human behavior

DIY Book Display for Kids

Posted in Crafts by humanb on November 20, 2013

booksPerhaps a newborn doesn’t have much use for children’s books. Still, it’s never too early to start building a child’s library and nurturing the habit and pleasure of reading.

With no available space on any of our bookcases, all children’s books will have to live on our bedroom windowsill for the foreseeable future. That means I’ll have the pleasure of designing a set of bookends, if time permits. ūüôā

A look at the two oversized children’s books leaning inelegantly against the smaller ones on my window sill, however, made me reconsider how to display the larger books.

I’m a huge fan of displaying children’s books with their covers face forward, rather than their spines, but it only works with large expanses of wall (or tiny collections).


A single lectern, on the other hand, allows the display of a few large picture books in a small space.  Settled on making a lectern, I was determined to make use of any scrap wood or MDF that I already owned. For so small a project as this, I refused to spend any money on materials.

I used the largest piece of scrap plywood I had as a back rest, and cut two smaller pieces to act as a base and easel.


I joined the plywood with PVA wood glue and reinforced it with nails. The entire construction took a matter of minutes, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result.

That left the question of how to decorate the thing.

Paint it? A solid colour? Stripes? Too boring.

Cover it? With a paper collage? I liked that idea. But what kind of paper? Newspaper? We don’t buy print newspapers anymore. Comic book images? Not my Buffy. No siree. Nu uh. (And not age-appropriate anyway.) Dictionary pages? Could have worked, but I didn’t have an appropriate dictionary I was prepared to cut up. Pages from a children’s book?


Last year I made my mother-in-law a book cover collage from the duplicate and battered copies of classics in her extensive library.


I knew I was right to keep the books after I’d used the covers. I was bound to find a use for them at some point, and the yellowed, crumbling pages of an old edition of Alice in Wonderland was just what I needed.


I’d initially thought to use the full pages with text and illustrations, but abandoned the idea of using text altogether with so many provocative illustrations at my disposal. ¬†For the¬†edges I cut out chapter titles.


This project was a simple cut and paste job with a layer of Mod Podge brushed over the surface to seal it.


But arranging the images to fit and overlap well was surprisingly time-consuming.


For that reason, I was sorely tempted to just paint the back and the bottom of the lectern… or cover it with felt… or leave it unfinished… or do anything other than cover it with more illustrations. ¬†But I relented and tackled the back and bottom as well.


This enables the lectern to be displayed at any angle, after all.


Of course, the point of this lectern is to display books, not stand alone…


So very little of my collage is actually visible.


But that’s no reason not to make a lectern to be proud of. ūüėČ



The Art of Politics

Posted in American Culture & Politics, Art, Crafts by humanb on December 29, 2012

This Christmas holiday I was determined to create something artistic. I even promised as much to a nurse at work who shares my arts & craft obsession. I call it an ‘obsession’ and not an ‘addiction’ as I spend infinitely more time thinking about arts and crafts than doing them. But this week was¬†different.

I actually produced something again.

I’d had this project in mind since the US presidential election. After receiving my¬†billionth fundraising email from the Obama campaign, I decided to respond differently: rather than giving the campaign money (which I’d done already), or reflexively deleting the email (which I’d done 99% of the time), I went shopping at the Obama¬†online store.

I bought a retro T-shirt (which I have the audacity to wear around Sydney), a pair of tube socks (which I’ve yet to wear), a few bumper stickers (which never made it to my bumper), and the complete collection of Obama 2012 political buttons.

People who obsess about arts & crafts rather than doing them, tend to have ample supplies – including paint and stretched canvases of varying size.¬†So here’s what you can do in a matter of hours with a bag of buttons:


‘Made in the USA’, 24 in x 24 in, acrylic paint and buttons on stretched canvas

I fixed the buttons to the canvas the traditional way Рi.e., pinned them to the canvas as they would be to a shirt. For some reason it was very important to me that I do it this way. Unfortunately, pinning the buttons equidistantly proved a much trickier proposition than other methods and so required laborious measurements.

The fun part was selecting my shades of red, blue and grey, and¬†arranging the buttons over certain colors and in specific patterns so as to best present each one…


As one button was much larger than the rest (and much funnier), I made it the centerpiece:


A closer view…


Given the relative ease of the craft process and simplicity of the idea, I was rather pleased with the result, and declared it ready to hang. As it wouldn’t be framed, I made sure to extend the paint colors to the sides of the picture.


Whatever happens over the next four years, Obama’s presidency will remain¬†an historic one, and so this project will forever be a talking point and memorial to one of America’s seminal moments.¬†Perhaps I should’ve done something like this for the 2008 election.

Ah well.

I consider his 2012 victory almost as remarkable as his first.

The crafty hoarder

Posted in Art, Crafts, Home improvement by humanb on September 26, 2012

At least half a dozen nurses at my hospital ER have commented on my pen supply.

Every morning I pull my stash out of my bag to select three or four pens in decent working order to pocket for the day. As I go through my shift, I inevitably find one or two discarded, neglected or forgotten pens on a table top somewhere and pocket those too.

My work day ends with my assimilating my now larger pocket collection into my coveted stash.

As my husband would say: The perfect crime.

Whenever a nurse sees my stash, she always asks:

What the hell do you need all those pens for?

I proceed to explain that I worry about being without a pen when I need one.

