Communion Of Dreams

A light in the darkness.

It’s … been a while.

And a lot has happened. Mostly good.

* * * * * * *

Many years ago, a friend got involved in something called “The Jesus Seminar“, which eventually produced (among other things) The Gospel of Jesus.

My friend commissioned Cheryl Jacobsen, well-known calligrapher and friend of mine from my UI Center for the Book days, to do a hand-lettered edition of the book as a gift for Robert Funk, the founder of the Seminar. The work was done on calligraphic vellum, and when it was completed, I did the binding. This is it, which I have used as the main image on my business homepage for at least a dozen years:

And here’s the descriptive text from my site:

The Gospel According to Jesus:  Full leather contemporary case binding, shown here as tooling is being done.  Collaborative work with calligrapher Cheryl Jacobsen of Iowa City.  Sewn on linen tabs, cover mounted to text block using adhesive.  Covered full in burgundy Chieftain Goatskin, blind tooled using a hot brass folder.

It’s a lovely, but very simple and traditional binding.

* * * * * * *

Several years ago I heard about the crowd-funding (may have been Kickstarter, may have been something else) of a new laser cutter by a company called Glowforge. I didn’t have the extra $$$ to participate at the time, but I kept track of news about the project. Early this year a friend of mine who *had* backed the project got her Glowforge Pro, and shared some of her initial impressions of the machine.

I was intrigued about what it might be able to do with bookbinding materials. I sent her a bunch of scraps and samples. She tested them. She told me of the results, and sent the samples back. The day after I got them, I ordered my own Glowforge Pro machine. Then, except for the time we were in Scotland, I spent the next several months learning what I could do with the machine, figuring out it’s capabilities and limitations.

And though I still have a lot to learn, recently I started using it as another creative tool.

* * * * * * *

After that first copy of The Gospel of Jesus was delivered, my friend commissioned a second copy to be done by Cheryl Jacobsen, but told her there was no hurry in getting it done, and asked that she be a little more free and creative with the text and illuminations, though to still maintain a connection to the first copy.

Being a very busy artist with a full life, Cheryl put the project on the back burner to think about it. She returned to it from time to time, experimenting with the hand, revisiting some of the artwork she had used in the first book. Eventually she turned to the project in earnest, and last year she finished it. Again, it came to me for binding.

I read the book. I reveled in the beauty of her calligraphy, the playfulness of her illustrations. I discussed it with my friend who had commissioned the work. We agreed that this second copy should reflect Cheryl’s work, and that I should approach binding it as she had approached calliging it: maintaining a connection to the first copy, but being more free and creative in interpretation.

What follows is a photo essay of what I came up with, with extensive consultation and discussion back & forth with my friend.

* * * * * * *

First, some images of the text, to get a feel for Cheryl’s lettering and illumination:

I decided to do this binding as a modern variation of the traditional sewn-on-cords & laced-onto-boards binding commonly used during the middle ages, when most books were produced by monks. Cheryl’s text block dictated the proportions of the book, and the main frontspiece inspired the design (as had the first copy). So here was my first mock-up:

The client was going to supply the wood for the book’s covers, in this case heirloom sycamore which had been recovered from a lake bottom, and had nail holes in it. So I decided to adjust the size and location of the cross accordingly to incorporate the wood’s character into the design:

The leather is the same type I had used on the first book: burgundy Chieftain Goatskin.

And as pictured, it would have been fairly traditional. I wanted to do something more contemporary, using the Glowforge. So I took images of passages of the text, isolated appropriate words & phrases, then played with sizing and power levels to get a mix of effects … all using exact reproductions of Cheryl’s beautiful script:

Back cover.


Laser at work.


Front cover.

That may look easy, but it took hours of experimentation and work to get results I was happy with on scrap wood before I did the final boards.

Once the laser work was done, I scored where the leather would go along the spine, positioned cord channels, and did the prep work. I also sewed up the text block, and lined it for strength.


Then it was a matter of lacing the text block onto the boards:

And securing with adhesive:


Then adding liners and mounting the leather:


And finish up with a little blind tooling to define the raised cords:


The last thing was to mount the leather insert into the cross, then add lettering from Cheryl’s original image:


Wait 24 hours, then remove the masking, and the book was done:

The client decided that he wanted a slightly rough, unfinished feeling to the wood. So I left it unsealed, allowing it to pick up natural skin oils from handling over time.

* * * * * * *

It’s … been a while.

And a lot has happened. Mostly good.

Mostly. I’ve made real progress on finishing St Cybi’s Well, though the current political situation here has been a constant distraction (complete with vague feeling of uneasy guilt about working on a book about the end of civilization …). And the above project isn’t the only thing I have been using the Glowforge on — I’m also wrapping up work on the custom leather bindings of Communion of Dreams, using the capabilities of the laser to achieve effects I had struggled with previously. More on that next time, maybe.

For now, I am back on the downward stroke of my mild bipolar cycle, having survived the intense manic period and using that energy to build a 100+ foot-long landscaping berm this summer. My mind is quieter, more suited to delicate yet creative work, and this condition should last for some months.

Thanks for tagging along.


Jim Downey

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

Comment by Kris Detmer

Thanks, Kris! The item I did for your family was my first practical use of the laser, and I’ll always appreciate your willingness to give it a try.

Comment by James Downey

Inspirational, sir. Inspirational.

Comment by cwjbrown

[…] Well, needless to say, a lot has happened since then. Not the least of which was getting, and learning to use, my Glowforge […]

Pingback by At long last … | Communion Of Dreams

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