Making of the Life of Christ artist’s book

Life of Christ quote by Fulton J. Sheen

Life of Christ quote by Fulton J. Sheen

One assignment we had for our class with Barbara Close was to make an artist’s book of painted paste paper. We brought in Arches Text Wove paper for the pages. The benefit of using paste takes place when we mix acrylic and the paste fluid together, apply it to the paper, and have time to add all kinds of marks to it before it dries.

For the most part, my pages were even enough in texture and coloring to add legible lettering. But one page resulted in, “What was I thinking?!” So that became my cover, since it was too busy to write on.

I had created an artist’s book in a past class. It featured a sentence per two-page spread. I decided to do a full page of lettering several sentences long this time around. I don’t make drop caps very much at all, so I thought I would challenge myself with those. To challenge myself further, I would add the copy to the blank page, but have one sentence enlarged and running across both pages. You can see all these design considerations implemented in the photo above.

I changed the color of the 2-page enlarged words to red for contrast against the colored side, then made the drop caps red as well for design unity. I also decided I would make use of gold accents on both pages to unify them more.

I decided on the book, Life of Christ, by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, because I am a Christian and appreciated this work when I read it earlier. I am not a Catholic, but his writings on Christ have great depth. I remembered its flowing style and well-crafted sentences. I went through the book and jotted down some paragraphs and their page numbers. I decided that Foundational would fit the voice of the text best. I used monoline Romans for the capitals.

What size x-height? I wrote out a full page of text in various sizes in pencil before I settled on the x-height that fit the text I had chosen. You can imagine my chagrin when I reviewed my test and found a number of repeated words. So I decided to write out every word in the artist’s book by pencil first and trace the letters in ink.

I found that I could lay my bookmark over a chosen Life of Christ paragraph horizontally and its width would encompass the number of lines that would fit on my artist book! So I used the bookmark as a visual confirmation of how much I could copy over for the other quotes. Even so, as I lettered near the end of the page, I sometimes had to edit to fit the lines. Good thing I did it in pencil first!

I decided to pencil the guidelines on all the pages at once so I would not have to face that task page by page. Luckily for me, I had purchased a portable drafting board a week or so earlier. It has one “parallel edge” horizontal edge that slides up and down smoothly. But rather than measuring the line distances, adding tick marks, and using the edge to rule my lines, I used my Ames lettering guide. Experience using a T-square and triangle have shown that I can’t keep the line distances as perfectly even as I can with the Ames.

Ames lettering guide

Ames lettering guide

I taped the page in place so it was parallel with the parallel edge. I measured the 1″ page margins and marked them out. I rotated the Ames letter guide center ring to match the x-height and ran it back and forth across all the pages. I added Life of Christ quote page numbers to the bottom so I know which pages will hold which quotes.

Using the Ames lettering guide

Using the Ames lettering guide

Then I began drawing the drop caps and lettering in pencil. I did not know in advance which line of text would stretch across the two pages. I simply kept writing until I came to the end of a line and checked to see if the next words would be a good stand-out. Then I counted so many spaces down and continued the quote. I jotted the missed words in the margin.

Lettering in pencil first

Lettering in pencil first

There was one mini-disaster when I lettered a dropped capital O. I was filling in the O with gouache with my right hand. Due to paint on the table at left and the raised board, when my right arm moved to the left to get more paint, my forearm brushed the painted letter and smeared it. See below. I decided to just let it go for now and figure out repairs later. Eventually, since I was adding gold to the drop caps in different ways each time, I thought I would fill the inside of the O with gold and thus cover up the smear. It worked — see the top photo.

Smeared letter O

Smeared letter O

I have finished five two-page spreads so far (two more to go), and what do you know — I failed to proof my penciled preview carefully and had let one inked repetition through. The repetition occurs as you go from one line to the next, so I’m not sure how noticeable it will be if left as is — see if you can spot it below. On other pages, when some lines stopped too short of their right margin, I filled in the space with flourishes. Maybe I’ll scratch out the first use of the repeated words (that are close to the right margin) and replace them with flourishes to cover up the boo-boo. It’ll match the rest of the book that way. If I do that, I’ll do the flourishes first, then scratch out the letters around it; that way I’ll flourish on smooth, unscratched paper. (I was able to scratch out a letter or two as I went through the book, so I know it can be done. That’s the beauty of using this paper.)

Life of Christ quote by Fulton J. Sheen

Life of Christ quote by Fulton J. Sheen

I’m dissatisfied with the cover, but that can’t be changed because I wrote on the other side of it. I’m thinking of pasting a square piece of unpainted text wove on top with a title, then the cover art will act like a lively, colored border.

Life of Christ quote by Fulton J. Sheen

Life of Christ quote by Fulton J. Sheen

I kept up a running colophon in pencil as the project progressed. Alas, I forgot to keep track of how much time I spent on the project. Overall, it’ll average about three-four hours per two-page spread. Obviously, this is way too much time for a homework project! But I’m committed. I hate to see a project unfinished.

I used this method of binding the pages together: http://www.designsponge.com/2013/03/bookbinding-101-five-hole-pamphlet-stitch.html The overall size of the pamplet is 6.5 x 10″ composed of four sheets folded in half.

Life of Christ quote by Fulton J. Sheen

Life of Christ quote by Fulton J. Sheen

What will I do with it when finished? I first expected to put it with my other finished projects, but then wondered if some Fulton J. Sheen enthusiast would like to buy it. So I thought I would put it on eBay and see.

Life of Christ quote by Fulton J. Sheen

Life of Christ quote by Fulton J. Sheen

About Steve Husting

Steve Husting is a mild webmaster by day and fearless writer by night. He is deaf, loves making calligraphy, hiking, terrific movies, and making the Bible's message clear to his readers. His devotionals are regularly published in Daily Devotionals for the Deaf, and his latest apps are sold in the iTunes App Store. His self-published Christian and calligraphy books are on lulu.com/spotlight/stevehusting
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