Wednesday, June 15, 2016


By now pretty much everybody knows Einstein's doing-the-same-thing-expecting-different-results definition of insanity.

Well I have a new one.

Doing something you've never done before, on a very tight schedule, for public consumption of those harshest of critics; family. (Actually I'm my own harshest critic but I've got to blame somebody!!)


  • On or about the 1st of May we received an invitation in the snail (Which we go into town and check on once a week or so, . . . on good weeks, so it might have been there for a while.) for a baby shower; a grandniece to-be.
  • The shower is nearly 2400 road miles away and scheduled for May 21*
  • In lieu of cards the organizers recommend sending a children's book, new or used.
  • One of us, I won't say who but it wasn't me!, came up with the bright idea of writing our own children's book, one customized for this particular child. 
*Goes to show how security obsessive conscious I am. Very few people know exactly where we live, even fewer exactly where my family lives, yet I use an estimation of miles so no one can pull out a map and begin to work out our home location. . .

OK, show of hands, how many out there have written, illustrated, printed, bound and distributed a book before??

Maybe you can't see this, but over here neither of our hands are raised. . .

Off and on, between reading the back issues of the local paper that were also stacked up in the mailbox that day, clearly with my head in the sand pretending I had nothing more pressing to do, we spent the rest of the day batting around concepts for the book. I mean what the hell! We had like, what? fifteen whole days to complete an illustrated book leaving 5 days to ensure it got delivered to the other side of the country in time.

We decided on what in the industry is called a board-book. (I didn't know that until after we started this project.) Limited text and lots of illustrations, a book designed for very young children.

The next morning we sat down and in about two hours had hashed out the text. But let me tell you, that's the last part of this whole project that went quickly!!!

 Having no clue what I was doing (OK, point of fact, reading thousands and thousands of books as I have over my lifetime (I read so much I buy them 30 to 50 at a time from the clearance section at used bookstores) is no help at all when it comes to actually producing a book!) I started out thinking 8.5 X 11 format because that's the size of the photo-paper I had for the printer. It wasn't long before we decided that looked like - well - crap, so we cut the format down to 8.5 X 8.5.

I also had no idea how to actually go about binding a book, though I briefly had some vague, and I mean very brief and really vague, thought of binding the book in custom wood covers, though I never really worked out how to actually manage this because it was clearly a crackpot idea as the covers alone would take up all the available time.

In fact, by the time we had the artwork and text put together to form one of the easier pages I knew we were in trouble! Big trouble!!

Having been there, done that now, I'm here to tell you that the experienced book writer needs to allot three solid 8 hours days per page if they are to include (simple, you know, kid stuff.) original artwork. The inexperienced book writer? Well they're screwed!

Resigned to the fact that we would not be able to produce nearly enough original artwork for a whole book, it was back to the drawing board, or more correctly, away from the drawing board and over to the web and Photoshop.

Some of the original artwork we produced for the book.

By this time we'd also made a desperate trip into the city and trolled one of those massive craft and hobby stores hoping for some insight on how we were going to manage the binding of our masterpiece, something on which we were completely clueless even after some frantic brainstorming. Scrapbookers to the rescue! We found a nicely bound book filled with heavy, non-toxic, clear plastic sleeves that we could slip the printed pages right into. Saved our asses!!

Except that the format was 8 x 8 which meant we had to go back and redo the couple of pages we already had so the text size would remain consistent from page to page. Our purchase also dictated the final length of the book. Since there was 10 sleeves in the book and no refills on the shelf, (Thankfully!) our book would be 20 pages long.

Now a 20 page book might not sound like much, but believe me, it was plenty long enough!!

Long story short, (I know, I know, already too late for that!) the next couple weeks were filled with long days standing at the computer sweating out each detail, interspersed with sessions at the workbench with pencil and paints in hand, the whole time with the deadline hovering heavier and heavier just over our shoulders. (And the fence up the hill at the gate is still crying out for it's semi-decade coat of fresh paint but books with deadlines trump decaying fences. . .)

