Sitting Pretty.

So I’m looking through an old YA novel, searching for inspiration for my second Book Art project, and I came across this:

The illustration, I mean. Not the tea bag. The tea bag is the same one I’ve been using for about ten years to show with my various Triscuits and paintings and things, to indicate scale. I hope it’s not too scuzzy, after ten years. At least it’s never been used…The New York Times just did a story about an artist, Laure Provost, whose prized possession is a 15-year old tea bag once used by her grandfather:

So. Tea bags. Where was I?

Oh, right. Book Art.

The used book store that I volunteer/co-manage for our local library has four (one hardback, three paper) copies of this book:

I do not remember this book, Half Magic, from my childhood, although it was a best seller when it was first published in 1954 and appears to still be in print. The book is nicely illustrated and the pages were kind of soft but substantial and there was that one castle pictured in it (see above), so I knew I could make something out of it:

In answer to Dear Reader Megan’s question last week: For my first castle (see: last week’s post)  I did not use any other material except the old, brittle pages from my source, a book from 1920 (don’t worry, you can buy your own copy on eBay for $9.99…I wouldn’t cut up a precious book!) . That paper was very tricky, being so dry and  flimsy, but I learn from my mistakes so  for this castle I did build up the main castle parts with some sturdy backings, a very inexpensive Canson “Biggie Jr.”  90-lb paper for kids crafts. For the crenelations and the flag pole I glued several pages together so they would be stiff enough to not flap in the wind.


I give Dear Reader Megan this word in swaps with the most excellent word she left in her Comment last week — punnet. I never heard or saw that word before and now it’s one of my favorites. Thank you, Megan!

My first two castles were made like stage props — hollow, and want to be viewed only from the front. Here’s the back of my Half Magic castle:

But after making two stage prop castles, I think I’m ready to build something totally 3-D. And here’s the book that became my inspiration for my third castle, a book that has been ignored in our used book store for at least three months:

It’s in German and appears to be some kind of Year Book and yes, it’s from 1905.

It had great end papers . . .

I already ripped out the loose end paper, but it had the same cool blue design on it.

. . . and it also had fine (but strange) illustrations:

So, I thought about Germans, and Nazis, and lederhosen, but I wanted to think nice thoughts about Germans so I thought about the Brothers Grimm, and then I thought, Aha! 


Working on this free-standing tower gave me lots of time to think about Rapunzel, so that’s why  my Rapunzel isn’t letting down her hair because my Rapunzel enjoys her life in her tower just fine, thank you very much, with her books and her paints and her tea cups and her cats:

This little side-tower was fun to do:

It took me a lot of trial and error to figure out how to cut those eaves so the two roofs could fit together, but it was awfully relaxing to do so. The harder it gets to put these castles together, the more I like it; it requires the same concentration as watercolor or embroidery, but is much more playful. It’s castles!

I’ll be back at the book store today, going through some children’s books, looking for more inspiration, and maybe I’ll show you the step-by-step next time, if you Dear Readers think that would be of interest. I know you want to know how to make those neat pointy roofs.

Last week Dear Reader Birdie asked whether we at the used book store sold out books on line. Let me give a long answer:

This week we got a big box, full of donated books — all the books we sell at the used book store are donated to us — that contained a lot of Book of the Month and Reader’s Digest books from the 1960s and ’70s. The donor dropped the box off, and we didn’t get a name or any contact information. . . most people are glad to get rid of books that they feel too guilt to throw away, so they tend to dash off once they have unloaded the responsibility on us.

Most of the books in this donation were not suitable for us to sell, as they were too worn out or were about the last 100 days of WWII. There were a few woodworking books in there, too; it seemed to me that the books came from the library of a guy who had served in Europe in the war and come home to a lifelong hobby of making bird houses and decoy ducks.

Then, in the very bottom of the box, I found gold. I found this:

This is a pristine first edition (1971) of Sylvia Plath’s only novel, published by Harper & Row. The cover is immaculate and it seems to me that the book has never been read, not surprising when you consider the company it’s been keeping for the last 47 years.

It has a minor condition issue in that the binding is very slightly bowed:

This is the first valuable book that we’ve had donated to us, so this is the first time that I’ve considered putting one of our books on line.

But I’m giving all you Dear Readers first crack. If you or anyone you know would like to own this amazing first edition (fifth printing), let me know. All sales benefit the William Cullen Bryant Library in Roslyn, NY.

The other most exciting thing that’s happened in the neighborhood recently is the sighting of a pair of male and female coyotes living in the woods behind the high school. It is assumed that they are a breeding pair, and that they have a den. Coyote babies! How cute!

