Making a Handcrafted Coloring Book: the Ruby Charm Artist’s Ed.

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Hard work & attention to detail makes happy customers & a happy artist

The original edition of Ruby Charm: 25 Artful Illustrations for Coloring Enthusiasts started out as a simple concept. Illustrations aside, I wanted to create a book that serious colorists would appreciate and use. Though dreams of being picked up by a publisher were (and still are) appealing, I wanted my first book to be made the way I envisioned it: spiral bound at the top (so it’s easy to flip through the pages, the book lays flat, and the binding doesn’t discriminate between left or right handed colorists); a thick and sturdy back cover so it feels more like a sketchbook; illustrations on one side of each sheet; and a plastic protection sheet that could be inserted between pages. I did some research, ordered supplies, and got down to business.

The first run of my book (as well as my Black Magic book which has sold out) has been a success on Etsy. I’m not cruising the Caribbean or anything, but I managed to sell enough books to cover some of my costs, pay a few bills and justify a second printing. And perhaps more importantly, it has given me confidence and momentum to keep moving forward.

When I received the latest batch of pages from my local printer, I took some photos and a few (amateur) videos to show how I put the book together since it doesn’t come mass-produced from a store, but instead, my hands and humble (and usually very cluttered) little studio. Here’s how the Artist’s Edition is made …

Printing

It took some time to complete all the illustrations (months and months of drawing all day, every day) and after I had them all done, I converted them to vector images through Adobe Illustrator, then formatted and saved them as PDFs. This can be a time-consuming process involving many hours staring at the computer screen and repetitive clicking. Plenty of technical details I won’t get into here.

I copied all of my PDFs to a thumb-drive and quite happily brought it over to my local printer. They helped me choose a high-quality, acid free and archival card stock for the main pages, and tinted card stock for the last three pages in the book. The plan was to print 50 copies of each of the inside pages, plus the cover and introduction page.

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The naked, unpunched version of the Ruby Charm coloring book

A few weeks later, I picked up several boxes of my pages and was super excited … until I got home and reality smacked the smile off my mug. I made a really dumb mistake. Instead of giving the printer individual files to print, I should have put all the of pages together in order, in one PDF, so that they could have printed a collated version of each book. What was I thinking?!

Live and learn, yes?

Assembly

After getting over my moment of stupidity (and wiping the crumbs off my kitchen counters), I laid out all the stacks of pages in the order I wanted the book to be assembled, including the cover page, introduction page, and the black cardboard back cover. I ran out of counter space and had to use the dining room table and a few chairs, too. Fortunately, my sister was here visiting from North Dakota and she and my daughter helped me pick up one page from each stack until we had 50 new stacks of now collated books. Assembly-line style–team work does make the dream work.

Punching holes

Once the books were collated, I then punched holes in the pages with the used Alpha Coil-E machine I bought off of Craig’sList. What a lucky find that was! Though the machine can’t punch holes through the thickness of the entire book, I could punch about 7-10 pages at a time. And though it did save me time, it still took a while to punch all 50 books. The cool thing about the machine is that it not only punches the holes, it also helps zip the spiral coil through the book once you get it started. Still a lot of hand work despite the hard work of the machine.

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Setting pages into the machine for hole-punching

Here’s a quick video of the cover being punched. Machines can be super helpful but the process is still slow as there are a few steps to follow: make sure your pages are flush to the top and sides of the stack, make sure your machine settings and page guides are correct, and keep all of your pages in order!

Snipping the plastic protection sheets

Yep, this part of the process is really stinkin’ tedious, but I wanted the book to have a decent sheet of plastic that colorists could remove and reinsert under whichever page they wanted to work on. Colored pencils don’t pose a bleeding threat, but I use watercolor pencils a lot of the time in my own work, and I know that many like to use markers, too. The card stock I chose for the book is fairly thick (and each illustration is printed on one side only) but I still wanted to be sure bleed-through would never be an issue for my customers no matter what they used.

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Using Fiskars nippers to snip

I found a great little pair of Fiskars nippers at Joanne Fabric and use them (after the plastic sheets have been punched) to snip a small notch above each hole. Two snips per hole, and I can only snip two sheets at a time otherwise they will slip out of alignment. It takes some time.

Inserting the coil

The most important thing you need to do to make sure the coil goes in smoothly is to be sure all the holes are lines up properly. So each book gets a bit of a smack-down on the top and side edges to be sure there are no rogue pages that have slipped out of alignment. Once I do the smack-down, I start twisting the coil through the holes.

After I twist the coil in about an inch or so, I take it over to the binding machine, lay the coil edge against a spinning rubberized cylinder, and if all goes well, the coil just zips right through the rest of the holes. It works perfectly about 1 out of five times. The other four times, I have to force the end of the coil through a few more holes, then try the cylinder again. It gets the job done eventually.

When the coil is all the way through, I then kink and clip the ends off using a special pair of nipper-pliars that came with the binding machine. It took a little time to get the hang of this. I accidentally snipped instead of snipped-then-kinked plenty of times. It is supposed to happen in one fairly fluid motion and you have to firmly squeeze the handles together at the end to get the kink. The kinks keeps the coil from coming off.

Notice I keep the tissue paper (which comes between each sheet of plastic) on the book while I am working on it? This helps keep my smudgy fingerprints off the cover. 😉

Signing the book

The last step, after the book is bound and checked for issues, is signing. I hand sign each book before it gets packed away in a box for safe keeping. Most all of my first batch of books were signed with an olive Triplus fineliner, but I started using Moonlight Gellyrolls recently. Fun stuff!

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Book signing!

My apologies for my mediocre video skills (it’s not my thing, yet) but here is a flip-through of the contents of the Ruby Charm – 25 Artful Illustrations for Coloring Enthusiasts book. It is now being referred to (and sold as) the Artist’s Edition since I also have a full digital version of the book on Etsy (in addition to single pages and bundles) and am coming out with an expanded CreateSpace version on Amazon before too long. The paper quality will be inferior to my handmade book, but it will still be fun and it will make my book more affordable for my overseas customers.

Here’s the flip-though of the Artist’s Edition:

That plastic really likes to cling to the cover. The wonders of static. Oh, and if you are curious about that plastic cover / insert, here’s how it works!

You can use the tip of your fingers or the tip of a pen or pencil to push the little plastic tabs back onto the coil. Or you can snip them off completely and just let the sheet float around between the pages of any of the books you are coloring.

You can also snip the little bent piece of plastic at one end of your coil and untwist it so that all the pages fall out if you prefer. Good for working on pages one at a time, or for taking pages out you might want to frame or give away. You can always twist the coil back on by hand, but I haven’t discovered a great way to secure the book again. Maybe a small piece of tape wrapped around the cut off end of the coil? A really small rubber-band? Hmmm.

Now that I’ve been at since for about 8 months, I think my hard work on this book is paying off. The most satisfying part of the whole experience has been getting to know my customers through Etsy, Instagram and Facebook, and enjoying a creative collaboration with them. I may design the pages, but they bring those pages to life with their own visions of color and pattern and their own techniques. It’s a collaborative effort that not many other types of artists get to enjoy, so I feel blessed. And my coloring friends have  been so supportive of my artwork – it keeps me motivated to keep creating and pushing myself and my small growing business even further. So thank you, friends! Cheers to past, present and future creative adventures!

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Very proud of the reviews I’ve been receiving – thanks, everyone!