Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Embossing a book cover

I had a lovely play a week or so ago. I came across Annie Kerr's (Inkhaven) poem Blackbird in amongst my goodies on my table and just wanted to sit down and play with the words, write it out and see what I could do with it. I headed off with gay abandon - you know those times when you have no expectations of yourself or a piece - you are just interested to see what happens next or where it takes you?

I went along for the ride and ended up with two lovely little bookish pieces.

Being the total white on white fan and a lover of the embossed word, I decided to make the cover an embossed one.

Here is what I did:

I wrote the title out by hand and checked that it fitted and would look balanced on the page. Little notes to myself re the size of the nib, and height of the letters...

Then I got out a piece of my very expensive embossing material.

Not really. I simply trimmed a washed-out milk container down to the right size. It's a great way to re-use the plastic, it can be cut, and it can cope with a press. I nearly always have a stash of blank bits in a drawer in the studio just in case I get inspired and need to emboss in a hurry.

The next step was to trace over the word in a black pen. Another wonderful characteristic of the milk containers is that you can trace because they are see-through! Quickens things up a bit.

I sat with my trusty exacto knife and scalpel-like tool and cut away the letters.

I thought I was finished for the day at that point, but couldn't help myself. I quickly dipped some test paper in the sink, patted it dry and ran it thru the press.  Of course, as the sun set further I just had to get the two covers done and I did.

Don't you love that texture? I used Arches Velin paper which has a beautiful velvety feel. I got permission from Annie to use her words and sent her a copy and kept one for myself. 


  1. Very nice! I love your writing, and the embossing is really effective. Now, where did I put that milk bottle?!

  2. Wow Fiona this is very insightful and wonderful to read! Thank you for sharing. I love that Arches Velin paper, I made a whole journal with it once, it was delicious! Just running your fingers over it... mmmm

  3. Now that I'm about to finish up some milk, I'm feeling like I should get creative with the container. Sadly, I'm not sure I trust my violin fingers with scalpel gymnastics, so I'll just have to imagine you at work instead!! I'm so pleased my words inspired your piece. Thanks for trawling through my back pages to find them.

  4. Fiona, how stunning! I love the elegance and subtle character. Also: Thank you for the info about the paper, I love Arches but I've never heard of Velin before, I'll have to check it out.

  5. fiona, this is just beautiful! i am always so appreciative of a person's mastery of their craft when they can lightly skip (as in happily hoppily walking)their way through telling us how something was born - and viola - a piece of great beauty is revealed at the end... you are so very very good at what you do...
    the font is truly divine...

  6. Beautiful, and what a great use for old plastic!! I'm going to send your post along to my printmaker students, they always need low-cost alternatives. Then again, don't we all!

  7. What fun....I was just over at Annie's blog and saw her post! Love this bit of embossed calligraphy....and as I told her, I love how the two of you connected across the miles....another wonder of the on-line world! Cheers!

  8. hello Fiona, I've been following your blog for several months now and just love it - found my way here from Annie's blog - your work is an inspiration :)

  9. Thank you. I think you've just solved a problem for me. I am contemplating an embossed cover for Rapunzel but was puzzling on how to get the letters fine enough

  10. Thanks for the lesson in embossing, Fiona. The word looks beautiful.

  11. Mmm, there's not much more beautiful than embossing.

    And what a clever method you've devised. I'll definitely be storing that technique away for the future. Thanks for letting us in on the secret.

  12. It's a while since I embossed something and I'll be ditching the matboard and improvising with the milk bottle now too. Thanks for the tip Fiona. I'm an ex-calligrapher by about 15 years but still love to see other people's work...and your writing is really lovely.

  13. Fiona, that is such a cool idea. I'm sat here thinking 'wow, let's finish up that milk quick!' I just have to try that somehow although my hand is never that steady with a scalpel..... The finished result is so beautiful too. Lucky Annie.

  14. Thanks Sara - it looks lovely as a single word I think. And yep, just keep rinsing those milk 'bottles' out and cutting them up!

    Oh Louise - I know that love of running fingers over paper. This is beautiful, soft velvety paper. Yum, sigh, delight!

    Dear Annie - thank you for your words! I'd keep my violin fingers safe if I was you to be honest.

    Thank you MJ - such very kind words. I think it's nice to share processes and I love to learn from others, so the occasional exchange is only fair I figure... so glad you like it!

    Hi Valerianna - good plan! It's only by sharing these little tips and tricks (you would never see this in a book) that we all get better at re-using things and using cheap but safe alternatives.

    Thanks Patti - I feel very privileged to be able to work with Annie's words - they are always so perfect. How else could that happen without this interwebby world? A wonder and a treasure.

    Thanks Anna - I would love to be described just so! Glad you like it; I think it does all it needs to do.

    Thank you Jeane for leaving a comment - it's always nice to know when folk enjoy or appreciate what you do. Your encaustic work is awesome!

    Hi Jac - it's well worth a try! I have been doing more today and need to go back into a few of the words and cut away a bit more; so it's a bit forgiving as well.

    Thanks Jo - if you need anything embossed...!!

    Hi Amanda - it's always good to have a few simple tricks or tips I think. SOemof the simpler, cheaper and more accessible techniques produce quite beautiful results. I love embossing. Sigh.

    Thank you Helen! This is much quicker than the mat board and shellac, and honestly lasts a long time as well; I can re-use and re-use my templates. A former calligrapher - I am most sure what I am (I say calligraphic artist because I can't really do the formal calligraphy stuff...)

    Thanks Suzi - it is worth a try and I think it gives pretty good results.

    Glad you like it Lesley! It is simple and I have done beautiful heart shapes and stars and doves and so on. I feel lucky to have Annie's words to play with - so it's a nice exchange of skills/talent.

  15. The embossed blackbird really cries out to be touched .... though I wouldn't dream of it. Intrigued by the milk carton technique.

  16. so lovely, Fiona! The inked lettering is divine, such a delicious alphabet. Thank you for the useful milk carton tip! The embossing is beautiful.

  17. Hi Robyn - if you were in my house you would be very welcome to touch it - it feels great! That's one thing I love about making books - they are for handling and holding.

    Thanks Jane - your kind words are very welcome from such a distinguished scribe. The milk container trick is a great one and should be shared, so I'm glad I did.

  18. ~fiona...the white on white is crisp clean and very pleasing to the eye...i love that you shared the process you went through...beautiful writing and creating my friend...much love light and blessings~

  19. Thank you Brandi - I think it's good to share and learn together. Go well.

  20. Thank you for sharing this magical process, Fiona. Your font is so elegant and beautiful. Your own, I think?

  21. What a wonderful technique you have shared ...great way of recycling too!
    I have never tried embossing, but you have me eyeing off the milk cartons now.
    Beautiful lettering.

    Jacky xox

  22. I've been searching Google images for an embossed gold on red contoured line portrait I saved once before my laptop was stolen. Now I can't find it for love or money. When .... I stumbled upon ... Blackbird - arresting,simple, powerful ... it made me well up and the tears fell ... time for a glass of tea ... words ... embossed ... WHAT is this beautiful font? I thought ...


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