Monday, 11 June 2012

Palm Leaf Book - Artist's Book Workshop Day with Mia Leijonstedt, 9th June 2012

I spent Saturday in Cambridge again. This time, it was to attend an all-day workshop, with artist Mia Leijonstedt, who lives close to ArtSpace Cambridge.

I have been looking forward to this workshop for a couple of months, as I think Mia's work is very beautiful and inspiring. The workshop was to make artists' books, in a Palm Leaf style, but with wooden covers.  Mia's own books are fabulous and I wanted to have the opportunity to meet her and hear what she had to say / see what I could learn from her.  She's about to take a break from much of her bookbinding work, to concentrate on a new venture, making rather beautiful jewellery (see her Etsy shop and be amazed and delighted!)
9:15am - setting up, ready for a 9:30 start...
Mia brought some of her own work for us to see.  I love her use of texture, colour and contrast and choice of materials.  The shiny metal bits are melted tin, which she heats up, pours and cools, before attaching to the work.  

Mia uses a lot of natural materials, such as wood, bark, feathers, coral and stones, combined with lovely beads, coloured cord and twines, leather, paints...  There are lots of different papers inside the books, with various textures, patterns and colours (and you all know how I feel about paper...). 
All very lovely and quite inspiring!  You can see more of these here.

This is the smallest of the books, above. I loved the circle of gold-embossing on the leather, also the little beads that embellish the ends of the cord ties.  The covers are of hand-dyed wood. 

* * *
So, we were to produce our own Artist's Book, using a Palm Leaf style of binding.  The Palm Leaf binding is a very simple form.  It's basically a top and bottom "cover" with "pages" in between. The binding is achieved by making holes at either end of each cover and page, then passing a cord down through one set of holes, along the bottom cover and up through the second set of holes.  The cord is cut long enough to be used as ties, to fasten the pages and covers together. 
This style of book originates from India and Southeast Asia, where the books were really made from leaves of trees, such as palms - hence the long, narrow form of the book.  This is the Wikipedia entry for Palm Leaf Books - it also has some photos of original books, which are interesting.

Mia even produced our course notes in the form of a palm leaf style book - look how lovely it is!  Each of us had one of these, embellished with little scraps of paper, beads and leather.  A gorgeous little thing - it was like having a present!

So, Palm Leaf Artists' Books.... wow...

We weren't just given materials and told to get on with it.  Nor did Mia do that "follow me, step by step" thing that is sometimes useful for something complicated. 

The book form is very simple.  She chose it so that we could each come up with a very personal item, interpreting the book form in our own way.  Before we started making any books, we "made something", then did several exercises, to help us get warmed up, creative, inspired. 
Firstly, we were asked to go and select one item from each of five little heaps of things.  The piles had stuff like leather and felted scraps, buttons, beads, stones, cords, strings, shells, little tin scraps, feathers, flowers etc and each pile consisted of similar items, but was a bit different to the other piles.
We were then to use the five objects, to make "a talisman" object.   This was fun - everyone had chosen items independantly and we all came up with something quite different. Mia said she thought our item would say something about our individual personalities. I don't know, but I think she was perhaps right about that; my item was just a little thing, made from bits that I liked, but that must say something about me really...

Mia examines one of the pieces of work.
Our work laid out on the table.

We then had three different creative exercises. The first was to imagine ourselves reaching out an invisible finger, from where we sat, to touch each of the objects that Mia lifted up for us to see.  There weren't many things - just a few items with contrasting textures or "feels" - a smooth metal ruler, with printed on markings;  a rough piece of bark; a soft natural sponge; a large piece of quartz with crystalline structure.   It just woke up the imagination and made us think... 

Then we had a small stack of paper sheets (not very large ones) and a black pen. Mia gave us a word for each sheet, one at a time. The idea was to draw the word - like sort-of automatic writing, only drawing.  It was just a doodle of our impression of that word. We ended up with about 5 or 6 doodles, all different.  Most people's doodle of a particular word had similarities, but no-one produced the same doodle.  It was very interesting - and quite liberating really.  

The final exercise was a guided meditation. Mia drew the blinds down slightly, put up a big Do Not Disturb notice on the door.  Then she had us get comfortable, close our eyes and imagine what she told us.  It was a kind of story... we started on a warm sunny beach...  paddled in the sea... found a shining object which transported us to a beautiful building... inside the building we were guided to an object in a glass dome, which we couldn't see at first...  there was just a symbol visible to begin with, until we wiped the glass clear... we were allowed to hold the object... the curator of the gallery told us it was our own object... we left it in the gallery and went out of a find ourselves back at the lovely beach. 
Then we were asked to draw - the object, the symbol, an impression - whatever.  I ended up with a nice little drawing of a beautiful book - which I may try to make some time!

