Book Art · Zhen Xian Bao

Workshop at the Met

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

The bookbindery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art takes care of many hidden floors of books. It’s like a secret place, mostly below ground level, under the Watson Library, which is entered through a discreetly placed door not far from the great hall. Many years ago, once a week for three years, I volunteered in the bookbindery. A few days ago I visited the Met to do a full day of PD with the staff of the bindery. They wanted to learn about the Zhen Xian Bao

Jenny's Zhen Xian Bao
Jenny’s Zhen Xian Bao

This was my first time teaching the Zhen Xian Bao, aka Chinese Needle Thread Pack, or Chinese Thread Book to a group. We started at 9:30 sharp, broke for an hour of lunch at noon, and worked straight through 4:30. At the end of the day we were completely saturated, and everyone had made exquisite models. This was dream-team group of artists and binders, in a fully equipped bindery. I can’t imagine another group in any other place who would have accomplished so much in one day.

There was so much that I did not have to do to get ready for this workshop. Most significantly, I did not have to do any paper cutting.

In the Bindery at the MET
In the Bindery at the MET

Everyone either brought in their own papers, or they used papers already in the bindery. After explaining how to determine the paper sizes to create the size book that each person wanted, people cut their own papers to size.


Yukari's paper
Yukari’s paper

Oh the papers that people brought! From orizomegami papers, to paper-backed fabric, to indigo papers with gold flecks, to Dick Blick assorted papers and more. The gorgeous papers kept coming out!

Mindell making a twist box
Mindell making twist boxes

Here’s a five things I learned from this day of teaching: 1) teaching, then making, four twist boxes takes a good bit of time. After making a gazillion of these, it takes me about 5 minutes to make one of these boxes, but it takes making about 1/2 a gazillion for these to get fast at making them. I assured everyone that the other style boxes we’d be making wouldn’t take as long, and in fact they didn’t take as long. The twist box is a tough one to begin with, but it’s the way to begin.

2) We started the day with people working at their own desks, and much had to be done at these solitary work areas, but not everything.

In the bindery
In the bindery

Crowding around a single work table and working together was incredibly efficient and enjoyable, especially as the day wore on.

Working together
Working together

Folding the second and third layers books while jostling for space around the demonstration desk went surprisingly well.

The four twist box version of the Zhen Xian Bao
Doris’s Zhen Xhen Xian Bao

3) I showed in a variety of different constructions of Chinese Thread Books. I’ve noticed that the most common structure that people teach is this one with four twist boxes on top. I thought I’d encourage people to make all sorts of other different decisions with their structures. It became clear very quickly that  it was incredibly satisfying for everyone to make the exact same structure.

Sophia's Gold Flecked Thread book
Sophia’s Gold Flecked Thread book

Trying to get everyone to do different things would have been too confusing for everyone. Everyone was able to help everyone because we were all doing the same things.

Written directions
Written directions

4) People liked having written directions. I’ve only written out directions for the twist box with a pinwheel top, which is in the current issue of Bound & Lettered, and which everyone had, compliments of the journal’s editor John Neal. I think every single desk had the magazine opened to this page all day, even after we were completely finished with the twist box.

Zhen Xian Bao
Mindell’s Bao, with Green with Gold Pinwheel Twist Boxes and Andrijana’s mostly Indigo Zhen Xian Bao

5) I had thought that if we had the time and energy I would show people how to make the boxes with a flower top. All I can say now is ha ha. There was no way we could have done one thing more. As it was, we ended the day before some people put covers on their creations. I didn’t worry too much about this though, after all, these people are bookbinders. They cover things.

Some with covers, some without
Some with covers, some without

Besides absolutely everything and everyone that made this an incredible workshop day, people who teach (like my friend Susan Share) will appreciate this: I didn’t have to cut any paper for prep, I didn’t have to teach this group anything about cutting, gluing, putting things under weight, and – this was a surprise – when I had to ask people to fold a piece of paper into thirds they could that flawlessly, immediately.. Turns out bookbinders at the Met make hollow spine pieces all the time, which are made by folding paper into thirds. No problem!


