During lockdown in January 2021, a plastic drawer unit filled with books appeared outside a home in our neighbourhood. Its kind owner left a simple handwritten note on it: TAKE A BOOK, LEAVE A BOOK. This was hugely welcome because no one could visit a library or bookstore. But there was a small problem. The drawers were a bit leaky and some books got a little wet.
Mark, a local carpenter, offered to build a proper wooden cabinet with shelves, a glass front door and a posh handle to open it with. I got very excited and volunteered to decorate the exterior. Mark created an Art Deco style design in keeping with the 1930s houses in the neighbourhood. He even added Deco style engraved lettering and a snazzy geometric element on the front of the new ‘Free Little Library’.
Now it was my turn to design some art to do this cabinet justice! (No pressure or anything.) I wanted to include some landscape and animal features of the neighbourhood but I needed a little help deciding which ones. Luckily, local families gave me their children’s suggestions (and some great pictures) of an owl, a big dog/wolf, a ladybird, a worm and a garden frog to include in my design. I have never seen a wolf here but there are plenty of tawny owls, ladybirds, worms and definitely lots of frogs. I added a red kite to the list because we see many of these stunning birds of prey here.
Next I researched colour palettes and composition in Art Deco posters. I was so taken with their elegance, I ended up with a vast collection of images for inspiration. Once my design was finalised, I had another challenge: what kind of paint works best outdoors? At the suggestion of a professional decorator, I chose signwriters’ enamel paints which I had never used before. The helpful folks at Sabre Paints advised me to use Ronan One-Stroke Lettering Enamel paint for a durable all-weather finish.
I painted the free little library art in a well ventilated, freezing garage during cold, rainy April and May. I had chilled bones after every session but I loved working with the paints. I used a set of basic colours and mixed them into all the Deco-inspired shades I needed. Ronan One-stroke Lettering Enamel dries hard and bright, just as I hoped. After a few coats of yacht varnish, Mark and I felt confident that the new Free Little Library art could fight off the Yorkshire weather. He installed the cabinet on a solid base at just the right height for browsing. The neighbourhood celebrated the grand opening in late May.
Time has flown past and we’re facing another winter in just a few weeks. I smile every time I walk past the Free Little Library and see it full of books, its inventory changing from day to day. I love how one kind person’s shared plastic container of books led to a lovely, permanent home – and that I had the privilege of painting the art. Not only did something positive come out of a dark time but I stretched my creative muscles. Those enamel lettering paints are now stored away waiting for the next cool art project (if you know of one, please let me know).
To learn more about the international Little Free Library movement, click here. And to find out more about the beautiful range of other Little Free Library art in Leeds, check out their Instagram account here. Happy reading!