Volvelle

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I have a much better appreciation for the volvelles, or circular computers, that survived from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment to the present day.  Fragile, finicky and prone to moving right went you don’t want it to, the volvelle is the brainchild of Raymond Llull, a Catalan Catholic theologian of the mid-1300s AD. 

I want to make a volvelle to go on the inside front cover of a hand bound book I’m designing. As you can probably tell, this volvelle is astronomical in nature, but Llull’s was intended to be logical and grammatical, designed to explore theological concepts and train missionaries to work in Islamic regions (he failed to win many converts).  

The volvelle remains. This one has pointers for the seven visible planets of medieval astronomy (less the Moon, because I lost the paper cutout between cutting it out and assembling the volvelle). It also has a horizon line, and a “sphere of fixed stars” that includes both the Decans of the Zodiac and the Mansions of the Moon; as well as the fixed ground of the twelve houses of astrology. 

And it doesn’t work as smoothly as I’d like. I need to replace the brass brad with a paper system, as is used in medieval and renaissance volvelles. The brass brad is too thick, and doesn’t allow for smooth or independent rotation of the parts. Back to the drawing board. 

Bookbinding: For the Behenian Stars

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Update 23 January 2017: You can buy a copy of these poems through my Etsy store. Would you be interested in buying the book-block, so you can hand-bind the book at home?

A few days ago, a friend asked me if I would make a few of my poetry pieces available for a weekend intensive workshop he’s running. I said yes — but he was planning to photocopy the work, and make seven copies. I thought about this, and decided this was silly. I have the text block more or less ready to go as a PDF file. There are only seven people in this particular intensive… how hard could it be?

Boy, are my fingers tired...

A stack of hand-bound books

Two days later, I have seven “special edition” copies of a book that’s not quite ready for print, and I’ve made a few discoveries I hadn’t expected to make. First of all, this book will need to be longer in the next edition if I intend to bind it using the Coptic stitch, as I did here.  Second, I learned that if you’re going to get all fancy with the stitching, it’s a good idea to get the geometry correct, too — although I do like the star (because a book about stars, and full of star poetry like this, should have a star on it, right?  And it should be worked into the theme and design of the book, right?)

I have a lot of complaints about this edition, as a result.  But I also have a really good idea now of how many copies of a book I can produce in a few days, on short notice — and how many I can produce if I’m really taking my time and being careful with each and every book. I couldn’t be that careful with these; I didn’t have time to slather all over these with a noon deadline for myself today.

But I also learned quite a bit about setting up a production line, as I did with carpentry — make seventeen sets of covers for books; then let them dry while you cut and fold pages; weight the pages while you pierce the covers for the stitching; pierce the pages while you weight the covers again to help them loosen up a bit before stitching.  Stitch the books one at a time while watching cheesy ol’ TV shows to keep yourself seated and on-task making the books. Clean up as you go, or face massive piles of paper.  There’s a Flickr album of photographs from the process if you care to see the process.  Otherwise, you can just admire the books from afar.

Special Edition for Twilight Covening 2016

Always nice to see your name in print… even on your own handiwork.

And now there are seven copies of this book that were not in the world before. In any form.  Are they perfect? No.  Are they real?  Yes.

But real is a tricky thing when it comes to books of poetry, as any working poet will tell you.  We issue chap books for ourselves and our friends quite frequently, and make copies of our work in the hope that it will somehow outlast us.  I spoke to someone only last night, sharing a poem with them, and — when they asked if they could read it to someone else — said that it was part of my immortality spell.  I was only half-joking.

But even a chapbook is a fragile thing.  How many copies do you need to put into the world, for your words to outlive you?  How many beautiful art books must come into the world for a single one to survive the drift of ages?  Likely far more than I can produce by hand.

Unless I make them beautiful.  Unless I make them worthy of love and care and protection. Unless I attend to the effort to make my words and their repositories something larger than simply myself.

These copies are reserved.  I intend to inform the people to whom they are given that this is a gift, and in exchange for this gift I ask them to respect my copyright, and not to publish them, copy them, or hand the book on to someone else.

