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Sabrina’s Beetle Book

This work was done by Sabrina Hill in San Diego this year for the session “Writing on Vellum” in PRIMITIVE TO MODERN

May was Month Three in Reggie Ezell’s Primitive to Modern Class 2017 San Diego. Our homework assignment from Month 2 (March) was a book using vellum and some of our newly acquire gilding techniques.

When putting together homework for the previous month, I had looked up ladybugs and found the universe of beetles. The bugs look like show girls or drag queens. I thought they would be the perfect subjects for gilding on vellum.

I started by planning a 3-page vellum book with 3 beetles, but which ones? With so many beautiful choices, I decided to expand it and do a Top Ten Beetles book. Well now I was in a mess. There was not enough vellum for this. I had fig bark paper, and I liked how it looked with the mottled vellum—crisis averted. But now I had too many pages. Add more beetles. And that’s how I ended up with Beetles: A to Z.

Execution does not always go as planned. The fig paper and a broad nib pen were not the best of friends since the uncoated unsealed paper acted like a wick for the loaded nib.  I used a Micron pen for much of the writing. The lyrics to All You Need is Love were written with a Leonardt ball-tipped pointed pen—my new favorite nib.

Winsor Newton watercolors and gouache were used to paint the bugs and many bugs were brushed with pearlescent pigment for a super-shimmery bug effect. I used the paints with very little water on both the fig bark paper and the vellum. All bugs were outlined with the micron pen and shaded with soft graphite. My first car was a very used VW Bug that I shared with my sister, so homage is paid to that beetle as well. I added the words to a Beatles song to use the remaining extra pages, and finished with a little beetle humor.

This is my first effort in bookbinding. I will most certainly make more; it was such fun! I used book board covered with marbled mulberry bark paper (which is almost impossible to tear) and assembled it using a Coptic binding. The vellum pages were singles, so I used a folded strip of cream mulberry bark to provide a fold to stitch then glued the strip on either side of the vellum after the book was sewn together. I see all the mistakes, but I like my primitive little book. Doing this book did not make me like bugs any better. Beetles are well-styled but still creepy!

NOTE: In the May class, Reggie taught us that the fig bark paper can be sealed with methyl cellulose gel or Knox gelatin (in a special mixture). I love the paper, so I will try sealing it in the next project!

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