Miriam's book
Miriam’s book

What a great day. As we walked back out into the world after working all day in the underground, wending our way through the places that remain mostly unseen, we past this most unusual sign:

Underground at the Met
Underground at the Met

Big thanks to Mindell Dubansky for wanting her staff to become familiar with the historical structure called the Zhen Xian Bao, and especially thank you for letting me be the one to show them.














Book Art · Book Artists

Susan Share, Penland, and Me

Zip-off Fence, Susan Joy Share
Zip-off Fence, Susan Joy Share

This summer I get to spend a week with Susan J Share at Penland in North Carolina.

I went searching for Susan J Share a good many years ago when we were in our twenties  I had seen some of her bookarts pieces in a show at a Soho Gallery, and had found her work to be so compelling that I immediately wanted to be friends with her. Life-long friends.

I am a patient person. I reasoned that, since we were both part of a small swath of NYC people who were passionately interested in making books, that our paths would cross.

I remember the first time I saw her. She walked into the Center for Book Arts (original Bowery location), but I wasn’t able to BFF her at that moment.  Darn.

Above the Tree Line, Susan J Share
Above the Tree Line, Susan J Share

I started volunteering weekly at the bindery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, under Mindell Dubansky. Susan worked in the bindery as  well, but on a different day than me. She and Mindell became fast friends. Mindell would sometimes chat on the phone with Susan while I was in the bindery. I was so jealous.

At some point, though, Susan and I were at MMA on the same day. I don’t exactly know if there was a defining event in our friendship, but if there was, it was this: Susan was teaching a children’s bookmaking  workshop at the Castle in Central Park, and I asked if I could assist her. Which I did. My first book arts teaching experience. I loved it.

Steel Horizon, Susan J Share
Steel Horizon, Susan J Share

Susan and I went on to share many bookarts experiences. She got me started working with kids in schools through Franklin Furnace’s Sequential Art for Kids program. When she and Henry Pelham-Burns created the bindery at the New-York Historical  Society, I worked with them one day a week. When Susan was looking for studio space, I was able to point her towards a place to rent in the same building I was living in. It was such a gift to be able to chat with her when we’d bump into each other in the course of our days.

Be the Queen Bee, Susan Joy Share
Be the Queen Bee, Susan Joy Share

Eventually Susan married Paul and moved to Alaska, and I married Bill and moved upstate. Still, Susan I  see each other, support each other and remain close. As luck would have it, Susan’s brother Ike lives about 45 minutes from me, so I see her here when she comes for family visits.

Now here’s the absolutely most wonderful thing: Susan is teaching a class at Penland  at the end of August. She asked if I would come down and be her assistant for the week. OMG. A week with Susan Share.

Be the Queen Bee (detail), Susan J Share
Be the Queen Bee (detail), Susan J Share

If anyone would like to be there, here’s the class description:

Susan Joy Share
Books & Boxes

Books and boxes are a natural fit. They may be a set or structurally integrated. They can enhance each other and the experience of opening and discovery. We’ll experiment with formats, including books sewn on tapes, paper enclosures, cloth-covered folding boxes, and Jacob’s Ladder boxes. We’ll generate content with paint, pencil, crayon, and collage. Students will create unique pieces as we fold, sew, glue, wrap, reveal, and engineer. This hands-on workshop includes demonstrations, lectures, and sample books. All levels. Code 07B

Here’s the link

I haven’t been on an adventure like this in a long time. Am so looking forward to it!

OMG a week making art with Susan Share!

Arts in Education · Book Art · Flexagons · group project · Paper Toy

5th Graders’ Kaleidocycles of the Bill of Rights

Piling Kaleidocycles
Piling Kaleidocycles

They did it! This group of fifth grades did this hand-lettering kaleidocycle class project! I described the details of this project a few posts back so check out that post for more details. Here’s the general gist: After introducing the project, which is a 3D paper construction with rotating faces that will be graced with references to the Bill of Rights, students were given pages of letter fonts to choose from.


Using the windows of the library as light boxes, students traced out letters to created one phrase each that described one of the first ten constitutional amendments, aka The Bill of Rights.

At the window

Every single student was highly engaged. Really.