If you would like a copy, you will have to contact me.  I will be making more; but those will be for sale.

Bookbinding

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 My office presently looks like a disaster area, or a book-binder’s studio. Possibly both. I’m working through a stash of supplies to diminish the stock of raw materials that I have on hand, and increase finished product.

 The impetus was receiving a roll of fine papers to turn into blank books — and realizing that I had plenty of space to store blank books and no place to store any more raw paper. Striking the right balance between raw materials in the storage, projects in the pipeline, and  finished projects — be they books, or furniture, or beads, or alchemical spagyrics. I’m not going to be able to do this work for a few days, so it’s time to do it now. 

Design Work: Dos-a-Dos-a-Dos Book

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I’m working on a book.  It’s sort of an unusual book, an art project really. It’s a collection of poems, that are going to be bound together in a rather interesting chap book.  Actually, it’s a total of three collections of poems — three sets of hymns.  I suppose you could call the book a hymnal in three parts.  The three parts are individually dedicated to different astrological phenomena: one is a set of hymns to the Sun at various seasons of the year; the second is a set of hymns to angels of the Mansions of the Moon; and the third is a set of hymns to the Behenian fixed stars.

and... on to the third galley proof...

and… on to the third galley proof…

I intend for the book to operate on a dos-a-dos-a-dos bindingNormally, a dos-a-dos binding has three card covers — a middle ‘cover’ that acts as a spine for the book, and two outer covers. The book is then bound dos-a-dos: back to back, with the ‘back’ side of each book attached to the central panel, and each book opening from opposite sides of the book.  I’m adding a third option by adding a fourth cover.  So you’ll be able to open this book top-to-bottom, left-to-right, or right-to-left.

But getting the geometry, for lack of a better word, right on the book design is… well, challenging.  The most difficult part of the design is the pages of the top-to-bottom opening.  You and I in the western world, unless we’re regularly reading in Hebrew or Arabic, are used to reading from front cover to back cover, left to right, with the spine on the left side of the book.  If you read Hebrew or Arabic regularly, you’re used to having the spine of the book just under your right hand.

Behenian Star BookHow’s it going to work when the spine is at the top of the book?

So I’m building a mock-up.  About 95% of the poetry is done; it was written by hand under the stars, like it should be. And of course it’s typed up, it’s in digital formats that can easily be ported into a paper-layout program.  I happen to be using Apple Pages, which is terrible for this, but it’s what I’ve got.  Even the old version of Apple Pages was better for this task than the current version, but it is what it is. You work with the tools you have. I guess.

In any case, I’ve now done the layout two different ways — on 5 1/4″ x 17″ paper, which I have to make myself by cutting down 11×17″ tabloid paper to the right size.  The individual pages are then folded and stacked into the right order to make two signatures or quires.  And now I’m trying to figure out if I’ve set the pages up correctly — or if I’ve just printed them back-to-back in the wrong order (top-to-bottom, rather than back-to-back measuring tallness like competitive siblings).

I have the front (Sun) portion of the book laid out already. And I have the back (Moon) portion of the book laid out already.  There are no Moon poems left to write or edit; there are two Sun poems started from last year but not yet finished; it’s mostly a matter of drag-and-drop once they’re typed up. Their spots in the book are confirmed.  And all the poems in this section are also written.  It’s just a matter of getting the layout right.

And then… altering the layout so I can take it to a printing place and have it done up properly on 11×17″ paper, which I can then cut myself; rather than cutting 11×17″ down to fit my printer.

Still, this is what a good artist does: figure out what works, discarding what doesn’t work along the way.  It’s a new version of Solve et Coagula, writ large for the 21st century.

Magic: The Book of Mars

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I’ve said in the past that I don’t write much about magic.  I’m in the process, I think, of changing that.  But more specifically, I’m going to write about the intersection of magic and Maker culture, because I think that the two groups have a great deal to say to one another, and to learn from one another.  And maybe this is the beginning of a waypost for both sides.

