Book Art

I really am a book person. I love to read. (I want to write — I’m starting small-ish with this blog.) I find that very often when I’m drawn to art, if it’s not related to Home, the written word or books are involved. So, no surprise, the idea of creating art out of books really captivated me.

I started experimenting with the shapes and textures that I could create with just the repetition of very simple folds. There’s no pattern involved. As with making 1000 cranes, I just folded the same thing over and over again. The first one I made looked like a stacked cones. I marked the middle of the length of the book with a pencil and then folded the top and bottom corners of each page down until a point was formed at that middle marker. To keep the folds neat and lined up, make sure that the start of the fold is as close to the binding as possible.

I wondered next, ‘what it would look like if the shape was inverse?’ I alternated pages, folding one corner from the top down and the next page, folded the corner from the bottom up. I got ‘crazy’ and stacked the two shapes — gluing them to the back side of a canvas rather than the front. Just because I like the rawness and the wood and the staples framing the books.

The fun thing about this project is that no pattern is required. You don’t need a ruler. You just need an old book. The art is in the repetition of the folds and then the repetition of the shapes that are created by the forms of the book. My most recent attempt was a simple assembly of 4 of the very first type of fold — the stacked cones.

And then I hid a few treasures between the pages — just like we find when we read a good book.

I’m having such fun with re-purposing books. I think there’s some leftover from long ago sense of wickedness about ‘destroying’ a book — remember when we checked books out of libraries or were loaned school books for the year and you couldn’t mark in them or dog-ear the pages? Maybe I’m assuaging my child-like guilt over destroying books by saving them from the dump and recycling them into art? In any case, I’m still deconstructing an old dictionary I picked up off the kitchen counter at work. It’s turned into flower garlands, cranes, roses, butterflies . . .

Arabic Coffee and a Lesson in Hospitality

These miniature Arabic coffee pots are souvenirs from a time in my life when I traveled often to Doha and Abu Dhabi. Aesthetically, I love the curves of the shapes. I love the history — each shape is typical of a different region of the Middle East. I love the symbolism of hospitality that these coffee pots represent — a traditional offering of strong (an American might think it is even a bit bitter) Arabic coffee offset by sweet dates. The carafes remind me, as well, of one of the most profound lessons in hospitality and cross-cultural friendship that I have been gifted with.

In 2003, when the second Iraq War and the campaign to remove Saddam Hussein started, I was managing several teams of geoscientists, a number of whom were expatriates living in Doha, Qatar. While the air base the United States was using was located in the desert outside of Doha, Baghdad is 1130 km away. My company deemed that it was safe for my staff and their families to stay in place in Doha and therefore, I reasoned, it was safe for me to travel there to provide career advice and moral support.

My normal flight into Doha was on British Airways out of London and usually flew over Iraqi airspace — not possible at this period of time. So the commercial flights landed on Cyprus, refueled, and then took a longer route around Iraq to get to Doha. The approach and landing in Cyprus was dramatic — quite abrupt and quite steep.

photo by Alex Sergeev ‘Approach to Sheraton Hotel at Sunrise’ (www.asergeev.com)

We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel, pictured above, which is lovely and has an iconic pyramidal architectural shape. The hotel, no surprise, was almost empty except for journalists. The joke was that the journalists were posing for their live reports in front of the blowing palm trees of the Sheraton hotel — 1100 km away from the actual conflict.

One morning, on my way down to breakfast before going in to work, I rode down the glass elevator with a British woman and a Qatari gentleman, dressed in his traditional thobe (the white, coat-like garment that Arabic men wear) and Arabic head covering. The woman was chattering to me about how nervous she was being in Doha during the conflict and how ‘difficult’ things were. I was nodding politely, just listening. As we stepped off the elevator, the Qatari gentleman, who had not been part of the short conversation, turned to us both and, in perfect English, said “You have nothing worry about, you are guests in our home.”

It didn’t matter if we were American or British, male or female, Muslim or not — we were guests. And the most important idea this gentleman wanted to communicate to us was that because we were guests — his guests — and the rules of hospitality over-rode everything else that might be going on in the world.

I think this memory is one of the strongest of my time traveling in the Middle East. I was treated with as much respect there as I have been treated traveling in former Soviet countries, Southeast Asia, West Africa, South America, or even in the United States. My home is decorated with momento’s from my travels. Those Middle Eastern momento’s, and the memories, are treasured. In fact, the very first oriental rug (the rug is actually from Kashmir) that I ever purchased was from a shop in the Sheraton Hotel in Doha. Along with the coffee pots, my rugs survived Hurricane Harvey.

The Importance of Pom Poms

I’m not sure that Pom Pom’s really are all that important. But they are whimsical and slightly irresistible. Personally, I treasure the bits of whimsy in my life given the stress of real world work and family commitments. Pom Poms seem to be having a Moment in the the home decor and DIY community too. Which is just fine with me. During a last minute run to the mall during the holidays, my daughter and I saw the throw pillow on the right and we did the classic . . .’oh I could make that. . . ‘ that all crafter’s are prone to do. Of course, by the time we bought the yarn, the pillow, and the professional Pom Pom making tool, we probably could have just bought the pillow in the mall. But the result is the picture on the left. And an opportunity to share how easy and fun and soul-satisfying making Pom Pom’s is.

