McMartin Spellbook

Jacqueline West and the finished book. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline West.)

*Cough* *Cough* Hello?  Anyone there?  Sorry I’ve been away for so long. Give me a moment to brush off the cobwebs and dust and I’ll show you a piece that’s been a year in the making. It all started last summer. . .

Prior to coming to visit for the summer, my niece had gushed about the first book in Jacqueline West’s Books of Elsewhere series several times over the phone. (Confession:  I still haven’t read the first book. I know, I know.  Bad aunt.)  It has long been my dream that my niece and nephew share the love I have for books, and to hear her go on about “the book she discovered in her school library,” almost brought tears to my eyes.

I found that the second book in the series, Spellbound, was to feature a spellbook.  I decided making this would be a great summer project for my niece and me.  I e-mailed Jacqueline through her site, and she was kind enough to reply with a fantastic description of the book.

…Its leather cover was worn to rich amber.  It was covered with bumps and dimples in places, but was as smooth as glass in others—perhaps where hundreds of years of hands had rubbed it.  Ancient embossing flickered here and there on its surface, like fine threads sewn into the leather.

…Gently, Olive stroked the worn leather cover, and the book seemed to glisten under her fingertips.  Then, as she watched, the glinting spots carved into the leather shifted into a familiar shape—a shape so worn and so ornate with its swirls and curlicues and spots of flaking gold that she hadn’t recognized it before.  It was the letter M.

…On the thick yellow frontispiece was a sketch of a tall, nearly leafless tree, done in strokes of dark blue ink.  The tree’s trunk was thick and crooked, dividing into a tangle of branches and twigs, all joining and bending and forking.  Olive had to squint to see it, but on each branch and twig, a name was written in tiny, pointed letters.  Most of them were names she had never seen before: Athdar McMartin, Ansley McMartin, Aillil McMartin.  But near the top, in the very center of the tree, Olive found a name she recognized:  Aldous McMartin.  This name branched off toward Albert McMartin, and then to Annabelle McMartin.  The branch from Annabelle went nowhere.  It trailed away between the blue leaves at the very top of the page, dwindling into a line so thin that it finally became invisible.

Olive wriggled deeper into her pillows and carefully turned the page.

Sleeping spell.  The word spell sent a happy little shock down to her toes.  Olive skimmed the thick yellow paper.  There were lots of words she didn’t recognize—valerian and boneset andwitchnail—but most of the words were things she knew or sort of knew, like chamomile and nightshade.  Even when the words were familiar, like cup or water or bird’s wing, the delicate, thorny calligraphy transformed them into something mysterious and completely new.

My niece and I determined the size, and had many conversations over a coffee (or three) about what the book would look like if it were real.  We created a paper mockup to see if the size was right (my niece is the same age as the book’s protagonist) and before we knew it, the summer was over.

Sizing the book. We made a prototype out of folded paper.

Though she lives hours away, we continued to discuss the McMartin spellbook. She loved the second novel, and we continued discussing the spellbook over many a phone call.  Originally, we were going to fill it with spells, but the size we’d set really meant there’d be too much work to realistically finish.  I decided I would have the book done by the time she came to visit the next summer.  It was a great opportunity to try some new techniques involving the laser cutter and leather.  I even took time to draw the family tree.

The cover was drawn in Illustrator and then laser cut from binder’s board.

I wrapped the boards in leather and then worked the leather into the shapes cut from the board.

Gold details were added.

From sandpaper to a hammer to concrete, we used a variety of aging techniques.

I think it turned out great.  The cover is leather, and the pages are not bound inside.  This is because the book went to Jacqueline West to share with the many children she visits during the year.  My niece decided the book would be better shared with other kids (and besides, it’s H-U-G-E).  The pages are blank, and only the family tree is aged.  Jacqueline can fill the book with spells made by her fans, and when the book’s spells are complete; I’ll age and bind them together.  Until the book is bound, there’s a fantastic book strap, made by the extremely talented Steph at Sova Leatherworks, that will hold the unbound pages in (it also gives the book and even more magical look).

The final book. (And my awesome niece.)

Another photo of the finished book. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline West.)

For those of you wanting to try your hand at your own McMartin spellbook, I include the PDF of the family tree.  Print it on cotton paper (resume paper from any office supply store works great) using a laser printer and try my paper aging tutorial.  Feel free to use this family tree for personal and classroom use.

Close-up on the family tree.

McMartin family tree. My niece and I had a time coming up with so many A names. Her name is hidden on there!