As a school teacher, I’m aware that it’s kind of awkward that I’m interested in the occult philosophy.  I’m calling it the Occult Philosophy, or the Hidden Wisdom, because we tend to lump panpsychism and metaphysics and crystal-gazing and magic and a variety of other things under the same rubric: not in schools.  And yet, the Hidden Wisdom as taught by Henry Cornelius Agrippa and others since then has a great deal to say about and to modern schools: about ‘grit’ and persistence; about learning from mistakes; about scheduling  and organization; about proper planning and materials-acquisition; about design and technique.  (Yes, it also has a great deal to say about angels and daemons and unicorn horn and ancient gods and astrology and divination and alchemy and other discredited topics… but maybe there’s something to that which is important in modern Maker culture, and I’ll come back to that sometime).

 

Mars Book

Book of Mars

And it’s in that context — of planning and preparation and materials-acquisition — that I present the following project: The Book of Mars.  

The Book of Mars is my own creation.  I decided to make one after making another album according to this design.  It’s five sheets of 12″ x 12″ paper, sliced and diced in various ways; two are one shade of red, the other two are another shade; and the third is the patterned paper that is a common theme throughout the work. There’s also the addition of additional sheets of printer paper run through a color printer to produce the textual and technical and visual elements within the book.

Red, of course, is the color of Mars, both the planet and the god of war from ancient Rome; and the astrological identity which rules over men’s matters, conflict, war, sieges, aggression, assertiveness, severity, command, and other matters.  It’s a color of projection, of force, of deliberateness, of intention and fierceness and bravery.  The image on the front cover comes from the work of the modern American sorcerer Jason Miller.   Maybe we shouldn’t be celebrating the culture of violence that Mars represents, of course; but maybe some of his other powers and virtues — of assertiveness, of command, of deliberateness, or bravery, of self-discipline — should be things that we ask students (and ourselves) to cultivate and develop. Mars Book

Within the book, Mars rides by twice; between his chariots that ride on the wheels of Capricorn and Scorpio (symbols of passing time, and the necessity of putting one’s life in order and under one’s command, in a sense) is the Kamea or magic square of Mars — an ancient mathematical puzzle designed to teach complex addition and larger number theory in an age without calculators.  Someday, additional Martial (Mars-like) symbolism shall appear here; for the moment, this seems to be sufficient (although we should always be conscious that coincidence doesn’t always mean correlation).

Mars BookBut open the Book of Mars again. A new layer appears.  Here’s a photograph of a famous statue of Mars, and the Kamea of Mars again.  And the emblem of Mars, also (I’m leaving space above it for further texts about Mars, as I find them or they emerge.

I’m making a genuine effort here, to build up a lot of Martial images in the same place, on an appropriate background, with appropriate visuals, text, and emblems.

Mars Book As each additional layer of the book is opened, more layers of Mars — images, text, mathematical representations, ideas, and symbolism, emerges into the viewpoint of the reader/examiner.

The book expands outward, revealing more and more layers of Mars imagery and ideas.  Poetry from Thomas Taylor, and two of my own, as well: one for Mars from my Neo-Orphic Hymns, and one for Mars in Exaltation. In fact, the book opens and expands eight times, in eight different ways, revealing more and more layers of meaning, more and more texts and prayers designed to call upon Mars to refrain from violence, to help the reader explore the virtues of bravery and assertiveness without resorting to aggression or violence, and to explore the mysteries of Mars as a spiritual and metaphysical concept.

It is, if you will, a scriptural volume, an experimental sutra, an illuminated book of astrological hours and days, for working with and studying and understanding the powers and capacities of Mars.  It was simpler to build than some of my other books, although some of those others would make rocking magical volumes on various subjects.  No matter.  This one is what it is (I’ll probably build six more, but not eight more, because I tend to work only with traditional planets, not the three Outermost and Recent discoveries).

It’s also just a bunch of pieces of paper, taped and glued together in a nominally pleasing way, designed to help the viewer understand some things… as books and albums and decorative objects like this have always done.  We’re left with an overall impression of who and what Mars is, and how he/it interacts with us.  It’s an effort to work with available materials — both cultural and intellectual on the one hand, and physical and technical on the other — to produce a rich, enduring experience which is portable, intellectually comprehensible, emotionally interesting, culturally intriguing.

