31 July 2011

Specimen 1: Nautilus Mini Print

For anyone who's curious, here's a scan of one of the finished prints.

You can see how the texture of the paper affects the coverage of the ink. On a letterpress print printed from a more solid element (like lino or polymer or metal), one could use enough pressure to eliminate the affects of texture, but because this was made from a glorified rubber stamp, it's just not possible to get that much pressure--the rubber just compresses. That's why one usually rubber stamps onto smooth paper. But here the effect is intentional--I wanted to make it look a little aged. Or something.

Anyway, these will be up in my Etsy shop in a little bit.

In other news, I started another porthole mini-journal yesterday. I have the tin finished--brass colour with a whole bunch of little silver "rivets" around the top. The bottom is covered in textured black paper to go with the black leather I'm planning to cover the book with. Inside it has a black satin ribbon to help with removing the book, and it's lined in very plush red velvet.

The book will be the same construction as the first one, but in full leather. On  the cover will be a shell cross-section in silver on red. That might have to wait until tomorrow as I don't have any large enough erasers to cut something in the size I want. I'm thinking about a sea urchin cross-section, even though there's not much in the middle of an urchin. Lots of bumps and spines on the outside, though.

30 July 2011

Nautilus Specimen Mini Prints

Because I love my little nautilus cross-section rubber stamp printing element so much, I decided to do a small edition of mini prints, printed in rubber-based ink on some very nice rough watercolour paper. I hand-embossed a border around the image area to give it a little more focus. The edition size will be 9 (plus an artist's proof), and I'll be selling them for the princely sum of $5 (check my Etsy shop in a day or two, once they've had time to dry and I've had time to list them).

29 July 2011

Easy Do-It-Yourself Printmaking: Hand-Cut Rubber Stamps

Really, using rubber stamps is a form of printing, so all those rubber-stamping enthusiasts who frequent the aisles of Michaels and other craft stores are really printers. To qualify as printmakers, though, I think they have to be using rubber stamps they cut themselves (or at least ones they had made from their own art).

But making your own rubber stamps (aka tiny printing elements) isn't really that hard. If you can draw passably and handle a craft knife (or lino-cutting or wood-carving tools), and if you can either think backwards or figure out how to transfer a right-reading image to another surface so it comes out backwards, you can make your own rubber-stamps. If you're already a printmaker, all you have to do is think smaller, and maybe get used to a softer medium than, say, lino.

Those white plastic erasers (the ones that are actually useful for erasing pencils marks, unlike those horrible pink ones) are the perfect medium. They come in various sizes, and you can even buy large sheets of a similar material at art stores that's intended for easy printmaking. Unless you intend to go really big, though, I'd stick with erasers, because you can buy them cheaply (try your local dollar store, even).

Here are a few I made over the years (along with an eraser of the most common size for scale). Most of them were cut with just a knife, though for the tiny details on the nautilus cross-section, I did resort to my smallest v-cutter that I use for linocutting, and I used a shallow u-gouge to clear out some of the open area.

You can also see that I've mounted some of them. I'll probably cut some masonite to mount the rest on, as having a solid support helps reduce instances of the flexible eraser bending and printing areas that shouldn't print.

I'm planning to do more shell cross-sections and other "specimens" for some books I'm making (if you check back a few posts, you'll see where I used the nautilus on a recent book). I just need to buy some more erasers!

27 July 2011

Milk Sister: A YA Novel of Fairies and Family

While I'm still not 100% sure this is the right cover, I do rather like it, and I wanted to get Milk Sister uploaded this week, so I decided to just use it. I can change it later if I get ambitious.

You can get the ebook version right now, in various formats for just about any ereader, from Smashwords for a mere $2.99. It'll be available on the Kindle store once it's done processing.

Maddy has always been able to see things that other people can't, but she didn't know it might have something to do with the mother who died giving birth to her. Now her father has decided to move back to Scotland, and for the first time in her life, Maddy has a chance to learn about her mother's family and the strange circumstances surrounding her own birth.

Maddy was born on a fairy hill--the same hill that the the 17th century writer Robert Kirk wrote about in his book The Secret Common-Wealth, and just like Kirk, Maddy's mother may not have died there. Like Kirk, she may still be alive, living in the Otherworld, and Maddy may even be able to see her.

If Maddy can rescue her mother from the fairy hill, maybe her father won't be so sad all the time. But what if her mother doesn't want to be rescued? And who is the mysterious dark-haired boy who calls Maddy "milk sister?"

