I was trolling around on YouTube one evening, as one does when it’s late at night and you have insomnia, and I came across something I’d never heard of before – boiled books. Think about that for a second. Boiled. Books. BOILED.
It’s been a long time since I’ve tried something completely brand new and I did that little excited gaspy thing when I watched the videos so I knew Art Brain would have her way – we were definitely trying them.
Below is an explanation of how I did what I did but if you don’t want to read the step by step, here are the finished results with scans of some of the pages so you can see the detail better. I didn’t digitally alter the color on any of these, this is exactly how they look in real life. The salmon colored book is the first one I did and the sepia colored one is my second book.
I am planning on making about a thousand more of these. I adore them. Several people asked specifically what my steps were so here is a quick rundown in case you want to give it a go.
I suggest watching the videos on YouTube that I linked to up above. It’s a pretty basic process and I have a long list of variations I want to try as soon as I’m over this next round of chemo.
Here are the supplies I used:
- an 8 quart stainless steel pot
- a hot plate
- paper (I used this paper by Fabriano)
- plant materials
- string to wrap book
- weight to weigh down book in pot
- metal tongs
- (optional) additional dyes, either natural or synthetic
I chose to work outside because let’s face it, boiling random plant material for an hour is bound to stink. And it did but I didn’t think that much. Probably because I wasn’t inside. I’d also suggest dedicated materials – like don’t make dinner in the same pot you boil books. Seems like a good idea to keep them separate.
In terms of what plants I chose? I did very little research about what prints well. I tried to choose leaves that had darker pigments and I also used stems from a tree that is making berries. I also picked at flowers in hopes that they would give up some of their pigments. The berries definitely did and I think the flowers did a little bit. More than pigment they gave me nice shapes for the prints.
I randomly laid the plant materials on the pages, stacking them one on top of the other like they do in the videos.
I really loved this video where he adds dye to the pot to introduce more color. Color! We must have color! I also have several natural dyes lurking in the studio that must be resentful by now for not being used. This seemed an appropriate time to give them a go.
I filled the pot nearly full, added vinegar, cochineal, osage orange and a little tannic acid to the water and then waited what felt like forever for it to boil. I wrapped the book using cardboard as my “clamp boards” because that’s what I had on hand.
I plopped the book bundle into the pot and then realized I’d not planned at all on how to weigh it down. It was interesting to chase a bobbing book around a pot of boiling dye water to make it stay down. In the end I unceremoniously threw a spare paver brick at it and it trapped it in place.
After one hour of merciless boiling, it was done. It looked like this:
The cardboard fell apart (of course) but I was fairly impressed that it held together as much as it did. I removed all the plants and gently rinsed the pages in cool water to make sure there wasn’t anything still sticking to it.
For my first try, I am pretty pleased with it. I adore the extra color and although subtle, you can see the leaf prints. The purple on the left side are the berries. They gave up good color.
But the more I looked at them I thought, “What if I did this instead?” and so I made a second book.
This time I only filled the pot halfway because I devised a way to not only keep the book submerged but to also add more pressure to (hopefully) give more distinct prints. Behold my devious plan:
I made a paver brick sandwich. I let the bricks directly sit on the papers. I added tannic acid to the pot for a sepia tone but that was the only coloring I put in this time. I still added vinegar.
Here is what the book looked like after boiling for an hour:
I repeated the same process of removing the plants and rinsing the pages. I think you’ll agree that the prints are much clearer this time around.
Ta-da! And that’s what I have so far. I ordered some other papers to try from Blick to see if that makes a difference and made a list of variations to try. Art Brain is totally enthused about these and we are definitely going to make more.
If you give it a try, be sure to let me know, I’d love to see what you get! 🙂