Friday, October 11, 2013

Sinister Apothecary Secrets Book

Aaaah Pinterest...thanks for spewing this little gem my way.

This wonderful post came across my Pinterest feed and I had to try it for myself.  It was repinned by about 10 of my friends, so I figured that there are likely folks out there interested in the end result of this project.

CRAFTERS BEWARE: This project took a LONG TIME with a lot of ATTENTION TO DETAIL.  It took much longer than I ever would have thought, but was also super fun.  Like, start heating the glue gun when the kiddo goes to bed and BAM, 6 hours have gone by, fun.

I didn't do a great job of documenting the process, but I'll try to explain how it all went down.  First, here's the end result:

I basically followed the instructions in this post by Seeing Things That Aren't Really There, but made some of my own adjustments, additions, etc along the way.  I started with the generic blank paper mache book found at Michael's.

While at the thrift store, I spotted this ripped, tacky little box and immediately knew I could use it to great affect on this project. 
I proceeded to dismantle it and cut out the designs I wanted with a utility knife.

The material is thick paper board, so it was pretty tedious cutting it out with the utility knife.  Make sure you have a new sharp razor in your knife. I used fine grain sandpaper to smooth the edges and shape the corners.

I'm sure a lot of you reading this will relate, but I have been known to hoard nonsense junk because "I might be able to use it someday".  I have a bag of really junky beads someone gave me (or I saved from the dumpster, can't remember which) that yielded some fantastic finds for this project.  VINDICATION!

Next step, layout embellishments (cut out cardboard, beads, string, or whatever you want to use) on the paper mache book, and start gluing them down with a hot glue gun.

The sun/moon/stars beads came from a really junky plastic necklace.  This was one of those moments when trash transformed into treasure before my eyes.  I was giddy! All of this stuff is hot glued on.

The bright orange, tiny plastic skeleton came from the aforementioned bag-o-junk.  It was a lone earring.  I cut it to bits and glued it down.  Brilliant.

Next: Modge Podge, tissue paper, paint brush.

Start smearing that Modge Podge and, using your finger, press the tissue paper into every crack and crevice of the book.  I was most nervous about this step, because I'd never done this, but it was pretty easy and had a great affect.  The tissue paper obscures some details, but you can also keep a lot of fine detail too.  It unifies all of the pieces and makes the finished product look much more authentic and old.  I used one layer, instead of the two suggested because A) I was being impatient and B) I didn't want to obscure any more detail.
The whole book covered in yellow tissue paper.
I let it dry overnight so the Modge Podge/tissue paper could get good and hard.  Then I painted the whole thing with gesso.

I then painted the outside of the book with acrylic paint.  I mixed brown and black to get a nice dark leather color, and coated that sucker.  2 coats.  I probably should have done 3, even 4, because at the very end, when I attempted to sand some edges to give it an older look, I sanded right through to the white gesso without much effort.  No bueno.  So I touched up the white bits.

Here's where my weak documenting will start to annoy you.  Next, I made some faux pages.  I measured and cut out some cardboard from a cereal box, painted a layer of very light brown, then let it dry for a few minutes so it was tacky.  Then I painted over it with very light yellow.  I didn't mix the paint (yellow and white) very well, because the streaking effect when laid on top of the light brown looked awesome.  I let that dry just until it was tacky, then ran the blade of my utility knife through the soft paint to make hundreds of fine little lines.  I was totally experimenting here, and was very pleased with the result.

 Make 3 "page" panels and glue them in place with hot glue.  Notice in the above picture, I painted the end of the "page" panel brown to look like the rest of the book.  The corners didn't come together all that great, but I'll live with it.

 I got these tiny corked vials at Michaels.  I Modge Podged the labels that I got from the bottom of the original post (here again).  Then filled them with spices from my cupboard.  No one will ever suspect.

I measured the inside of the book, and cut out a practice board from a cereal box.  I laid the vials out on the practice board and measured where I wanted them to go.  Then I used the practice board and measurements to cut out the thick paper board from the thrift store box.  Also, I painted the entire inside of the book and all the boards that go inside of it brown like the outside of the book.

 I cut grooves in the board and notches in the boards that are sitting upright, so they fit together, and hot glued them.
 Then I made little boards that are the exact size of each compartment on the larger board.  I glued some felt on them.  I had this piece of ostrich leather lying around and cut it into small strips.  The ostrich leather was ideal because it wasn't very thick, and the brads that I used were quite small.  I used my dremel to drill holes through the board where I wanted the brads to go and pinned everything down good and tight.

 I added an element to my book that is not in the original post.  I thought, "If I were a wicked apothecary who sells poison to scoundrels, I would need many secret places to hide the unseemly evidence of my misdeeds."  So, a secret compartment in my secret poison book seemed like just the ticket.
I found some pictures online that I liked, printed them, and "aged" them using this tutorial.  I've never dyed paper with tea, but it worked great and I will definitely do it again.  A side note: the picture is of the son-in-law of Queen Victoria, who married her youngest daughter Princess Beatrice.  He reportedly died of malaria in 1898 somewhere in Africa on duty for the British armed forces.  So what's his picture doing hidden in this box full of poison?  Malaria, huh?

 The fake bottom, panels with vials on them, and vials neatly in their spots.  Ready for business.

I forgot to mention the pendent on the front.  It was in the jewelry section at the craft store, has a lovely little octopus on it, and opens like a locket.  I haven't yet, but I will draw something creepy and put it in the locket. Also on my list of potential front cover decor--a skeleton key bracket, other little lockets and pendants, whatever floats your boat, really.

 The back, with that tiny Vitruvian man.
This is the beginning of an apothecary collection that I will display each October until I die.  I'm pretty ridiculously picky about what Halloween decor I like, and this fits the bill.  Thanks for reading!


  1. Mel-this is the coolest thing EVER! I love it! Your hard work definitely paid off! GREAT job!

  2. I can't even believe how cool this is! Seriously, what an awesome idea! (Funny thing- I forgot that Halloween was just around the corner- this is an awesome halloween display!)

  3. I stumbled onto your blog via your post about dreading your hair (I'm currently in the process myself), and I just felt drawn to read more from your blog, which brought me to this post, which is AH-MAZING. I think I'll have to hang onto this DIY for when Halloween rolls around. Basically, I'm loving your blog :)

  4. Haha I remember the first disguised book you made. All to keep Molly's thieving hands out of our snacks.