Making books and cards, and laughing a lot while doing it

Posted in Feature, Visual Art

Whidbey Life Magazine editor

When one walks into the Swede Hill art studio of Sandy Whiting and Susanne Newbold, what is apparent is the lightness and laughter there.

Artist and teacher Meredith MacLeod looks on while bookmaker Karen Wilson begins the process of stitching her handmade book together. (Patricia Duff/ WLM)

The two artists, who hold workshops for the curious and creative, built their Sweetwater Creek Farm Studio next to their hilltop home in the Scatchet Head neighborhood in Clinton. The large open room has plenty of windows for light and a nice view of the grassy knoll where the couple’s pet cows, Baby and Frenchie, eat grass and nuzzle each other playfully in a way that Martha Stewart herself would love and envy. But the focus is on printmaking, handmade books, and fiber arts.

On a recent afternoon in November, this reporter stumbled into the middle of a “Mixed-Media Handmade Books” workshop and moseyed around, while a group of about six women worked with happy intention on their books. Whiting and Newbold were assisted by local artist and printmaker Meredith MacLeod, who often helps out at these frequent workshops.

Whiting and Newbold  have been holding the sessions for private students and children for the past nine years on Whidbey Island. The next one is their “Handmade Holiday Cards Workshop” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec 2, followed by a “Handmade Books: Coptic & Kettle Stitch” workshop from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, both of which will be held in the studio overlooking the sweet cows.

Artist Sandy Whiting, right, helps guide Jody Bone in the bookmaking process at her Sweetwater Creek Farm Studio in Clinton.

There was a variety of reasons why these dive-in and make-a-book-types were there. Heidi Jefferson, was planning to publish a collection of poems written by her deceased husband, bind it in her handmade book and then present it to her children.

Julia Sachon was creating her book to fill it with her poetry based on her impressions of Penn Cove where she lives. Jodi Bone, a children’s book author who recently published “The Little House That Grew,” took the class to get ideas for illustrations for her next book.

Karen Wilson was making her book for her mother for Christmas.

“I’m just going to put some pictures in it and maybe just some mementos and then she can have some blank pages for herself,” Wilson said.

Laura Taylor was creating her book to fill it with the pictures of her grandson that she takes at “Toddler Time” at the Seattle Aquarium every week.

“I did a little fish stories thing. Ya know, kind of the aquarium colors. I take a lot of pictures of him, my only grandchild, and I thought I’d put the pictures in here. I made two other books and my daughter has stolen both of them, so this one I am keeping,” she said with a laugh.

Handmade books by Whiting and Newbold are on sale through the website and at Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm for the holidays.

There were several steps to making the books which Whiting told me had started with making the covers out of super-strong Tyvek on which participants printed designs with regular old house paints, rubber cut pads, stencils and design-patterns. Basically doing stuff you did in those glorious days of kindergarten where anything goes that follows imagination.

“In other handmade books workshops that Susanne and I teach, we use handmade papers and collage to create the covers,” Whiting said, but here it was Tyvek and razzmatazz!

After the cover is made, the paper is folded to create the pages of the book.

“When the paper is ready, it’s time to learn how to stitch it all together,” Whiting said, “and here we teach the ‘long stitch’ which runs up the outside of the spine.”

It takes all day, but each student goes home with their very own book and the books will, in turn, have their own journeys.

“In our workshops it is our hope that students have a good learning experience, tap into new creative areas and enjoy the day,” Whiting said.

Whiting also said that in addition to MacLeod, artist Marilyn Moore often joins them to teach workshops and in 2013, five more instructors will join the fray.

Handmade books by Sweetwater Creek Farm are available at Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm.

Upcoming Workshops

Handmade Holiday Cards
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2
Instructor: Sandy Whiting
Class fee is $50, plus a $25 materials fee

This workshop will cover the basics of block printing. Students will learn how to transfer their image and how to carve their design into the block. All materials are provided, including 12 cards and matching envelopes, carving tools, a variety of ink colors and rollers. No prior printmaking experience required. All students will leave with a set of 12 handmade holiday cards and the skills to create more at home.

Handmade Books: Coptic and Kettle Stitch
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9
Instructor:  Sandy Whiting
Class fee is $90, plus a $25 materials fee

In this workshop you will learn the basics of book binding. You will make your own book covers using handmade papers and collage items. Your book will contain acid free paper suitable for pen, ink, pencil and watercolor. You will bind the book with coptic and kettle stitches.  Every student will leave with a completed book.

To register for either class, email or visit the website.


Patricia Duff is an award-winning journalist whose most recent kudos include several wins in the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association 2011 competition.

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