This is the second novel I wrote (The Coming of the Fairies was the first, though it really only qualifies as a novel because it's "middle grade"--or maybe YA. It's a little over 30, 000 words), and (I think) much better than my first. It uses a lot of the research I did when writing my Master's thesis and originally I hadn't intended for there to be so many fairy folk in it. In fact, as originally conceived, I was going to leave some events rather vague so the answer of whether or not the fairies were actually real would be left up to the reader (which is more or less what I did with The Coming of the Fairies). But the bloody fairies took over, and I think it's actually a rather better book for it. If you go through my blog archive, you can read a blow-by-blow of the writing process (look in past Novembers--I wrote the first draft for NaNoWriMo).

Also, my serial novel Aeryn Daring and the Scientific Detective, written under the pen name Calliope Strange (chapters available on Kindle) is also appearing a chapter at a time in the very cool steampunk magazine Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders. I believe it will be online for free soon, but you can also purchase it right now in e-format and hardcopy, here.

It's worth it for the super-cute illustration of Aeryn and Madman alone.

26 July 2011

Nautilus Specimen Mini Porthole Steampunk Notebook

How's that for a long title? I was trying to think of what I would call this if I were to list it in my Etsy shop (which I might do).

I worked on this on Sunday (it's Idea Two from this post), and finished it up last night. It's a tiny round blank book, hand-bound in deep blue goatskin and decorative paper, with a silver-on-blue embossed nautilus shell on the cover (I hand-cut a rubberstamp that I used to print the design--I meant to include a photo of it in this post, but forgot, so it'll have to wait till a future post). The endpapers (which I alo neglected to photograph) are a mottled blue with gold marbling.

The binding is medieval sewn-on-cords (hence the raised bands on the spine), so it's super-strong. It includes a recycled tea tin, lined with midnight blue velvet and embellished with faux rivets to make it look like a porthole.

The bottom is lined with brassy metallic paper and decorated with another nautilus embossed in silver on dark blue paper.

The book nestles snugly inside the tin.

And closed, it's like viewing a specimen through a porthole.

I think, if I do this again, I will make the book a solid colour and mount the "specimen" closer to the middle. The division into two colours detracts from the nautilus in a way I didn't intend. And that's why I might not list it in my Etsy shop just yet. I might make a new book for it first. Or I might just keep it for myself--at least until I have the supplies for another tin (I have an empty tin, in brass colour, but the only "rivets" I have are also brass, and I want a contrast).

It *is* terribly cute.

Also, I think I need some more large size white plastic erasers to make more shell cross-section stamps.

25 July 2011

Monday Mailbox

 I had intended to blog about the book I made yesterday, but it's not quite finished. Instead, I'm stealing a meme from . . . um . . . somewhere. I saw this on a book blog (sorry to whomever I stole it from that I can't remember who you are), and basically you post the books you got in the past week, not necessarily in the mail (but somehow those are the best ones). Since I actually *did* get books in the mail today, I thought why not share them and make you all envious.

So, first, a few I picked up at the local mall bookstore last week. I went in to kill time while B got a haircut and ended up with an armful of remainders, all for less than $20. What I got:

House of Many Ways Wondrous Strange (Wondrous Strange (Quality)) The Poison Eaters: and Other Stories The Affinity Bridge (Newbury & Hobbes Investigations) Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life

Yes, mostly fiction, and mostly YA. I have read two and three in the row, and have been busy reading the two that come before the first one in the row (if that makes any sense).

Today, I stopped in to use the washroom at Chapters after dropping B off at the truck repair place so he could go to work, and of course I had to look around. I was good and only bought two books, one remaindered and one remaindered and then discounted to a whopping $2:

A Cabinet of Wonders Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto

Then on the way home I stopped at the post office to mail a print to the Netherlands (the last of my Steam Ichthyosaurs) and pick up a parcel from Powell's containing the books I ordered almost two months ago with my birthday money (which got hung up in the post-strike/lockout backlog). In it was:

Ichthyo: The Architecture of Fish Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums Mr. Wilson's Cabinet Of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Techno logy Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum

You may have noticed that two of the above have "cabinet of wonder" in the title. I have a peculiar attraction to cabinets of curiosity and own a few other books with similar titles. No doubt I will acquire more, by and by. Also, most of the ones that aren't YA are natural history, which should come as a surprise to exactly no one.

Tomorrow I hope to have that post about the very cool book I have almost finished.