You’re a hoarder! an English nurse once accused.

I calmly explained to her that on the contrary, I was simply a collector. I collected other things as well: foreign coins, movie stubs, airline tickets, birthday cards, candlesticks, yarmulkes (in my tween days of frequenting synagogues for bar mitzvahs), seashells, driftwood, twigs, newspapers featuring important world events.

A collector.

That’s just yuppy for hoarding!¬†the ward clerk chimed in.


I was more offended by the “yuppy” designation than the suggestion that I might have had some sort of psycho-behavioural pathology.

And anyway, I don’t. Or at least, my mother-in-law has got it worse.

She collects her dog’s hair.

And bird bones.

So as part of my redecorating efforts in my mother-in-law’s house while she was away, I searched for a suitable collection of hers that could be liberated from a dusty bookshelf and artistically displayed for her regular enjoyment. After all, what’s the point of collecting stuff if you never have occasion to look at it? And if you never look at it, why the hell not chuck it in the bloody bin? (Yeah I know, ‘Doctor heal thyself.’)

So here’s what I did with her coaster collection:

Most of her coasters are from her frequent trips to Germany, and this isn’t all of them, of course. But much of her collection consists of duplicates, so this is a fairly accurate representation of the extent of the collection. Many of these coasters were double-sided, so duplicates were pasted side-by-side, showing the different sides of one sample.

The coasters were mounted on deep canvas covered in pages from a German language book – I can’t remember which. But the subject of the book was completely unrelated to coasters. Or beer. I know that much. Of course, only my mother-in-law would know how little the background had to do with the foreground. I don’t read German.

Now on the wall, the collage looks fun and quirky, but I wonder if it doesn’t need a frame to keep it from floating in a sea of white.

Perhaps it does. But framing is expensive, and I’m on a low-budget craft tear at the moment. And this project was the cheapest, easiest and least labor intensive of them all.

Which makes me love it all the more.


The book as art: elevated but desanctified

Posted in Art, Crafts, Habits & Manners, Home improvement by humanb on September 20, 2012

For the past six weeks I’ve been on a ‘craft tear’ at my mother-in-law’s house while she’s been away. ¬†In an effort to declutter and further beautify an already charming home, I’ve been upcycling objects and materials I’ve found inside the house, behind the car port, in the garage and … yes, on the bookshelves.

Her library is considerable. She and her late husband had collected thousands of books Рmost of which at least one of them had read at some point.  As a result, bookcases lined the walls of two hallways, one living room, one lounge room, one office, and the two smallest bedrooms. The leftovers filed smaller bookcases in two other bedrooms or were boxed up in the garage.

You could smell the dust on the second floor, and neither of the two smaller bedrooms had room for – you know, beds and stuff.

The books had taken over.

Most of the books my mother-in-law would never open again, and quite a large number of them would never have been read by any other relative either. There were yellowed and crumbling books and multiple copies of classics. How many paperback copies of Oliver Twist does one home need? Does it need six? Alice in Wonderland? Is five too many?

So the library got a serious weeding, which was no small feat, and a little painful. Six boxes of thrillers went to a local prison, but twice as many books that were either duplicates, or of questionable interest to anyone, went to the recycling bin. [Gasp! Hand on mouth!]

In our defence, we did our homework and looked for libraries and charities that would be interested in the collection, but found no takers other than Brush Farm Corrective Services Academy. And the money required to ship old paperbacks out of Sydney to another city or continent would have been better spent buying new books for some needy organization.

Which begs the question: Why is it such a crime to tear up or throw away old books? Libraries do it, and you’d think librarians would have the greatest appreciation for the book. (Incidentally, I have a Masters in Library Science). And yet you will find a significant number of people who consider it criminal to throw away any book.

I find that attitude annoying and short-sighted.

Consider some trashy romance novel.  Is it a crime to recycle this paper? Is that crime worse than the crime of chopping down a tree to make it in the first place?

How many copies of Bridget Jones’ Diary or Shades of Grey does the world need? If dozens of publishers the world over choose to mass produce millions of copies of A Tale of Two Cities¬†for a profit at the expense of the environment, is the onus now on consumers to ensure that every single copy is preserved for future generations?

I think not.

Still, I think the great books that must go the way of the recycling bin can be honoured in a more sensible way than as space-occupying dust collectors. So I tried to do just that with some of the books in my mother-in-law’s library. I chose books of which she had multiple copies:

Using the yellowed crumbly pages of one of the books, I covered a piece of MDF with text-filled paper, before pasting some of the more interesting book covers on top.

But I didn’t just choose the books with the prettiest covers. I tried to select books that had meant something to me or to someone else in the household.

For the extra spaces in between, I used the spines of other books.

I’m pretty pleased with the result, and I think the piece looks quite at home with the more traditional art in the room.

So I’ve defaced quite a few classics in the pursuit of art here, and I’m fine with that, because I know these covers will provide more pleasure than the contents of the original books ever will. These third and fourth copies of classics would have never been picked up again.

And yet, I still haven’t managed to part with the coverless books they belong to. They sit on my craft shelf waiting for an artistic use – perhaps as the background for another collage. I’m starting to think I should recycle them now though.

Afterall, does the world really require the continued existence of my coverless third copy of To Kill a Mockingbird? Or does the Earth have enough copies to go around?

You decide.

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