Within two class sessions the students produced something that I could take home and scan into my computer . I won’t lie..scanning and cleaning up their work took time. Above you can compare what they gave me, on the left, to what I ended up with on the right. Some pages required much more work than others. The middle example above was so easy to work with that next time I will encourage students to just give me outlines. The most time-consuming letters to work with were those that were colored in and touching other letters. I moved things around a bit, like in the top example you can see I centered the word “OF.”

I brought home their work, scanned them into my graphics program, cleaned them up and laid them into a kaleidocylce template. Brought them back for students to cut around the perimeter and score.

Scoring the paper
Scoring the paper

Students made score lines so that the paper would fold easily and accurately. Scoring is generally done with bone folders but we used glitter pens to score the lines. They worked great, and kids were excited to be using the gel pens.

Assembling the Kaleidocylce

Then came the folding and gluing. I didn’t take many pictures of this process as I was, like, really really occupied helping move this process along.

One of four faces of the Kaleidocycle
One of four faces of the Kaleidocycle

This project turned out so well. Not everyone had a chance to finish up and decorate, but the wonderful school librarian will be able to help with the few than still need finishing.

Kaleidocycle yellow borders
Kaleidocycle yellow borders

Students enjoyed individualizing their own kaleidocycles.

Another side
Another side

I tried to get them to use completely different color schemes on each face, so that the differences between the four rotation of faces were dramatic. Students didn’t much listen to my suggestions.

Here’s one of their kaleidocycles in action:

I consider this project a great success. I got to talk to the students about design, about hand lettering, and they got to work with some cool geometry. I’d even go so far as to say that they are also much more familiar with the Bill of Rights , as they were constantly asking each other, which one do you have, which one is yours, and talking about their own.  I have to say that at first the students were confused about what I was asking them to do, after which the librarian told me that doing a group project was pretty much out of their experience, so the concept was hard to grasp at first.

One thing that made this possible was that this was a small class, just 12 students. I often work with 60 to 70 students in a grade level: I wouldn’t do this project with a big group. OH, but it was so delightful doing this with a small group.

Tower of Kaleidocycles
Tower of Kaleidocycles

Do I get to pick a favorite project of my teaching season? Yes? This is it.

For more about all this take a look at these posts:


Arts in Education · Book Art · Flexagons · Uncategorized

Designing a Seriously Fun Project

Model for a Kaleidocycle Project for Fifth Graders

Just realized I spelled “Kaleidocycle” wrong on this model for a project I’m putting together for Fifth Graders! Well, good, we’ll talk about mistakes.

Now, in case you missed my post about kaleidocycles, they are this fun paper structure whose sides rotate to reveal a surprising number of new surfaces. This style of kaleidocycle here has four completely different faces, each of which has 3 distinct areas to fill with text or designs. Sort of like a fortune teller, but more 3D.

I’m not a person who is skilled in doing hand lettering to create fancy looking phrases. Nor do I think that I can teach 5th graders to be hand lettering artists in a few class periods. But I love this art form, and am happy to be able to talk to kids about hand lettering.

We’ll be doing a project that references the first 10 amendments to the American Constitution. darn. Spelled Amendments wrong too. Ok, will make a new model with corrections. But will show both to students.

Anyone who does calligraphy or hand lettering will tell you that making spelling mistakes happens frequently when so much effort is being put into forming the letters. People with dyslexia will agree.

Here’s the project. I will talk to students about creating something like a movie title which references each of the  first ten amendments, aka The Bill of Rights (know them or lose them!!).  Students will then be given some alphabets and will trace out the letters.

It can take a few tries, but I’m anticipating that they will not have much trouble coming up with a version that I can then trace in Adobe Illustrator to create a master document.


They can also add flourishes around their words.

My version for the model that I will be showing off, featuring later amendments, looked like this when the computer work was done:I will print the student images on 28 lb, 8 1/2″ x 11″ copy paper. My plan is that each student will design just one of the 12 surfaces on this kaleidocycle (there happen to be just 12 students in this class). I will print up enough copies for everyone and we’ll spend the last of the three sessions I have with them doing cutting, gluing and decorating.

When this project is done I will take photos and post on my blog, recommending either that you try this out with your students or telling you that have to be crazy to think that this can be done as three-meeting classroom project for fifth grade students.

All will be told be the end of the first week in April. Yikes. Starting this project tomorrow, early.

Addendum: See the results