Recycled Junk Mail Creature Book

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This book offers a creative way to recycle your junk mail into something creative and whimsical! In this puzzle-like book, each successive drawing interacts with and is part of the previous page’s illustration. Carla Sonheim explains this process in her book, "Drawing and Painting Imaginary Animals."
- 5 to 7 junk mail postcards
- White gesso
- String
- Watercolors, small paintbrush
- Colored permanent markers
- Soft vine charcoal
- Spray fixative
- 1/8" (3 mm) hole punch
- Brayer
- Masking/decorative tape
- Rag for rubbing and buffing

Step 1

Gather five to seven junk-mail postcards 4 x 6 inches (10.2 x 15.2 cm) or larger. This project works best with many different sizes of postcards. Roll your brayer through a dollop of white gesso, making sure the paint is loaded thickly. now, with a very light touch, roll your brayer across the surface of a postcard. (You are kind of skimming the top of it.) You might need to do a second pass, but don’t rub and rub; one or two passes is all you need. There should be color from the postcard showing through. Set aside to dry; repeat with other postcards. Gesso both sides.

Step 2

Once your gesso is completely dry, add a very wet, transparent layer of watercolor using a color of your choice. In this case, I used a blue-green. Let dry completely before adding a second layer of transparent water color. Repeat on the fronts and backs of all postcards. Let dry.

Step 3

Because the gesso resists the watercolor, your paint might have dried in puddles. In this rub-and-buff step, you are going to both spread around the pigment, unifying the piece, and also lift the color off the raised portions of the gessoed texture. Wrap your rag around your finger, dip it into water, and squeeze off the excess so it is just slightly damp. With a light touch to start, rub the rag on the top of the postcard in a circular motion to start moving the pigment around. As the rag gets drier, you can apply more pressure. Keep rubbing and buffing until you are satisfied with the texture.

Step 4

Next, you’re going to design your irregularly shaped book. Cut down several postcards so that you have a variety of sizes to work with. Spend some time arranging them into a design that is pleasing to you, making sure that the pages are not aligned perfectly, but are irregular.

Step 5

Once you are satisfied with the layout of your book, reinforce the spine edges of each page with masking and/or decorative tape. Use a 1⁄8-inch (3 mm)-hole punch to make three to seven holes in your top postcard. (They do not need to be evenly spaced.) Using your first postcard as a template, punch holes in the other pages. Cut a piece of string about 8 inches (20.3 cm)-long for each hole. Using a square knot, tie one piece of string through each and every punched hole.

Step 6

Connect the pages by placing two pages together and tying the middle strings as shown. I usually do this binding portion with the pages placed between my knees to hold them still. Once all your square knots are tied, you can add beads, braid them, or trim your string short.

Step 7

Now you are ready to draw. Using a colored, permanent marker (or a pencil to start, if desired), draw an animal. Refer to your sketchbook for ideas or try to see an animal in the textured pages and finish that. Make sure part of the drawing spills over onto a page or pages underneath. Then, when you turn the page, you will have something already started on the next spread that you will then complete. The end goal is a puzzle-like book where each illustration interacts with and is part of the previous page’s illustration.

Step 8

Once you have your animals blocked in, fill in your animals with a layer of gesso. The white paint will give your eye a rest and provide a nice contrast to the textured backgrounds. Let dry completely.

Step 9

Go back with your colored marker and redraw any lines you may have obscured with gesso, keeping your hand loose. Then add cross-hatching, shading, or any other details you like with thinner markers. Add vine charcoal shading around the edges of your animals to make them stand out even more. Apply directly onto your drawing and then rub the charcoal with your finger to soften. Spray with fixative.

Step 10

This junk mail upcycle how-to is excerpted with permission from "Drawing and Painting Imaginary Animals: A Mixed-Media Workshop with Carla Sonheim" from Quarry Books.

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