But that means that there are some hungry coyotes prowling our sleepy little h hamlet here on the north shore of Long Island, and all residents are advised to keep small dogs and cats indoors (cats are coyotes’ favorite food). Scary!

All my cats are on ultra-high alert:

P.S. Sorry, but the Sylvia Plath book is already sold. There are still Sylvia Plath fans out there!

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones. May all your castles have a room, just for you, with a view.

29 Comments, RSS

  1. The Bell Jar worth a lot of money? I had no idea. I think there’s one in my attic. I hope yours was one of the $1000 or more variety as shown on Abe Books. That would indeed be great for the library that benefits from your book store.

    I would definitely enjoy a step-by-step description of how to build a castle from a book, though I will probably learn to levitate myself up to the sky before I ever tackle such a project. I can’t even wrap gifts properly — they never come out with both ends tucked in symmetrically.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspotcom

    • Vivian

      Definitely dig up your old copy of the Bell Jar. I wish I’d had the copy that was printed in London with a pseudonym in 1963 because that one goes for $10,000.00 We are thrilled with the $205.00 that we got for our little copy, which makes it the all-time champ of used books here on the North Shore of Long Island.

  2. Casey

    That is unbelievable that you can build a castle out of a tiny teeny scribble the size of a postage stamp. I think that proves how artist brains are different from regular working brains.

    I vote yes too please, I want to see you build a castle from scratch. And I want to watch you from my tower window with a cup of tea in hand, maybe a glass of wine, with Simon and Garfunkel playing in the background (Are You Going To Scarboro Fair).

    Heavens! Keep that herd safe from marauding coyotes. I know coyotes got to eat, but let them eat rabbits and berries, not Bibs or Steve.

    Nice find in the bottom of that donation box. I hope you got pots of money for it!

    • Vivian

      I’ve been making castle towers a ll morning and of course I can’t get Scarboro Fair out of my brain. I also brought tea because, sadly, you can’t make castle while sipping NZ Sauvignon Blanc — that’s the one drawback of my new hobby. Drats.

  3. Well, now I’m totally panicked for Steve. And Bibs. And anyone else who ventures outside even on a short-term basis. Scary as all get out when you have little ones that would be coyote treats. Keep ’em safe. I know you will but now I’ll stew.

    Tutorial — yes, please! I haven’t done anything like that in ages. I’ve been thinking of bailing on som eo f my mixed media stuff but this would give me a good way to put it to use! Love the Rapunzel castle!

    • Vivian

      Jeanie, please don’t lose sleep over the coyote situation, The high school is a mile away, across a major 4-lane hi way, and I doubt that the critters would wander over near Steve (who so far scares everyone else out of the front yard).

      You bethca, we got a castle in the works for a new tutorial. I’m the Castlator!

  4. Leslie

    Congratulations! I am guessing with “The Bell Jar” you were able to reach your $500 goal, and are now enjoying your wine. L’chaim! I took an online course on creating sculptural books. I did a search for the teacher, Ann Ayers, and found her book, published by a small educational resource publisher. I made tunnel books (3D window with several layers) with junior high students and got amazing original results. Could be fun for your “teen room”. I made one too, and really love it. When I did a Safari search for sculptural books, I found a few things you might enjoy.
    P.S. My local thrift shops sells hardcovers for $1 and paperbacks for 50 cents. Still a great deal, and would not discourage Roslyn shoppers. As you know, many people believe that items that cost more to purchase have greater value. P.P.S. Tiny illustration elements make wonderful decorations for Christmas tree ornaments.

    • Vivian

      Well, actually, because of a minor condition issue, the Sylvia Plath book sold for $205.00, which is a very fair price indeed.

      thank you for the heads up on Ann Ayers. She’s hard to find on the interwebs, so it you have a link I’d love to have it.

      I’m already thinking that my 2018 ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card will feature a tiny snow-laden castle. Cute, right?

  5. Megan

    Oh my goodness, those cats do look they they are on high alert, that calm exterior is just a disguise, they are ready for action, guerrilla warfare, watch out coyotes! Love the new word crenelation. A few months ago we had the hedges cut, argh hedges are everywhere in the southern highlands in NSW a ruse to keep us all poor and living on vegemite sandwiches and (baked) beans on toast. I made a joke that missed the mark when I asked if I could have castellations on the top of the hedge, should have been crenelations. Thank you, nice to learn a new word. Love the German book the art nouveau (?) decorations are just beautiful. I love the tower you build especially the three tiny curved flags at the top of the flag pole and the grass, inspired work. Then I looked closer at the grass and saw how masterfully you had crafted the base of the tower. It looks sturdy enough to house Rapunzel and her cats for many years to come. Oh and yes please we do all need to know how to do this, thanks for sharing your experience and talent with us, so good to not have to figure it out for ourselves!