24 July 2011

Plotting to Commit Artists' Bookery

I'm having one of those jittery days when I can't quite sit still at the computer for too long, which means I have do do something. Make something. So that book cover I'm working on in Photoshop and Illustrator will have to wait a bit.

I've decided to tackle a couple of my Ideas from earlier in the year, which I hadn't started on because I don't have all the bits I need. I've adapted them so I do have all the bits, and I'm going to start on prototypes as soon as I finish this blog entry. When I started writing this post, I had planned to combine the two Ideas into one, but in the process, I've decided to do them as two separate things again. (So I've just re-written a bunch of this post).

Idea One: If you've been reading this blog long, you may remember some posts I did a year ago with photographs of some of the moths that are attracted to my porch light (here's one here, if you want to refresh your memory). Well, we have lots of moths again this year--including a few I didn't see last year--and that has me all excited again. So I'm going to make an edition (possibly an open one, so I can make them as I feel like it, instead of all at once) of little albums. Sort of like mini photo albums. Then I'll print out the moths--maybe as close to life-size as I can manage, or maybe just at a size I like--cut each one out carefully by hand, and mount it like a specimen in the album.

I've done a little bit with moths and specimens before, so this fits with my previous work. (Such as this moth intaglio print here, the discards of which I've been cutting up and mounting in hand-built Riker mounts to look like real specimens, sort of--pics of that soon, once I have some more made (and there's another project to work on . . .).)

Idea Two: I drink a lot of tea, and one of the places I buy really good tea packages it in round tins with a plastic window on top. I thought they looked a bit like portholes, and so I came up with the idea of "specimen journals." They'll be little round leather and fancy paper books that fit inside the tea tin. It'll have a sea-related "specimen" mounted on the front cover (maybe something cut from copper, maybe a hand-drawing, maybe real shell fragments, or maybe something else). The tin will have faux rivets added around the lid to make it look more like a porthole, and it'll be lined in paper to match the book, or maybe velvet. I only have a couple of these tins, but I keep drinking tea, so soon I'll have more.

I also had ideas of expanding this into books cased in hand-built wooden boxes with round windows, with other sorts of specimens on the covers. I even bought a few clock glasses to use as windows, but of course, I don't have the materials to built the boxes, so those will have to wait.

So that's what I'll be up to today. We'll see how far I get.

23 July 2011

Book Cover Woes

So I re-titled The Secret Common-Wealth to Milk Sister, which puts the emphasis on the main character instead of on a book she reads (though the contents of the book are rather important to the plot). Also, it doesn't sound like some sort of political treatise. And I decided I don't like the cover I made as much as I like the book, so I decided to re-do the cover from scratch. The first cover looked like this:

It was a fun experiment, if not entirely successful. But I wanted something with the main character, since the title now refers to her. I thought I could do worse than starting with the intaglio print I blogged about yesterday as a background image. There's an enchanted tree in the story, too, so it's not just a random image.

I started by adding colour in Photoshop. The layer blending I chose gave the image some nice darks around the edge, though the intensity of the background may be part of the problem I'm having now.

Then the main character. I rummaged around for a photo I could edit and use and came up with one of myself at my sister's wedding. I was seventeen and my character is only fourteen, but I think it's OK. The fact that I'm working with an image of myself might also be part of the problem. It's too weird.

So, first attempt:

Then I tried to fix a few things and make more of the background visible:

Then I tried to fix some other things:

The hair on her shoulder (badly Photoshopped as my hair was back in the original) was really starting to bug me.

And at this point, I'm not even sure what it was I thought I was fixing. And that's where it remains. With me really beginning to hate it, but without any clue of what to fix or where to start if I started over.

The part I quite like is how the title sits on top of the background (it looks better when bigger--you can click on the images to make them a bit bigger). So yeah. I think I need a break. I was really hoping to be able to upload the ebook on Monday, and I *can* always change the cover later, but still.

22 July 2011


An old friend from graduate school recently purchased one of my prints and asked for more information on the process, so I wrote this big, long detailed thing. Then I realized it might make an interesting blog post. You can read Jade's comments on the print after she got it in the mail on her blog.

"Liminal" is an intaglio print (specifically line etching, drypoint and aquatint), hand-printed on cotton rag paper.