Did I succeed?  Maybe, maybe not.  Maybe not yet. Maybe so.  Maybe you’re already thinking of ways to make one of your own.

Mars BookThe Designer’s Mentality

If so, then in a sense I’ve succeeded.  The modern definition of magic is something like “To cause changes in consciousness in accordance with will.”  Magicians do this by practicing on themselves first, and then (maybe) on others.  My goal was to make something that designers (and teachers of design) would find visually interesting and intriguing, but that might also appeal to magicians of a particular brand or stripe…. and yet might also be intriguing to magicians of many different stripes.

Surely some of each are looking at these tiny photographs and thinking, “I could do it better.”

Now… the designer would say that this is egotism at work.  But the magician, who believes in other layers of reality besides the physical one, will look at this, and be moved by other forces — call them spirits, or angels, or daemons if you like.  Gordon calls them the Neighbors, and I like that language.  In some places they’re called guides.  Maybe you call them your Patronuses after J.K. Rowling.

But I have to ask… do the spirits and forces that you acknowledge and recall and remember want such a thing?  When you call out to them in your mind, does another spirit answer back, like an echo of a string on a guitar, to say “Yeah, I want one of those.  But not to Mars.  Make it about me.  For me.”  For some magicians, or designers, the answer will always be “no, I don’t hear that.”  They don’t see or feel or hear the appeal; the universe doesn’t sing to them that way, or call for them to be makers of objects and creators of things.  They have other roles and purposes in the world.

But some are looking upon this book, even in these tiny photographs, and are hearing the call to build it and make it anew.  But if you’re going to build this book, you have to accept that there might be things you don’t know how to do, like build the book, for example; and you will have to submit your will to Loretta long enough to learn how she did it — and how I did it. You’ll be joining a ‘school’, if you will, of crafters and artisans that you might feel some shame or weirdness about joining… but at the same time, you’ll be growing your capacities to work with new materials and with new ideas, and growing your insights.  You will, as you Make, be unfolding yourself in new patterns.

The magician builds this book, or others like it, to grow in wholeness — to grow in a sense that they are attuned to all things: this plant, that tree, this planet, that star.  The designer builds this book in order to grow in skill: to grow in a sense that they can do or make anything that they set their mind to build.  The one is seeking power and understanding, the other is seeking community and recognition.  I’d be hard pressed to tell you for sure which is which, though.

AWS: Further Insights

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I’ve finished my own commitment to Autumnal Maker School, but something urged me to keep going. And something else said, “go back to some of your paper-engineering stuff. That’s important, because paper engineering is an important route into the Maker movement, especially for schools with little to no money to invest in tools and equipment.”

And then Deb Castellano kicked my ruck-sack with her current post, Glamour Practical: Burn this Place Down. Mentally, I’ve been under the weather, and unwilling to get out of my own head to get stuff done. Sure, I built a bunch of cool crafts and machine models for working on automata. But I was doing that for school, not for me.  I wasn’t contributing to my own wonder about the world, my own sense of amazement and my own joy in creating. That was work. But her she was, reminding me to play.

The Kavad & Making

And that meant going back to an idea which I’ve had for a long time. A long time indeed. The Kavad.

For those who are just joining me, and don’t feel like reading through a whole lot of posts from several years ago, the Kavad is this idea I had for a magical box.  The box would be made of wood, with a lot of hinged and spring-loaded panels.  Each of the panels would be painted and carved with traditional imagery from Hermetic and astrological teaching. It would be my Maker cabinet of curiosities, designed to teach me engineering and woodworking and three-dimensional design and astrology and Hermetics and neoplatonism, all at once.  I did manage to build four prototypes of it, in increasing complexity; but I got bogged down in the engineering and woodworking of it, and the challenges involved in learning how to automate it.