    • Vivian

      Oh, sure, my cats are all a-twitter with nerves. Ha! Nothing fazes them, except empty diner bowls.

      I like the word castellations — it’s much more descriptive than crenellations. Yes, I take a lot of care with my towers but the real secret, the one and only element that holds it all together, is not my cleverness or my steady hands…it’s Elmer’s glue. thank the lordy for Elmer’s!

  6. Barb

    I love your paper sculptures!!! Maybe I will even do some book cutting art when I retire and have a little more time. I’ve dabbled with numerous creative endeavors through the years but this excites me in a way that nothing has for awhile. Thanks for sharing!!!

    • Vivian

      Barb! I’m so glad that this is sticking a chord with you! All you need is Elmer’s glue, a ruler, and some crummy books that want to sacrifice themselves for Art.


    Love what you are making out of some of the donated books. Would love to see a play-by-play action with your scissors and glue! As always, love your posts, even though I don’t comment much. I sure do read them every week though. Will love to see your new book when it comes out. I’ve already got the other three.

    • Vivian

      I happen to be taking a glue-drying break from putting together my latest castle, and I think I have 60 photos so far…obviously I will have to edit. But tune in — next Friday we make turrets!

  8. Kirra

    Hurray for paper castles! I love your Rapunzel with her tea and cats, life seems good. I also vote for a demonstration of paper castle creation, though I’m not sure I’ll have the patience or skill to replicate anything like yours. Good to see the cats on high alert! Good to see you got at least one useful donation to the bookshop this year that could raise some funds – thanks Sylvia (also hope you got the NZ wine, you did have to get to the bottom of the box to find the winning book).

    • Vivian

      Ask anyone who knows me: I am not a patient person. At all. But I do love diving into these little castle worlds, and I hope that they will be accepted for display at our library soon. Let’s turn the kids onto Book Art!

  9. It’s nice to see those old, unsaleable books being turned into paper castles. You are not only clever with your hands but you have the imagination to see such possibilities. Oh, and thanks for teaching me a new word today Vivian – “merlon” – the upper section in a crenellation. How I have managed to exist for all these years without knowing that is beyond me. Now I shall drop “merlon” into as many conversations as possible. When you think of it, life itself is like a crenellated wall – you have your embrasures and your merlons. Also…”Merlin peered over a merlon while chomping on a melon.” How surprising that “merlon” is not recognised by the spellchecker!

  10. Patricia Hall

    I vote yes on castle tutorial… unless you’re using this as an excuse to dodge finish writing your Monet Garden book.

    • Vivian

      Good news…the Monet book is finished. But it’s Summer, and the publishing biz is on vacation, so my agent won’t start sending it to publishers until September. I’ll let you know as soon as we have a deal.

      And the castle tutorial is ON.

  11. Becky

    Wow, the castles are fabulous. I do not have the patience to tackle anything like that, and I wouldn’t know where to start.
    We have coyotes here as well. I quit walking the dog in one area when I learned that a bunch of them frequent that area. They say they are more afraid of humans but I wasn’t taking any chances.
    The kitties look like they are thinking of their strategy to avoid them.

  12. I have a hardcover copy of “The Bell Jar” with an identical dust jacket, but alas, mine is a book club edition. (Bought in a thrift store, as I recall.)

    Your creativity in building the castles is amazing! I am a wuss when it comes to cutting up books — I know it’s perfectly harmless (and even artistic!) with old, unwanted books, but I still can’t bring myself to do it. When I first went to work in the library one of the librarians made some Christmas trees out of old books, and I thought, “You’re a librarian! How COULD you?!”

    But now, having been there a few more years, I get it. We get SO MANY book donations and the vast majority of them are useless, and we pass them along to some other poor sucker. Why not make something out of them? As I said, I still haven’t done it myself, but maybe I’m getting there.

    That German book has a beautiful Art Nouveau design style.

    • Vivian

      Thank you, Steve. You got it exactly right: the vast majority of donated books are useless and the vast majority of our discards go straight to landfill. I’m under no illusion that my castles are also destined, one day, to end up in a landfill, but I can delay that fate by turning them into something different and amusing. If you have trouble desecrating a book, start with a paperback. Or, our used book store currently has four hardback copies of The DaVinci Code — I’ll send you one and you can sit that up!

  13. Oh your castle building is sooo wonderful. Yes, coyotes are not friends of cats. My daughter just lost one of her cats to a coyote. The dumb cat wouldn’t come in the house in the evening. Sad!!!

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