harakka - an artists' book

July was a month of only two books - one case bound journal, to be shared with you soon-ish, and one artists' book for the #areyoubookenough bookbinding community challenge. I had actually given up on hope of getting anything bookbinding related done - the heathwave seems to be neverending and it's wearing me down, and so is living between two major construction work sites. Haven't spent much time at home for obvious reasons and spent the month looking for cooler and quieter locations suitable for writing. With less than two days left to finish my book for the challenge I found myself back home with barely an inkling of an idea. Sarah of Ink and Awl wondered how I came up with something this refined and finely made so quickly, and I decided it was time I wrote about the process behind a finished piece. First, let's see what I'm talking about:

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You can view a short video of the piece on my Instagram page. The book measures 8,2x8,2x5,8cm / 3.2"x3.2"x2.3" and it has six pages.

The theme for the July challenge was 'treasure'. My process started from the thought of what sort of things I consider as treasures. Important things about treasures: they're precious in one way or another, they preferably have a connection to a bygone era, they're found (or stolen), and in finding them one feels delight or exhilaration as one instantly recognizes having found something of value. Then I thought of what kind of people could have somewhat actual treasures: rich people, historians, collectors. I then widened my perspective and thought of magpies, who collect and steal all sorts of lovely, shiny things to decorate their nests with. I enjoy shiny things, but even more I enjoy lovely, tiny things, like buttons. And so the idea to create a book titled 'Harakka', the magpie, was born.

I always try to have some kind of personal angle in the artists' books I make, be it through words, images or materials. I personally have always had an eye for beautiful buttons - and so have all the women that have become before me in my family. I’m a collector of buttons, and a keeper of buttons as well as their stories. So, for this book I have picked six buttons I have considered as treasures from the moment I first saw them. The first button comes from the very first button box I ever had, the others from a special flea market find, my paternal grandmother’s round button tin, my maternal grandmother’s much larger button drawer, the tiny mourning button was found from the attic of my paternal grandparents, and the final one is a button I have always imagined having once been my great grandmother Saima’s. It was given to me by my maternal grandmother a long, long time ago. I have no way of knowing if it was Saima’s or her sister’s, but I have always thought this one as Saima’s. She passed away long before I was born, but I feel a special connection to her and her beautiful little things that have been passed on to me.

This book is a book of my personal treasures, so to keep things personal, I chose to stick to my mother tongue this time. It would be strange to try and translate the different names I have for my grandparents, even though those particular names are only meaningful to me. Still, I felt translation would create undesired distance in this case. Partly because I had very limited time, partly because I'm a fan of minimalism, I decided to only have very brief notes about the origins of each button. 

After coming up with the idea of creating a book around a handful of special buttons, I needed to figure out what book structure would work with three dimensional objects. Concertinas expand as needed, but having just made a concertina book a brief while ago, I wanted to go with something else. Also, the concertina binding is one of the most basic book structures, and one that is really often used in artists' books. There's nothing wrong with it, but I like to add variety to the field whenever possible. So, the next step was to decide how I would embed my buttons to the pages, and what structure would allow me to use thick pages. Board book structure was the first thing that came to mind, you know the kind that is used to make books for babies and toddlers. I first thought I'd make all six pages the same thickness, with the thickness determined by the thickest button. This however would've meant my book would've gotten very, very fat, so I made each page only as thick as necessary and managed to avoid creating a cube. The pages were built up in thickness with strips of book board glued together and sanded smooth. Buttons were sewn in place, and the sides were covered with white paper before I linked the adjoining pages together with hinges made out of book cloth. Once this was done both front and back of each page was covered with watercolor paper, on which I had printed the text. The first and last page were hinged with a piece of book board on which I then built the covers using a technique adapted from the sewn boards binding structure. This let me work on the covers while they were already attached to the book block - this included lining the book spine and board edges with teal blue ingres paper, adding a paper spine finished off the block, and covering the boards with black paper. The colours of this book are of course the colours of a magpie - black, white and teal.

All in all, I think I must've spent at least 16 hours by my work desk during those two days, so this wasn't really a very quick book to make. Cutting all components by hand is time consuming, and sanding all those bits of board is a pesky job. If needed, I'm quick to come up with a concept, and to figure out what kind of technical requirements it sets to the structure, but the execution still takes time. I think it's just routine that brings along with it the self confidence and knowledge required for quick decisions - I can see the finished piece in my head really early on, which is a blessing and a curse. Working without a clear vision of the finished piece encourages improvisation, but yeah, I've never been very good at that...

The August theme for the challenge is 'listen' - I expect to see books that make a noise, I expect to see books about sounds, I expect to see books that ask us to stop what we're doing and listen to something that's important. What I'll create, I have no idea, but even though this is a busy month (my poetry book launch party is coming up, and so are big deadlines!), I hope to start my next artists' book a little earlier on in the month!

the minis are back

One of the very, very few books I keep making again and again, is this little long stitch notebook. I just checked Etsy and saw I've sold almost a hundred of these over the years - which, for me, is a LOT, since I generally make just one of a kind books or very limited lots. I absolutely get the appeal of these books, as the maker (these are fun to make!), but also as a creative person. The covers are heavyweight watercolor paper and the pages are drawing paper, allowing for all sorts of artistry from cover to cover. Also, these books are inexpensive and cute as a button. I've had several customers buy a bunch for their children/grandchildren to keep the kids busy for more than a minute, and to have their artistic creations in a handy format for years of admiration to come. Then there are the lovely people who turn these into art journals by embellishing the pages with their beautiful miniature-sized creations. And then there's people like me, who just enjoy the minimalism, the practical small-enough-to-travel-anywhere size, and use the books to jot down some ridiculous notes or shopping lists while sitting in a train...

You can now find a big lot of these in the shop.

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silky

Just finished the second half of my latest lot of kimono silk books, slow and steady... Coptic and long stitch bindings now available in the Paperiaarre shop.

We've been enjoying a particularly beautiful and sunny May here in the south of Finland, and it's been a challenge to stay indoors and get everything planned done, while also allowing myself some time to just relax and celebrate my accomplishments. I hope it's beautiful and balanced wherever you are!

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fingerprints - an artists' book

The May theme for the #areyoubookenough bookbinding community challenge is 'secret', and I decided I wouldn't take it too literally and pour my heart out, at least not too much. My artists' book Fingerprints was born after I went through a mental list of structures that hide and reveal in one way or another. I haven't made one of these magic boxes in almost 15 years, so it took me a moment to remember how it's constructed. I don't think I've ever known a particular name for this box structure, but it's basically a variation of Jacob's ladder.

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I haven't given fingerprints much of a thought apart from when I find dirty fingerprints on my supposedly pristine papers, and, of course, when they're mentioned as forensic evidence. This means, in general, it's not exactly good for you if you leave behind any fingerprints. Some research into the matter revealed a more pleasant side of those little loopy, whorly ridges on our fingertips - they provide us with tons of information crucial to our fine texture perception. The friction ridges are like little amplifiers for the sense of texture. As someone whose work is massively reliant on what I feel with the tips of my fingers, my view of the world is much more texture-oriented than the one of someone who maybe works with their brain alone. And it seems my texture-orientedness also affects how I get to know someone, how I trace their face with the tips of my fingers, over and over again...

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Fingerprints - a unique artists' book by Kaija Rantakari, 2018

(paper, board, glass microscope slides, ink)

the box measures 14,9x9,5x1,9cm / 5.9"x3.7"x0.7"

Check out my Instagram for a view of the box in action!