|The Pirate Codex|
I have had to create old looking books many times and have used the fabric cover technique to less than adequate results. What I always wanted to acheive was the look of tooled leather. In an airplane, somewhere over Nebraska I think I had an idea on how to create the look of tooled leather on a book cover. When I arrived home, I immediately began fleshing out my idea. The Pirate Codex above is the result of my experimentation. Since that time, I have taught this technique to my prop class and have built up a decent collection of old books, some magical, some whimsical. Last semester (Winter 2013) we filled a bookcase in Prospero's cell in The Tempest. Here is the technique.
Probably the singlemost important step in the preparation process. I'm still amazed when a student attempts to make a book like this without thinking through what it will look like in the end. It is important to design and draw what you want the book to look like ahead of time. Otherwise what you have in your mind may not appear on the final project.
Things to consider:
1. How large is the book supposed to be?
2. What is the book supposed to be about?
3. What does the book need to look like?
4. What color of "leather" do you want the book to have?
5. How realistic or whimsical does the book need to be?
6. Will the audience see the inside of the book? (if so, your process just got way more involved)
This tutorial is just about the book cover. It will not address the contents inside. That is material for a different tutorial.
I like to pick up old textbooks at the local thrift store. I can get fairly large books for very little money. The Pirate Codex is an old nursing textbook for example. I always have to warn people when they pick it up not to turn the pages because there are pictures of unmentionable diseases in it. I think it cost me two bucks. Unfortunately, I do not have process pictures of the Pirate Codex. I do however have process pictures of several other books that I created for a seminar in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Many books have embossed lettering on the front cover and spine. These need to be covered or filled before continuing with the project. You can cover them with illustration board, poster board or fill them with Sobo Glue. To fill the embossing, squirt a generous amount of Sobo on the book cover and use a scrap of poster board as a screed to draw the glue across and into the embossing. Allow that to dry before proceeding.
To cover, cut a piece of illustration board or poster board into the desired shape and place over the embossing. Fix it with Sobo Glue as well. This needs to dry before continuing as well. I like to place a heavy book over the poster board or the illustration board to hold it in place as the glue drys.
The Pirate Codex has illustration board above the skull. The book in the photo below has a poster board "moon" covering most of the embossing with Sobo Glue covering the rest.
|Sobo Glue fill and poster board cover on embossing|
Whatever your design, it needs to be laid out with care. Precision at this stage will make the difference between a good book and a shoddy one.
Use calligraphy T-Squares, pencils, Sharpie pens, triangles, templates, compasses and anything else you need to create a precision layout on your book cover.
If you have lettering on the front cover it is wise at this stage to lay it out as well, then ink it with a sharpie pen so it will bleed through the wet stage.
When lettering, draw out the text box you need to fill on the book cover, then count how many letters in each line of your title. Take into account that the capital letter at the beginning of the word will be larger and take up more space. With the capital letter accounted for, find the center of your word or your title. Fine the center of the text box. Begin lettering by alligning the two center points and work towards each end. Be sure to keep your letters appropriately sized. It may take a few times to get it right, but it is well worth the trouble.
|Layout, lettering and tools for The Art of Divination|
|Laying out with calligraphy and drafting tools|
|The Reaper book, layout|
The Hot Work
When I would make fabric covered books and try to make them look like embossed leather, I'd build up a physical design on the book with illustration board or found objects, then glue the fabric down over it. No matter how hard I tried, no matter which adhesive I used, I could not get a clean, tight edge around the raised portion under the fabric. Typically the fabric would shrink a little and it really just looked like a bad fabric covered book job.
This new technique dispenses with the fabric altogether. After you have your pattern inked out, begin building up your design with hot glue extruded directly out of the gun. This stage is a little like paint by numbers because you are just filling in the design. Do not try to rush this stage. You can build up layers, you can use a combination of large glue guns for big fills and small glue guns for detail work. You can apply the glue hot on hot or hot on cold and it's really up to you to know which is most appropriate.
