I hadn’t either until decided to create a special gift for my best friend Phil’s 40th birthday (which incidentally was the day before my 40th birthday).
Phil really loves the work of the writer H.P. Lovecraft, an American ‘weird fiction’ writer.
Lovecraft wrote about a fictional book bound in human skin called the Necronomicon. So of course, I decided to create a junk journal representing a book made out of human skin (I happened to have some tan coloured leather offcuts and thought…why wouldn’t I?).
I did some research online and there are actually some real books in existence which are bound in human skin, although not as many as is rumoured. Binding books using human skin is known as anthropodermic bibliopegy. There is one kept in the UK bound in the skin of a murderer, 18 year old John Horwood.
Another book is bound in the skin of John Burke, of the famous body snatchers duo, Burke and Hare.
You can find more about books bound in human skin here.
I decided to work the stories into the junk journal and added a note in French about one of the books as a little puzzle for Phil.
I also started looking up some of the monsters from Lovecraft, but I didn’t want to veer too far away from my own style by producing grizzly monster scenes, so I decided instead to pick some other themes. I chose the Miskatonic University, gothic imagery and other writers with gothic or weird fiction themes.
The Miskatonic University has featured in Lovecraft and a lot of other writers have taken it on and used it in their own work. I decided to create cards about a number of professors, using characters from original Lovecraft and some of the new stuff. I used random photos cut out of a vintage encyclopaedia and my own backgrounds created using Unsplash images. I really like how the Miskatonic University logo came out. It was very fiddly to sketch the letters out and make them fit the circle. I did quite a few cards and added them to the journal with pockets and tuck spots.
Of course I had to include Edgar Allan Poe.
I collect antique books and it’s a hobby Phil has always helped me with. One of the first books I got was about the first editions of Charles Dickens, so I had to add Dickens and I found a great caricature of him in an old book, so that had to go in. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of it.
I also wanted to include some of the history of our friendship and shared interests. I added some of the code we worked on from a treasure hunt event we did in Scunthorpe a few years ago (we were hunting miniature gold statues). You can see it here on the right of the picture. Unfortunately, for the challenge we chose, the statue had already been found by a random member of the public so it remains unsolved! You can see the statues and read more about the treasure hunt here.
You can also see a tag with a clown on it. His name was Joseph Grimaldi and he was the first true clown, appearing first in 1805. Charles Dickens actually wrote his memoirs, so oddly he popped up twice when I was coming up with images for the journal.
This blog post could go on forever! I had all sorts of other things, from poisonous mushrooms (he once told me off for picking a mushroom we found out later was either really poisonous or completely harmless) to weird TV and films we’ve enjoyed together (such as Stranger Things and Pan’s Labyrinth).
I could have done a journal twice the size with all the ideas I didn’t manage to get in the journal. It was still a beast and actually it wouldn’t have closed if I had added any more.
In true Jemma style, I was still finishing it as Phil was driving down. During my birthday weekend, I was deafening my Mum and myself hammering the copper rivets (definitely not as easy to use as Youtube would have you believe).
And the best thing was, Phil had absolutely no idea. I thought I’d given the game away a few times and I was a bit worried that he might wonder why I’d stopped sending him photos of the latest craft stuff I was working on….but no. I think he was a bit overwhelmed by it. Hopefully he enjoys it as much as I enjoyed making it.
What is the biggest project you have worked on for someone close to you? I’d love to hear about it.