Summing up this Month's Make & Do Creative Challenge

So here we are. At the end of January. How is your year going so far? Have you challenged yourself to try anything new? How did it go?

As for me, I have to laugh at myself. For being overly ambitious. Overly enthusiastic. I'm never at a loss for ideas and this year my list is running a bit rampant. I guess it always is if I'm completely honest. And that was part of the reason for starting my monthly challenge.

make and do creative challenge logo

I wanted to start turning those ideas into action (and inspiring YOU to do the same). It's not that I don't try new things or challenge myself creatively on a regular basis, but I wanted to take some of the things that kept falling to the bottom of the list and bring them up to the top. This month I challenged myself to try book binding, but, in truth, I was trying other things at the same time. There was the makeover of my studio and living room. There are the e-courses I'm taking. There were new recipe experiments. Playing in my sketchbook. Tinkering with my website... I am not good at limiting myself to just one thing. And it's kind of funny because bookbinding kept falling to the bottom of the list even though it was supposed to be the focus of my creative challenge. Why?

I spent a little time thinking about it and here's what I think was holding me back:

  • lack of knowledge of how to do it
  • lack of (the right) materials
  • lack of (the right) tools
  • fear of failure
  • trying to do too many things at once/lack of time

Maybe there were more things, too, but those were the main reasons I came up with. And I think those are probably common reasons that hold all of us back when we think about trying something new. 

I'm very curious about this and I wonder how you feel. Are there are other reasons that hold you back from creative endeavors? What are they?

But back to my challenge. I did make one book this month.

hand bound book with linen cover and potted orange tree

And, really, that was my main intention. Just one book. Originally I was thinking I'd make a book where I could collect quotes and that February's challenge would be hand lettering and I would use my book as a place to hand letter the quotes. But I think this project had a mind of its own. That's where the joy came in for me, the explosion of ideas as I worked on creating my book. How one idea led to another.

What I enjoyed most was thinking up the little touches of my book. Like the endpapers (you may have caught an earlier version of them on Instagram).

watercolor potted plant endpapers

I used my paintings to create the pattern. I made them tiny.

tiny watercolor potted plants

And the front page is a mirror image to the back page.

The first attempt (the one I shared on Instagram) was an utter failure. Part of it was my fault. I didn't measure carefully enough. I wasn't following the instructions closely enough. Part of it was confusing instructions. I was using one of the books I got from the library. I was not inspired by either of the books that I looked at (there's another waiting for me to pick up at the library... it arrived a little too late, maybe that one is better?). None of the projects were quite what I wanted to make and the instructions were not easily adaptable in order to be used for my own projects. 

When my first attempt failed, instead of choosing an easier project I decided to try one that was more difficult. This time, though, I decided to follow instructions on an online tutorial. Sadly (considering my love for books), I found that the online tutorials seemed to be much easier to follow than any of the how-tos in the books I looked at. I used this one for my book.

hand bound book with linen cover and potted orange tree illustration

I did not follow it exactly. I did not use her measurements and I didn't use the right tools/materials, choosing instead to use what I had on hand. I found that even with the step-by-step photographs and instructions, there were a few steps that were a bit confusing to me. One thing that caused me the most trouble was the length of thread for binding the book. She says to use "just over an arm's length". When I used that length (actually, a bit more than that length) for my book (which was only slightly taller than her example), I quickly ran out of thread. I tried a convoluted way of adding another piece of thread, but had other problems that led me to take it all apart and start over. It took me three attempts to get my book put together and it's still not perfect (I think my binding problems are mostly due to the fact that I did not use the right type of thread).

hand bound book with linen cover and watercolor paper

Here are a few things I learned:
  • The right tools/materials would make it easier (ex. an awl instead of a needle and hole punch, waxed thread instead of perle cotton thread, bookbinding glue instead of other adhesives, actual book cloth instead of a scrap of linen).
  • Starting with a simple type of book and working up to a more complicated type of binding is probably the smart choice.
  • Be very exact with measurements. If you are changing measurements it's a good idea to sketch out your idea, match up all the parts and figure out the right numbers. Fudging measurements won't work very well.
  • Follow instructions exactly and carefully.
  • As with all things, practice makes perfect. A first attempt will never be perfect.

