Facsimiles, Journals, and Mysterious Books

Passing by the tv a few years ago, I caught a few moments of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and surprised my husband by sitting down next to him, riveted by what I saw. It wasn't the action that captivated me. Harrison Ford was holding a book, medieval looking, with interesting drawings and handwriting. I learned that the book was Henry Jones, Sr.'s Grail Diary, a pivotal plot prop, and much of the original prop was drawn from an actual book, The Grail: Quest for the Eternal by John Matthews. Turns out, many fans have been making facsimiles of this diary for years; you can find endless websites, videos and instructions devoted to it just by searching for "Indiana Jones Last Crusade Grail Diary."The facsimile contains many layers: pages from the Matthews original, additions made by prop artists, and all materials "aged" so the book looks like it was created in 1938, when the story supposedly takes place.

What drew me to that book? It looked old, worn, like it had a history, a story behind it. The physical object suggested a person far from me in time or place, which made me curious about a life different from my own. I like that a handmade book is the center of the film. I understand the craftsmanship it takes to make a facsimile of another book or diary, but I'm more interested in using that craftsmanship to make books as original art, to create something new (even if it looks old).

Creating an aged diary that illustrates your own interests might be a fun starting place to make a book that is meaningful to you. What might you do to create a mysterious book like this? You'll need some paper, covering materials, and possibly some daily ephemera or papers collected from traveling like tickets, fliers, receipts, or programs. A text or group of related drawings or photographs would be useful as well. Pick a theme or focus to begin.

You might use actual pages from old books, letters, or envelopes, scan and print them, or make newer materials look older than they are. Some people boil up some black tea or coffee and soak paper in it to give it an aged look. For an orange color you can use Thai tea or turmeric. I have found that FW acrylic inks, particularly antelope brown, are good for this. Dilute the ink and brush it on. You can also let it dry and layer sepia on top, or start with raw sienna or yellow ochre on the bottom since they are opaque. Sometimes I add a little purple or Prussian blue. ( I briefly mention this technique on page 30 in Painted Paper.) An excellent paper for drawing, calligraphy, and writing that comes in a perfect shade of tan is Nideggen, which you can purchase from Daniel Smith, Inc.

For covering materials for a casebound book you might take a brown paper bag and keep crumpling it and opening it up again to make it soft and give it wrinkles. Since the folding and crinkling weakens the fibers, you may wish to back the paper with a lightweight mulberry paper or with bookbinding mull (also known as super) before you wrap the boards. (See page 22 in Making Handmade Books for Mounting Paper or Backing Cloth.) Use PVA as your adhesive to add strength and flexibility to the binding. I don't work with leather, but you can refer to Keith Smith's Bookbinding for Book Artists or Quick Leather Bindings which gives instructions for working with it, if you are interested.

If you choose to make a Coptic binding, you can distress and paint the boards directly with acrylic paint. The process involves scratching into the boards, nicking them, and pounding metal objects like keys, nails, or paperclips into them, then painting the boards to look like wood. Use a dry brush and do not add water to the paint. (See page 216 in Making Handmade Books for Distressed Book Covers.)

When your materials are dry and once you know the page order, create the page designs. Bind the book after your pages are complete, perhaps include a ribbon bookmark. If you don't have a full text or complete set of drawings you want to use, arrange what you have so the ephemera and fragments are scattered throughout. By using gesso and a rectangular stencil, create a place for a a title or your name or initials on the cover. Tint the edges of the rectangle with ink, if you like.

You'll discover that a blank book that has smudges or oddities inside welcomes additional content. If you find new blank books at all intimidating, consider making a series of pre-worn journals of your own.


Bobman said…
Very nice. I got into bookbinding via watching the movie The Ninth Gate with Johnny Depp. Lots of old Leather books, most of them not props. Being R rated it may not be the sit down movie with your husband but it is interesting although it may drag a bit. I made a small faux leather book with some help from Peter Goodwin of New Zealand and Janette Heffernan has a DVD called Bookbinding with Peter Goodwin on her site. Here's a link to the DVD site. Good Luck!

Alisa said…
Thanks, Bobman! I love that you got into bookbinding watching a movie.

I liked the Peter Goodwin's YouTube intro and the DVDs look very useful. Thanks for the info. Great to see and hear a trained bookbinder in action.

The Johnny Depp film sounds intriguing, but creepy, based on some of the comments. I'm still curious, though.