (I use a template, to my my life easier), hold a cooking lighter under your wax stick (it'll be on for an extended period, and you don't want to burn your finger, like with a basic disposable), drip somewhere between a nickle and a quarter-sized pool (that's 20p to 2p-sized for the Brits) onto the close, depending on the size of your seal stamp, and press! My stamp is bizarrely big, and this was my first attempt, so it's a little shoddy, but I'm getting better as I figure out the ratio.

Aaaaand. . . Go!