Wednesday, 8 April 2015

This Shadow Life - My Perfect Writing Desk

I'm not really the kind of person who has nice things. I am especially not the kind of person who can make nice things. Most of the stuff in my house is old and worn and functional. That's just me. I am not good at being creative (even though I love it) and I am not good at taking care of things.
However, as always, there is an exception to these rules. There is one thing in my house that I think is incredibly beautiful. It is something I take great care of and amazingly, it's something that I made myself.
What is this amazing thing? It's my writing desk.

I spend a stupid amount of time at my desk and so I have always felt that it should be a really inviting, comfortable and inspiring kind of place. When I was young and destructive this meant having a big old clunky desk with a laminate top that I could scribble all over in permanent marker. I drew pictures, wrote poetry and song lyrics and notes to myself. It was amazing. Then when it got full or I got bored I would wash it all off with nail polish remover and start all over again.

When I got a bit older I kind of grew out of the need to graffiti my desk and I wanted it to be a bit more mature and a lot more beautiful. I spent a while thinking about it and looked at buying new desks (God desks are expensive) but eventually I settled on the idea to cover my desk with a book.
This might sound a bit strange but I love reading (as you might have guessed) and what could be more inspiring and inviting for a writer than the pages of my favourite book? Nothing.
There is nothing more inviting.

So here's how I turned a boring old desk into a wonderful piece of furniture that reflects who I am and what I love most.

1. Clean your desk.
This step is super important because you need a good clean surface to start with so that everything sticks and you don't end up with lumpy little crumbs of dirt or stains seeping through. I used a damp cloth to remove dust and dirt, metho to remove hard stains and permanent marker, and then a dry cloth to finish up and remove any excess moisture.

2. Pick a book.
Go through your library or your memory or your Goodreads account and find the perfect book to use. It has to be something that you truly love because if you use your desk as much as me you are going to be seeing it a whole lot. It should also be something that you wouldn't be embarrassed to have other people reading. If a kid or your mother-in-law jumps on your computer when they are visiting, they might not want to see your favourite parts of the 50 Shades series. Awkward!
It's also good to pick a book that will look interesting when it's all done. This means preferably going for a book (or an edition of a book) that has some pictures or poems or other changes in the text style rather than just blocks of unbroken size 9 font.
Now I'm not proposing that you mutilate one of the Harry Potter collectors edition books on your shelf. I'm not that barbaric. So once you have picked a book go online or to your local second hand book store and buy yourself another copy of the book you have chosen. I think a used book actually looks a bit better in the end because it's got a bit more character, but maybe that's just me.

I chose to use one of my all time favourite book series, The Lord of the Rings. It's a wonderful set of books that always inspire me as a writer and a reader. Fortunately I had the SUPER old illustrated copy of the three books all crammed into one paperback. It was very worn and completely falling apart so this project seemed like a great way to re-purpose it rather than let it die.

3. Pick your pages.
Unless you have picked a relatively short book you are unlikely to be able to use all the pages to cover the desk (or whatever you are covering), so go through the book and pick out the pages and passages you like best.
I started out by just thinking of the songs and poems or bits of the story that I loved and writing down a little reminder for each so that when I went through step 4 I would be able to find all the bits I wanted.

4. Pull your book apart.
This step felt totally blasphemous at the time and still makes me feel guilty whenever I think about it, but oh well. It had to be done. The best way I found to do this was unfortunately also the most time consuming.
Tear off the pages a few at a time and set aside the ones that you have picked out to use. Try to keep the unwanted pages in order in case you want to go back and find more parts of the book because you didn't pick enough to cover then whole surface of the desk in step 3.

I found it was easiest to keep the book in order using the following steps:
      a) Have the book sitting on the right hand side or the desk,
      b) Open a few pages in,
      c) Gently tear the pages away from the spine of the book, and then
      d) Set the torn pages face down on the left hand side of the book as it would look if the pages were still connected (so it's like you are turning the pages of the book, but you tear them out as you go).

Note that my book was bound with glue, so if you are using a book with any other kind of binding you might have to figure out the mechanics of this step for yourself.