We found our supplies at Michaels and the Pom Pom making tool is manufactured by Clover . . . it takes about 2-3 minutes to make a Pom Pom and little to no concentration. You unfold the ‘wings’ on the tool, wind yarn around each side in turn, and then cut the yarn along the split between the ‘wings’ of the tool. Using a piece of the same yarn, run that piece around the split between the two halves of the tool, tie as tight a knot as possible and then open up both wings and pry the tool apart to extract a finished poof ball. Very satisfying. I made about 25 of the Pom Poms in two sizes. The hardest part, honestly, was figuring out how to attach the Pom Pom’s to the pillow. I tried gluing them on, but they didn’t stick very well and I wasn’t happy with the hard spots left by the glue. Ultimately, I sewed the Pom Pom’s on — it’s easier to sew them on if you start from the center and add on towards the outer edge.

The Pom Pom pillow is now tucked onto the guest room bed — adding a little extra cozy for when the kids come home to visit.

Crafted Giving

This year, during the gifting season of Hannukah and Christmas, I wanted to give all, or mostly all, handmade items. I was largely able to meet my goal; the gifts were definitely a reflection of the creative journey I took in 2019, focusing on re-purposing and re-using found items, particularly paper. I’ve already talked about re-using the paper backing of sanitary pads for my cranes. Oddly enough, cranes only played a minor role in my gift giving though. I spent a lot of time playing with old books — folding pages of books found at thrift stores and tearing apart a give away old dictionary. The piece that took the longest is pictured above — a piece of abstract artwork a gave to my son. The four books are folded in a very simple geometric pattern. In the center is a bouquet of origami butterflies. Hidden in the pages of the books are some vintage pressed butterflies that I found for $2 at a consignment store. Fortunately, my son loved his artwork.

My sister, who celebrates Christmas, received this tree made of paper roses from the old dictionary I found at work. I originally was going to make a set of three trees of different sizes. But the roses took way longer to make then I realized ’cause I had to let the glue dry overnight. And they were glued twice. So, she got one tree . . . Sorry, Jen!

Several gifts were traveled-inspired, as I spent so much time on the road this year. The watercolor looking picture is actually a photograph I took from Signal Hill, hiking around St John’s (Newfoundland) one evening after work. I used the Waterlogue app on my phone to convert the photo to the image above. I liked it so much that I then used Snapfish to print a copy on canvas for my husband and additional copies printed on foam core for my Dad and my daughter.

The gift pictured on the right is another quirky re-use of ‘found’ materials. I take the ‘do not disturb signs’ from every hotel room I stay in. I guess that qualifies as ‘found,’ doesn’t it? The new, different ones get hung on a frame outside my bedroom door in a not so subtle attempt to discourage the kids from coming in (no, it doesn’t work — my stepdaughter didn’t realize they were ‘do not disturb’ signs for a year). Anyway, with lots of duplicates and extras, I created this collage for my older daughter . . . She’s a grad student with a wicked dry sense of humor and I thought she might hang it outside her office.

I did revert to some of my old favorite crafts. The crocheted blanket was a gift for my 4 year old grandson. Once upon a time (before he was born), I had started another afghan for him — the small blue squares — but that one never got finished. I had chunky yarn left over from an afghan I made for Andrew’s Mom and from an afghan I made for my youngest daughter. So I used the leftover yarn and the leftover squares to create something new and soft and snuggly. All while tutoring my oldest son in Algebra. This afghan represents Thomas’ final exam. By the way, he got a C in the class, which was, in my opinion, a triumph!

The gift, pictured on the right above, required me to learn how to use my new sewing machine — definitely slowed me down. I lost three sewing machines in Hurricane Harvey. My children gifted me with a new one for my birthday this past year. With all the traveling, I hadn’t had time to open it up. But Thomas, bless his heart, had bought a boy’s size small Dungeons and Dragons themed tshirt as a momento when his favorite card shop went out of business. Thomas is 6′ 7″ and weighs closer to 300 lbs than 200 lbs. He was not to going to wear this t-shirt. He entrusted me with his shirt and it needed to be turned into a throw pillow for his bed. So, I learned how to use the sewing machine. It was so liberating to be able to sew again!

Cranes did figure in my gift-giving in one small way. I decided that one evening, for Hannukah, everyone would get a gift of homemade peanut butter fudge (Thanks to Leslie @my100yearoldhome for the recipe). I packaged a few pieces for each person in a chinese-style take out box and glued a small sliver crane on each one. It’s the closest I come to a ‘Martha Stewart’ moment . . . unfortunately, the little boxes aren’t all that photogenic. When I posted this photo on Instagram, someone thought they were bugs. Which, when I look at it, I totally get. They do look like bugs.

1000 Cranes – achieving my milestone

The last 10 cranes

I folded the last of my 1000 cranes yesterday. We had talked about making a celebration out of the last fold. But finishing in the middle of studying for the algebra final with my son was also ok. A bit anticlimactic. Being in the middle of the flow of life was appropriate. The journey of folding cranes has ended up being a journey of mindfulness in the middle of the everyday.