And so, my question becomes, do I want to keep making books? Well, right now, no. It was fun, but it was also frustrating. I clearly felt my limitations. Sometimes when I encounter limitations in a creative endeavor I get fired up trying to overcome them. That was not the case with bookbinding. Yet I feel as if I cannot entirely cross it off my creative idea list. That's something else I learned about myself with this challenge. I am not good at giving up, or, not giving up, let's say, letting go. I don't want to entirely let go of any creative possibilities. I am completely head over heels in love with possibility. I find it irresistible. My rational thoughts get clouded over with the beauty of all those possibilities. Perhaps I will never be able to whittle down my creative to-do list and maybe I will never be able to look at it entirely rationally. As to whether or not that's a good thing, I'm not sure.

Next month's challenge? Well, I'm thinking about that and have a few things in mind. I'm not going to let go of the Make & Do Creative Challenges just yet. This month may not have been as successful as I had hoped, but there was value in it. I learned a lot. About book binding. About creativity. About myself. I hope if you participated (in any capacity at all), that you did, too.

Oh, and my book? No, it's not going to be a place for me to collect quotes. It's going to be a themed sketchbook where I collect plant sketches. (Now I'll just have to get around to actually doing it).


  1. Anne I find you consistently inspiring and I always want to try new things when I see you trying new things too. I inadvertently took part in the Make and Do Creative Challenge when I made the PJ's at the sewing class I attended. I think your book is wonderful. There are so many styles of books on bookbinding techniques on the market that I am sure you will find one suited to your style. Your endpapers are delightful! You could use those miniature designs for paintings in dolls houses! Have a lovely weekend. :-)

    1. Thank you, Simone! I've always been intrigued by doll houses and anything miniature, really. Never had my own dollhouse, but I like having tiny things here and there to make me happy.

      Glad of your sewing experimentation and I'm glad you've been zentangling. Hope you find time and energy for more creating in the coming days.

  2. I'm sorry it was frustrating for you but even so it came out so great. And I love the idea of a themed sketchbook of plant drawings. I took a bookbinding class years ago and I was really frustrated. It was a hardcover with a spine, using all the correct things and I learned that it is totally not for me. The ones I do now are just paper with no covers and using just a simple stitch to bind them together. They are so completely imperfect but I don't mind at all.

    1. I wish I could boldly say, 'that's not for me.' I guess I do with some things, but other things I hold on to. I like the imperfect simply sewn books, too, and maybe that's just what I need to do from now on. I'm in awe of all the beautiful books that the people gifted in bookbinding create. Maybe I'll just have to leave it at that.

  3. Good for you following through even with the frustration. I probably would have given up. I don't like reading or following instructions and certainly don't like having to be precise. I don't think handmade ever has to be perfect. Your book is lovely and will be great for plant sketches. I have a million things I would like to do but could never follow a schedule or list. Getting organized with my supplies would make it easier to find and do all those things floating around in my head. :) Have a wonderful weekend. Tammy

    1. I am right with you on not liking to follow instructions. Just let me DO something. it doesn't always end up well, though. Haha!

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope you get nice and organized. It can feel so wonderful! I should do a bit more of that myself!

  4. Beautiful! I love the book.
    I am proud and inspired by how you stuck to your goals.

    1. Thanks so much, Carla. It wasn't easy to stick with it, but I'm so glad I did.

  5. Anne!!
    Your book is beautiful!!
    I really like everything you make and how much inspiration you give me!! I'd love to make many things, but I don't have a lot of time now, and I found always difficult to stop making maybe more important things to do what I would like to do!!
    I will have to start learning to get some of time for just creating, because that make me feel good!!
    Have a beautiful weekend!!

    1. Hi, Laura! I wish you had more time for your creative endeavors, but I am so happy for you that your career is taking off and you are living your dream. Hang in there, you will find the balance.

  6. Anne, you have done so much, even if you do not feel it just now. and you did inspired me a lot (I am going to make some creams in few weeks). I am absolutely proud of you, your work (gosh your watercolours look beautiful) and that book which you made is gorgeous. You always put so much love and passion into your work. We do live far but I wish I could invite you for a cuppa and share creativity and inspirations with you and I am so grateful that I could meet you via this blog. Visiting your blog is like a seeing a friend every sunday, checking how are you keeping on and how is your creativity flow going. Big hugs to you!

    1. Hi, Aga!

      Thanks for your kind, encouraging words. I'd love to enjoy a cuppa with you. Visiting your blog always fills me with inspiration and makes me think deeply. I'm so glad we've connected like this.

      Wishing you a wonderful week. Big hugs back!

  7. I think the book looks great, Anne. I love the little minis of your artwork on the endpaper. This is super cute.

    1. Thanks, Nancy! I think the minis are my favorite part. It's got my mind whirring with other ideas!

  8. How did I miss this post?! Fantastic. Simply fantastic!


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