I have done this kind of exercise before, but somehow there was always some kind of embarassment or discomfort about it.  On Saturday, it just "worked" and I found the whole thing very relaxing, inspiring.  It got me "connected" with my creative ideas and thoughts.  I was raring to go. 
Perhaps it helped that I had gone to Cambridge with the mindset that I was going there for a Challenge and would be doing something creative, different and new.  So I was all ready for whatever was offered.  It seems to have worked anyway, as I just had the Best day!

The Books

The remainder of the day was spent on our Books.  We each had a pair of covers - all pieces of wood, except for one student, who opted for some black board covers instead, as she liked the more delicate feel of these.

There was a big pile of assorted papers for us to select from - any that we wanted.  There was paint, inks, coloured and natural cords and threads, pieces of leather, fabrics, stones, beads, glass, bark, metal objects... Also a pyrography iron, for experimenting with covers or pages and a little heater, with a melting pan, plus pieces of tin to be melted into interesting shapes or designs. Several people tried one or both of these techniques.  We had no restrictions or rules - we were just allowed to do what we wished.  Mia was available to help with tecnical enquiries, materials, ideas if we needed someone to bounce them off... but she never said "you must do..." or "you shouldn't do..." (except for burning/melting outside because of the smoke alarm indoors!).

All the books, laid out for us to admire.  Quite exciting!

At the end of the day, we had eight (almost nine - someone started a second project) books.  Each was very different and all were really quite beautiful.  The students all came from different places and different artistic backgrounds.  Some were already bookbinders and/or artists, some were not.  One lady was a writer, who was exploring bookbinding techniques because she wanted a vehicle to showcase a special series of poems - a Book of Hours.  Everyone produced something to feel proud of.  Even Mia seemed excited to see them all laid out on the table.  Much photo-taking ensued!

Mostly, I don't know whose book was whose, but here is a Gallery of our work:

The blue book is covered in hand-painted/dyed paper.

A close-up of the wonderful metal mini-sculpture on the red book!

One of those is mine, but I'd like you to look at all of them and appreciate their gorgeousness, so I won't tell you which one it is! 

* * *

A "Gallery" slideshow of my own book is below.  I have also added a Page about my book, with notes describing its creation - there is a new tab at the top of my blog, or follow this link when you've seen enough of the slideshow:

Journey : A Palm Leaf style Artist's Book


  1. All beautiful books I love all the different materials you have used :)

  2. what beautiful books. The whole process of book making is just so beautiful. You must have thoroughly enjoyed yourself.

  3. Lizzie I am blown away by your knowledge and enthusiasm for bookbinding. They are all beautiful. Hope it was a realky inspiring day! Xx

  4. I love the idea of creative warmup - I've been to several workshop wehre it would have made a big difference

  5. It looks like a wonderful class and your book is fabulous!

    Me = jealous.

  6. Kudos to Mia for allowing you all that freedom to relax before actually making your books.
    A good day, I'd say.Some very interesting pieces.

  7. Oh Lizzie, you write so incredibly well. I've been meaning to write a blog post about our precious day all week (busy busy, on my list to do) but you've given such a fantastic account here with images that I might just have to link to your post instead..! Thank you for coming, for enjoying yourself, and for being such a treasure (alongside the book you made!) So enjoyable to read about your creative Journey. Wishing you all the best in your bookish ventures!

  8. Thanks everyone - Mia most especially! It's lovely to have some positive feedback.
    I just had a great time on Saturday and I hope I'll be able to find time to complete this project - and do some more!

  9. Oh I loved this! Great to see so many methods and I am now off for a read through your archive. Thank you for popping by my blog too xx

  10. The books look wonderful Lizzie. I've not seen anything quite like them before. Sounds like you had a brilliant teacher to lead you through the process.

  11. i wandered here from Mia's blog...sounds like a wonderful workshop

  12. Hey India, glad you came to see... Thanks for the nice comment - it was a great day and I enjoyed it so much.

  13. Hello
    Just meetinmg you Lizzie -- I am about to make a Palm Leaf book and this was such a beautiful and helpful page -- Thanks so much!


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