Your tooled leather book will look a lot more interesting and convincing if you allow variation and don't try for a perfect fill. Refer to the Pirate Codex at the beginning of this blog post. Notice around the top of the skull and above the teeth how some negative space was left kind of randomly. I think this really "sells" the idea of worked leather.
|The hot work|
Some book designs require a raised border. I've found that sewing trims work really well for that. Small cording with tape works quite well, gimp also works pretty well. The border is attached by cutting a length of cording for a side or end of the book, making sure to cut a 45 degree angle on each end, then hot gluing into place. Repeat until all the borders are complete. This step can be done before the hot glue sculpting or after. No real advantage either way.
|Applying the border|
|The finished border|
One of the distinguishing features of old books is a raised binding. This can be accomplished by hot gluing short strips of sewing trim on the spine of the book. Gimp works well, as does small cording.
|Gimp used as a raised binding|
The Wet Work
The wet work is the step that sells the idea of tooled leather. Essentially the wet work creates a substrate that gives a uniform surface to paint on. There are a variety of textures on the book cover by this time. There is the cover itself which could be cardboard or cloth, the sewing trim borders, poster or illustration board and hot glue. Each of these surfaces will take paint differently and so it is imperative that you not bypass this step. If the design work is the most important step in the preparation phase, this is easily the most important step in the crafting phase.
I use a water base roofing mastic for the wet work. I have used Jaxsan 600 which is a construction industry product that some theatre prop person discovered several years ago and added it into our arsenal. I have also used Childers, CP-10 Vi-Cryl. This is also a roofing product. Frankly, I can't tell the difference between the two products. There are other theatrical coatings that I think would work, but I can't offer a review on them until I have tried them.
Apply the mastic to the book cover in a short cross hatch pattern. Try not to make it look like a pattern, however. It's good to give a generous coating to the sewing trim so it is all sealed and filled, and it is wise to apply a thinner coat to the areas of the book where you have inked the lettering. That's so it will show through. I like to go a little heavier on the hot glue and brush across the edges to allow a little mastic to build up at the junction between the book and the hot glue. I think it gives a gentler transition and sells the tooled leather better. Wrap the mastic around the edges of the book as well.
Both the Jaxsan and the Vi-Cryl take between an hour and two hours to dry.
|Childers CP-10 Vi-Cryl|
|Cross-hatching the mastic|
Spray painting is toxic and you must protect yourself with proper ventilation such as a fume hood or a NIOSH mask. You should also protect your skin by wearing impervious gloves.
Painting the book is a multi-step process. The first step is to deal with the edges of the paper. Some books have gold leaf applied to the page ends. This is quite pretty and dresses up a book. The easiest way I have found to do this is to take the book to the fume hood and open both covers at the same time, exposing the page edges. Next, take the pages as a unit and bend them. Spray the gold spray paint across the edges of the paper, then turn the book around and bend the pages the other direction and repeat the process. Doing it this way gives the page edges depth and a much richer look than if you just spray painted them flat.
|Spraying the page edges|
The next step is to put a base coat on the book cover. I prefer a two color scumble for this task. A scumble is two or more colors applied and blended on the edges. Having different colors in the scumble stage gives the finished book a mottled look which approximates the variations in leather much better than a solid color would. Scumble colors are chosen based on what the finished color of the book will be. If you wish to make a brown leather color for example, a light peach and yellow ochre make a great base coat. Painting a light base coat gives you someplace to go with the next step. You can make the leather as dark as you want it or as light, depending on how light your colors are.
The hardest part about making these books is waiting for the paint to dry and being patient enough for that to happen.
If you are planning to letter on the front of the book, now is a good time to do so. Gold leaf is a great medium to use for labelling the book. Gold leaf is applied by first painting on the gold leaf size, or adhesive and then letting it dry til clear. Typically, when you apply the adhesive, you have up to an hour of open time in which to apply the metal leaf.
Once the size is clear, carefully take a sheet of the metal leaf and press it into the size. Excercise care that you don't get the size on your fingers or it will make a long day out of trying to apply the metal leaf. When the metal leaf is adhered to the sizing, take a clean, dry, large brush and begin stippling straight down on the metal leaf. This presses it deeper into the size. Once most of the slag has been broken off, begin burnishing the metal leaf with the brush. The harder you beat it, the prettier it will become.