I’ve folded most of the cranes while we were studying algebra this year. Or during very long and not very interesting business meetings a long way from home. The act of folding was like doodling on paper or fiddling with worry beads. Keeping my hands busy kept me awake and focused and contributing. It helped me endure a lot of moments that together might have been unendurable. That was the superficial benefit of the journey.

There was the subtle joke that very few people understood – the pink paper that looked so oriental and delicate and that I was so openly working with (and occasionally sharing) was sourced from sanitary pads. So there was a strong element of rebellion, putting the private in public without anyone around me knowing.

The journey freed me as well – to be creative and recognize and embrace how vital that drive to create is to my own sense of well being. I created more this year, beyond just the cranes, than I have in many years. I taught myself new skills, explored new avenues. Gained my first 1000 followers on Instagram. Started this blog.

The year has been every bit as difficult as I expected it to be on New Years Day. The financial burden of other people’s needs has been heavy. And several of the dreams that I tried to hold on to at the beginning of the year are well and truly gone. Early retirement and a house on the beach.

But, I turned my stepdaughter’s vacated bedroom into a retreat for myself. And I found a way to sustain myself. So that simple desire to have something of my own to show for the year has turned into much more. I want to keep going. The completion of 1000 cranes seems to have become more of a milestone than a destination. I need to glue the last 100 cranes onto my canvas to complete my art work. I’m not sure what I’ll do next. But I do have a vintage dictionary I’ve been cutting up. Maybe, once the mother’s prayers are complete, words will start to take flight.

Folding an Origami Crane

Though I started this blog on a philosophical note, describing the significance of folding one thousand cranes, this space is about creativity and about craft and about decor. And while there are thousands of video’s and photo instructions on the internet about how to fold an origami crane, you’re here now, with me. And if you’ve read the first blog, your next question is probably, “well how do I fold a crane?” So rather than making you search the internet for instructions, here is how I fold a crane, starting with the liner paper of a sanitary napkin, cut into 2 inch squares.

Gently grasp the wings in step 22 and pull them apart to open up the body of the crane. Then repeat 999 times.

My Year of 1000 Cranes

Strings of 1000 cranes at a Buddhist shrine in Japan

Folding 1000 cranes is a relatively recent Japanese custom.  If you fold and keep 1000 cranes, it brings good luck. Buddhist shrines in Japan often have 1000’s of strings of 1000 folded origami cranes, in bright colors, left as offerings.  Folding 1000 cranes is a form of meditation of prayer.  I decided on New Year’s Day of 2019 that it would be my year of 1000 cranes.  It would be a year in which I would do some soul-searching; try to find a new set of dreams to replace the ones that no longer fit my world.

The idea started a bit perversely.  I’m over 50.  I’ve born three children (we have a blended family of five).  My bladder leaks when I laugh or sneeze or jump or run.  I always wear an “Always” sanitary pad in my underwear to stay dry.  The pads are lined with pink and white patterned wax paper that looks vaguely Japanese in style, which one peels off to expose the stickiness to keep the pads in place.  I usually have a small stack of these pink flowered papers in my closet waiting to be thrown away.  Looking at the small stack in January, I wondered what else I could do with them. They’re rectangular, two inches across and about 5 inches long.  If you cut them, you can get two, 2” squares from each paper; two pinky sized, pink-flowered origami cranes. (Later, I found, if I buy the extra-long pads, I can get three cranes out of a single backing paper instead of only two!)

On New Year’s Eve of 2019, I was faintly optimistic.  We had moved back into our home that May, after flooding in Hurricane Harvey. My youngest had started college. I had survived Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. The commercial shopping frenzy leading up to the dual gift giving of Channukah and Christmas was over.  We’d survived the conflict of half the blended family only celebrating Channukah and the other half lighting candles but also “doing” Christmas.

I was starting to see a New Year in which my husband and I might be able to enjoy periodic date nights and long weekends and perhaps even a vacation.  We could recover enough financially, perhaps, to think about buying a beach house – a place to escape to, where we could be just Us.  That narrative changed when we found out our unwed oldest daughter was pregnant with her second child. The father was homeless and unemployed, sleeping in his car in the Fitness Connection parking lot. They were going to need a lot of love, a lot of support, and a lot of financial help.

It has taken some practice. I had to re-teach myself how to fold a crane.  And I had to re-think about what makes me happy. Like so many other precious moments in life, I wasted some of the small squares of pink paper.  But I liked the look of the small collection of the first seven pink cranes massed together in a small bowl on my desk.   I decided to glue the cranes onto a large canvas and create a collage. The creative process gave me peace, made me happy. The art is delicate but durable, representing strength, endurance, persistence, a mother’s love and marital commitment. A piece of art into which I hope to fold all the rage and sadness and despair that I felt at the start of this year and turn it into prayers and hope. This blog is part of that creative process; part of that journey. I hope to share my unique vision of the world — at the scale of the canvas or the crane — and share some of the the resilience that life has made me build.