And then I discovered bookbinding. And see, the Kavad of Hermetics was always a cool thing, but it was a three-dimensional representation of a set of spiritual concepts, trying to cram a western/magical system into a device/tool/imaginarium that came out of India’s vedic and yogic traditions.  Whereas the Western world has always crammed its mysteries into books and scrolls, into grimoires and sworn books and papyri.  Different technologies, different mysteries.  It’s not to say that the Kavad can’t be built, or won’t be built.  Just that right now, I’m learning the skills that are required to build it.

clockwise from top: pulley card, two origami envelope folds, and a midori book page with contrasting inserts

See, the nature of the Kavad for me was always as a tool for exploring the nature of Making.  It would require skills in carpentry and cabinetry, rendering a two-dimensional material (like plywood or wood or foam core) into a 3-dimensional object. But the source material kept pulling me back to books, to paper.  How can these materials be used to convey particular ideas, particular concepts?  Not just concepts of spirituality, but also concepts of Making?

 

In any case, I got out my paper cutting mat and some scrap and good paper, and made a bunch of things.  I’m not happy with many of them, but I’m looking forward to fussing with these elements further.

Gender and Craft

Ironically, a good deal of the paper and book arts generally have been left to women, in the form of scrap-booking and album making.  I don’t wish to get into a huge fight about gender here, but women’s arts have been regularly relegated to the realm of “arts and crafts” and discounted as less valuable than the more ‘masculine’ arts of painting and sculpture.  Which is silly — painting and sculpture are wonderful, but they’re also sort of useless.  Whereas “women’s crafts” like knitting and sewing and paper and scrap-booking and related book-binding and -making arts are intensely practical… but also seen as less valuable? What’s up with that?  

Women have known this for years, of course.  And I have, too.  But Design Thinking teachers have to take care to notice this, to call it out, to object to it, and to demand that their students notice it and work to minimize and correct it.  When we run MakerSpaces, we have to take care that the gender issues in our society begin to be corrected in what and how we teach.  Hence the continuing focus in my Design Lab on making the tools for braiding, weaving, spinning — because those tools and skills lay at the heart of the Industrial Revolution.

(I’ve seen this in my own Design Lab, and I have to work to nip it in the bud, that the girls move in the direction of fabric or paper arts and the boys move in the direction of carpentry.  I have to work to stop this, or at least arrange for more divergence.)

Paper Album

I also spent some time tonight building a little paper album based on some designs I found on Pinterest.  I intended it to be a frame for some calligraphy practice, writing out some of the prayers and hymns and calls of druidry in the various pages.  The video is very fast — time-lapse photo rather than a true video — but it gives you a sense of what paper craft can accomplish these days.

This is based on Loretta’s video, here (and the website from which she got it is here):

She’s quite right — this is not particularly complicated or heavy-duty work to make.  But you have to Make it to learn how to do it, just as with the Pulley Card.  And you have to have a sense of what you’re going to use it for. Could this be a book about geology for one of your colleague’s classrooms?  Could it be a place to collect a short story in a foreign language?  Could it be a place to store a kid’s short poems?  Photographs? How do you make the process of teaching someone to Make this part of curriculum, whether in Design or embedded in core (or encore) curriculum?  I don’t know yet.  But I know that Making it helped me develop a sense of what’s important in a MakerSpace, and how to use paper as one of the key materials to teach important skills for Making generally.

Make Summer Camp: New Coptic Stitch Book

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This summer I’m doing a series of posts for Make Summer Camp, an effort to produce a number of creative works over the course of several months. I wound up doing quite a bit of paper-engineering, including a simple machine, and a lot of origami, and some bookbinding. This is part of that third set of projects, bookbinding.

Book projects

I made a new coptic-stitch book. This is my third, after the first two.  It’s hard to take photos while working with glue, because the glue dries so fast.  But the first thing was making the covers.  I have to get better at measuring and cutting paper to fit, and attaching it during the glueing process. As you can see from these covers, the internal yellow inside cover page is off center and at an odd angle. If you look really closely, you can see that the pattern of polka dots is cut at an angle rather than ‘straight’.  The same is true for the whorled paper on the right.  The back of each cover shown has roughly the same problems on both sides.  This is not a particularly new problem, but it shows the level of challenge that the bookbinder faces in producing a masterwork of the coptic stitch.

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