I have not yet tried a gold paint pen for lettering on one of these books, but I think it would work quite well, actually. I'd like to try one with a calligraphy tip.
|Applying the size|
|Some leaf applied. Note the flecks of gold leaf everywhere. This is messy|
The next step in the paint job is to apply a transparent color medium. I like the wood tones in the Design Master, Color Tool line. These wood tones are translucent like watercolor in a spray can. They also have a longer open time than regular spray paint does, and the color tends to spread out a little rather than drying on contact in tiny dots.
The Design Master colors I have used for this process are:
Glossy Wood Tone
Cherry Wood Tone
Walnut Wood Tone
If I had to do theatre on a desert isle and could have only one color of spray paint I would choose Glossy Wood Tone. It is by far the most useful spray color medium I have ever used.
|Some Design Master sprays with a healthy dose of Krylon Flat Black for good measure|
The technique in this step is to hold wadded up paper towels in one hand while spraying the Glossy Wood Tone or other color tool with the other. I like to work a small section at a time to prevent drying too soon. Spray a section of the book, then immediately daub at the paint with the paper towels. The idea is to create a mottled effect with the Glossy Wood Tone, so be careful not to lift off too much. Repeat this step until the entire book is coated and you are satisfied with the results.
Make sure you "wrap" the spray around the edges of the book so all the cover is uniform. Don't worry about overspray on the inside covers of the book. You can always cover the overspray with marbled endpapers if the book is to be opened on stage.
|Spray and daub. NOTE: I was demonstrating at a conference here and did not have impervious gloves or a fume hood. Bad me.|
|Half of the book done. Heavy spray in some areas, lighter in others.|
Sometimes it's nice to take a sander to some edges of the book cover, beat it or mar it in some way to give it the well worn feel. Distress it a bit. Don't fall into the trap of uniform distressing. Don't do too much but on the other hand don't do so little that it looks silly. Aim for just right.
One of the coolest things about Glossy Wood Tone is that it is glossy. One of the biggest drawbacks about Glossy Wood Tone is that it is glossy. Glossy Wood Tone is not a petroleum based spray however and you can topcoat it with water based products.
To overcome the gloss on your book cover, overpaint it with Raw Umber. You can paint straight out of the can, or thin it with water. I've even done it as a wash. As you paint on the Raw Umber, take more wadded up paper towels and once again daub off the excess. Allow the Raw Umber to stay in the recesses of your pattern as grime would on an old, tooled leather book.
As you daub off the majority of the Raw Umber, a small residue will stay behind and knock back most of the gloss from the Glossy Wood Tone. It will leave behind a dull sheen which makes the book that much more believeable. One application is probably enough, but repeat the step if necessary until you are satisfied with the look.
Most theatrical paint manufacturers carry a version of Raw Umber. It is one of the most useful of all the colors of scene paint. I would hate to be without it.
|Raw Umber painting on, daubing off. Aging the Tome|
Once it't dry it's done. I estimate between one and two hours of actual working time to create one of these books. Total time is a bit longer because of the dry time of the mastic and the paints. If you are making a bunch of books though, you can always be working on another one while waiting for the first one to dry and so on and so forth.
|Venenum--Latin for poison. |
Raised hot glue lettering, pink and peach scumble,
oversprayed with Cherry Wood Tone
|Bartle's Bestiary of Creeping Things|
Dragonfly wings textured with bridal netting, hot glued in place then trimmed,
scumbled in two different light blues then oversprayed with Cherry Wood Tone
|Creatures Faire & Foule|
I spelled it that way because it's pretentious
peach and yellow scumble, circle oversprayed with Cherry Wood Tone,
balance sprayed with Glossy Wood Tone
gold leaf letters cleaned up with sharpie pen
yellow and light green scumble
oversprayed with Glossy Wood Tone
yellow and pink scumble
Glossy Wood Tone overspray
yellow and peach scumble
Cherry Wood Tone overspray
|El Libro de los Muertos|
two blues scumble
Glossy Wood Tone overspray