My feet hurt, my legs ached, my eyes burned and I nearly wrecked my mouse arm, (Fortunately I mouse with my right hand and draw/paint with my left.) but right on schedule for a cross-country delivery with one day to spare just in case, we made the trek into town and released our precious project into the hands of the USPS.

After creating and printing the cover page, we had to carefully cut each letter out. Now they could have named the child something short like Joy, but noooo, they had to pick a name with eight letters in it! (As you've probably noticed, I've blobbed out the any identifying bits in the photos to maintain privacy and security.)
Then we taped the original page to the cover of the book to act as a guide as we glued each letter into place one by one.
The finished cover with the plastic sleeve back on it. I'd like to say that I printed the cover text on the wrong side of the photo paper to reduce the risk of sticktion between the letters and the sleeve over time, but the truth is I just put the paper in the printer upside down which gave the printing a slightly muted aspect. After a brief consult we decided that was acceptable, pointing out to each other that against the black even muted colors popped and the plastic sleeve would give the cover plenty of shine.

Here are a couple of pages of the finished book. There are many pages I can't show without giving away more family information than I'm comfortable with but these two pages are OK since I've made no secret that my family is in Michigan. In this case, with the exception of the background photo of immigrants standing in line, the artwork on the left page is all original, though I did cheat a little (OK, a lot!) since I did the pen and ink train many years ago based on a photo and drug it back out of the archives for this project. The ship however was done in pencil specifically for this project.

Just for grins, some stats.

The folder on my computer for this project is currently nearly a half GB in size (And was backed up several times a day! Being an ex computer geek whose job was to keep the things running and pick up the pieces when they didn't I don't trust the dang things!) and has 223 files in it, 92 of which are Photoshop files. Each of the 20 completed pages are a Photoshop file with anywhere from 5 to 23 layers each, the smallest at 5,169KB, the largest at 23,462KB. We went through a half dozen #11 blades just cutting out the letters for the cover and another handful cutting the printed pages down to size to fit into the binder and, fortunately, only had three botched printouts (Every one of them my fault since each time it was because I failed to tilt the output tray back into place after loading a fresh sheet into the in feed tray. You'd think I'd learn after the first time, or at least after the second, but apparently I'm a threefer kind of guy!)  so our 50 pack of photo paper was enough.

But I'm not done yet. . .

Not satisfied with the amount of web-purloined images (Fortunately this was not for profit, nor for wide distribution, so I could safely; sort of safely; skirt copyright issues.) I discovered that shipping the book off didn't mean I was done with it. In fact as I write this we're still working on the dang thing.

For example


This is one of the pages as originally sent. Reasonable I suppose but decidedly uninspired.

And this is the reworked page. Maybe not any more inspired, but at least this time with all original artwork.

In the original version of the book there's a girl on a couple of the pages, Here we've started adding her to other pages as well (She's just peeking out from behind the world on this one) and we also created the simple little mouse which will eventually appear in some form or another on all the pages as we rework them.

 Well, sort of the end.

We just printed out 13 revised pages and I'm heading to the bench in a minute to cut them down to size.

Only 7 more pages to go!!


  1. This is incredible!!!

    I'm gonna assume the use of the plural pronoun implies a team effort?

    A spectacular gift!!!

    Mega Congratulations!!

    1. Thanks!

      Yes, a joint effort between The Wife and I.

      We were pretty happy with it. Unfortunately being the weird uncle, the only one that that lives so far away and almost never shows up for family gatherings, I get very little feedback - other than Mom and Mom feedback doesn't really count since she HAS to say nice things - so we were never sure just how it was received up there in Michigan.

      I use the singular 'I get little feedback' because The Wife is rather militant about shunning photographs of herself (Trying to snap one is likely to lead to medical bills!) and quit traveling altogether many years ago so hasn't actually been seen by the family for a long time, for some of the younger ones never, so she's often forgotten about. In fact there are rumors floating around the northern state that she doesn't really exist at all. But if that's the case just who the hell is yelling at me when I do something wrong?!