As I went through step 4 I couldn't help skimming each page as I tore it off, which actually turned out to be a great way of finding any bits of the story I had forgotten about when completing step 3 as well as a bunch of extra pages that were just really pretty. I ended up with a whole stack of pages with illustrations and maps, poetry and songs, key pieces of the story, and chapter headings.

5. Arrange the pages.
This is probably the simplest and most enjoyable part of the project, but it can also be the most time consuming.
Start by sitting at your desk so that you get the same view that you will have when it's all finished. This will allow you to arrange the pages in the way that will be most appealing at the end.
Pick a spot on the desk and begin laying out the pages then work your way out to the edges.
Try not to use the same angles all the time or let anything line up too perfectly. This project looks best if the layout is as natural as possible so you don't want it to look as though you planned it too hard.
Also try not to have too much overlap or your desk will end up lumpy and bumpy.

When laying out the pages try to be concious of how you use your desk. For example, I wanted all my favourite bits in the spots where I would see them most, so it was easy to want to put these pages right in front of where I sit. However, I realised that pages right in front of me would actually be covered by my keyboard and ones just to the right would be covered by my mouse pad, so all the best pages actually ended up going on the bottom left and far right side of the desk.

When arranging pages it is good to have some little pieces of sticky tape handy so that when you have a few pages aligned how you want them you can stick them into place. I started off not doing this and quickly found that adjusting pages on one side of the desk can totally ruin the alignment of pages on the other side, so instead of framing the paragraph you want, the pages can shift and cover it up! Disaster!

6. Start sticking and trimming.
Once you have everything aligned the way that you want it, go around and really make sure that everything is securely stuck to the desk. I used more sticky tape to attach the pages in the middle and to stick down the pages that curled over the edge of the desk.
Next, go along the edges and carefully cut off all the overhanging bits of paper so that you get a nice clean edge.

Another option here is to use some kind craft glue to stick all the pages to the desk (like papering a wall), but be careful that it doesn't make the pages semi-see-through or anything. You don't want to be seeing the writing from both sides at once. That would just be a mess.

7. Make contact.
Once the pages are all secure it's time to seal them in. I got the help of two other people for this part of the project, one to unroll the contact and make sure that it was travelling perfectly straight across the desk (you definitely don't want the contact going across at some weird angle, particularly if your desk is too wide for just one row of contact and you are going to need to have a seam in the middle), and two people to smooth out the contact and press it flat to avoid bubbles forming.

I recommend having the contact travel lengthways across the desk so that you minimise the number of seams. You can see the way that I did it in the image below.

Start off by aligning the contact so that it will completely cover the tops and sides of the desk. You want it to start on the underside of the desk surface (so that it wraps all the way around) and hang off the long edge enough that you will be able to wrap it around on the long side too.

Once you have got everything all squared up, peal back the paper on the contact and stick it to the underside and edge of the desk surface. When this first edge is stuck down you can unroll the contact for the whole length of the desk, but don't stick it down yet!
Using the edge that's already stuck down as an anchor, hold the remaining contact above the desk at a 45 degree angle to the desk surface (so unroll it but hold it up off the desk) (see below).

Once you have things set up like in my glorious diagram above you are ready to start sticking down the contact. You want to do this part very slowly and very carefully to avoid bubbles.
As one person continues to hold the end of the contact up off the desk as show above, the other two start to gradually stick down the rest of the contact. This is easiest if you just use your hands to smooth down the contact near where it is already anchored at the edge and gradually increase the amount of contact stuck to the desk (see below).

If you are going with the craft glue type option I imagine that there are some sealing products that you can use instead of contact, but I was too worried about it making the paper see through or something.

8. Seal the edges.
Once the contact is stuck to the surface of the desk, go around the desk and stick down all the edges so it's all sealed in tight. :]

9. Relax and enjoy.
You're done!
Once all the contact is stuck down and sealed you are finished and your beautiful perfect bookworm desk is ready to go. :]

I hope you enjoyed reading about this little project and that you will maybe consider doing it yourself.

Note that you could use this method to cover virtually anything with anything! You could cover your bed frame with band pics or cover a coffee table with magazine cut-outs. Whatever floats your boat.

If you have done anything like this or you have a crack at covering your desk like I did please post your pictures in the comments section. I would truly love to see them. :]

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