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Book Review: A Compendium of Curiosities by Tim Holtz

Reported by Kristine Fowler

A Compendium of Curiosities — don’t you agree that the name of this book in and of itself demands attention?  With an essentially non-descript cover, citing only the title of the book and the author against a very distressed old-world type background, it just begs to be opened.  Even if it wasn’t written by Tim Holtz (of whom I am a huge fan), I would be curious.  Wouldn’t you?  That’s why I decided today might be a good day to give you a peek inside and let you know just what this book is all about.
Title:  A Compendium of Curiosities

Author: Tim Holtz
Publisher: Advantus Corp
ISBN: 040861928266

The book is about 8.5 inches square with a hard cover.  It has 77 pages which are spiral-bound to the inside. The book opens as most do with a standard title page, publishing info and table of contents.  These, and all of the pages in the book, have the same distressed appearance (signature Tim Holtz-style) as the front cover.
The real ‘story’ starts on page 1 (Title page and TOC are not numbered) with a peek into the author’s Studio.  He sits at a table literally surrounded by the materials of his craft: stamps, scissors and paints among them — but perhaps more importantly he lets the reader know that he surrounds himself also with inspiration: vintage pieces, full of nostalgia.  In his message to readers, Tim Holtz explains that A Compendium of Curiosities is “not a ‘how to make’ book, but rather ‘how to create’“.
The next section of the book is devoted to the ‘tools’ of his trade.  These are not standard dictionary descriptions but instead are full of advice and personal anecdotes.  Tim speaks of the tools in first-person prose so you get a good understanding of exactly how he uses each an every one.
The next 21 or so pages are an introduction to many of Tim Holtz’s Signature Products from his idea-ology line.  Again, there is not a description of each per-se (after all, we all know what Keys and Keyholes are), but rather advice or suggestions for how you can use each one and 4-5 photographs to support his recommendation.  Many of the idea-ology products are straightforward (e.g. Paper Stacks, Vintage Buttons and Type Charms), but I for one appreciate the opportunity to get more information about and ideas for using  some of the perhaps more obscure products like Grungeboard and Hitch Fasteners.  
The final section, and by far my most favourite part of the book, is the Techniques.  To quote the author “the explanation of technique is key to development of our creative skills” and this section does just that.  There are 35 techniques explained, one per page, with 6 photos to support each one – there is a lot to learn.  Even if you’ve tried some of these techniques before  (by reading Tim’s blog or watching his channel on YouTube), I’m sure you’ll appreciate having a condensed step-by-step right on your desktop while you create.  While a detailed supply list for each technique is not given, the photographs clearly show product in use, and product labeling so you know exactly what is being used for each technique.  His how-tos are succinct and to the point – with only one page devoted to each technique, they have to be.
Some of my favourite techniques and ones I just had to try after reading A Compendium of Curiosities are:
Water Stamping & Alcohol Ink Monoprint
Here is a simple tag I made using the Water Stamping technique explained on page 51 of the book. You can see particularly well in the close up image that there is a ghosted flourish-type image across the top of the tag.  This is the water stamping technique.  Now I admit, it took me a few times to get this right, and I was getting a little frustrated but didn’t give up.  Figuring out exactly how much water to use is key to getting a successful water stamped image.  Too much and it looks splotchy, too little and you can’t see the water stamped image at all.  But as they say, if at first you don’t succeed……keep trying.  You’ll eventually get it and after that there will be no stopping you.  I just love the subtle effect you get with this technique.  It takes an otherwise pretty but rather ‘blah’ background and just steps it up a little.

For this tags I used Distress Inks by Ranger to create the background, along with images from two retired CTMH stamp sets.  The sentiment is from Pure Love and the heart and flourish are from Key To My Heart.

The second technique that I’m loving is the Alcohol Ink Monoprint.  Again, this was something I had to try a few times until I got it right, but it’s definitely a keeper.  I’ve used alcohol inks in the past to colour metals, and to achieve the Polished Stone effect, but the Monoprint is cool too.  It’s meant to be subtle.  I did learn pretty quickly that you can overdo it and wind up with something that’s not so pretty, but once you learn when to stop you can create some beautiful backgrounds.  Here is a card I created with the focal panel featuring the Alcohol Ink Monoprint background.

The last section of the book is a Gallery.  The Gallery section is 7 pages and contains 28 photos of books, cards, tags and scrapbook pages — presumably all by Tim Holtz himself — that showcase many of the techniques explained in this book.   If you love Tim’s grungy style, there is some serious eye candy here; if you’re like me at all, just looking at it will immediately motivate you to go and get creative!  It’s so inspiring!

  • Spiral bindings lay flat when the book is sitting open on the desk – this is great for how-to books that you are referencing while you are crafting.
  • At only 8.5 inches square, the book is very portable and you can easily slip it into your crop bag for quick reference when creating on the go, or even in your purse for some light pleasure reading in the car or at the soccer field — well whenever you’re away from home.
  • The book is full of photos!  Don’t be fooled by its small footprint – it is absolutely packed with information and photographic evidence.
  • Other than the gallery – there are no ‘projects’ in this book, but this is a pro because the book is designed to inspire your creativity, not lead you through it.  Tim gives you the ‘source’ for inspiration, but the rest is up to you!  As a result, you’ll find yourself leafing through it again and again.
  • While the cover price of $24.95 might seem a bit high at first since I know you can get a lot of this information for free on Tim’s blog and YouTube the quick reference nature of this volume is worth the investment.
  • Since many of Tim’s techniques are a bit messy, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it got a bit ‘dirty’ while you were crafting (think ink smears, paint splatters etc.).  But don’t worry….the cover (and pages) have a bit of a sheen to them so wipe clean fairly easily, especially if you catch it right away.

  • While I love the spiral binding, for the number of pages in this book the spiral could have been a teensy bit larger.  I find that the pages ‘catch’ sometimes as I’m turning.  Not good.
  • It was published in early 2010, so it does not include new products launched at CHA in July — perhaps we’ll see a Volume II in the future?
  • If you don’t already own any of Tim’s Signature Products before buying the book, you might find that you’ve got to make a sizable investment to stock up on supplies just to get started.  I have a small assortment of his stuff, but after reading, I’m definitely wanting it ALL!  (The good news is, I know exactly what’s going on my holiday wish list this year!)

In summary,  A Compendium of Curiosities is a must-have for all die-hard fans of Tim Holtz but is equally useful for crafters just beginning their creative journey.  If you have some of Tim’s Signature products already, this will be a handy resource for you to learn how to use them all.  If you’ve never heard of Tim Holtz and aren’t sure what he’s all about this is a more than perfect introduction.  Even if you decide that you don’t like his grungy, eclectic and vintage style, you can take what you learn from this book and apply it anywhere – putting your own spin on it.  It is a book that is sure to unlock your creativity and inspire thousands of future projects.


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