Book binding and journal making always seemed like a mystical entities to me. So enticing, yet obviously too difficult and tedious to learn. I was content to scrapbook away and pine for those awesome, crazy-paper journals more savvy crafters sell on Etsy. Something recently changed, however, and I decided to try making one myself. Not just any old journal though. My heavens, no. I decided to jump right in and make a creepy journal for my friend, Erin, that contains not quite a mystery but more of a narrative to hunt for. I’ll attempt to explain.
Confession: In the movie Red Dragon, Ralph Fiennes’ character has this huge ledger he uses as his looney-toons diary full of cryptic and sinister writing, photographs, drawings, and carefully clipped newspaper bits. When I saw that thing I was in love. It would be like a dream (albeit a creepy one) to happen upon something like that carelessly being sold at an estate auction or laying around in an abandoned house and snatch it home to plumb it’s sinister secrets. Okay, take that and fast forward to just a few years ago when my in-laws brought an old dresser home for us from an auction and we found a trove of discarded ephemera in one of the drawers. The entire life of one Arlene Strickland had been condensed into a handful of papers and documents in a drawer. I’m talking driver’s licenses, senior citizen ID’s, High school diplomas, photographs, wallets, clippings, even a government report involving a terrible incident. Finding these things felt like tripping on a gold mine. Everything together painted such a candid picture of this stranger’s life, and yet left so much to be wondered about. Add to these things my friend Erin, whom you will learn a little more about shortly.
I had to let all of those things float around together for a while before they finally turned into this journal. When I did finally get the idea for it, however, I got it in it’s entirety. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and that excitement is what foolishly led me into jumping right into the project and using irreplaceable ephemera before making a prototype to catch all the bugs. This is why I’m a poor scientist. I feel the project was, in it’s own way, a success, but far from my vision of how it should have been. I had so many ideas while I was working on the book, and did so much research that led to new ideas that I could just kick myself for being so impatient.
Fortunately I have so many things of Arlene’s that I knew before I even started that it would need to be two book’s worth (otherwise there wouldn’t be anywhere for Erin to put her own stuff!) and have everything set aside to make a much improved second volume when the time is right.
I used a length of the original strap from my first accordion as the ‘belt’ that holds it closed. The small brass ball is a locket that was left blank.
Something I hadn’t thought of until I was already elbow-deep in the project was adding envelopes. It was too late to add them to the signatures themselves, so I begrudging had to let the three on the front and back covers carry the load. I tucked some photo corner stickers into the little red ones in the front ❤
Some of these papers and ephemera I have been holding onto for quite a long time. It was just too good to use on any old thing, but this was an A class project for me, so I was happy to finally get a chance to destash a little!
Here is where I need to tell you a little about Erin. The blood splatter pages are half part of the narrative, and half an homage to the way we met. The time was 2010 (?) and we were strangers, both peddling our wares on Etsy. I’m not sure what I was looking for, but a search brought me to a photo print in Erin’s shop that had an attached short story in the description. Reading that shit made the hairs on my arms stand up. There were more prints with more stories and I devoured them all. I would describe the quality of her writing as (excuse my french), “holy fuck.” Every story was brutally vivid and wonderful, but it was a story about a lady and her musings in the moments just before she has her skull cleaved in that prompted me to send her a gushing fan letter. Lucky for me she didn’t file a restraining order, and we’ve been homies since. The other page there features some vintage recipe cards turned tags that are a reference to an awesome vintage food party she had not too long ago. When I found out she was having that party I practically (maybe even actually) ran to the file where I had my 50’s Betty Crocker recipe cards to dig up some of the worst offenders to offer as entree ideas. Jellied chicken salad, anyone?
I tried to hide little details in unexpected places with fold outs and scrapbooked pages. that red thing is an emptied photobook from Arlene’s wallet.
Despite the many, sometimes unfixable, mistakes made during construction, I enjoyed making this journal tremendously. I’ve got a bunch of ideas to try out and many more prototypes to make, so hopefully there will be more to see on that front soon. Thanks for coming by!