The process begins with coating a copper plate in hard ground (essentially a pigmented wax suspended in a solvent that dries to a relatively hard coating on the plate). Then I hand-drew the lines into the hard ground with an etching needle. The plate was etched in a solution called "Edinburgh etch" (ferric chloride and ascorbic acid, I think, though I'm not certain of the proportions). Some lines were filled in and the plate re-etched, and so on, creating deeper, darker lines where they were etched longest, and lighter lines elsewhere.

The aquatint was added second and begins by cleaning the plate of hard ground and grease and sprinkling it with finely ground resin, which is then adhered to the plate with heat. Then the plate is stopped out with hard ground so that only the exposed areas with be etched. As with the lines, the plate is again alternately etched and stopped out to create areas of different tone. The resin creates a fine dot pattern on the plate, which prints as tone--different amounts of etching give different tones.

Finally, I added the cross-hatching by directly scribing lines onto the plate with an etching needle in a technique called "drypoint." This creates a fuzzy look on the lines, where the ragged edges of scribed copper also retain ink.

Then the plate is cleaned again, and de-greased. Then etching ink--in this case a very dark brown--is spread over the entire surface. Then the plate is wiped using tarlatan (a stiff, loosely woven fabric something like heavily starched cheesecloth). The final wipe is done with small pieces of newsprint. This leaves the plate clean of ink where there is bare copper, but inked below the surface of the plate where there are lines or aquatint.

A variety of papers can be used for intaglio printing, but heavy cotton rag gives very good results. The rag paper is soaked and then blotted, so it is consistently damp. The plate goes on the bed of the press, then the paper, then some newsprint, then three layers of press blankets, and the whole sandwich is cranked through at high pressure. This forces the paper into the recessed lines of ink and creates the distinctive raised ink and embossed plate border seen in intaglio prints.

For reasons that probably made sense at the time, I didn't edition "Liminal" but only made a few unnumbered proofs. Then I re-worked the plate--mostly the background--and printed it again, this time as "Interstitial," of which I also made only a few proofs.

Much of the background was removed simply by stopping out the image area and letting the acid eat away the detail. This results in something called "openbite" with is usually a mistake, but can also be used as part of the design. It produces large featureless areas and a dark line of ink around any areas that were protected from the etch.

19 July 2011

Latest Covers

Warning: Contains writerly stuff. If you're here for bookbinding or letterpress printing or pictures of Nova Scotia wildlife, you might want to skip this entry.

So a few days ago, I posted the last of the Frisland cycle of short stories to Smashwords and Kindle. The penultimate story, "Raven's Wing," I had started but never finished, so I finished it. Here's the cover:

The image is one of a pair of lithographs with Celtic raven imagery that I did a few years ago. I think it makes a rather handsome, if minimalist, cover. Actually, a lot of my covers are minimalist, as most of them will only ever be ebooks, since they're for short stories.

The very last story, "Great Skerry," got a photographic cover:

The photo was taken near Burgeo, NL, which was one of the inspirations for Cobbleshore, where many of the Frisland stories are set.

Now that they're all done, I'll be publishing a collection of all 11 stories in ebook and paperback, but first I want to get novel #2 done and out, plus The Coming of the Fairies in paperback. In case you missed it, the cover for that looks like this (I think it looks less good as a little ebook cover, so if you want to see it looking better, click on it to make it bigger):

So the last few days I've been working on getting The Secret Common-Wealth, my second YA/middle grade fantasy novel (also about fairies), formatted and ready for e-publication. Originally, I had planned a watercolour cover, but I'm not so sure my limited skills are up to the task (then again, they might not have been up to any book covers, but I did them anyway). I started playing around with scanning hand-bound books and adding gold-looking text, and ended up with this:

Which sometimes I like, and sometimes I don't. My biggest issue is, I think, that there aren't any of that sort of fairy in the book. No sparkly little winged women, no matter how fierce. The fairies in this book are Scottish sidhe, tall and elegant and amoral. (Also, the image really belongs to my comic, Fey, which I write/draw as nico.) But when I first made the little fairy woman gold, it looked so cool. Anyway. I don't want to take weeks to finish the cover, like I did with Coming, so I think I'll use it for now, and maybe work on it and make it better between now and whenever I manage to finish the paperback formatting.

Next on my list of writing to finish is chapter 4 of Aeryn Daring & the Scientific Detective. Then the third and final section of "Brother Thomas's Angel," which may very well bump it up from a novella to a novel, which is perfectly fine with me. Next to edit and make a cover for and publish is The Madness of Kentaurs (or is it *A* Madness? I always forget), and of course Frisland Stories.